Sunshine and Seashells: South Florida

Sanibel Seashells
Sanibel Seashells

Recommended Time: 1-2 weeks

I know what you’re thinking. Florida in the summer?! C’mon, now. But it’s true! July and even into early August is a great time to visit the west coast of Southern Florida. The off-season means lower prices for resort hotels, and dwindling crowds on the still-pristine beaches.

Start you journey in Fort Myers Beach, a bustling small city with white-sand beaches and a plethora of adventure outfitters. Whether you want to rent a kayak, go parasailing, or even take a guided Jet Ski tour in search of dolphins, you can do it all right from the beach in Fort Myers.

Dolphin Tour

Awesome dolphin tour!

Then slow things down a bit and head to Sanibel Island, known as the seashell capital of the world. The drive over the three-mile causeway seemingly takes you a world away, where the pace of life is slower, and the palm trees are taller than any building. Sanibel and Captiva islands are known for their stunning sunsets, fantastic seafood, and untouched quality. Ride a bike along miles of trails in search of wildlife. Assume the famous “Sanibel Stoop” position as you scour the beach for shells. Or kick up your adrenaline just a bit and watch dolphins jump in the wake on the Sanibel Thriller speedboat tour. Whatever you do, the island life will have you leaving all of your cares behind—and mailing home an embarrassingly large seashell collection!

A glorious Sanibel sunset

A glorious Sanibel sunset.

En route to the Florida Keys, you’ll pass Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, both of which are vibrant Oceanside cities, famous for their eclectic culture and spring break parties. Nicknamed the “Venice of America” Fort Lauderdale is famous for its canals and 23 miles of golden sand beaches. Stop in Miami to soak up its Cuban culture and hoppin’ nightlife.

Miami Beach

Miami Beach

Photo: Ricymar Photography.

Then it’s back to nature. Encompassing 1.5 million acres, Everglades National Park is considered the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. The prime spot for wildlife viewing, the Everglades is home to turtles, herons, crocodiles, manatee, and many more species. Pack your binoculars and take a short walk on the Anhinga Trail, climb the 65-foot observation tower at Shark Valley, or take a guided tram or boat tour to see the animals that call the park home.

Photo: Sheila Sund.

Next, it’s on to the 120-mile stretch of islands known as the Florida Keys, connected to mainland Florida by 42 bridges that span U.S. 1, the Overseas Highway. Dubbed “America’s Caribbean,” the five main sections of the Keys each have their own flavor and fame.

Photo: Lars Plougmann.

Key Largo is the gateway to the keys, and offers some of the best scuba diving in the continental U.S. Lots of outfitters offer daytrips to reefs and wrecks, or you can opt to explore the ocean via a glass-bottom boat. Islamorada, called the purple isle, is known for its many fishing charters and quaint art galleries. Located in the middle of the island chain, Marathon is home to 5-star resorts, and the start of the famed “Seven Mile Bridge,” connecting the south side of Marathon with Little Duck Key. The Lower Keys offer lots of opportunities for outdoor adventure and wildlife spotting. And finally you come to Key West, the Southernmost city in the continental U.S., located 100 miles from Key Largo, and only 90 miles from Cuba. It’s a vibrant small city known for its notable residents (Ernest Hemingway lived there from 1931-1961), arts and culture, and its daily sunset celebrations on Duval Street.

Photo: Key Life Pie.

Do you have any tips to add to a Southern Florida road trip itinerary?

Places

Fort Myers Beach

Fort Myers Beach, FL, United States

Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island, Lee County, FL, United States

Fort Lauderdale

Fort Lauderdale, FL, United States

Miami Beach

Miami Beach, FL, United States

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park, Monroe County, FL, United States

Florida Keys

Florida Keys, Monroe County, FL, United States

Key Largo

Key Largo, FL, United States

Fort Myers Beach

Fort Myers Beach, FL, United States

Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island, Lee County, FL, United States

Fort Lauderdale

Fort Lauderdale, FL, United States

Miami Beach

Miami Beach, FL, United States

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park, Monroe County, FL, United States

Florida Keys

Florida Keys, Monroe County, FL, United States

Key Largo

Key Largo, FL, United States

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