Southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast

Watch dolphins bob in the sound in the morning, then try your hand at fishing off the resort’s pier in the afternoon

Cayo Costa State Park is one of the best shelling destinations in the world.

Cayo Costa State Park is one of the best shelling destinations in the world.

Masterfile

Florida’s sub-tropical archipelago of Sanibel, Captiva, and Cayo Costa islands is an ideal mainland counterpoint to Hawaiian island hopping. Each island boasts a personality so unique you can visit one per day and never repeat an activity. Drop anchor on Captiva and let captain Mike Fuery of Captiva Cruises (239-472-5300,) be your guide for day-trips to nearby islands.

Eat Smart: Pedestrian-only Useppa Island is home to a historical museum that traces the island’s history to names like Rockefeller and Dupont. Lunch on Bahamian conch chowder under a rare Cuban Laurel Tree at the historic Collier Inn (239-283-1061). The restaurant uses local shellfish for the chowder, which has been enjoyed by residents since the Calusa Indians occupied the area around 600 B.C. Then stroll quaint streets studded with clapboard cottages from the 1920s.

Be Fit: On Sanibel, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge (239-472-1100) is a must-see. Part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the country, it offers bike paths and hiking trails take you deep within for a closer look at pelicans, herons, and roseate spoonbills.

Live Well: Cayo Costa State Park (941-964-0375,) is one of the best shelling destinations in the world. Master the “Sanibel Stoop” (head down, back bent) as you scan the sand for elusive junonia, a rare, tulip-shaped shell.

Where to stay: Captiva‘s South Seas Island Resort (from $129; 866-565-5089) occupies two and half miles of white-sand beach nestled between the Gulf of Mexico and Pine Island Sound. Here you can watch dolphins bob in the sound in the morning, then try your hand at fishing off the resort’s pier in the afternoon.

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