Food and Travel Nation with Elizabeth Dougherty
The TRUTH about Food and Travel

On September 28, 2022 just weeks after we visited Sanibel Island for the second time, Hurricane Ian made landfall at Cayo Costa, just north of Captiva Island along Florida’s west coast northwest of Ft. Myers.  The storm brought winds of over 150 miles per hour, and a storm surge that left the barrier islands and Ft Myers Beach, under 10-15 feet of water.

Over the days that followed, the state of Florida performed what some called a “miracle” and rebuilt the Sanibel Island Causeway enough to provide supplies to the island to start the cleaning up process.  Now in March of 2024, Food and Travel Nation made our third visit to the islands for a few days of rest, relaxation, and to document the rebuilding process.  In Lee County alone, over 52,000 homes and businesses suffered some damage and over 5,300 were totally destroyed.  Gone are all traces of The Mad Hatter Restaurant on Captiva Island that we visited.  Even now after 18 months, we saw how mother nature indiscriminately damaged or destroyed both modest beach homes and multi-million dollar resort hotels, that even now, are still empty. – Michael

Here is a look at what Sanibel and Captiva look like since Hurricane Ian. A lot has been done, but still a lot left to do there. The beaches are still stunning and the people are still friendly. – Elizabeth

You’ll see signs like this over Sanibel and Captiva as the rebuilding continues.
Hurricane Ian put 7 1/2′ of the Gulf of Mexico waters into Huxter’s Store on Sanibel, but it’s been reopened and serves as one of the few grocery stores open.
The sound of the waves crashing onto the beach welcomes tourists and locals alike.
Most of the tops of the tall trees that lined the shoreline were sheared off in the storm and are now growing back.
On this morning we saw dark clouds, and a strong breeze coming off the gulf, but it was nothing compared to Hurricane Ian.
One of the beaches on Captiva was eerily quiet on a Sunday morning.
On the eastern end of Sanibel, the pier has been closed since the storm.
While closed to humans, a brown pelican waits on the pier for breakfast.
Sunrise along the beach. In the background, the Sanibel Lighthouse.
Before the storm, there were a number of buildings at the base of the lighthouse that were destroyed by the storm surge. One of the “legs” of the lighthouse was destroyed and to prevent further damage, the remaining structure was “wrapped” in a protective material.
Periwinkle Park Campgrounds was very nearly destroyed, but the park is rebuilding and new park mobile units are being brought in.
Periwinkle Park Campgrounds. Just a few steps from the beach, travelers and residents call this home.
Residents were forced out of condos that were inundated with water. Most are still behind fences and are uninhabitable.
Down at Bowman’s Beach, they’re protective of the wildlife that is slowly coming back as Mother Nature heals.
Of course there are coconuts. It’s a tropical island with coconut palms!
The incoming tide on Bomwan’s Beach.
For over 50 years, the SCCF (Sanibel Captiva Conservations Foundation) has protected the islands from development and offers protection to wildlife. Hurricane Ian was devastating to the mangroves and swamps and it will take years for the dead vegetation to decompose. Over time those dead branches (and there are a LOT of them) will bring new life to the island.
A ranger’s trail back into the mangroves.
Portions of the South Seas Resort on the northern tip of Captiva (just a few mile south of where Ian made landfall) are still closed.
A “phased reopening” of South Seas Resort is underway.
Many restaurants on Sanibel are still in the rebuilding stage and are closed, so when you can find stuffed crepes with fresh blueberry sauce, order it!
Crab Cakes from Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grill.
Blackened Blue Cheese Burger with perfectly seasoned black beans and rice.
Pinocchio’s Original Italian Ice Cream. This family-owned Sanibel Ice Cream Shop makes the BEST homemade gelato you’ll ever try. This is NOT hype or exaggeration. The treats are amazing!
The owners of two restaurants that were destroyed (Island Cow and Mad Hatter) came together to start this new eatery on the eastern end of Sanibel near Lighthouse Beach.
There are hundreds of scenes just like this. When the storm waters cleared, some homes were left standing, and others were completely destroyed. Empty lots now await brave new families ready to live the beach life.
The former home of BIG ARTS (Barrier Island Group for the Arts) was severely damaged. A new center has since reopened.
Blind Pass Beach on Captiva took a severe beating at the hands of Ian.
Sea Oats, cacti and and wildflowers line the path down to the water.
Bowmans Beach is popular for shell collectors, while signs point out the fragile beach wildlife.
The islands of Sanibel and Captiva are rebuilding… it’s a matter of time, priorities, insurance money, and available workforce to get the job done.
Even the Sea Grapes are coming back. The Sea Grapes leaves collect rainwater and provide shade at the base of the plant in the otherwise very hot, dry, sandy beach.
Florida’s beach wildflower.
Slowly, businesses are reopening on Captiva.
The SanCap Chamber of Commerce is coordinating with business owners to let residents and visitors know when shops are reopening.
The quirky Bubble Room on Captiva Island welcomed hungry guests for years until the storm struck. The staff told us they hope to reopen later in 2024.
While the Sea Oats dance in the wind, their roots play an important role in keeping the sand in place on the dunes.
According to their website, “Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum & Aquarium is the only accredited museum in the United States devoted solely to shells and mollusks.”
Neither rain, sleet or snow, (nor 150 mile per winds) will stop the USPS!
Next to Blind Pass, which is the split between Sanibel and Captiva Islands, this building served as the office for Castaways, a village of small rental units.  This is all that’s left.
Less than a year before the storm, Castaways welcomed visitors and offered rental cottages on the beach. Screenshot taken from Google Maps


Sunset on Blind Pass, Captiva Island Florida.
Sunset on Blind Pass, Captiva Island Florida.
A salt-water river and estuary that runs parallel with the Gulf of Mexico.
Sunset fishing at high tide.
Even with the roar of the waves and squawking hungry seagulls, it’s amazing how quiet the beach is at sunset.
Sunset on Blind Pass, Captiva Island Florida.  Previously, this stretch of beach was dotted with cottages and rental homes.
“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean. Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens. Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance. And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance,  Dance” LeAnn Womack – I Hope You Dance
Sunset at Bowman’s Beach – Sanibel Island, Florida March 16, 2024
Sunset at Bowman’s Beach – Sanibel Island, Florida March 16, 2024
The fiery colors of sunset at Bowman’s Beach – Sanibel Island, Florida March 16, 2024

About elizabethd

Elizabeth Dougherty has been cooking and writing about food intensively for more than ten years. She is the fourth generation of chefs and gourmet grocers in her family with her mother, Francesca Esposito and grandmother, Carmella being major influences in her early cooking years. As a teenager, her family sent her to Europe where she became focused on French and Italian cuisine. She survived a year and half of culinary tutelage under a maniacal Swiss-German chef and is a graduate of NYIT, Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality, Business and Labor Relations. Food And Travel Nation has won two news awards for content. Broadcasting LIVE each week, nationwide, on and stations around the country.

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