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Because I had visited Sanibel in past years, I knew I'd find lots of seashells. I knew I'd be able to bask in the gorgeous scenery and eat plenty of fresh seafood. This last visit was different, though. For once, we weren't in a hurry. We stayed for two whole weeks and would gladly have stayed longer. That extra time gave us the opportunity to dig deeper and look more closely. Here are a few surprises I found that you might want to explore more thoroughly when you visit:


Native Americans. Ponce de Leon. Pirates. Pioneer settlers. For such a tiny place (12 miles long and 3 miles wide at its widest point), Sanibel has an amazingly long and diverse chronology. Sanibel Historical Museum and Village gives regular tours and is a rich resource for history buffs.


A group of artists and supporters of fine arts has worked for years to have a voice and a presence on Sanibel Island. They organized and formed BIG Arts (Barrier Island Group for the Arts) in 1979. Now, there is an impressive, modern gallery and performing arts venue located near the Historical Museum. Exhibits change often. The performance schedule is shaping up nicely for 2022, and their post-pandemic expectations are high. Maybe you can time your visit so you can attend one of the concerts or plays.


Randy Wayne White is a prolific author who lives on Sanibel Island. He created a character named Doc Ford who is part marine biologist and part secret agent. White's settings are based on actual places on Sanibel, Captiva, and Fort Myers. "Sanibel Flats" was the first in a 26-book series, and "Captiva" is the 4th. One of those is sure to make great beach reading while you're in the actual location. Allow White to introduce you to gumbo limbo trees, for example.


You'll spot Sanibel Outlets before you cross the causeway from Ft. Myers onto the island, and you might want to return sometime during your stay. Instead, though, I believe you'll enjoy the shops right on the island. A couple of my favorites were Classic Collections located on a prominent end of Periwinkle Place and Sanibel Seashell (1544 Periwinkle Way), a great source for craft supplies if you want to find an artistic way to use all the shells you find. Be sure to tell me your favorites when you return from your trip.


I loved the painted manatees I spotted around town -- even an impressive shell-covered one inside the front doors of Bailey's General Store. I learned these were done as a fund-raising project, but I'm hoping the idea was successful enough to continue in the coming years. They added a fun, whimsical touch. As a side note, Steve was kayaking/fishing out from Tarpon Bay Outfitters one morning when a manatee came right up to his kayak. He paddled quickly away fearing he'd be easily capsized by the giant, but gentle, mammal. You are very likely to see manatees and dolphins on any off-island boat excursions you might take.


Captiva Cruises is a company devoted to taking vacationers out to see the dolphins, manatees and sunsets or to one of the neighboring islands for a few hours. We used the company to visit Cayo Costa State Park and enjoyed it very much. Everything was efficient and punctual, and the boat captain and first mate were safe, helpful, and entertaining. Check out their website.


When you cross the bridge into Captiva, you will see jaw-dropping private beach properties. The landscaping is stunning and so is the architecture. After you've gaped awhile at the opulence and beauty, take a few minutes to notice the clever names at the end of the driveways. A few of my favorites are: On Island Time, Seas the Day, Livin' on the Edge, Serenity, Suenos del Mar (dreams of the sea), Channel Chop, Bali Hi (yes, it was spelled like that), Copacetic, Nirvana Sunset, and on the opposite side of the road was Nirvana Sunrise. They will certainly make you chuckle and probably a bit envious, or maybe that was just me. :)

Those were some of my surprises. You will find your own. You might find a new favorite bird or flower, a new favorite fish dish, or seashell, but I promise you will agree that Sanibel and Captiva are unique destinations and start making plans to return.

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