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​How to ski Colorado on $200 per day (or less)

By Becca Blond
January 3, 2020
Skiing In Colorado
Believe it or not, it’s possible to ski Colorado’s famous powder for $200 per person per day or even less, including food and lodging.

Colorado's slopes aren't just for the upper crust. There are plenty of resorts across this Rocky Mountain playground that let you experience the bluebird powder days, diversity of runs and vertical drop that the region is known for – all without ponying up nearly as much cash.

Here we spill the tea on three Colorado resorts where you can ski, stay and eat for around $200 per person per day – you will eat better at some than others.

Consider the Gems Card

Depending on whether you are local or not and how much you plan to ski, one of the best deals for discounts is the Colorado Gems Card. The card costs $30 and works at 11 of the lesser-known ski resorts across the state (including the three listed here) providing either two for the price of one adult full-day lift ticket (must be used on the same day) or 30% off the price of a single adult full-day lift ticket. The card can be used at each of the resorts twice during the season and must be purchased before February 28, 2020.

Our favorite budget Colorado ski resorts

Monarch Mountain

Lift Ticket: $64 to $84
Accommodation: $50 to $75 per person
Leftover for Food: between $41 and $86

Just outside Salida, Colorado, Monarch Mountain is proudly independently owned and known for its abundance of natural snow and affordable lift tickets. Monarch allows you to purchase lift tickets online for 40% less than what you would pay at the ticket window.

Monarch’s ticket prices vary depending on the month and whether you are skiing a weekend or weekday, but for a weekday in January a 1-Day Adult Lift ticket is as low as $64 – compare this to Vail and Beaver Creek Resorts, which are the state’s most expensive at $209 for a single day. The most you’ll pay when purchasing online at Monarch is $84 per day. And if you have two people it may be cheaper to purchase the Gem Card and get the 2-for-1 special.

Monarch also offers free parking at its base and a variety of terrain to offer something for all levels of riders. There is just one base area, but there is enough diversity to ski for a few days without getting bored on a total of 66 trails with 1162ft of vertical drop.

For lodging, you’ll head to the town of Salida, just 30 minutes away. This atmospheric mountain town has a number of hotels with room rates averaging around $150 per night for a double with all taxes and fees, so $75 per person. If you book an Airbnb you can bring that cost down to around $50 per person on the cheaper end.

After lodging and lift tickets, you’ll have around $50 to $75 left per person to spend on food. Monarch has a number of restaurants on mountain and as long as you choose your entrees carefully you should be able to afford to eat lunch here and still stay within budget. For dinner, Salida has a number of affordable restaurants including Currents and Amicas Pizza.

Eldora Mountain Resort

Lift Ticket: $75 - $129 (with Gem Card from $64.50)
Accommodation: from $42
Remaining Food Budget: between $29 and $94

This is a resort where the $30 purchase of the Gem Card really counts. If you’re skiing as a duo, you’ll pay $80 per person for the first day (factoring in the cost of the card) and then just $64.50 for the second day.

Just 21 miles from Boulder and 47 miles from Denver, Eldora Mountain Resort is one of the most accessible ski resorts in the state — you can ride a city bus from Denver or Boulder to get here, which makes is super convenient and affordable from a transportation perspective. The mountain has 680 acres of skiable terrain for all levels including challenging runs on Corona Bowl and a great area for beginners. There are also two terrain parks to play in.

If you plan to ski four days, then buy the Eldora 4-Pass online for $299, which breaks down to just $75 per day. It doesn’t need to be used consecutively, so if you live in Colorado and want to just ski a day at a time it also makes sense. A single day adult lift ticket at the window costs $129.

For apres-ski, Boulder is a fun college town filled with restaurants and nightlife. It also has a number of affordable Airbnb options with rates as low as $42 per person per night in late January. As long as you have the Gem Card, this will leave you with nearly $100 a day to spend on food. You will be able to eat on mountain for lunch and also grab dinner a few drinks at a mid-range Boulder restaurant. Favorites include Rincón Argentino for Argentinian in a low-key setting and the Rayback Collective, a food truck park where you can cozy up to the outdoor fire pit.

