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Beaches are islands best jewel and lure during hard times

February 5, 2009

Orlando might have Disney World and Miami is an epicenter of culture and art museums.

But the two hot spots don't have the watery gems of Sanibel and Captiva.

The pristine and uncommercialized beaches of the islands are the area's largest draw.

Article Photos

Bivan Edwards, Zach Davis and Fred Hurson enjoy some surf time on the beach near ‘Tween Waters Inn on Captiva during a recent breezy day.

"Sanibel and Captiva are the crown jewels of Lee County," said Bridget Stone-Bud, the chamber's marketing director.

Staff at the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce note that most of the people who walk their visitor center's doors are looking for the beaches.

In November, 13,500 visitors came through to the center, Stone-Bud said.

Fact Box

Beach basics

Sanibel is one of the unique barrier islands of the world, having an east-west orientation when most islands are north-south. This helps the island be gifted with sandy beaches and an abundance of shells. There are a few rules help preserve the beaches. Pets on Sanibel Island must be leashed, and cleaned up after. Captiva beaches do not allow pets. Alcoholic beverages are prohibited November through May. No open fires and no collecting of live shells.

Basic restrooms are located at all public beach accesses. Some have picnic tables, all have handicap parking. Parking at Sanibel Island and Captiva Island public beaches costs $2 an hour.


"The first thing they do (visitors at the center) is open the guide and point out the beaches," she said. "That's what they come down here for water, beaches and shelling."

The shelling on the islands is considered some of the world's best. The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum on Sanibel draws regular crowds with their programs aimed at helping people understand the biology provides clues accounting for Sanibel's reputation as the shelling capital of North America," said Shell Museum marketing director Kathleen Hoover. "Most islands have a north-south orientation, running parallel to the coast. However, Sanibel runs in a more east west direction."

The naturalness of the islands with its sparkling blue waters and baby powdery beaches is a magnet for those who want to get away from it all - including the high rise condos and entertainment palaces located near some beaches.

Scott Slind, a local surfer and manager at YOLO Sports on Captiva, said he enjoys going to beaches unfettered with commercialism such as high rise condos.

And though the waters are too calm for high octane surfing, they serve as a great classroom for those just learning the sport or anyone wanting to just relax without the crowds and cramped beaches.

"In terms of availability the water is accessible to everyone," Slind said.

Storms and winds do produce enough wave action to draw surfers who revel in the mostly wide open and less rougher waters.

"When we do get waves here, it's pretty safe," he said.

A variety of businesses such as YOLO sports on Captiva provide surf board and other water activity rentals.

And still for those really looking to get away from it all - think Gilligans Island remote - local boating companies can bring to just that.

Capt. Louise Alt, owner of Water Woman Adventures, delights in bringing visitors to remote beaches accessible only by boat.

"The beaches I enjoy are secluded," Alt said. "They're unspoiled."



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Article Poll

  1. Pristine and natural
  2. Great shelling
  3. Relaxing
  4. Gentle breaks and tides
  5. Sand texture