Day Tripping With Rick by Bike – Ft. Myers, FL – Sanibel Island
With many of us are mired in the throes of winter, ice, snow and salt are likely to be the only things touching our feet for the next few months. It’s a good time to talk about a warm place where your bare toes can touch the sand. Such a place is Sanibel Island which is on the Gulf of Mexico just off of Fort Myers. Sanibel is far enough south to escape the winter cold fronts that dip into the state during the winter, so you stand an excellent chance of having sunny, warm days.
Many people go to Sanibel and Captiva (the next island north) for a week or two at a time, but we usually tack it on to a trip down to my parents’ place which is about 120 miles north. Staying there can be pricey, so we usually stay in near-by Fort Myers Beach and drive across the bridge for the day. There is a $6.00 toll on the bridge to keep out the riff raff, but they were unsuccessful with us.
The island is small; about 12 miles long and not much more than a mile wide. It is also perfectly flat which makes it ideal for biking. I’ve never been one for extreme sports. You can keep mountain biking. I like island biking.
Billy’s Bike Rental
You come off the toll bridge near the south-eastern end of the island. Turn right onto the main road, Periwinkle Way. There is a tourist information place about a quarter of a mile on the right. I always stop at these places. Go in and get a map of the islands and maybe some coupons for lunch. Leaving the parking lot, continue down Periwinkle about a mile or so. Look for Billy’s Bike Rental on the right.
We are not bike snobs. We live on a bike trail and ride quite a bit, but each of our bikes is a hand-me-down or bargain basement special and we have a chore just keeping them running. So I’m not bringing them on a trip to Florida. There are plenty of places to rent them and one of the best on Sanibel is Billy’s. Park in their lot and an associate will get you on your way tout suite. We usually opt for the big 26-inch single-speed cruisers. Once again, no hills means no need for 21 gears. Bikes cost about $10 to rent for the day. They also come with a little basket on the front which is handy for carrying your beach stuff, shells you find and what-have-you.
One of the best things about Sanibel is the bike paths that parallel many of the major roads. Most wend through lush tropical vegetation and are wide enough for opposing traffic to pass easily. Periwinkle Way is the main drag and this is where a lot of the restaurants and bars are located. You’ll be coming back at the end of the day, so keep an eye open for places to go or ask the locals.
You’re off on a 26 mile ride that, if you ride like me, should take you most of the day. Don’t forget your helmet and get some water before you go. Even in the winter, the sun here can be a bit strong, so don’t forget the sunscreen. Everybody will know you’ve been someplace warm with a nice tan and you don’t need sun poisoning.
I’ll tell you about a few of the places we went, a couple of nice beaches and even a lighthouse. But first, a Steeler bar.
Great White Grill
A couple of miles west on Periwinkle, make a right turn onto Palm Ridge Road. A couple of blocks on the right you’ll find a jewel of a bar called the Great White Grill. The guy at the tourist place saw my Pittsburgh Pirate t-shirt and said, “You have to stop at the Great White”. So we did. A somewhat deprecating term for Pittsburghers is “Yinzer”. “Yinz” is local contraction for “All of you”. In the south, they say “y’all”. In the ‘burgh, we say, “When are yinz guys coming over to watch the game?” The guy that owns this bar is a world-class yinzer. The booths and the bar stools are upholstered with Steeler and Penguin jerseys. There are pictures of this guy with all the local star athletes, as well as autographed bats, balls, hockey sticks, etc. The place had just opened when we got there so I didn’t get to meet the owner. I would truly love to watch a Steeler game here someday. They have a ton of excellent beers and. since I was on vacation and had a long ride ahead of me, I had one or two despite the time of day.
Turner Beach Park – Shells
Palm Ridge Road soon turns into Sanibel-Captiva Road which traverses the island. The bike trail continues along the side of the road for about two more miles and then you have to ride along the road. The shoulders are wide and you are now out of the populated areas so it really isn’t too bad of a drive. Continue west for five more miles and you reach the western tip of Sanibel Island. The channel between Sanibel and Captiva is spanned by a bridge and Turner Beach Park is on both sides. This is the best place to gather shells on Sanibel. You can spend hours here looking for them.
If you are one of those motivated types, you can ride the length of Captiva and back. It will add about 10 extra miles to the trip. Mostly, it’s just houses and I’m not sure if you can access the beaches easily.
There are better beaches back on Sanibel for sunning and swimming. We’ll go to one next.
Loaded up with shells in your basket, head back to Sanibel. The road back may be a bit boring, but think about your co-workers who are slaving away and will have to use a chisel to get the ice off their cars to go home. About 5 miles east, turn right onto Rabbit Road. This is one of the main roads that connects the bay side of the island to the gulf side. You will also pick up the bike trail again. About a mile south, just before you get to West Gulf Drive, you’ll reach the corner of Rabbit Road and Bunny Lane. I don’t know where the Easter Bunny winters, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he’s somewhere around here.
Turning left onto West Gulf Drive, you pass all the ritzy houses. It might be nice to rent one for a week someday, but I always seem to be in a hurry and can only spend a day or two. About 2.5 miles will bring you to the not-very-originally-named Gulfside Beach. There is a bike rack near the entrance and a bathhouse to change as well as an outdoor shower. This is a classic gulf beach with sugar white sand and gentle surf. The water is warm here even in the winter so get wet.
You’re probably starving. All you had was those two beers and about a gallon of water. Take the road back up to Periwinkle and look for a place to eat. We stopped at this little diner place called Schnapper’s Hots that had excellent grouper sandwiches.
It’s about 4.5 miles to the south-eastern tip of the island. There is an iconic lighthouse here that everybody photographs even though it’s not all that pretty. There’s a nice beach area around the lighthouse if you want one last walk in the sand.
Then back to Billy’s
Back at Billy’s, you turn in your bike. You’ve gone about 26 miles (36 if you took the ride out to the end of Captiva). You got a nice tan and a whole bunch of shells that you will take home and leave in a bag until it’s time to go back and get more.
If you’re cheap like us and didn’t stay on the island, you might want to go to Fr. Myers Beach for the sunset. This is a more commercial, spring-break-like place, but the beaches are excellent.
Otherwise, head back to your hotel and pack because you know what’s waiting for you.
Daytripping with Rick