Monday, January 9, 2012

Sanibel

Know what's a lot of fun? Pretending you're rich for 5 days or so.

If you're gonna do it, I highly recommend doing it on Sanibel.


As if you didn't already know, Sanibel is a barrier island just west of Fort Myers, FL. To get to the island, you take a bridge, and pay a $6 toll. It's called "The Causeway", 'cause the $6 toll keeps away the Fort Myers Beach riffraff.

And it works.

If you were in Fort Myers and someone clubbed you unconscious, put a bag over your head, drove you to Sanibel, and threw a bucket of cold water on you, you'd swear you'd been out for days and transported a jillion miles to paradise. That's how far apart Sanibel feels from Fort Myers.


The place is a destination island, full of vacationers and snowbirds, but no tourists. There isn't a hint of the hyper-commercialized tourist trap atmosphere that usually comes with any beach in America. It's relaxing, quaint, serene, beautiful, and really expensive.

And totally worth it.

How can a middle-class software geek with a non-monetized running blog afford such luxury? Easy.

Just before Christmas, the GF's wonderfully generous, and thankfully otherwise busy cousin let us use her family beachfront condo for a few days. And we used the crap out of it.

So in the event that you're significant other's cousin let's you freeload on a beachfront condo in Sanibel, let's look at how to make the most out of it.

Stock Up

First, on your way to the island, stop and grab some groceries. Eating out at Sanibel is pretty pricey, but the main reason to gather grub is to have food on hand. It's a condo, not a hotel room. Take advantage of that. Eat when you want. Barefoot. On the veranda.

Picked over baguette, gouda, white cheddar, and genoa.
Paired with a nice wine, a perfect light dinner on the veranda.

Chips, salsa, scratch guac, scratch margaritas... also veranda worthy

It's also a good idea, if you think you might want to relax with a glass of wine, or maybe some kick-ass tequila, to stop by a liquor store. And it's also fun to take a "before" picture of your haul...

Four killer cabs, Patron for margs, 1921 anjeo for me,
and the Gulf of Mexico in the background. I know!*

After you dump your bags, put the groceries away, take a picture of your booze, it's time to explore a bit.

Where to Run

Running on the beach is for newbies and tourists. Running on soft sand will shred your calves. Running on the packed, but tilted sand by the water will wreck your ankles and hips. Either choice will leave you limping through your time on the island. So do a little research and find some place better to run.

It helps if the cousin's condo is right next to a golf course, one that is runner friendly.

The view from the cart trail before 7:15 am is beautiful,
especially if you're running and not playing golf.

How do you know if they're runner friendly? You ask. Go to the pro shop when they aren't busy, and ask if it's cool if you run the cart path before the first tee-off time. Most places will be a little reluctant, but cool. So don't ruin it for the rest of us. Ask first, be polite, and if they don't want you there, don't sneak on.

For another run, you can check out the multi-use paths that line every road on the island. One of them takes you to the Gulfside City Park, and along that path, you will find this...


It is a very small graveyard. I didn't count, but I'd say there are maybe 10 graves, each covered not with grass, or dirt, but shells. It's odd, no doubt, especially if you don't know it's coming, but worth a pause and a look around.

Very small above-ground grave... the shells on top are sweet

So are the stuffed animals left for Baby Wiles.

Nice to know that the good folk of Sanibel buried this guy.

Okay, let's shake off that graveyard anti-buzz...

Explore

Now that you have your running planned, it's time to check out the rest of the area. Sanibel during the holiday season is full of "Toto, I don't think we're in Indiana" images... like...

Lemons, or oranges, or little grapefruit maybe...
growing in someone's backyard.

Snowman among palm trees

Mega-Christmas-balls hanging from banyan trees

Your first full day, head directly to the JN "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, first thing. I am not kidding. A huge chunk of the island is set aside for birds and gators. For a few bucks you get a naturalist-guided tour on a tram. Sure, you could drive yourself, but then all you see are miscellaneous birds. On the tour you get all of the details and background that makes it all makes sense, even if just for the 90-minutes of the tour. And yes, it costs a few bucks, but remember, you're "rich".



And you might see a gator...
... 's tail

We also checked out the Shell Museum, which is about as exciting as it sounds. Don't get me wrong, if you want to learn about shells, and see lots of shells, and watch two movies about shells, it's the place to be. But it's not gonna knock your socks off. Actually, it's Sanibel, so you should be wearing Keen sandals...without socks.

We also made a trip to the light house, which is equally underwhelming. It's kinda ugly. Lots of chain-link fence. Not nearly as quaint as you'd think a lighthouse on such a beautiful island should be.


