Summer Vacation in Fort Myers & Sanibel? Shell Yes!

May 13, 2016

Along the Gulf Coast in Southwest Florida, The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel are a laid-back vacation option for travelers to the Sunshine State. You won't find theme parks and nightclubs here. Instead visitors find family-friendly activities, affordable accommodations and some of the best unspoiled beaches and natural habitats in the state. Oh yes, and lots of seashells.

Several of our deal experts vacation here regularly -- one even has a T-shirt with all of the islands -- so we've lined up 12 reasons why we have Fort Myers & Sanibel at the top of our summer vacation list.

1. You'll be shocked by all the shells.

The "Sanibel Stoop" and "Captiva Crouch" aren't dance moves -- they are affectionate terms for the posture you'll take while finding seashells on these islands just off the Florida coast. The Gulf and Caribbean currents meet the East-West beaches of Sanibel and Captiva islands and bring unbroken shells from miles around to shore. Every wave is a new chance at discovering alphabet cones, lightning whelks, calico scallops, dwarf arrow tritons, rare lion's paws and more.

They are serious about seashells here -- whether it's the Pinterest board, the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, shelling cruises to Cayo Costa or their Shellebration sweepstakes for National Seashell Day (June 20, 2016).

To find the best seashells, arrive early and go at low tide, when you may be able to walk farther out from shore to find shells on sand bars and shallow pools. May to September is considered the best shelling season -- when you may find up to 60 varieties in a single day. The Blind Pass strait between Sanibel and Captiva is a particularly good spot to find shells.

2. Get ready to chase the 'Green Flash.'

The Green Flash is not a superhero. It's when the sun sets below the horizon, and a green burst of light flashes for a moment. Sunsets are a big draw down here, and one of the most popular spots to enjoy them is at the Mucky Duck, a beachfront restaurant on Captiva. Parking can be tough, so get there before 3 p.m., spend the late afternoon on the beach, then grab a drink and watch the sun go down with your toes in the sand. If you miss the Green Flash, well, there's always tomorrow's sunset.

3. You're in pretty good company.

Two titans of American innovation, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, were neighbors in Fort Myers and their homes are now open to the public. Visitors can tour their homes, check out the inventions in the museum and laboratory, and walk through the gardens. Families will want to try the Young Inventors' Tour with four hands-on scientific activities, offered at 11 a.m. on Saturdays (Adults $12, kids 6-12 $5, under 6 free).

4. There's even more below the surface.

As inviting as the beaches are, the warm Gulf water is a big draw for many visitors to the area. The gentle waves make snorkeling fun for first-timers. Canoe or kayak along with manatees and dolphins on the 190-mile Great Calusa Blueway weaving through mangrove creeks, Lover's Key, Estero Bay and beyond.

There's plenty of fish in the sea -- tarpon to be exact -- and anglers travel great lengths to drop a line in the waters surrounding Fort Myers & Sanibel -- whether it's from a boat or from what locals call "the fishingest bridge in the U.S." -- the Matlacha Bridge between Pine Island and Cape Coral.

5. It's completely natural.

Beyond the palm trees, explore Jurassic-like nature parks and preserves that make you forget you're in Florida. The largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in America, J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel offers trails for hiking and biking -- but might be best explored by kayak or standup paddleboard. Don't forget binoculars for prime bird-watching -- more than 200 bird species call the area home.

When you're not shelling, swimming, kayaking, canoeing or paddleboarding -- there's still plenty of outdoor fun to be had. Sleep under the stars while camping on Pine Island or Cayo Costa State Park, get some wheels to ride around Sanibel at Billy's Rentals, tee off at courses designed by the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Donald Ross or join a charter fishing trip to the Boca Grande Pass and beyond.

6. You won't go hungry.

Try some Floribbean cuisine -- think fresh seafood, tropical fruits, spices and lots of flavor. This fusion is just one of the many tastes found in the area. Our deal experts recommend the beach bread at Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille, the orange crunch pie at the Bubble Room and the grouper sandwich at Bert's Bar & Grill. For a yummy snack, find a spot with locally made Queenie's ice cream.

7. It feels like vacation is supposed to feel.

You can leave your FastPass at home. Just about everything is on a smaller scale here -- small inns and condos make up most of the accommodations, and even the bigger resorts in the area like South Seas Resort on Captiva offer up villas and cottages with kitchens. You'll find as many bikes and golf carts as cars on Periwinkle Way, the two-lane road that travels through Sanibel Island.

On many of the islands, mom and pop shops are the norm -- whether it's galleries, kitschy souvenir shops or small restaurants. Expect many to have "island hours" -- after all, they want to hit the beach too.

8. You'll get plenty of quality family time.

With calm, warm waters largely free of steep drop-offs, the white-sand beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel are a big draw for families traveling with children. There's more than 50 miles of beach in the area -- so it's a good bet you'll be able to find a patch of sand to call your own. When you're not flying a kite, soaking up the sun, building sandcastles or searching for seashells down by the seashore, look out into the Gulf to see dolphins jumping out of the surf.

9. There are outlets for your shopping fix.

A little retail therapy goes a long way -- especially if there are a few bargains to be had in the process. Choose from 140 brand-name stores including Guess, Kate Spade, Michael Kors and Polo Ralph Lauren at the Miromar Outlets in Estero. The Sanibel Outlets in Fort Myers features Coach, a Nike Factory store and more.

10. You can walk the (art) walk.

There's a vibrant arts scene in this corner of Southwest Florida. Stop by the Sidney and Berne Davis Art Center, the one-time Fort Myers post office has been transformed into a cool space for concerts and exhibitions. Enjoy Fort Myers' Downtown Art Walk on the first Friday each month, when 11 galleries in the River District stay open late with receptions, music and free shuttles.

11. There's a different kind of nightlife after dark.

You won't find many bass-thumping nightclubs here, but there's still plenty to do after dark. Once the sun goes down, look up. Stargazing is incredible on the islands -- thanks to the lack of lights.

That lights-out policy is especially important if you're observing the loggerhead sea turtle hatching season that starts in the May moonlight on the area beaches. Keep a respectful distance if you want to witness this natural phenomenon and don't bring your flashlight -- artificial light draws the baby turtles away from the water.

12. You can stay even longer.

Who wouldn't want an extra day of vacation? Several inns, hotels and resorts are offering a 4th night free this summer. It's a pretty good bet that one will fit your vacation plans.

Ready to go? Enter the National Seashell Day Sweepstakes, find more deals and start planning your family's summer vacation to The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel.

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