Sanibel: A Destination for Bicyclists

October 12th, 2011

Tucked along Florida’s southwest coast is a virtual mecca for bicycle enthusiasts. On a barrier island west of Fort Myers lies Sanibel Island, a 12-mile-long island destination for nature and bicycle lovers.

While drivers in Florida beach towns are used to braking for swimsuit-clad pedestrians roaming the streets, on Sanibel Island it seems the bicyclists easily outnumber foot travelers. Like the postman who makes his rounds in rain, wind or sleet, you can find a bicyclist on the trails well after sunset or in a downpour, clad with a poncho. You may prefer to bring your own bike, but there’s really no need. There are plenty of bicycle shops which rent to island guests.

Plan ahead to get the best deals and make the most of your excursion to this distinctive community between Port Charlotte and Naples, west of Interstate 75. Those who enjoy camping may want to investigate the Periwinkle Park & Campground, which offers campsites for recreational vehicles or tents.

On your way onto the island along Causeway Road, it is well worth a short stop at the Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center. If you don’t already have reservations, the chamber can tell you which lodgings have vacancies available for the day, their minimum night stay requirements, and pet policies. Also available is literature to help you plan your activities while on the island, including restaurant, excursion, and real estate advice.

Sanibel has off-the-road trails which connect lodging, shopping areas, and restaurants, making it a convenient form of local transport. But perhaps the most interesting biking opportunity is at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which allows bicyclists, hikers, boaters and drivers to see nature up close. Taking the $5 drive-through in a car makes it easier to tow fishing and photo gear, or stop and fish. Kayak and canoe tours or rentals are available, as well as sea cruises and tram rides.

Sanibel Island also is popular for shells — best found during a low tide. Bring beach shoes with firm soles and a pail to scour the shoreline for shell mementos of your visit. Turn them into unusual necklaces, make your own earrings, or even use the larger ones as attractive paperweights. You also can visit shell shops on the island.

The shells typically found include the popular Conch, Junonia and Lightning Whelk shells. Live shells, or shells which are inhabited by a sea critter, are protected by law.

Sanibel features five public gulf-side beaches where you can enjoy the sun and surf. The gulf-side beaches include Lighthouse Beach near Sanibel Lighthouse on the east side of the island and Gulf Side City Park, which has parking only a short walk from the shore. The other beaches are Tarpon Bay Road, Bowman’s Beach, which includes a fitness trail, and Blind Pass beach on the west side of Sanibel.

Sanibel’s sister island, Captiva, is accessible from Sanibel-Captiva Road at Blind Pass. Captiva is about five miles long and is known for shells and beautiful sunsets. Turner and Captiva beaches provide public access on the gulf side.

Here are more things you can do in the area:

* Visit at Cayo Costa State Park by ferry or private boat for more off-road bicycling trails. Nine miles of beaches give you plenty of opportunities to find more shells. The park west of North Fort Myers offers rustic cabins, canoeing and kayaking, fishing, picnicking, scuba diving and plenty of chances to see manatees, porpoises, sea turtles and lots of shorebirds.

* Tour the Everglades on an airboat.

* Go deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.

* Visit Naples and see manatees or visit the zoo.

* Go shopping at Tanger Outlets in Fort Myers or the Miromar Outlets between Fort Myers and Naples for some factory outlet discounts.

* Hop a boat to Key West. Relax and enjoy the ride, come back the same day or stay overnight.

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