Sanibel And Captiva

1 SEE SHELLS Sanibel is known for its washed-up treasures, and Bowman's Beach is the island's most beautiful stretch of pristine white sand. At the water line you'll find yourself ankle-deep in more than 200 kinds of seashells ¿ from common but colorful coquinas and scallops to the coveted rare wentletraps and lace murexes. The nearby Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum will supply the background on what you pick up, while offering impressive educational displays ¿ Florida fossil shells, shell art (such as sailors' valentines), and a live-shell tank.

2 IT'S NATURAL, DARLING The J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 6,000 acres of paradise for birders. For a close-up look at some of the thousands of wading and migratory birds that flock here, hop into a three- or six-man canoe with naturalist Mark "Bird" Westall, who will clue you in on avian habits and habitat conservation. Every trip is different, depending on the day and the tide ($40 adult; $20 under 18; tel. 941-472-5218).

3 JEWELS OF THE SEA In 1982, when Dee Congress found an olive shell on a Sanibel beach, her jeweler husband vowed to copy it in 14-carat gold. Today Congress Jewelers, located in the Periwinkle Place shopping center, claims to have the world's largest collection of sealife jewelry, which is made on the island. Replicas of all types of shells are accented with precious stones and turned into pendants, earrings, and bracelets. Original designs include a diamond-rimmed Sanibel sandpail brooch and tiny emerald-studded flip-flops.

4 CULINARY CAPTIVA At RC Otters Island Eats, locals crowd in for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a Caribbean-style setting. You can dine inside or alfresco and order a specialty sandwich, like the grouper Reuben. To take part in a sunset tradition, order dinner at the Mucky Duck, once a 1930s teahouse, now a neighborhood beachside restaurant.

5 LITTLE THEATER When the kids tire of the beach, sign them up for the Wood Theatre's children's drama workshops. The Pirate Players offer two-hour introductions to all aspects of live theater, culminating in a 15-minute performance. Several times a year kids attending the month-long drama camps put on full productions of shows such as The Emperor's New Clothes.

6 BETTER BY BIKE Rent a bicycle or a fringed-top surrey from Billy's Rentals, and join locals in their second-favorite pastime (right behind beachcombing). Bike paths stretch from one tip of Sanibel to the other. A favorite trip? Grab a picnic lunch at Rosie's Deli, and pedal two and a half miles down Periwinkle Way to Sanibel Lighthouse at the island's eastern tip. The charming light, built in 1884, and its two old Florida-style keepers' cottages lure artists, photographers, and lighthouse lovers from around the world.

7 TIME TRAVEL If you're longing for the good old days, visit the Sanibel Historical Village and Museum for a taste of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Uncle Clarence Rutland's "Cracker" house, built in 1913, was designed to be cool in summer; Miss Charlotta's Tea Room provided a place for mainland-goers to await the ferry. Other originals include the island's post office (built in 1926) and Bailey's General Store. A Red Crown gas pump and a 1926 Model T Ford delivery truck add to the period atmosphere. Open Wednesday through Saturday, from November until mid-August.

8 THE WATER ROUTE Playful dolphins and slow-moving manatees ply the waters of Pine Island Sound, where legendary pirate Jos¿ Gaspar once shivered his timbers. Rent a motorboat and set out for the secluded beaches on the sound's uninhabited isles. Then stop for lunch at Barnacle Phils; his black beans and rice are the best this side of Cuba. Or hire Capt. Pat Hagle ¿ historian, storyteller, naturalist, and fishing guide ¿ who will regale you with tales of Gaspar and take you to little-known spots to beachcomb; tel. 941-283-5991.

9 HOIST THAT JIB Dreaming of ocean breezes? Sign up for sailing lessons at the Offshore Sailing School at the South Seas Resort marina. The Colgate 26 boats are designed for easy handling, and your instructor will soon have you tacking and jibing across the green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. There are half-day classes or intensive three-day or weeklong courses; tel. 800-221-4326.

10 GO WILD Animal lovers can indulge their passion at Jungle Drums Gallery, which presents an ever-changing collection of wildlife art in all media. On exhibit: patterned curled-tail lizards in steel; handblown glass jellyfish complete with long, wavy tentacles; whimsical clay frog figures; and winsome bronze dolphin sculptures.