This post is sponsored by The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel.
As always, thoughts and opinions are my own.
Florida is a place that may not be super easy to get to when you live in Oregon, but I will tell you, it is absolutely worth the travel. Growing up, I would spend every summer in Michigan, collecting memoirs from the shores, digging my toes in the sand, playing in the water, and cuddling up to a good movie during a big thunderstorm. These were my best days growing up. I haven’t had any experiences that come even close to bring up my favorite childhood days, until I visited the Fort Myers & Sanibel area.
The area is known for its shelling (collecting of sea shells) and while two thirds of the area is protected, there are still vast areas of beaches, sanctuaries and activities for the outdoorsy crowd. Sanibel’s vibe is laid back and very relaxed with biking as a popular mode of transportation.
In June of 2019, my friend Anna and I set off for a long weekend of exploring Fort Myers & Sanibel island of Florida. Neither of us have ever been to the area, and while you can look online and do some research on what to expect, we really didn’t go in with too many ideas or hints of what it would be like. We were really surprised by so many things!
First stop, the Audubon Corkscrew Sanctuary! While driving towards the sanctuary. it didn’t seem or look like we were heading towards anything special. There were a lot of open land and the trees were sparse. Once we began our tour and really stetted deeper into the sanctuary however, it was starting to make sense… this really IS a sanctuary. It was also incredibly jungle-like, and really reminded me of Costa Rica in ways. It was humid, air plants were everywhere, all the plants were very lush, green and thriving… there were so many different types of birds, and perhaps my favorite sighting was the marsh filled with baby alligators. I mean, there were probably at least 20 of them in this one swamp! Not something I get to see, ever! As a photographer and a fan of wildlife & plants, this was an absolute joy to experience.
After spending the entire morning and part of the afternoon at the sanctuary (we couldn’t leave it was so amazing), we were looking for the next good spot to fill our bellies. We found Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille and I had finally discovered my love for the Beyond Burger. After our meal, thunderstorms and heavy rains started and so went went back to the hotel to clean up and get ready for finding a good sunset spot.
We were staying the the Wyndham Garden in Fort Myers Beach, and luckily had a room that was right on the water. The storms stayed strong until right about time for sunset and were were fortunate enough to watch the clouds split and break open just enough to let that final sunlight in. The beaches flooded with little pools of warm rain water and the clouds made for a beautiful colored sunset.
For our second full day, we headed over to explore the island of Sanibel. We started with a breakfast at Island Cow, then went to go pick up some cruiser bikes at Billys Rentals. Not accustomed to the heat and humidity quite yet, it felt warm very early on. We biked around the island very easily because there are bike paths that line every road and literally take you everywhere. We swung by JN Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge to see what it was all about and immediately upon arrival, saw several manatees playing around in the water together. On the south, and lower side of Sanibel there are endless near-white-sand beaches that span as far as the eye can see. The water was bright blue and was actually warm. As someone who is not a fan of ice cold water, this was really, really enjoyable.
After spending a few hours touring the island by bike, we opted to pick up some snacks and ice teas and take them to a beach for a lunch. We saw signs for jet ski and paddle board rentals and wanted to take the opportunity to spend more time in and on that incredible blue and warm water. We rented from Sunny Island Adventures and were allowed to access the beaches up north in Captiva. Do note, if you do go this route, you will only be able to rent and not order any food up at the beaches up there, they are owned by the resorts up in Captiva. Anna and I have never been on jet skis, but I have driven snowmobiles so I figured it was a similar feeling. You need to be 31 to operate a jet ski on your own, and Anna just missed the mark so we rode tandem. After a few minutes of figuring out the throttle and speed we were comfortable with, we noticed that we were surrounded by dolphins! Not like one or two, but every time we turned in every direction, there were dolphins! It was absolutely out of this world! I’ve seen dolphins from a boat in Hawaii before but never while on a jet ski or on anything so close to them on the water. We remained cautious to try not to startle them and give them space for the remainder or our time. We were never able to take the huge smile off our faces, this was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and I will never forget it.
Hungry from our day of adventures, we stopped by a market where we pick up some fruit, popcorn and more iced tea to take one last dip in the ocean before heading back to the hotel. We fell in love with Bowmans Beach. It was expansive, and while a little busy, we were able to walk just a few minutes and find an area all to ourselves. The amenities at the beaches on Sanibel are awesome… showers, drinks and well maintained with beautiful boardwalks. The entire island feels this way, very well taken care of & very loved.
Our last morning. We only hand a handful of hours to spend before needing to catch our flight, so we opted for renting kayaks with Estero River Outfitters. We we arrived, we immediately realized we had wished we had more time here. This place was magical. It did not feel like what I thought Florida would be like. The river wandered through a lush and deep jungle. We saw fish, owls and turtles. We had heard that manatees frequent the area, and even the occasional dolphin. Rain sprinkled on us, but nothing too crazy, we actually enjoyed it because it made for an extra peaceful experience and as a photographer, we love a good overcast sky in contrasty environments.
And just like that, our time came to an end, sadly. This area is wildly underrated. I think like many of us when we think of Florida, we think of the retired community (I mean, my grandfather does live here). I was incredibly wrong in my thinking. There is so much rich diversity in wildlife and landscapes, so unlike any place I have ever visited or seen before.
I am incredibly thankful that The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel offered me this trip of a lifetime, filled with experiences I will never forget. I think that everyone should experience this area at least once… I know that I would love to go back, hopefully sooner rather than later!
Southwest Florida isn’t just for your spring breakers and retired community, it is for all, and all should see it.