|A beach on Sanibel Island, where shells often replace sand; collectibles ready for the trip home.
Once the summer rains are over, the Gulf waters off Sanibel Island are still warm enough for swimming and fishing, and daytime temperatures are in the mid-80s. Without the summer crowds, there’s plenty of space to spread out—and the prices are right. Need even more convincing? Read on for five great reasons to go.
1. Bike Heaven
Sanibel has more than 22 miles of bike paths that wind through shopping markets as well as quiet subtropical stretches. One of the wildest routes is the eight-mile loop around J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. While you’re there, look for animals like river otters, the Florida manatee and American alligators, and climb the observation tower to spot some of the 250 species of birds that live or pass through here. fws.gov/dingdarling; entrance fee, $1 for bikers, $5 for cars
2. Comfort Food
Take a night off from fried seafood and book a table at the popular (and untouristy) Sweet Melissa’s. The cozy, friendly dining room is overseen by the lovely chef Melissa Talmage, and everything on the menu, from the stuffed duck to the mussels in white wine sauce, is comfort food at its finest. 1625 Periwinkle Way; 239-472-1956; sweetmelissascafe.net; dinner for two, $80 without drinks, tax or tip.
3. Shells Shells Shells
Sanibel’s twisted shape and east-west orientation make it a prime net for seashells. If you visit the Gulf-facing beaches, especially at low tide, you’ll see countless stooped beachcombers engrossed in the search. The best find: the Bailey–Matthews Shell Museum, whose collection includes rare specimens, a new mollusk exhibit and fossil samples. 3075 Sanibel–Captiva Rd.; 239-395-2233; shellmuseum.org
4. Primo Golf
You’ll want to take your sweet time at the Beachview Golf & Tennis Club’s 18-hole, par-70 championship golf course. The holes are challenging (and well-maintained), and the setting is spectacular. Wrapped around the Sanibel River, the glorious greens are set in a landscape so natural it’s sanctioned by the Audubon Society. Look out for eagles! beachviewgolfclub.com
5. Awesome Sunsets
Sanibel has 15 miles of ridiculously beautiful beaches, but the best place for watching the sunset could well be Blind Pass Beach (a.k.a. Turner Beach). It’s near the passage between Sanibel and Captiva Island, with limited parking and no public buildings. That means you won’t have much company as the golden sun goes down beyond the white sands and darkening blue water. This view alone could be worth the trip to Sanibel.
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.