If your idea of an island retreat is a quiet beach community, warmed by the peaceful waters of the Gulf of Mexico, you might think you have to go far away – or turn back the clock to the days before development took over. Fortunately, there is Sanibel Island, a Florida coast destination that strikes the rare balance between excitement and tranquility.

Situated near Fort Myers, with its great selection of well-tended golf courses, museums and the Calusa Planetarium, guests staying on Sanibel and Captiva Islands also can take advantage of a short trip to Naples, with its excellent Zoo and botanical gardens. In Sanibel you’ll feel like you’re a thousand miles away, even though there is just over a mile of water between quiet Sanibel Island and mainland Florida’s busy, condo-sky-rise-filled shoreline.

The Island Perspective
Saved from Florida’s development explosion after WWII by farsighted development laws pushed by Sanibel residents, today Sanibel Island is free of the tall hotels and condos featured throughout the rest of the Gulf coast. Consequently, the island feels like a hideaway, with a small year-round population and room to spare on the 15 miles of unspoiled beaches, no matter the season. Vehicular traffic is also minimal, with no traffic lights on the island to spoil the pedestrian-centered way of life adopted by both vacationers and residents. A laid-back attitude infuses the local culture – you’ll want to slow your pace and relish every minute, every sight, the warm rays of the sun, the music of the waves tossing the shells about.

Geography and Natural Features
With a combined area of 33 square miles, Sanibel is considered a barrier island. Basically, the islands we see today are large sandbars formed by the action of waves over millennia. Because of the way it was formed, the lack of hills on the island makes for pleasurable bicycling, walking and running. Sanibel’s broad wetlands, home to a great diversity of winged and aquatic species, can best be experienced with a visit to the Ding Darling Wildlife refuge. This splendid preserve lets you immerse yourself in how Sanibel must have appeared to its first residents. In all, more than 50% of the acreage on the island is preserved wilderness by law.

The beautiful Sanibel beach faces the Gulf of Mexico, where shells are pushed ashore in huge quantities. In fact, shell experts from around the world come to search for the 250+ species of shells that have been found on these shores.