Where the Wild Things Are: Sanibel Island, Florida

Reblogged from Bucket List Publications

In early September, we went on a family trip to Sanibel Island, Florida and were completely charmed by the small town feel and natural beauty of this 16-mile long island on the Gulf coast.  We were only there for a long weekend, but would love to return again for a longer trip.  There is a lot to do on this small island with many family-friendly options.

While Sanibel Island is famous for its shelling, one of the unexpected highlights of this trip for us was the wildlife.  About sixty-five percent of the island is protected natural reserve and there is an amazing shore-based ecosystem.  The largest preserve on Sanibel Island is the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Preserve, which is home to a variety of creatures including alligators, pelicans, osprey and more.  But the wildlife is everywhere: we think we saw a small bobcat dash out in front of car, and at our cottage, we saw a gopher tortoise, which is a threatened species, and many tree frogs.


The shore birds are prolific and provided endless entertainment for our boys who could not resist chasing them.

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We were also fortunate to see a large group of manatees in the marina on Captiva Island just before our cruise with Captiva Cruises.  It took a lot of restraint not to jump in the water and swim with those amazing gentle giants.


We did a half-day cruise to Cayo Costa Beach, which is a beautiful state park beach that is only accessible by boat.  The boys loved the boat ride and the beach was gorgeous and felt deserted since we were there during the off-season.  The water was also crystal clear so it was another great place to look for shells and sand dollars.


Cayo Costa BeachDSC09109-684x457Another highlight for the boys was the touch tank at Tarpon Bay Explorers.  What little boy (or girl) wouldn’t be delighted at the chance to touch sea stars, horseshoe crabs, hermit crabs, shrimp, and shells?

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We also took the cruise offered by Tarpon Bay Explorers, but it was a little too slow with too much talking for our busy boys.  I would recommend it for adults, though, because you can learn a lot about the history and ecology of the area.  Since we were traveling with little ones, we tried to sign-up for this Sea Life Encounter trip, but they didn’t have enough customers so it was canceled, which is the small downside to traveling in the off-season.

Other memorable moments included watching the sunset at Lighthouse Beach (big hit), seeing the boys try clams for the first time (not such a big hit), and playing mini-golf at a great course in Fort Myers.

DSC09024-e1378987080477-343x513I didn’t really mention the shells, but it’s true – the beaches are loaded with them.



Golfing (Miniature Style) in Fort Myers, Florida

One of the things that we introduced Finnegan to this summer was miniature golf and he loved it immediately.  We thought he might be a little too young, but Finnegan is naturally competitive and likes any game that involves keeping score (and in true four-year old fashion, he doesn’t feel bad about cheating to win).  I think his newly acquired ‘love’ of the game is partially related to the fact that he won a free game his first time playing by getting a hole in one on the last hole.  Everyone standing around was as surprised as we were and Finnegan certainly enjoyed the attention.


However, the courses around us all seem to be old and outdated and lack any character.  We played again in Upstate NY with my nieces over Labor Day and the course up there was pretty lackluster as well.


Miniature golf is a popular family vacation activity so we had high hopes for the courses in the Fort Myers, Florida area and they didn’t disappoint!  On our drive from the airport to Sanibel, Finnegan noticed Castle Golf immediately and asked if we could play there.  They were closed for the night since we had a late flight, but we promised to hit the course on our way back to the airport.

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What we didn’t plan for was a summer afternoon thunderstorm that is typical in southern Florida.  While we appreciated the rainbow that bid us adieu from Sanibel, we didn’t appreciate waiting out the thunderstorm in our rental minivan and watching the minutes tick by as our flight time approached.

Sanibel Rainbow

The storm finally slowed to a drizzle and we raced up to the Castle and looked desperate enough that they let us play, notwithstanding their normal 45 minute waiting period so they can drain the water from the course.  Finnegan definitely didn’t mind fishing his ball out of the cup filled with water.


We had to race around the course and didn’t get to properly play each hole, but the boys had so much fun.  A lot of the holes had really great designs with multiple levels.  Declan obviously doesn’t play, but they gave him a ball and putter for free and he had fun playing on the course.  Even though the weather wasn’t great, we appreciated the trade-off of having the place all to ourselves.


Do you know of any great miniature golf courses?  One that sticks out in my mind is in Lake George, NY where we went one summer for a family vacation, but I don’t remember the name.

Next Up: Sanibel Island, Florida

We are heading to Sanibel Island at the beginning of September for a long weekend and we’re so excited to relax on the beach for a few days, collect seashells, and rent bikes to explore Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

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I found this list of Sanibel and Captiva suggestions from scarymommy.com (which is the best website name ever) and the Cayo Costa beach cruise sounds perfect for our family so we might have to try and squeeze that in as well.

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Is it just me or would everyone like to buy a new wardrobe when they go on vacation?  If we were not spending all of our money on the actual vacation, here is what I would want to pack in my suitcase for our trip to Sanibel.

Sanibel Packing List

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