City Guide: Sanibel Island, FL

In a few weeks, I'm headed to Sanibel, Florida, to meet up with my family for a week of bike rides, beach walks, meals together, and time spent reveling in the escape from frigid Chicago winter.  Traveling there always feels like coming home - I love returning to familiar haunts.

If you've spent time in Southwest Florida, you know it's not the easiest place to find hip little grocery stores where you can purchase items package-free (Publix superstores rule the roost, without bulk aisles - for now). So, in case you happen to be thinking of a trip there, I'm sharing a few tips for ways to enjoy your vacation and to help you be zero waste while there.


The ocean and warm outdoor air take precedence here, so the best activities are also the simplest ones: swimming, beach walks, and biking the island's many trails. Take a walk, bike ride, or kayak trip through the Ding Darling wildlife refuge for gorgeous birdwatching and estuary wildlife. The tiny island movie theater shows only a movie or two at a time, so if you're in luck it might be one you actually want to see; it's worth a trip as it's so much different than the giant megaplexes of the mainland. And, of course, the real reason you flew south for the winter was to sit down on a beach chair and not move for several hours. I'm with you there - grab a book and a friend and just relax.


-Among the Flowers: The best little hole-in-the-wall, serving smoothies, snacks, light lunches, and vegan desserts. Head here any time you need a quick, healthy, tasty pick-me up (it's right by the bike path!). They use disposable servingware, so bring your own cup, utensil, and to-go container, which they'll happily accept so that your meal stays zero waste. (UPDATE: This restaurant is now closed).

-Fresh Taqueria: I love a business that shops at the same farmers' market as its patrons. The food here is local, organic, fresh, and so, so delicious. The cafe offers great Mexican food; both meat and vegetarian/vegan options abound. The menu changes seasonally, which is a great excuse to keep coming back. If you order the tortilla chips, ask for them without paper - other than that, they use reusable dinnerware, so no need to worry about trash here.

-The Sanibel Sprout: Vegetarian options can be challenging to find in a place so close to the ocean (though if you like fish, visit any restaurant on the island and take your pick!). The Sanibel Sprout offers vegetarian and vegan dishes that use tons of whole foods - my jam. Make sure to bring your own napkin, and your meal will be zero waste

Stay zero waste:

-Grocery Shop: The Sanibel Farmers' Market is open from October to April. Come to meet local farmers and pick up all the produce you'll need for your stay. Unfortunately, there aren't too many bulk food options on the island or nearby mainland. Bring a few package-free dry goods (beans, quinoa, rice) if you're planning to do any cooking, and use reusable cloth produce bags to purchase fruits, veggies, and bread at local markets such as Bailey's. Or, skirt the issue by eating most of your meals out (#VACATION).

-Compost: In areas where you're traveling and can't find a public compost bin, Bea Johnson recommends digging a small hole for your compost and covering it up - a method called "pit composting." I've never done this, because it seems ecologically questionable; instead, I prefer to save my compost in a little jar while waiting to stumble upon a place to dispose of it. In Sanibel, though - not a place with tons of sustainability options - you may need to either pit compost or tote your fruit peels and food scraps away with you.

If you'd like, you can find other zero waste city guides, here. Happy travels, friends!