By Donna Carter
There’s no question Mother Nature achieved perfection when she crafted The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel where the quality of the sand is second to none. Pure, white and silky-soft, professional sand sculptors from around the world claim it’s the best on the planet from which to create their artwork. Don’t take my word for it, hundreds of thousands of tourists deliver an even more convincing verdict by returning year after year to enjoy the outstanding beaches where no two are exactly the same.
A great day at the beach means different things to different people and in this regard the Fort Myers area and its offshore islands have all the bases covered. More than 80 kilometres of beaches, washed by the calm blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, offer beaches to suit every possible taste. There are beaches for families, quiet beaches, high-activity beaches and completely unspoiled stretches where visitors can be one with nature.
There are also the area’s unique beaches such as those found on the renowned islands of Sanibel and Captiva. The majority of Florida’s coastal islands lie parallel to the coast in a north-south alignment, however two of the exceptions are this sister duo connected to the mainland by a five-kilometre, scenic causeway. Lying off the region’s southwest shore and sometimes referred to as Florida’s Tahiti, their unique east-west orientation is a catch-all for seashells that continually wash up on their beaches – often as thick as leaves on a forest floor.
Shelling here is so popular that the names “Sanibel Stoop” and “Captiva Crouch” have been applied to the posture of people, young and old, who comb the islands’ beaches in a bent-over position searching for Angel Wings, Lion’s Paws and Sand Dollars. Those lucky enough to find a Junonia – la crème de la crème of the region’s shells – have scooped one of the most sought after varieties. Regarded among the best shelling spots in the world, Sanibel Island is also home to the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, a remarkable repository containing an enormous collection of shells and mollusks from around the globe. Canadian actor Raymond Burr (Perry Mason, Ironside) was a frequent visitor to the area in the early 1990s and was instrumental in starting the Museum, where you can see part of his private collection.
Shelling fanatics head to Cayo Costa, one of Florida’s most unspoiled barrier islands. Reachable by boat service, more than 14 kilometres of exquisite sand shoreline offer the same variety of shell species found on Sanibel and Captiva. Overall, visitors to The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel can shell hunt on their own or employ the services of area outfitters who offer charters to some of the region’s prime locations. However, vacationers not interested in stooping and crouching can visit the Shell Factory, a shell supermarket north of Fort Myers that boasts one of the world’s largest collections. This is souvenir heaven for folks wanting to pick up a bag of exotic shells, inexpensive shell jewelry and other ocean-related novelties.
In addition to shelling, the region is also noted for its enviable inventory of superb family-oriented beaches. Among the many noteworthy is the beach at Bonita Beach Park at the mainland community of Bonita Springs south of Fort Myers. Everything for a great family day is here including a children’s playground, picnic tables, grills, volleyball court, watersport rentals and guided walks on a mile-long nature trail. At the northern end of Fort Myers Beach, the Bowditch Point Regional Park is a recreational playground and nature preserve, and just one of numerous family-friendly, waterfront playgrounds offering exceptional sand beaches, shaded picnic areas, fishing and watersports. Located in the heart of Fort Myers Beach, Lynn Hall Memorial Park is another excellent location containing all the beach amenities a family could want. It also has a reputation as a great place to view astounding sunsets. And Lynn Hall has the added benefit of being right next door to the shops and restaurants located at the town’s Times Square pedestrian mall.
The barrier islands also have a bounty of beaches popular with families. One of them is Lighthouse Beach Park on the eastern tip of Sanibel Island where a stretch of scenic beach, shallow water and a boardwalk nature trail are highlighted by an operating lighthouse that has been a beacon to mariners for 127 years. Also popular on Sanibel is pristine Bowman’s Beach, often touted as one of the finest in the state. Here, there is relative seclusion where there are no homes, condos or hotels to detract from the beauty of this stunning swath of sand shore where, at day’s end, sunset views are nothing short of magical.
Visitors looking for romantic getaway beaches can pick from just about any stretch of sand on Sanibel and Captiva. Among the host of good choices is Blind Pass Beach on the north end of Sanibel at the filled-in pass that once separated the pair of sister islands. This is a relatively quiet beach that invites long romantic walks and where there are several Old Florida-style cottages perfect for love nest sojourns and serene honeymoons. On Captiva, just north of Blind Pass, Turner Beach stretches eight kilometres to the northern tip of the island. Known for great fishing and shelling, beach visitors here can count on gorgeous romantic sunsets.
By its name alone, Lovers Key State Park suggests it’s a romantic beach destination although it’s popular with adults and children alike. Lovers Key is one of four barrier islands making up Lovers Key State Park. Located off the mainland coast just north of Bonita Springs, the park is accessible via a causeway built in 1965. It boasts several pristine beaches and waters teeming with bottlenose dolphins, West Indian manatees, shellfish and rays. Motorized vehicles are not allowed within park waters, however, visitors can rent canoes, kayaks and bicycles. The park also has almost 13 kilometres of hiking, biking and nature trails and four kilometres of awesome beaches.