I stand on the dock at South Seas Island Resort, gazing across the water at what looks like a shimmering island covered with snowy sand. Then I watch it fly away in a flurry of feathers.
"Those are all white pelicans," resort naturalist Vince McGrath says with a smile, speaking of the birds that winter here from mid-October through mid-April. "The largest of them stand 60 inches tall with 10-foot wingspans."
Magic like that happens all day long on Sanibel and Captiva. These two enchanted islands are so exotic and beautiful, I almost expect to see a customs office when I cross the bridge from the mainland. It feels like the gateway to a foreign country, but you don't need a passport to visit this wave-washed paradise.
"You'll never see a high-rise on Sanibel--God willing," Vince says. Franchises fade away too. There's only one chain hotel--a Holiday Inn. The rest of the lodging is homegrown. Rainbows put up the only golden arches you'll see.
left: Peak shelling season runs from May through September; it also is good in winter months after storm fronts blow through. More than 400 types wash ashore.