Arapahoe Basin

Lift Ticket: around $53 to $77
Accommodation: from $75
Remaining Food Budget: $48 to $72

Just 68 miles west of Denver and right on the Continental Divide at an elevation of X, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area boasts the longest ski and ride season in Colorado and some seriously sizzling lift ticket deals when purchased online in advance. Depending on what day you plan to ski – mid-week is always cheaper – we saw ticket prices in January for as low as $53 for an adult full-day. On the higher side, an advance purchase lift ticket was $77. A-Basin is also part of the Gem program, so should you get stuck paying full price for a last minute lift ticket, you can still get the 2-for-1 deal here.

The resort is known for its rocky steeps and chutes including 468 acres of new lift-serviced intermediate and expert terrain at The Beavers, but it also has some wide open, rolling groomers that are perfect for beginners. A long time locals favorite – it’s nickname is “The Legend,” A-Basin has a fun vibe and food and drinks on the mountain are affordable for Summit County. The resort is also famous for its parking lot scene around The Beach – the part of the lot that backs up to the lower mountain chairlifts. Reminiscent of a football tailgating party, expect music, dogs, brews and full-on cookouts.

For lodging, prices are definitely a bit higher as you are in the heart of Summit County, which is home to mega resorts like Breckenridge and Keystone. There are a number of small towns that service all these resorts including Frisco, Dillon and Silverthorne. Hotels start at about $125 per person per night, but Airbnbs can go for around $75 per person per night. All of these towns have fast casual or straight up fast food dining options as well as affordable restaurants and some good craft breweries that also serve food.

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Inspiration

5 Ski Resorts Under an Hour from Major Airports

That first moment standing atop a mountain, goggles clear and skis waxed, can be the ultimate winter bliss. But there’s a whole lot of transportation leading up to that snowy perch. Not to mention travel pitfalls like long drives in rough weather, missed air connections, and baggage claim snafus. Luckily, several of the country’s best summits aren’t far from major runways, where you can find yourself schussing from plane to slope in no time. Check out these prime ski resorts, all within an hour’s drive from well-served international and regional airports. 1. Solitude Mountain Resort, Utah From Salt Lake International Airport (SLC), skiers and boarders will love the bevy of world-class mountains all within a tight 60. (They don’t call this town “Ski City” for nothing!) Even better, SLC is a major hub for Delta Airlines, and serves nearly a dozen more carriers big and small – including United, Southwest, Alaska, jetBlue, Frontier, KLM, American, and other airlines. You don’t have to ski to recognize some of the area’s famous winter destinations, like Park City, Deer Valley, Alta, and Snowbird. But head to Big Cottonwood Canyon to check out Solitude Mountain Resort, home to eight chairlifts, 80 runs, three bowls, and 500 annual inches of snow. Historic Solitude has been going strong since 1957, and now encompasses 1,200 acres; condos and townhomes; plus a Bavarian ski-in/ski-out lodge with heated outdoor pool and hot tub, spa, and easy access to shops, bars, and restaurants. Don’t miss the special dining experience of trekking via snowshoe to The Yurt, where chefs serve a four-course dinner inside a Mongolian yurt in the forest. 2. Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows Fly into Nevada’s Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO), drive southwest about 55 minutes into California, and find yourself at one of America’s largest ski resorts. Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is home to 42 total lifts, and 270 trails across 6000 acres – plus a Scenic Aerial Tram that climbs 2000ft high to an altitude of 8200ft, yielding magnificent mountain and Lake-Tahoe panoramas. Known for its lengthy ski and snowboard season and daily sunshine, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows earned fame when it served as the host site of the entire 1960 Winter Olympics. 3. Stowe Mountain Resort, Vermont Vermont may be small, but Burlington International Airport (BTV) stays busy year-round, thanks to direct flights from about a dozen cities on a variety of airlines. From there, access to slopes around Mount Mansfield is a cool 55 minutes, either to Smugglers’ Notch, or luxurious Stowe Mountain Resort. Stowe stands out for its 11 lifts and a sightseeing gondola, which take riders up to Vermont’s highest peak (Mt. Mansfield) and sister mountain Spruce Peak. The base lodge anchors Stowe’s New England–village vibes, complete with spa, performing arts hall, ice skating, and an indoor rock-climbing center. 4. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyoming The only airport within a national park, Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) is just 21 miles/35 minutes from Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. And what spectacular site for each, boasting views of the Teton Mountains in the south end of Yellowstone National Park. Skiers, boarders, and other winter-sports fanatics may find a bit of frosty heaven here. There are 17 lifts and 130 runs over 2500 skiable acres and 3000 backcountry acres; plus loads of other sports and leisure activities on the slopes and in posh downtown Jackson Hole. Easy access comes year-round, with directs on several airlines from a dozen major cities into its regional airport. 5. Aspen Snowmass, Colorado So you want a quick ride from the airport to the slopes? Central Colorado’s Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE) may have them all beat with a speedy seven-mile, 15-minute drive to Colorado’s Snowmass Village. True, Apsen/Pitkin is a smaller regional airport, but nonstop service from major US hubs make it an easy port even in winter. (You also can opt for the Eagle County Regional Airport (EGE), about 80 minutes north, which also serves Vail and Beaver Creek mountain villages). Among the more vibrant Rocky Mountain resorts, Aspen Snowmass is a sprawling resort that draws skier, boarders, and other snow lovers from around the world. From its prime location in Snowmass Village, the resort offers 40 lifts and more than 330 runs over 5,300 acres, plus access to a town rich with events, dining, and nightlife.

