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Living Is Easy On Sanibel and Captiva

by Charlie Peay on December 15th, 2008

From the moment you cross over the newly renovated Causeway Bridge onto Sanibel Island ($6.00 toll for all 4-wheel vehicles), there is a mixed sense of coming home, nostalgia, and time standing still…but above all a profound sense of relief that you’ve finally made it back to this idyllic spot on the planet which surely must have been heaven-sent. The feeling begins to grow as you pass familiar sights…the blue and yellow Chamber of Commerce sign which warmly welcomes you onto the island, and the four-way stop a short distance up ahead which quietly beckons all incoming traffic to a halt…and then becomes downright overpowering as you make a right turn onto Periwinkle Way and gaze down its long straightaway at tall, majestic coconut palms swaying on either side of the road in soft island breezes.

There’s the Lazy Flamingo next to Dairy Queen on the right (the only fast food joint other than Subway that’s made it onto the island), and a little further up, the aqua and pink She Sells Sea Shells By The Seashore gift shop (which if I must admit, I still have trouble saying). There are my two favorite Italian restaurants Dolce Vita and Matzaluna, and before you know it, the Beachview Golf Club’s fairways come into view as they stretch out alongside the road, which lets me know for sure that I really am back on Sanibel (and also serves as a reminder that I need to set aside one day for lunch at Beachview so I can enjoy one of their delicious chicken salad sandwiches). While I carefully mind the customary 35mph speed limit and plod lazily along, Billy’s Bicycle Rentals suddenly appears out of the lush, green foliage and I smile to myself as a fresh group of island tourists merrily begin hopping on their bikes to set out on an “official” tour of the island. It’s only when I catch a glimpse of the Bank Of The Islands a little further up, that it all officially begins to sink in, and I realize that I must be almost to Jerry’s Foods, which just happens to be one my favorite grocery stores of all time and certainly the most colorful (I still wonder how a bunch of Minnesotans found their way to Sanibel, much less managed to open a trendy, upscale grocery store).

Knowing that it’s virtually impossible to pass by Jerry’s without stopping, I pull over in the quaint parking lot and pause just long enough while I’m getting out of the car to take in a long, deep breath of relaxing salt air. Yep, I’m baccckkk alright…and it almost feels too good to be true. As I make my way up the sidewalk toward Jerry’s, I begin to hear the loud, intermittent screeching of all those bright tropical parrots resting in their cages outside the store, who seem all to eager to carry on several conversations at once with curious passers-by, young parents and their children. I make sure to check out all the local notices and announcements posted on the store windows, and take a quick peak inside adjacent shops selling everything from beachwear to fine spirits. As I walk into Jerry’s Foods, I am overcome with a sense of prosperity and well-being…even though the rest of the world may be in utter chaos — all seems well here at Jerry’s on Sanibel. After I peruse the shelves and salad bar and pick up a few essentials that I know I can’t live without, it’s time to do some exploring and see what’s new on the island since my last visit.

Feeling a little shopped out at this point, I decide to pass by the Tahitian Gardens just this once, which is yet another array of boutique shops, specialty stores, and restaurants nearby featuring the Sanibel Cafe…and yes, the original Cheeburger Cheeburger, best known for its delicious shakes, HUGE cheeseburgers, and “Invent Your Own Taste” hamburgers and salads, which my diet says is strictly off limits for now. If it’s a jolt of caffeine you want, you can’t go wrong with the Sanibel Bean, a favorite local establishment serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, but best known for its tempting selection of island coffees, homemade pastries and hand-dipped ice cream (also advertising free wireless Internet and a friendly welcome to “polite” dogs). Just up ahead at the intersection of Periwinkle and Tarpon Road, which happens to be one of the main intersections on the island, you’ll find Amy’s Over Easy Café across the way which I consider to be one of the top10 breakfast places in the entire universe. Amy’s is open daily for breakfast and lunch, but be sure to come early during peak season because the line has been known to stretch clear around the building! Whether you prefer fancy omelets, French toast, mouth-watering blueberry pancakes or eggs Benedict in the morning — they have it at Amy’s, but don’t you think of leaving without trying one of their giant orange or cinnamon rolls — they’re to die for!

While we’re on the subject of hangouts, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another of my all-time favorites, Doc Ford’s Sanibel Rum Bar & Grille, which is located just off Sanibel-Captiva Road, the main drag to Captiva. Serving fresh seafood and a complete repertoire of sandwiches, salads and appetizers (not to mention raw oysters out back in Dinkin’s Bay Raw Bar), Doc Ford’s has one of those one-of-a-kind atmospheres that definitely needs to be a part of your Sanibel experience. If you find you’ve left something at home, not to worry! Since 1899, Bailey’s General Store has sold specialty items and groceries so that you’ll never have to worry about going back to the mainland once you set foot on the island. They’ll even deliver your groceries right to your door — just phone in or fax your order.

By the way, while you’re here, be sure to visit the “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge which is home to a wide variety of shorebirds, alligators and native plants, and offers traveling exhibits, education programs and lecture series throughout the year. The Wildlife Drive at the refuge is open Saturday-Thursday from 7:30 am until sunset year round, and the Education Center is open daily from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm January 1-April 30 and from 9:00 am until 4:00 pm May 1-December 31. It is no secret that Sanibel has long been considered to be one of the top shelling destinations in the world, with December through April generally being regarded as the best months for shelling. Just pick up a shelling bag, set out on your favorite stretch of beach, and before long you should be able to bring home some memorable seashell treasures! While you hunt for that special seashell, you’ll be able to enjoy some quiet time and witness some of the most spectacular sunsets that you’ll ever want to see. Whether you prefer fishing, golf, or just plain kicking back and enjoying Sanibel’s laid-back island lifestyle, there’s something for everyone on this scenic tropical oasis.

If that isn’t enough to satisfy your tropical longings, you’ll find another jewel in this sparkling crown of Southwest Florida just a stone’s throw away. Captiva Island may not be as large or as well known as its sister island, but it ranks right up there with Sanibel in terms of exclusivity and charm. Frolicking seagulls and dolphins greet you as you cross the unassuming 2-lane bridge onto Capitva, and right away you’re transported to an idyllic setting of tranquility and contentment. Breathtaking foliage and flowers make this a tropical wonderland laced with stately homes and magnificent retreats. A little further up and you’ll come to Captiva Village, an eclectic collection of shops, restaurants and vintage inns. If it’s early evening, you’re likely to hear the lively notes of guitars and saxophones as they drift up on gentle island breezes from the outdoor courtyard at the Keylime Bistro. Across the street, The Island Store sells all the groceries and necessities you will need so that you won’t have to stray once you’ve settled in. RC Otters is popular for its micro brews and Latte Da Café makes yummy fresh sandwiches and salads to go with their gourmet coffee and award winning desserts. There’s even an English Pub close by called Mucky Duck which has been serving up fine food and authentic British atmosphere for over 25 years. Then there’s the ever popular Sunshine Café offering such specialties as Asian marinated duck breast, Colorado lamp chops, and wood grilled filet mignon, all prepared in an open kitchen. Needless to say, when you take into account that Captiva Island boasts some of the finest resorts found anywhere in the world, you can begin to appreciate what a true gem this “little sister” to Sanibel really is.

When planning your vacation to Sanibel or Captiva, you’ll find a fabulous selection of resorts, homes and condominiums from which to choose, just begging to serve as your island headquarters for a few days, a week, a month or even longer! Some things in life never seem to change…life on these enchanted islands is easy, but just remember that when it’s time to leave…it’s not too early to begin counting the days until your next visit to this beautiful paradise by the sea.

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