Photo Essay: Beachcombing on Sanibel Island

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Why Sanibel?

My adventures aren’t all threesomes, drunken exploration, and theme parks. Sometimes, even a handsome rogue such as myself needs a little break from taking a break.

And, sometimes this wanderlust fueled cad has to think about somebody other than himself when planning a trip. It was this combination of needing some downtime and wanting to cater to my travel partner’s love of seashells that took me to picturesque Sanibel Island in southern Florida.

The adventures themselves don’t bear much comment, but there was a lot of beauty packed into a relatively tiny corner of the world and I thought I’d share some of that with you. Enjoy.

Bowman’s Beach, Sanibel Island

Our first stop of the day would be idyllic and isolated Bowman’s Beach. Far away from the hotels and restaurants that draw the majority of Sanibel’s tourists, Bowman’s Beach is a beautiful little beach that felt quiet even with a big crowd of shell hounds and sunbathers in attendance.

Parking is paid on site and a short walk through some pretty undergrowth and over a bridge leads to a stretch of white sand, warm azure waters, and more shells than you can shake a stick of driftwood at.

Sanibel Dunes
The dunes approaching Sanibel Island’s isolated Bowman’s Beach.
Picnic on Sanibel
Fresh made sandwiches, mixed berries, ice cold beers, and chips. A perfect Sanibel picnic to start our day.
Cute couple
Yeah, I’m dating this pretty girl. Be jealous.

After breaking our fast (I fucking love that turn of phrase), it was time to indulge in the local obsession: shell hunting. While my contribution was little more than bobbing nearby in the near bathwater warm water, Heather avidly sifted through shells both in the water and on the shore in search of pretty additions to her collection back in Maryland.

We weren’t alone in the pursuit either. Kids and adults alike were wading about with heads down and feet stirring up shells, some with goggles and others with flotation devices and shovels. It’s serious business.

Bowman's Beach
The crowd out in force on a sunny Friday on Bowman’s Beach
Clouds over Bowman's Beach
The sky put on a dazzling, slow moving show overhead all day.
Kids in the ocean
The warm waters off Sanibel Island are calm and clear. Perfect for little shell hunters.

Two hours of soaking and searching had passed before the beautiful day Florida had turned out for us turned a little ugly. The crowd dissipated like proverbial ants before the coming rain, and soon we were alone on a near abandoned beach. Alas, bucket list item #178 didn’t come to fruition.


Stormy sky over Sanibel Island
The sky turned angry as the day continued, but provided me with some fun photo opportunities.
Stormy skies
The steel skies overhead quickly clear the beach.
Stormy skies
The incoming storm gifted me some stunning shots, I think. And yes, this shot is intentionally upside down.

With the crowds washing away like dust after the first spring rain, we had the beach to ourselves to explore. Heather was able to capture a few choice items to add to her collection along the way, but the beach was literally littered with pretty little shells and shards of sand dollars. It was easy to see – even as a rank novice – why Sanibel is seen as a bit of a mecca for shell fanatics.

Sandcastles in the sand
A sandcastle decorated with Sanibel’s primary export
Beach towel on the sand
The view from my back on the towel. My favourite beach position.
Ominous storm clouds
Maybe that should be our queue to leave…

But even a hard-as-nails Aussie brawler like myself knows when he is overmatched. As the clouds rolled in like something out of Independence Day, I decided that discretion was perhaps the better part of valor and acquiesced to Heather’s suggestion that we seek shelter beneath something a little more substantial than the blanket we’d liberated from our host.

With one last wistful look back at Bowman’s Beach, it was off in search of a few more photo opportunities before the light abandoned us like the sun had.

Lighthouse Beach

Our next (and final) stop would be Lighthouse Beach; so named because (you guessed it) it is home to Sanibel’s historic lighthouse. And while it wasn’t the white-washed beauty that I imagine when I hear the word lighthouse, it still provided a few wonderful shots.

And thank God. Heather spent another two hours combing the beach for seashells and recently dead anemones to add to her collection.

Lighthouse Beach
My first view of the eponymous lighthouse of Sanibel’s Lighthouse Beach
Sanibel Lighthouse
It’s not the quintessential lighthouse, but Sanibel’s lighthouse does still have a certain charm in my opinion.
Lighthouse and driftwood
Being artsty with some of the driftwood and fallen trees that litter Lighthouse Beach

Of course, the beach is more than just a lighthouse. While the weather wasn’t inspiring us to leap into the water, there was beauty enough to be found scattered along the shore. An abundance of seashells, driftwood, seaweed, and animal life made for one of the more unique beach experiences I’ve had.

Fallen fence
A fallen bit of a fence on Lighthouse Beach catches my eye
Heather isn’t quite sure what to make of her latest find
Enchanted girl
And enchanted by the next
The scattered shells on Lighthouse Beach put me in mind of some notorious shipwreck cove
Heather picks her way along the shore in search of treasures
Driftwood pool
Water pools beneath this collection of trees, living and dead
Just being a clam. Representin’

Of course, we weren’t alone on the beach. Much like Bowman’s Beach, Lighthouse Beach also drew a healthy number of beachcombers looking to find treasures washed up during the storm. And while the weather was far from lovely, there was a wonderfully festive atmosphere as families explored together, photographers took advantage of the overcast conditions, and fishermen went out in search of their dinner.

I might have griped about carrying Heather’s stinky bag of findings, but in hindsight, the entire place was enchanting. Newly washed by the rain and alive with life, there was something really unforgettable about Lighthouse Beach and Sanibel in general. It might have been one of the less glamorous additions to our itinerary, but it’s one that I remember fondly.

We had a lovely chat with this New York fisherman and his wife, who told us of a beach on nearby Captiva Island littered with whole sand dollars. It’s a shame we didn’t have time to investigate.
Fisherman at sunset
Fishermen were out in force as the sun set over Sanibel Island
shells on the beach
Shells form a path back towards the car park for us
Pretty girl
Heather shows off another of her finds

By the time we’d made the round trip to the pier and back to the car again, the sun was on its way down and our bellies were rumbling. With no more food in the car, it was time to make our trek back to nearby Fort Myer. Our day on Sanibel Island might not have been thrill a minute, but damned if I didn’t enjoy it all the same.

A Note on Accommodation

Sanibel Island is not a place for the budget conscious, at least not from my research. It’s laden with resorts and the like, but there isn’t much for the backpacking set. Not that I imagine a great many backpackers are bee-lining for a place known more for seashells than anything else.

AirBnB proved a Godsend for us, though. We found a lovely apartment in Fort Myer that was far better than any hotel or hostel we could have hoped to find. Brian was a fantastic host and our private bedroom and ensuite bathroom were lovely. And when the host went away for the weekend, we got the run of the big kitchen, roomy balcony overlooking the river, and massive walk-in pantry laden with snacks and sandwich fixings.

fort myer apartment
The spacious living area and kitchen. Note the *huge* pantry in back.
The greatest balcony in the universe. Much Taco Bell was eaten out here. Trix too! Not at the same time >_>
Pool in Fort Myer
The view down from the apartment. Lovely pool and hammocks galore!

It was the closest to living in the lap of luxury our trip had. I couldn’t recommend Brian’s apartment higher when looking for accommodation in Sanibel (or around, in this case).

Your Say

I found Sanibel to be a wonderful side detour in an otherwise hectic Florida itinerary. What is your favourite little secret that you’d like to share?

In my eyes, this one reminded me of Tea Gardens in New South Wales. Quiet, beautiful, and a little off the radar. I’d thoroughly recommend a visit.


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