Jet Lag Journal: Sanibel Island
On an overcast January day on Florida’s Gulf of Mexico, it is just a little too chilly to spend the day on the beach. Many people like to wrap themselves up in blankets and a sweatshirt to read by the water, but my family took a happy, wholesome little day trip to Sanibel Island. We drove for 45 minutes through tourist towns lined with biker bars (bursting at the seams with old man ponytails and Hogs in the parking lot) and dive-y souvenir shops (the kind with displays hung from fish nets) before reaching the little island of Sanibel.
Arriving hungry and ready for breakfast, we stopped at the historic Thistle Lodge. This is considered a splurge on Sanibel, as most restaurants are great, colorful little holes-in-the-wall. But we didn’t want to wait in a crowded line for brunch, and we very much wanted an ocean view. The history here is fascinating: Reverend George Barnes and his family were missionaries in Calcutta and Bombay, and on his way home his boat ran aground in Sanibel (typical back then due to the sandbars). He was convinced that God had led him to paradise. According to my menu – cue southern accent, “without further ado, he fetched his family and headed southward.” He built a cottage on the seashore for his two daughters called The Sisters, which eventually evolved into the first inn on Sanibel. His daughter Georgia married one of the inn’s guests from Kentucky, and the two of them built a grand Victorian home on the waterfront – what is today Thistle Lodge.
Sanibel Island is known for its piles and piles perfectly intact shells, and you can join the parade of shellers every day on the beach, doubled over in “the Sanibel Stoop.” Many people arrive in special waterproof, rubber-soled shoes so they can successfully troll the shoreline for the best and most unique shells. We brought Ziploc bags with us that we completely stuffed with gorgeous mauve and gray shells. When finished, you can make use of the multiple shell cleaning stations to rinse off the excess sand before bringing home your seaside treasures.
Shelling: Anyone can do it! Shopping on Sanibel is such a treat. The outsides of the shops are colorful and Caribbean, and I just assumed that the shops would carry tacky clothes, or at least clothes for the older set. Not so! They had beautiful beachy options – thin and loose-hanging cashmere sweaters in all the light colors of the shells, and long, flowy dresses and scarves for cooler nights. A few photos of my favorites: CJ’s Island Boutique, Why Knot?, and Gene’s Bookstore.
The Washington Times paid a visit to Sanibel last January in Florida’s “Sanibel Stoop” is an Island Shell Game.