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What the Shell?!? Oh, Sanibel!

Ah, summer. It’s almost here.

While our winter has been pretty mild this year, it has been very rainy, and all of us are ready for summer. We’re ready for school to be out, we’re ready to take the Monkey Barrel on another adventure, and we are ready to end our summer with a fun beach trip!

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We go to the beach ever summer. Typically, we go to Crescent Beach, which is just south of St. Augustine, Florida, on the Atlantic coast. We choose Crescent Beach because it is close to Kyle’s parents house (making it easier for them to join us), and because this is the beach where Kyle spent so many of his childhood summers.

It’s a nice beach. It’s wide and flat, with plenty of room for the kids to run and play. But the surf is always strong, there is no chance of snorkeling (water isn’t clear enough because of the surf), and we never find any intact seashells (sharks teeth everywhere, though!).

Calmer waters can be found on the west coast of Florida.

I, however, am always on the lookout for someplace new to go. Even when it’s just a trip to the beach. So, I started researching places that might be fun to visit. However, because I was going to ask the whole family to drive further just to go to a beach, I knew it had to be a place that had a really neat feature.

That place turned out to be Sanibel Island, Florida. The feature turned out to be shelling. This sound exactly like the kind of beach adventure I wanted for us, so I called around and booked a condo for us and my mother-in-law booked one for them. Because we were traveling with them, we left the Monkey Barrel at home for this trip.

Sanibel Island is, as the name implies, an island off the western coast of Florida, just west of Fort Myers, Florida. Being on the Gulf of Mexico gives the beach much calmer waves, and being so far south helps Sanibel (and its nearby neighbor, Captiva) catch these pretty incredible shells. Sanibel has been ranked as one of the top three shelling destinations in the world, and for good reason. It’s hard to go anywhere near the water without seeing shells everywhere. In fact, when I booked our condo, I asked the lady where the best place to find shells was, she said, “the beach. Literally, just go there and they are everywhere.” She was not kidding (or being rude).

The best time, however, to find shells is after a storm. The storm will stir everything up and then dump the shells on the beach. Many people will go out before dawn after a storm with flashlights to look for the best shells. In fact, the “Sanibel Stoop” is what the locals call people as they are shelling because they are stooped over as the comb the sand.

Sanibel Island itself is pretty special. You have to pay a toll to cross the bridge onto the island, which keeps the traffic down so starters. Second, the mass commercialization that has swept up much of Florida (especially the touristy parts of Florida) hasn’t happened on Sanibel. I’m not sure if that is because it’s an island or if the locals decided to keep Sanibel local and place restrictions on developments. However, if you grew up going to Florida, and remember Florida being quiet little beachside hamlets with very lush and established landscapes, then Sanibel will bring back wonderful memories for you. At one point, I looked at my mother-in-law and said, “this is what beachside Florida is supposed to look like.”

Shells aren’t the only thing that the beaches of Sanibel have to offer. One day as we were all right on the shore, a group of sting rays (called a “fever,” did you know that?) swam by. It was pretty impressive.

Another day, as I was wading out with the boys, I stepped on something that then kind of curled around my foot. Now, the water was not clear, and I was about waist deep, so there was a moment of internal panic and terror. I had a sifter in my hand, so I took it, calmly reached down, and dug up whatever I was standing on. Thankfully, it was a very leggy sea star! We all enjoyed looking at it before I gently returned it to the water.

We also found sand dollars. Sand dollars everywhere. We did not, however, keep any sand dollars, and here’s why: if the sand dollar is alive, it is illegal to keep it. How do I know if it’s alive, you ask? If it is a muddy-sand color, and if it has it’s little tendril-looking things around it’s edges, it is alive. So, we would find tons of sand dollars, look at them, and then put them back. Which honestly, was great because the kids got to hold and study living sand dollars, and we got to have an important lesson on respecting nature and leaving nature the way we found it.

If you do ever go to Sanibel, please keep that in mind. Living creatures, such as sand dollars and sea stars do not need to be kept as you will kill them by leaving them out in the sun to dry out. Further, as I mentioned, it is illegal to do so and you could end up with a hefty fine. There seems to be an endless supply of shells, but please only keep the ones that are unoccupied. We did find a few that were, and put them back. Even with responsible shelling, I promise, you will still go home with tons of shells.

What did I do with our precious finds, you ask? I placed the larger ones in a glass lamp that now sits at our science station. The smaller ones I took and placed inside a clear glass globe ornament that I gave to my mother-in-law as a souvenir of our trip. The next time we go, I’m going to be pickier with which shells I bring home.

Lastly, if you’re going to go (and I highly recommend it!), make sure you pack a flashlight, a sifter of some sort, and some reusable containers with lids for the shells trip home. Further, we packed our waterproof camera, and I am so glad we did. Taking pics on the beach was a breeze, and getting video of the sting rays was incredible. We also packed our snorkel gear, but sadly, the water was too murky to use it.

We’re definitely planning another Sanibel trip. Have you ever been? What were your favorite parts of your trip?

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4 thoughts on “What the Shell?!? Oh, Sanibel!

  1. We love Sanibel. Our stay in a condo was last June, but have made other visits. Love the laid back atmosphere and friendly people. Glad you chose it. Try the everglades next trip. Your children won’t forget seeing the alligators and birds. Shark valley visitors center has a 2 hour tram tour that should not be missed. I enjoy your blog. I know your mother, too.

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by & leaving a comment! I’ll definitely add your suggestions to our list of places to visit.
      I went to the Everglades a looooong time ago (just after college) & definitely want to take Kyle & the kids some day. 😊

  2. Ahhh that looks like such a fun place to visit!! That sea star is seriously cool!

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