May/June 2001 Issue

The Perfect Picnic

In an area with so many terrific restaurants, it’s easy to forget the simple joy of a picnic. But look around—fabulous vistas and mouth-watering provisions, combined with the delights of dining al fresco, make picnicking a perfect alternative.
    Our favorite picnic site, hands down, is the beach of North Captiva. The middle part of North Cap is state land, so it remains undeveloped. With miles of sugary white sand, azure gulf waters, beautiful driftwood, and often not another soul in site, North Cap is a bit like Gilligan’s Island—without the cast. This divine setting requires some logistics, to be sure, and you have options. You may rent a powerboat from any of several local companies and ferry yourself off to paradise. Or you may opt for a water taxi from Jensen’s Marina on Captiva. They drop you and return when you ask them to—it couldn’t be simpler. Then you can focus on what goodies to pack in your picnic basket.
    If you don’t mind sharing your day with a few other folks, Captiva Cruises also offers a morning and afternoon trip to Cayo Costa, the next barrier island up the chain from North Cap. You’ll have about a one-hour boat ride, an hour on the island, and the ride home. Cayo Costa is also deserted—a prime spot for a gulf-front picnic.
    If you would rather not go by boat, pack a hamper and check out the lovely park at Bowman’s Beach on Sanibel. Shaded picnic tables and grills are nestled underneath whispering pines; nearby hiking trails parallel the sea. You’ll find a bayou-spanning boardwalk, miles of pristine beach, great fishing (there’s an idea—catch your lunch!), ample sunbathing opportunities, and more. Bowman’s Beach also has nice shower and bath facilities, a real bonus. This spot is popular, so you might want to arrive earlier than lunch hour to secure a table and grill.
    Another Sanibel favorite is the Lighthouse Beach. Choose a secluded spot around the curve from the fishing pier and the lighthouse, and voilà! It’s a beautiful day for a picnic. On a clear day, this vantage point includes a view all the way to the Ritz Carlton in North Naples; we recommend packing some binoculars for Lighthouse Beach. Come to think of it, we recommend packing binoculars no matter where you picnic! The day you don’t have them might be the day you could have seen a hawk, a juvenile dolphin, or a great blue heron nest. Lighthouse Beach, like all of Sanibel’s beaches, is good for shelling. Take extra bags in case you find treasures, but be sure not to take live shells. After lunch, stroll out on the fishing pier and see who’s having luck. (Note of reality: You will want to lock your car.)
    For all the times you’ve crossed the Sanibel Causeway by car, how many times have you stopped there to take a stretch, admire the view, take a picture, wade into the water? Ironically, visitors tend to more fully appreciate the causeway islands; Sanibel and Captiva residents tend to take them for granted. Yet there are plenty of out-of-the-way spots on the causeway. Sandy lanes veer off the main road toward pine trees, picnic tables, views of Ft. Myers Beach, the drawbridge, and sunset views.
    Lee County has also improved the facilities for picnickers. There are tables, grills, rest rooms, telephones. If you’re willing to hold on to your hat and picnic on a windy day, the best show in town will serve as entertainment while you dine—local windsurfers screaming along the tops of waves across San Carlos Bay. It’s very exciting to watch. And then there are dolphins, fishing boats, pelicans pacing the cars—more than enough to spice up a picnic.
    Farther south, you’ll be rewarded with the pristine ambiance of Lover’s Key, an exquisite barrier island just south of Estero Island and Ft. Myers Beach. While there are nice picnic tables on the bay side of the road (and wading the flats is always fun), you might prefer instead to pay the entrance fee and go in the park area, where a tram takes visitors out to the gulf beach. The views of Sanibel and Bonita Beach are sublime, and the people are often few—perfect ingredients for a picnic.
    Here are a few local resources that will make your day even more enjoyable, wherever you spend it:
    The Sporty Seahorse Shop carries a lovely selection of insulated picnic totes in all sizes, from sandwich-size to those perfectly sized for chilled wine. Motifs are varied, from lighthouses to seashells, and some include cold packs. We even found matching tote bags. 362 Periwinkle Way, near the lighthouse on Sanibel; 941/472-1858
    While you’re on that end of the island, consider popping into the East End Deli for provisions. You’ll find sandwiches, subs, chips, sodas, and beer as well as goodies like antipasto, olive salad, tortellini salad, muffins, and coffee. 359 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel; 941/472-9622
    If your picnic is a family affair, pop into Toys Ahoy and pick out a kite to fly with the kids. (We like the giant multicolored fish). 2075 Periwinkle Way in Periwinkle Place; 941/472-4800
    For a more refined occasion, we’d be remiss not to mention the gourmet provisions awaiting your picnic basket at The Cheese Nook. Truffle mousse pâté, St. André cheese, pesto and sun-dried tomato cheese torte, homemade crab spread, Stilton cheese with apricots, gourmet crackers and dips, and an international wine selection that would impress anyone. And check out the whimsical appetizer spreaders that would brighten up any picnic. 2075 Periwinkle Way in Periwinkle Place; 941/472-2666.
    Grab your sunscreen, a hat, some towels or a blanket, and off you go!

Freelance writer and Sanibel resident Libby Boren McMillan knows all the best spots to enjoy the islands.