Location is the Key
There are many special places for honeymooners on Florida’s Western coast. Why else would there be an island named Lovers Key?
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As the sun sets, it gilds the sand and fronds of beach grass waving in the breeze. An amateur photographer snaps photos, and the last of the beachcombers look for just a few more of the perfect, pastel-colored shells. Tucked into a little alcove partially secluded by a mangrove tree, a young couple snuggles on their blanket.
The beach here at Lovers Key State Park has been ranked the most romantic in Florida by the Travel Channel and among the Top 10 Romantic Retreats by CoastalLiving.com. According to local lore, the tiny island was nicknamed Lovers Key when it was inaccessible by land, when only lovers made the effort to get there by boat. The island’s 2.5 miles of white sand beach are easy to get to now, and they still inspire romance.
More than 100 small islands fringe the Florida mainland west of Fort Myers and Cape Coral. They are scattered throughout Pine Island Sound, Estero Bay and Charlotte Harbor, extending into the Gulf of Mexico. They offer unparalleled opportunities for water sports and wildlife viewing and some of the most spectacular beaches in the country.
Among the most visited of these barrier islands is Estero Island, better known as Fort Myers Beach. Condos and hotels edge the miles of white, sandy beaches on the island, which connects by bridge in the north to Fort Myers proper and in the south to the four barrier islands that make up Lovers Key State Park. Black Island, also part of the state park, has more than five miles of trails through maritime hummock, where you can hike and cycle. Visitors can also rent canoes or kayaks and explore the park’s inner waterways.
A three-mile-long causeway connects Mainland Fort Myers with Sanibel and Captiva islands, which, in addition to magnificent beaches, are known for their leisurely pace and natural beauty. You won’t find a single stop light on Sanibel or Captiva, and few buildings are taller than the tallest palm tree. The islands have far more residences than businesses, so they remain unblemished by billboards or neon lights.
You can pick one island as home base for your entire honeymoon, or skip around from place to place to savor them all.
In Search of Wildlife
A Florida safari looks something like this: Early in the morning, pick a beach, then spend an hour or so walking along the shoreline, looking for crabs and the tiny fish that the shorebirds (and bigger fish) are so fond of. Gather some of the colorful and varied seashells that the area is famous for. You might see live starfish and sand dollars as well. Be sure to leave these critters behind. Blind Pass Beach near the bridge connecting Sanibel and Captiva is an especially fertile area for shells, as is Lovers Key Beach.
Next, head to J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel, which comprises more than 6,400 acres of mangrove forest, submerged sea grass beds, marshes of cord grass and islands of hardwood trees. The varied habitats provide homes for seabirds and migrating songbirds: great blue herons, egrets, ospreys, pelicans and pink-feathered roseate spoonbills. Tree frogs and all manner of crabs make their homes in the mangrove marshes. Raccoons and marsh rabbits can sometimes be seen feeding in the brush. If you are lucky you will get to see an alligator, and if you are very lucky, you might see a bobcat, river otter or manatee.
You can drive, bike or take a narrated tram tour along Wildlife Drive through the refuge, or you can canoe or kayak designated waterways. Another great way to spot wildlife is by paddling a portion of the Great Calusa Blueway, a 190-mile canoe and kayak trail that meanders through the area’s coastal waters and inland tributaries.
Later in the afternoon, take a dolphin-watching cruise. Hundreds of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins make their home year-round in the warm waters and rich feeding grounds of Pine Island Sound. They love to surf the wakes of boats, so you will likely get an up-close view of the playful mammals.
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