Fly Nonstop from Boston to Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Florida

Enjoy sunshine, seashells, and serenity.
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The best souvenirs are free on Sanibel and Captiva. / Photograph by Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau

Flight:
JetBlue to Fort Myers, Florida (Nonstop Daily)

Temperature:
January–March: 72°–77°

What to Bring:
Ziploc bags for your treasure trove of shells

It’s called the Sanibel Stoop. Crouch close to the shoreline, canvassing for conchs, sand dollars, and tulip shells. Watch the bottlenose dolphins splash in the distance as the Gulf waters lap the sand. Repeat.

If that was the most you wanted to exert yourself on the barrier islands of Sanibel and Captiva, connected to mainland Florida by a bright-white causeway, that would be just fine. Under an hour by car from the Fort Myers airport, the lush destination’s unique east–west orientation brings bucketloads of exotic shells—and, by extension, tourists—to its shoreline. But unlike Florida’s other resort areas, family-friendly Sanibel and Captiva have remained wholly unspoiled: There are no traffic lights and no buildings higher than the tallest palm tree. As the road narrows and inches closer to the coastline on the way from Sanibel to Captiva, it begins to resemble the drive from Wellfleet to Provincetown. Indeed, with pastel buildings instead of gray shingles and palm trees in place of hydrangeas, the vibe on these laid-back islands is Cape Cod meets Key West, all year round.

The white-sand beaches, of course, are the main draw, but there are many other ways to connect with nature. Kayak through the mangrove forest on a Tarpon Bay Explorers guided tour of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, home to endangered sea turtles and 245 species of birds. Explore the islands’ nooks and crannies by bike on one of many cycling trails. Or just watch the sun fade into the Gulf of Mexico over drinks on the string-lit patio of Captiva’s decidedly tropical English-style pub, the Mucky Duck.

Relaxed yet? When you’re ready for a change of pace, head back to Fort Myers for a tour of the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, the impeccably preserved summer homes and botanical gardens of famous snowbirds Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Or catch a Red Sox spring-training game at the team’s home away from home, known as Fenway South. Reminders of the Bay State, it seems, can be found at every turn.

Eat

Farro fettuccine tossed with duck confit, pomegranate, and kale. Crab fritters perched atop a curry emulsion. There’s no bland tourist food at Sweet Melissa’s, a white-tablecloth restaurant on Sanibel with a sophisticated menu and creative cocktails. Got a serious sweet tooth? Nothing tops the cake tray at kitschy Captiva favorite the Bubble Room, filled to the brim with ’30s and ’40s antiques and Christmas decorations no matter the season.

Stay

With shops, tennis, golf, kids’ programs, and its very own marina, the 330-acre South Seas Island Resort (starting at $289 per night), on Captiva, is like its own village. Accommodations run the gamut from waterfront hotel rooms to four-bedroom manses with private beach access. Across the bridge in Sanibel, the smaller but equally plush Casa Ybel (starting at $379 per night) offers kitchen-equipped suites with screened lanais or balconies, all of which overlook the Gulf. *Hotel prices are for the January through March range.

Play

Get first crack at the best shells on a morning excursion with Captiva Cruises, which takes groups to the remote Cayo Costa State Park, one of several islands near Sanibel and Captiva reachable only by boat.

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The islands are home to more than 200 species of birds. / Photograph by Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau

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Dolphins frolic in the Gulf waters. / Photograph by Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau

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A sophisticated dish from Sweet Melissa’s. / Photograph by Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau