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Of the 100 barrier islands that make up Florida's Lee County, Sanibel and Captiva are best known. Connected to the mainland by a dazzling three-mile-long scenic drive across a causeway from the mainland, Sanibel is known world-wide for its shelling and the associated posture referred to as the "Sanibel Stoop." More than 200 varieties of shells litter the beaches, particularly after an especially high or low tide. The annual Shell Fair is attended by thousands of visitors from throughout the world. For most visitors, however, shelling is a delightful excuse to enjoy hours of sun-worshipping along some of the most beautiful shoreline in North America and to absorb the unspoiled island atmosphere the natives work so earnestly to maintain.
Sanibel's main street is Periwinkle Way, a picturesque, lush thoroughfare framed by a canopy of Australian pines and tall, graceful palms. Interesting shops, galleries, and restaurants dot the road from the Sanibel Lighthouse to Tarpon Bay Road, making frequent stops a must. Located toward the northwestern tip, the J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is home to many exotic species of birds and plants. Naturalists and sightseers get opportunities to witness a variety of wildlife as well, including the ubiquitous alligator, in their natural settings. You can drive, bike or hike through this sanctuary, or take a narrated tour by tram or canoe. In all, the refuge occupies 5,000 acres, almost one-third of the island. More natural beauty can be found across Pine Island Sound in Pineland.
Once you're through the wildlife refuge, you're minutes away from Captiva, which is joined to Sanibel's northern tip by a tiny bridge over Blind Pass. The main attraction on Captiva is that there are none and many visitors wile away the hours in more laid-back ways: sunning, walking the beach, fishing and just doing nothing. It was here that Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote her best-selling love letter, "A Gift From the Sea." She and her famous-aviator husband were frequent guests on the island. Although these tiny islands changed in many ways once the causeway from the mainland was opened in 1963, they remain among Florida's most beautiful destinations.
Photo courtesy of the Florida Department of Commerce