In search of the famously elusive Fountain of Youth, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon stumbled upon a small tranquil island off the Florida coast. Taking in the area’s beauty, he named the island “Santa Isybella” after the famous Spanish queen. With a few letters eroding over the years like the shifting sands of its beaches, Sanibel is a step back in time to the “Old Florida” spirit, billing its natural beauty as the main attraction.
Driving on the main Sanibel Causeway, one passes into a different time zone—and its not eastern or central standard. Arriving onto Periwinkle Way, “Island Time” takes over any watch or mental clock. Modern activities that are usually associated with Florida like theme parks, hi-rise condos, and big neon signs have no home here. No structure is allowed to be built higher than a palm tree, preserving the aura of an island untouched by the 21st Century. Taking advantage of this rule, petite and brightly colored A-frames like those of the Anchor Inn & Cottages are the region’s skyscrapers, allowing visitors to hang on the second floor amongst the rambunctious palm leaves.
Seeing a national movement to develop beachfronts and island locales in the 50s and 60s, island residents saw the disruption of natural ecosystems, and fought for the conservation of the region. Due to their efforts, over half of Sanibel today is a wildlife refuge, home to migratory birds, alligators, turtles, and marsh rabbits. The island also contains 17 miles of ungroomed beachfront, and due to its unique east-west orientation, the shores are painted pink by both a sunrise and sunset.
With all of that sand comes the ocean’s organic trading cards – shells. The “Seashell Capital of the World” takes that name seriously, attracting thousands to its beaches to take part in the Sanibel Stoop. No, it’s not the latest dance craze, but rather a phenomenon described as “the bent-at-the-waist posture used to collect seashells”. Scouring the sands for all different kinds of shapes, beachcombers are welcome to take home a few of their finds (as long as they are not housing any living residents). Many of the island’s hotels even offer special sinks in guest rooms for the purpose of washing new additions to collections.
A capital of shells, wildlife, and a quiet air only interrupted by the crashing waves, Sanibel invites visitors to embrace the organic attractions that abound on the small island. A mystical fountain has still yet to be found, but it can be argued the region’s tropical grandeur is nothing short of magical, and there is always a youthful glow to the “stooping” masses.
Written By: Seamus McMahon