If sailing is not your idea of a vacation, take some off-island side trips. One morning we met Capt. Mike Fuery for a journey aboard his boat. We motored past North Captiva Island beyond the resort, where we could see a new pass cut to the bay by Hurricane Charley. Our destination was a slip of privately owned paradise called Cabbage Key.
There, two generations of the Wells family run the compound featuring the Cabbage Key Inn. The inn's restaurant serves up some of the most famous food on the West Florida Coast. Locals say the burgers here inspired Jimmy Buffett's "Cheeseburger in Paradise." Come for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, as well as to drink in the Dollar Bill Bar, wallpapered with autographed dollars. Be sure to add your John Hancock to the likes of John F. Kennedy, Jr., and Jimmy Carter.
We left after lunch to head to the mecca for shellers: the southern tip of Cayo Costa State Park. The shells are so deep on this undeveloped island's beach, you'll want to wear shoes for comfort. Captain Mike backed his boat into knee-deep water where he helped us spy shells. We learned to look on the sand at the high tide line, as well as in the water where a shallow ledge just offshore catches washed-up shells.
I searched for the junonia--the coveted spotted specimen found on these islands--to no avail. But in an hour I pocketed 16 lettered olives, a half-dozen angel wings, shark eyes, cockles, and true tulips.
Don't Miss: Paradise Found
Favorite Dining Spots on Captiva & Sanibel
Traders: 1551 Periwinkle Way; (239) 472-7242 (reservations a must). Friendly, fresh, and local describe lunches and dinners at this perennial favorite. Fabulous macadamia-crusted grouper and lamb shank.
Dolce Vita: 1244 Periwinkle Way; www.dolcevitaofsanibel.com or (239) 472-5555. Upscale Italian, ideal for families looking for a dressy dinner. Excellent pastas, seafood, steaks, and wines accompanied by live music nightly.
Keylime Bistro: 11509 Andy Rosse Lane; www.captivaislandinn.com or (239) 395-4000. Sit outside and enjoy casual Floribbean cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Save room for the eponymous pie.
The Mucky Duck: 11546 Andy Rosse Lane; www.muckyduck.com or (239) 472-3434. The number one sunset pilgrimage restaurant on both islands features live music on the patio this time of year. Once inside, order crab cakes, lobster tail, or steak from this odd-duck English pub on the beach.
The Bubble Room: 15001 Captiva Drive; www.bubbleroomrestaurant.com or (239) 472-5558. Yes, this weird 1970s favorite is getting tired, but it’s still the quirkiest meal. Where else can you eat red velvet cake slices the size of bread loaves served by Bubble Scouts? Makes no sense? Then you’ll have to go to see for yourself.
Lighthouse Cafe: 362 Periwinkle Way; www.lighthousecafe.com or (239) 472-0303. Wander to the east end of Sanibel for the best breakfast omelets on the islands.
Doc Ford’s Sanibel Rum Bar & Grille: 975 Rabbit Road; www.docfordssanibel.com or (239) 472-8311. Some come to eat, some come to people-watch, we go to drink and do both. Order the fish tacos or the prosciutto-wrapped barbecue shrimp, and settle into a cold drink. Yum.
Sunshine Seafood Café & Wine Bar: 14900 Captiva Drive; (239) 472-6200. Sit outside and watch Captiva go by as you enjoy a lovely snapper picatta, paella, or tuna au poivre. The food is upscale, yet the ambience is decidedly friendly.
RC Otter’s Island Eats: 11506 Andy Rosse Lane, www.captivaislandinn.com or (239) 395-1142. Families looking for super-cool, casual environs will love the deck here with its song-filled keyboard player. Fried shrimp, quesadillas, burgers, and barbecue make it a favorite with the still-in-swimsuit crowd.
"Come Play on Captiva" is from the March 2008 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.