Visiting the shelling capital of the world with kids
Are you the kind of person who gets a little bored just sitting on the beach? Do you also not really love swimming in the ocean for hours on end (but your kids do)? Have I ever got the family beach vacation for you: a week on Sanibel Island.
Low-key Sanibel Island is the shelling capital of the world. Believe it or not, people travel here from all over the world just to go beach combing — it’s that good. Even better, you can bring the whole family. The island is half wildlife sanctuary (birds, snakes, turtles, and alligators) and criss-crossed by wonderful bike paths that are totally separate from the road.
You won’t find any 5-star resorts, but you will find laid back luxury, warm water, white sand, and shelling so good it’ll have you planning your return trip within minutes of stepping on the beach.
Why so many darn shells?
Sanibel is a barrier island shaped kind of like a banana. The coastline runs west to east (rather than north to south), and sticking out into the Atlantic like it does, it catches shells from the Caribbean. Lots of shells, over 300 species, in fact. Especially after storms and extreme tides. And they are very, very easy to find too. No scuba diving, no long boat rides, just take a walk on the beach.
How to strike it rich
First, pay attention to the tide charts. Ideal times to go are from one hour before to one hour after low tide. The wonderful website, I Love Shelling, is a great place to get real-time information on conditions (as well as a glimpse into the weird and wonderful world of shelling). Before you know it, you’ll be on a personal quest for some of the rarest finds!
While many of the big conchs and whelks can be found at the water’s edge, I personally had the best time sitting in a shell mound browsing for miniature shells (which are easier to bring home too).
Also, remember the rules: Florida law prohibits the collection of live seashells. It almost killed me to throw back the perfect, shiny olive I found complete with a snail-y creature inside, but it was the right thing to do.
If you have a borderline obsessive personality (ahem), you may find yourself shelling for up to 7 hours a day — it’s honestly that fun. This takes an incredible toll on your neck, back, and thighs, so bring plenty of ibuprofen.
If you go
Depending on where you’re coming from, you can either fly into Miami, rent a car, and drive three hours across a region called “Alligator Alley” (we elected not to do this, since we landed at night) or fly into Ft. Myers, rent a car, and drive 50 minutes to the island. Yes, you will need a car, even if you decide to get around the island mostly by bike.
Sanibel is low-key and family-friendly. What it lacks in 5-star resorts and Michelin-rated restaurants, it more than makes up for in beaches, bike paths, birds, and warm water.
After much research, we opted to stay at the Island Inn. We loved the beachfront location, access to bike paths, and kitchen (so we could save some time on money by not dining out every meal).
Although I was accommodated with a media rate on my trip, the Island Inn did not request that I express any particular point of view. All opinions are my own.