You’re here for the seashells, so consult a tide table and plan to arrive at Turner Beach, which extends on both sides of the Blind Pass Bridge that links Sanibel and Captiva, about 90 minutes before low tide. (That may indeed mean getting up before dawn.) The next two hours offer the best shelling of the day; expect to get wet up to your knees as you search for lightning whelks.
Alligators and turtles and birds, oh my! For nature lovers, the 5,000-acre J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is a treasure. There are trails for hiking, biking, and canoeing – all good ways to have Animal Planet-type encounters with more than 200 bird species, including such local favorites as white ibis and roseate spoonbills. Keep an eye out for armadillos, otters, and the resident crocodile. (The refuge is closed Fridays.)
Among the 25 or so miles of bike paths is Wildlife Drive, a four-mile loop “paved” with hard-packed sand and shells (you’ll need fat tires on your bike) that leads through the Darling refuge. On Rabbit Road Trail, which borders a canal, look for marsh rabbits and alligators.