I was expecting a Cape Hatteras quality lighthouse. Looks more like it should be at Cape Kennedy. But, it is a working lighthouse... so there's that.

Eats

For those times when you feel like putting on shoes and eating out, I've got four places you really need to hit:

For lunch in the marina, acting like you own a really big boat, and eat at Gramma Dots.

Gramma Dots, not easy to find, but the perfect first day lunch spot

Empty when we walked in, packed when we left.
Yeah, we're trend setters...


You must order the fried oysters,
even if you think you don't like oysters

Order a beer, enjoy the oysters, and relax. Try to act like you belong. And if you want, start talking to your significant other about how you simply must find a bigger yacht before next season's regatta.

"How can we possibly make do with that crappy 42 footer for another season?"


For breakfast out, try The Over-Easy Cafe. It's busy, but worth the wait. Besides, while you're waiting for your table, you can browse the cute-as-hell shops.

Over Easy

Breakfast outside

Eggs Benedict, or clown face?

For a fun casual evening, go to Doc Ford's Rum Bar and Grill, owned by novelist Randy Wayne White.


Doc Ford's

We were there on Sunday and there was no wait, but excellent football viewing, if you like that sorta thing. 


Neither of us are big rum fans, but they have a nice selection of sipping rums as well as a gajillion rum drinks, I highly recommend their fun twist on a margarita that includes pineapple juice and is actually quite yummy, but I can't remember the name to save my life. Just ask for that Margarita that Doug liked... they'll know what you mean.

Fun margarita and kinda nasty rum drink.

The real reason to go to Ford's is the Yucatan Shrimp. Un-be-lievably good. It's succulent, it's spicy, it's a little sweet. We tried a couple more appetizers, but nothing was in the same zip-code as the Yucatan Shrimp. Even now, late at night, when the I get a little case of the munchies, I find myself contemplating jumping in the car and driving to Sanibel just for this shrimp. Order it first, so you can order more when you finish your first batch.

Yucatan Shrimp is un

Ok, now the big one... the one place you absolutely must visit.

For a nice, really nice dinner, it's gotta be Il Tesoro. The restaurant used to be a house. A small house. That, and the open kitchen and too few tables packed in just a bit too close together give it the feel of a local joint in Tuscany. And the food is incredibly good.

Il Tesoro

I got one of the specials... always get one of the specials... Zuppa di Pesce, which translates to "fish soup", but it should have been called Frutti di Mare Celeste, or "heavenly seafood". Every bit was delightful, but also different. Not only were there lots of different yummables from the ocean, but the sauce changed, a lot, over time. It's hard to describe, but wonderful. Il Tesoro is expensive because it is totally, totally worth it.

Zuppa di Pesce

GF's Sea Bass and artichoke awesomeness

I don't like Tiramisu, but I loved this!

Tartufo - insane!

Yes, we take pictures of our food. Yes people is nice restaurants, like Il Tesoro, look at us like we are rubes. We don't care.

Nightlife

Later, we looked for nightlife, live music and stuff, and we found some so-so places (The Jac, Tween Waters), but nothing that could beat sitting on the veranda, drinking fantastic wine/tequila, listening to the ocean. And that's really the best thing to do on Sanibel... nothing.

Oh, but you MUST be on the beach for every sunset.


But be sure to dose up on the bug spray. Those no-see-ums will eat your ankles alive.

Defiling a Fountain

Finally, if you want to get into a fountain, and who doesn't, well, it's slim pickin's. There must be some kind of zoning restriction against them or something. As we crissed-crossed the island, I kept a sharp eye out for the entire stay, and found... none.

Then, I spent an hour of the last morning, after I'd managed to jam the seriously cool, and empty tequila bottle into my carry-on, searching Google Maps satellite view like a CIA agent looking for centrifuges in Iran, trying to find anything that looked remotely like a fountain. And...

I found one. Probably the only one on the island. I could tell you where it is, but that would ruin all of your fun.**
Persistence pays

We hit on the way to the causeway, on the way off the island, on the way to the airport, making an otherwise melancholy drive from paradise to the real world, from pretend rich to middle-class reality, a little less depressing.

And a little damp.

Good running,
Doug

*For the record, we left one (awesome) bottle of wine and 3/4 of the Patron behind for our hosts. The rest we enjoyed immensely.
**If you're the kind of person who reads the last page of the book first, or checks for spoilers before seeing the movie, you can check the Interactive Map of Fountains I've Defiled.