Going Coastal

Cayo Costa Island

By Cherie Delory

It’s easy to lose yourself in the tropical island solitude of southwest Florida’s Lee County. The beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel are renowned for pristine white sands and the best shelling in North America. With 100 islands covering nearly 600 coastal miles, a dedication to nature and wildlife, and the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox farm teams in spring training, the area has something for everyone.

We stayed at Sanibel Arms West Condominiums, in a spacious, comfortable, two-bedroom condo on Sanibel Island, with a stunning view of the Gulf of Mexico— dolphins could be spotted playing near the shore just before sunset — and a lush turtle-filed estuary out the kitchen’s sliding glass doors. Sanibel Island, which is approximately two-thirds wildlife refuge, is a 20-minute drive over the Sanibel Causeway from Fort Myers and the airport. Traffic lights and street lamps don’t exist on the island. A traffic guide keeps things under control during rush hour, as does the 35-mile-an-hour speed limit. Twenty- five miles of accessible, scenic bike paths spanning almost the entire island make it a breeze to arrive at any destination on two wheels. It’s a popular destination for snowbirds and multi-generational gatherings alike and, to make the most of it, here is a list of the top five diversions.

Eastern indigo snakes, alligators, egrets and Florida manatees — oh my! With more than 7,000 acres of habitat, the J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States and is regarded as one of the top birding destinations in North America. Pick up trails from the Education Center. You can
choose to walk, drive or cycle.

There are plenty of shells to buy, but half the fun is in the hunt. When the tide is out, you’ll spy live shells too, but they’re not for the taking. “It’s bad karma,” one passerby tells me. Not only that, it’s illegal. Take a private shelling charter with Captain Mike Fuery to the secluded Cayo Costa Island. This is where you’ll find sand dollars and rare treasures swept in by the

Inventor Thomas Edison, known for such brainwaves as the electric light bulb and the phonograph, and his good friend automobile magnet Henry Ford both wintered in comfortable clapboard homes with sprawling wrap-around porches on 17 acres of propertyalong the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers, now known as the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Museum and Botanic Gardens. Edison, Ford and Harvey Firestone (of Firestone Tirefame) formed the Edison Botanic Research Corporation in 1927. More than 300 varieties of plants were planted at the estate, primarily to assist Edison with his inventions. Heritage plants are available for purchase in the Garden Shoppe. The smell of gardenias is intoxicating, and you can wander through a rose garden and spot exotic trees such as ylang-ylang, frangipani and lychee, and the show-stopping banyan tree measuring 400 feet around, the largest in the United States.

It is said that to compensate for the loss of one sense, other senses become more heightened. An aromatic garden is particularly pleasing to the blind and brings an element of rejuvenation and calm. The gardens are also therapeutic for memory impairments, due to the olfactory connection to the brain. The Fragrance Garden at Lakes Regional Park features fragrant flowers such as peonies, jasmine, sweet peas, roses and gardenias, as well as edible herbs and wild coffee.

Named after the native Calusa tribe, the 190 miles of trails and waterways of The Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail offer many routes, depending on your skill level. Lovers Key is a gentle route for first-time paddlers. Protected from the wind, this winding kayak trail guides you through calm water under a canopy of greenery, with plenty of wildlife sightings, such as bald eagles, ospreys and pelicans. The Tarpon Bay route is part of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge