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I have really been struggling this week to get back into the groove of school and returning from vacation all at once.I feel like I am experiencing a vacation hangover of sorts followed by a strong dose of “back to reality” funk. I have also been struggling to think about how to describe my trip last week. There is quite a lot of information I want to share with you so I will be breaking all of it up for you into several post. This post will be the first in the series and a introduction to the newest love of my vacation life, Sanibel Island. To be honest, I had never in my life heard of Sanibel Island until about 4-5 months ago. Growing up, my family was more of a east coast of Florida type of beach family. We visited Fernandina Beach, Daytona Beach, St. Augustine, and of course the beaches here on the coast of Georgia including Jekyll Island and St. Simons. I am not saying we never ventured to the Gulf Coast but if we did I don’t remember.
All that being said, I have been dying to check out the Gulf side of Florida. I began to research furiously the best places on the Gulf Coast of Florida/Alabama to take families with small children. I read list after list and review after review. The same 6-10 beaches kept showing up on all the lists from Southern Living to the travel channel. At that point I further narrowed the choices down by prices of the accommodations and the congestion and thus arrived at Sanibel Island. Sanibel only has a population of around seven thousand people and It was MUCH cheaper than Destin or Panama City Beach hotels.
Armed with tons of research and suggestions on this beautiful little island on the gulfside of Southern Florida, my husband and I headed south armed with a four year old, a ten year old, insane amount of luggage, and high hopes for an exciting adventure. We unknowingly drove through the beginnings of tropical storm Emily all the way to Sanibel. The. Entire. Way. I am not joking! I don’t think the rain ever stopped the whole way down. It felt like it took a lot longer than it probably did due to the rain and traffic as a result. We stopped in Fort Meyers which was about 20 minutes from Sanibel to grab some groceries as I had read they were much cheaper on the mainland. This proved to be true.
As we drove through Fort Meyers I got nervous! While the busy streets were lovely and picturesque with their palm flanked roads with large mediterranean mansions and high rise luxury condos sprinkled throughout, my heart sank along with the weather as I had hoped for a more casual and low key type of vacation. As we approached the toll booth the rain magically disappeared. We paid the $6 toll to get on the causeway and I could feel the mainland and all the business and commercialism fade away behind us. As we drove across the almost three mile long causeway, the San Carlos Bay glistened in the distance like a scene off of a movie. We began to pass palm trees on either side of the causeway that were almost seemed to be dancing with the wind. Beach goers were happily playing in the bay totally unaffected by the storms behind and around us. Off to our left we could see a definite separation where the Caloosahatchee river met the Gulf of Mexico’s tranquil turquoise & green waters. For that moment, the rain had stopped and all we could see was the BEAUTIFUL island ahead.
As soon as we pulled onto the small island, we felt like we were not in the states anymore. There are no red lights and I get the sense that the locals work hard to maintain the small quaint and untouched feeling that Sanibel offers. There are mangroves everywhere and the vegetation is unlike anything we have at our beach in Georgia or North Florida. Everywhere we looked there was lush, dense, and green vegetation. Wildlife seemed to be everywhere you looked including birds, rabbits, and dolphins. Sanibel is basically a nature lover’s dream come true. Sanibel is twelve miles long and only three miles wide at her widest so it has a wonderful small town feel. As a girl from a tiny hometown with one red light, I could really appreciate this small island feel. We proceeded towards our hotel, the Sundial Resort, and we could see water in some places to our right as well as to our left.
We continued to twist and turn our way through the island and we spotted tons of restaurants, coffee shops, beach stores, and so much more than I was expecting! Each new place we passed was so colorful and inviting as if it was just waiting to be explored. The island exudes the character and color scheme of Key West, the remote feeling of the small island of the Bahamas but a flavor that is truly unique only to Sanibel. I already knew from all my pre-trip research there would definitely not be a shortage of wonderful places to eat or things to do for the kids! The only dilemma was that I knew we wouldn’t be able to try everything in just a week and as we drove past each eclectic small business I felt that I didn’t want to miss a single one! Each place seemed to be saying “come on in and explore, we have been waiting for you”.
We pressed on towards the Sundial hoping to beat the rain. As we headed that way I couldn’t help but notice how quiet and unpopulated the island felt. We passed a few families biking on the VERY nice and extensive bike paths that stretch the entire island. If you are a family that is really into biking ( not us), Sanibel seems like a wonderful place for that. We also noticed LOTS of tennis courts and pickle ball courts ( more on this later). It did not take long at all to arrive to the Sundial Resort. You can read the full Sundial review here. The moment we pulled up in front of the impressive lobby, I just knew I had made the right selection with the Sundial. At that moment I was so excited for us to explore this gorgeous resort, Sanibel, and Captiva Island for the next seven days. While we were only in South Florida, I felt 1,000 miles away from “civilization”.