Shelling & Shopping in Gulf Coast Florida

For the second part of our Florida trip with my sister Liz and Brother in law Derek, we left The Florida Keys and crossed Alligator Alley to spend a night in glamourous Naples with its white soft sandy beaches, millionaire mansions and rather gorgeous sunsets. In Tin City we perused the gift shops and ate at one of the seafood restaurants where Derek who doesn’t do fish, tackled the first large plate of ribs of the holiday!

We have visited this side of Florida many times before, but usually staying on Sanibel next to the beach. For this trip we had booked through Airbnb to stay in a great value inland property in Cape Coral. The Tropical House was excellent with plenty of room, outdoor seating next to a covered pool and located right next to the canal where Brad & Derek made use of the kayaks. It’s a location we didn’t know but was only a 30 minute drive from most places we wanted to visit for days out.


To reach the Gulf, the Cape Coral area is closest to laid back Pine Island with its fishing boat marinas and water taxis that transport day trippers and campers to one of the many nearby islands and Cayes. To reach Pine Island you cross the bridge, driving through the tiny stripland of quaint Matlacha where shrimp boats dock, old fishing shanties have been converted to rustic B&B’s and an arty community sell their creations. We stopped for drinks and supper at legendary Bert’s Bar which dates back to the 30’s.


As we were out of season, we reviewed the upcoming weather reports and headed out on what looked to be a rainy day for shopping! So we’ve eaten noodles, made picnic lunches and generally tried to not spend too much money over the last year whilst travelling, but then the Evans literally went nuts spending on the credit card in the Miromar Outlet Shopping Centre. For the last 2 weeks of our trip we would be taking a Royal Caribbean Cruise to get us home to the UK (more to come on this snippet of excitement later..) so Mr E was in need of trousers, shoes and a jacket. Birkenstocks and shorts probably wouldn’t meet the formal dinner requirements! I purchased some sandals and OMG!..a pair of high heels ready for work, my flip flop wearing feet are not going to like being squished into shoes once again. Between us all we packed our purchases into The Town & Caravan and headed home, exhausted from the excess of spending, too tired even for a round of Adventure Golf!


Time for a picnic! With a well packed cool bag we drove down through Fort Myers and into Lovers Key State Park. For just $8 we parked up and took the land train across the mangroves to find a spot on a very white sandy beach. Once our day camp was set up we did the stoop..bending over walking the Lovers Key Beach looking for top notch shells. At the end of the beach in the fast flowing inlet, we were utterly delighted to watch a group of fishermen in their boat catching tilapia, while two dolphins practically held their flippers out for cast offs and handouts as the guys were just copiously reeling the fish in, of course it was the one time I didn’t have my camera in hand!


I totally love these desolate outer beaches where plovers and sandpipers probe for food along the waters edges huddling together in their respective groups. Herons and Egrets just hang out, paddling in the soft waves waiting for their next big catch.
Washed up bleached tree trunks are now organic beachy art installations, long gone leaves have been replaced with jangly white shells that resemble white blossom from a distance. We hung shells on high branches and made wishes that we’ll return again one day.


Away from the beaches we spent a pleasant morning at the Edison Ford Estates located next to the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers. These beautifully restored craftsman houses were the family winter destinations for Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. The museum, laboratory and houses exhibit their lives and inventions. Edison, Ford and Harvey Firestone formed a botanical research corporation to research a natural source of rubber that could be grown in the US and remove dependence on foreign rubber being imported.


The Botanical Gardens flourish with a massive Banyan Tree still growing today that was one of the original 17,000 plant samples that were tested for the rubber research. Edison spent time in his laboratory and study perfecting his inventions. One of his most famous patents was for the long lasting electrical light bulb. The estate is in a beautiful spot looking out over the river and I’m sure the creativity of two of the finest American minds was fast flowing here.

One of our favourite holiday spots to visit is on Sanibel & Captiva Islands. So we were keen to show Liz & Derek where we have spent many happy holidays. We packed a final picnic and headed over the Sanibel Bridge to spend a lovely day on these perfectly formed Floridian islands. We started out at the south end of the island at Lighthouse beach. On this corner of the island people fish from the pier, there’s plenty of shells to collect, sandcastles to be built and a couple where getting married.


Posing for photos, two baby Osprey watched as Mum & Dad soared over the waves swooping on unlucky fish destined to become Osprey lunch. After a wander on the beach we stopped at Pinnochio’s for yummy ice cream topped with one of their signature animal crackers. From there we drove north through Sanibel up to Captiva. This tiny island feels totally tropical, with its pink and green Florida coloured houses nestled in the palm trees. We stopped at Jensen’s Marina hoping to see Manatee in the sheltered bay, we got lucky and Liz nearly did a ‘Sarah cry’ when they popped up their cow noses to take a breath. The whole Manatee family bobbed up and down for our amusement.



After picnicking on the beach, we headed down to drive through the Ding Darling Refuge. Lots of winter snowbirds have now left Florida, so the park was pretty quiet but we still enjoyed this sanctuary and the fresh air.
Our day was completed by a visit to one of our favourite spots The Island Cow for dinner. Derek tucked into more ribs and opted for additional ribs instead of shrimp, boy he loves his meat!

Soon enough it was time to move on and over to Fort Lauderdale for the last part of our trip. I know our wishes will come true and we’ll definitely return to this wonderful part of Florida in the future or until we win the lottery when we buy our own spot of paradise in Captiva!


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