Shelling on Sanibel Island.
FORT MEYERS, Fla. (Jan. 30, 2013) — With the brutal winter upon us, it is time to think warm weather. What better way to cure cabin fever than to go south to Florida for some sun, beaches and baseball.
I recently spent a couple weeks in the Fort Myers area. This southwest Florida area has been my favorite winter get-away spot in the country for the past 30 years. I first went there for its lovely beaches, great weather and small crowd.
That tranquility was kind of ruined now since the area has become a spring training hot spot. The Minnesota Twins moved their spring training site there in 1991. They were later joined by the Boston Red Sox in 1993.
If you are going to visit the Fort Myers area, here is my list of things to do.
I am a beach bum and so I always head to Sanibel/Captiva Islands first. It is about a 30-minute drive from Fort Myers and you pay a toll (I think it was $6 a car this time) to get onto the island.
I love Sanibel/Captiva for its tranquility, friendliness and natural beauty and charm.
The island kind of reminds me of Cooperstown. The locals here know what a jewel they have and are determined to retain its native charms and characters.
Therefore, there are no tall chain hotels, no chain stores and the only fast food restaurants I could find are a Subway and a Dairy Queen. As a result, they’ve prevented suburban sprawl and preserved the ‘Flip Flops Welcome Everywhere’ vibe. When one approaches the Sanibel Chamber of Commerce Visiting Center, they are greeted by a sign that reads “Please wipe off your snow before entering.”
Sanibel/Captiva is known as the shelling capital of the World, so shelling is a must. I recommend renting a place on the island because all the public beaches charge for parking at $2 per hour and during high season and weekends it’s extremely difficult to find spots. There are numerous cottages and privately-owned inns and hotels on the island. One can go online to shops at various travel websites (I like Hotwire and Expedia) or go to the Sanibel Chamber of Commerce website to find accommodations.
Rent a place on the beach and you can enjoy the island without driving. During our three-day stay there we did not use the car once because the place we stayed at (Sunset Beach Resort) had free bikes for their customers.
For three relaxing days, we walked the beach, looked for shells and dolphins, read books on the beach or by the pool, road our bikes to eat and enjoyed the spectacular sunset.
The only negative thing about biking on the island is that because the locals want to preserve the beaches, there are no bike trails right along the ocean like you find in San Diego or Los Angeles. Biking on the beach, while not illegal, is discouraged.
A note on shelling. Many old-timers lament the fact that shelling is not as good as it was but I still had pretty good luck. Bowman’s Beach and Turner Beach are two great spots for shelling but if you go further into Captiva, you have less competition and may pick up some bigger species.
The traditional Sanibel Stoop shows a sheller bending over and searching for shells with the hands. But I noticed a new breed of shellers, those who come equipped with a long scoop and a net. So competition for shelling is certainly more intense.
I know there are folks who get bored doing the beach things and nothing else. There are other things to do on the island such as visiting the Ding Darling Nature Wildlife Refuse, the Sea Shell Museum and the nice boutiques, museums, stores and restaurants along Periwinkle Way.
After three days on Sanibel, we headed to Fort Myers mainly to check out the two spring training facilities for the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox.
Hammond Stadium is the spring training home of the Minnesota Twins, and houses their Class A affiliate, the Fort Myers Miracle. Built in 1991, the stadium brought good luck to its owner for the Twins captured their second World Series title in five years that fall.
The 7500-seat stadium is nice and intimate. I love the fact that it paid homage to former and current Twins greats by naming the parking rows after players such as Harmon Killebrew, Bert Blyleven, Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek.
Twins spring training has become very popular with Minnesotans wanting to escape the long winter and a lot of the games are sold out. So it’s best to get tickets ahead of time. Ticket prices range from $43 to $7 to sit on the outfield lawn.
Six miles away from Hammond Stadium is the Red Sox’s spring training home, JetBlue Park. Hammond Stadium is nice but it has to take a backseat to this gem.
The Red Sox moved from City of Palms Park to this beautiful stadium in March 2012. JetBlue Park at Fenway South is its official name and as soon as you step foot into the park you will know why. You are greeted to the large Green Monster in left field, just like when you go to Fenway in Boston.
On our visit, tourists were allowed to walk along the dirt all the way to the warning track in the outfield. Workers there insisted that the Green Monster at JetBlue is the exact dimension as the original (37 feet high) although it looks shorter. And they told us that just like Fenway, the scoreboard is operated manually with a person changing the score with cards after every inning. And there are seats on top of the Green Monster. I am not a Red Sox fans but still I am tempted to go to a game at JetBlue.
Ticket prices range from $46 to $5 lawn seats and they go fast. On the day we visited in late December, employees there told us the big games such as those against the Yankees and Cardinals are sold out already.
For a repeat visitor to Fort Myers like me, there aren’t a lot of other things that interest me other than baseball. Therefore we stayed out on Fort Myers Beach, which is much more developed than Sanibel/Captiva but is still a lovely beach with white sands, lots of shells and many fine hotels and restaurants.
But for people who haven’t been to Fort Myers before, there are things to do.
A must see is the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. The 20-acre complex offers an intriguing glimpse into the lives of two of America’s greatest inventors, Thomas A. Edison and Henry Ford. The estates are located along the beautiful McGregor Boulevard, which is lined on both sides by tall palm trees that were planted at Edison’s suggestion many years ago.
There is plenty for visitors to see and do, with impressive botanical gardens and nine historic buildings, including Edison’s Botanic Research Laboratory and the Estates Museum, which is filled with inventions, artifacts and special exhibit galleries. Catch a fascinating glimpse of the Edison and Ford motoring through the Everglades or learn about some of the lesser-known of Edison’s more than 1,000 patents.
Some of Edison’s first light bulbs even continue to burn in his former home laboratory. Also, don’t miss the awesome banyan tree in the gardens. It was just four-feet tall when it was planted in 1925, and now it sprawls across an acre.
Other than that, there is the Manatee Park and other parks and museums and shopping malls you can visit in the Fort Myers area. You can pick up tourist brochures from any hotels and restaurants to find out what you want to do.
Another nice thing about Fort Myers is that it is about two hours away from Orlando or Miami. You can take a drive to visit those cities for a couple days.
I strongly recommend at visit to Fort Myers. It’s a beautiful place and you can’t beat the weather during the Minnesota winter.
If you simply want to experience Fort Myers/Sanibel/Captiva and not spring training baseball, visit during the off season such as from November until the end of the year. The beaches and tourist attractions and less crowded and prices for hotels are one-third of what you pay if you visit after the New Year and during spring training.