Florida’s West Coast beach towns reveal endless appeal

The Island Inn on Sanibel Island is a treasured destination for shelling and more.
The Island Inn on Sanibel Island is a treasured destination for shelling and more.

Less than three hours from Miami’s glittering skyline, across Alligator Alley, there’s a land where traffic jams and office stress are replaced with vibrant sunsets, white sand and glistening gulf water.

The beach towns along Florida’s West Coast — Fort Myers, Sanibel Island, Boca Grande and more — provide unlimited access to the shore, bracingly fresh fish and other enticing culinary experiences, and plenty of retail therapy.

Welcome to paradise. You’re on island time now.

Where to Stay in Sanibel Island and Gasparilla Island

The Gasparilla Inn & Club: Located on one of the area’s barrier islands, the Gasparilla is where Old Florida charm effortlessly merges with modern-day luxuries. The hotel’s laid-back splendor has been captivating families looking for adventure and couples in search of romance for more than 100 years.

With no red lights in Boca Grande, visitors wander around on golf carts in search of their next activity: sunbathing, kayaking, tarpon fishing or golfing on the Inn’s championship course. With no gas stations, either, your best bet is to arrive by boat from Captiva, about a 45-minute ride, or fly into Coral Creek Airport on a private plane.

The Gasparilla Inn.

The Island Inn: Sitting on 10 oceanfront acres, this is Sanibel’s oldest hotel, and it just got a multimillion-dollar makeover. Choose from newly renovated cottages or spacious and contemporary lodge rooms, each with a kitchen.

Shellers should take advantage of daily beach walks hosted by the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum’s marine naturalist. As the sun sets, stroll over to Traditions on the Beach, the Inn’s restaurant, for creative seafood dishes, live music and calming ocean views.

Where to Eat on Florida’s Gulf Coast

The Pink Elephant: A short walk from the Gasparilla Inn, this rustic old home specializes in the freshest seafood and cocktails accented with cute pink elephant figurines.

Temptation: Located in the heart of downtown Boca Grande, the historic restaurant’s casual atmosphere and tempting dishes make this the place to see and be seen. Trust us: Try the limoncello shrimp.

Norman Love Confections: For chocolate treats that are as beautiful as they are delicious, this is a must try. Love’s four ultra-premium artisanal chocolate shops offer an array of handmade treats alongside crisp pastries and velvety gelato. The lovely afternoon tea service comes with finger sandwiches and sparkling wine.

Sweet treats at Norman Love Confections.

The Mad Hatter: This Alice in Wonderland-themed restaurant is the spot to catch a stunning Sanibel sunset while enjoying eclectic dishes.

Thistle Lodge: Resembling a private, members-only clubhouse in Sanibel, it has stunning gulf views, a wide selection of seafood and an extensive wine list.

The Thistle Lodge is known for its water views and fresh fish.

Where to Shop

Wilford & Lee Home Accents: This adorable Sanibel shop is where to find the perfect vacation memento.

The Tower Gallery: The bright teal, two-story gallery founded in 1982 is an artists’ cooperative in Sanibel that showcases an outstanding assortment of local creations.

Fugate’s: This is the one-stop shop in Boca Grande for all of your island necessities.

The Palm on Park: Ladies, this Lilly Pulitzer signature shop has everything you need to complete your island wardrobe.

What to Do

Fifth Annual Island Hopper Songwriter Fest: Catch more than 150 live music shows — free — during the 10-day festival that takes place throughout the area at the end of September.

The Island Hopper Songwriter Fest brings free live music to the area.

Point Ybel Brewing Company: With more than 20 breweries, Florida’s West Coast is booming with craft beer. Stop into Point Ybel in Fort Myers for a Golden Milk Stout or a Lemon Haze Imperial Sour infused with cannabis oils (totally legal and totally free of THC).

Johann Fust Community Library: History buffs and shell-seekers will enjoy seeing the library’s rare books and bibles and its famous shell collection.

Gasparilla Inn Spa: Come here to soothe away any lingering stress with any number of relaxing treatments or some laps in the secluded pool.

Photographs courtesy of the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau. Click here to see more INDULGE Travel coverage