Inspiration

Take a Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Tour at These Real-Life Locales

Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the hit show from Amazon Prime Video, not only fueled nostalgia for 1950s New York City, it brought us to vintage Paris streets and summers in the Catskills. Now, with the premier of season 3, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is taking her show on the road. Want to follow along? Here are some of the key locations you can visit right now from the Maisel universe. The Gaslight Cafe – NYC For her first comedy set, Mrs. Maisel drunkenly stumbles into the cellar of a West Village comedy club and speakeasy she frequented with her philandering husband. And though there was a bar called The Gaslight in the Meat Packing district which recently closed after 21 years, the Gaslight Cafe at 116 MacDougal St. was shuttered in 1971. An underground home for creativity of all types, it hosted the likes of Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan, who recorded a live album there in 1962. The interior shots were filmed inside a studio in Brooklyn, but you can visit the exteriors at 97 St Mark’s Place in the East Village. Old Town Bar – NYC This Flatiron gem, Joel Maisel’s favorite hangout, is one of the oldest bars in the city and serves one heck of a cheeseburger to boot. If the prohibition-era marble-topped bar could talk, it might decide to take the fifth, but the vintage restrooms kind of say it all. An eclectic crowd of tried and true New Yorkers mingle with tourists and everyone enjoys watching the waiters serving food delivered on the dumbwaiter. See it at 45 E. 18th St. The Maisel Apartment – NYC The Upper West Side is Midge’s playground, and her parents’ opulent Manhattan apartment is filmed inside The Strathmore at 404 Riverside Drive, Apt 3N, overlooking the Hudson River. The building itself dates to 1909, is constructed of brick, limestone and terra cotta, and is located in Morningside Heights, closer to Columbia University (where Marion’s father, Abe, teaches) than the Museum of Natural History. B. Altman – NYC When Midge decides to make her own cash so she can spend nights killing it on the mic, she gets a job at this classic, now defunct, department store. The original, landmarked, building still stands nearly unchanged at 65 Fifth Avenue, though it’s now the Graduate Center for the City University of New York. Pop around the corner to the 34th St. entrance to witness the show’s exact shot, but sadly, you won’t be able to purchase any lipstick. The inside scenes were shot inside the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center, a former bank in Brooklyn. Chez Paul – Paris When Mrs. Maisel and her father hoof it to Paris to convince Rose Weissman to come back to New York, they take a family meal in this sweet bistro at 13 rue de Charonne, Bastille in the eleventh arrondissement. The romantic, turn-of-the-century décor and checkered tablecloths highlight the classic French menu, like the perfectly cooked steak au poivre, gratin dauphinois, and of course the steak tartar - which sadly goes uneaten in the scene. Madame Arthur – Paris After wandering the City of Lights, Midge stumbles into this drag cabaret, which is exactly what it is in real life. Located at 75bis rue des Martyrs, 18th arrondissement, Madame Arthur has hosted bohemian luminaries such as Pablo Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec and now presents upscale drag shows in two different theaters every night. After the cabarets, the space turns into a club which stays open until 6am. Steiner Resort – the Catskills Back from Paris and ready for some relaxation, the Weissmans and the Maisels head to the Catskills — with manager Susie not far behind. Just a few hours drive from Manhattan, this New York State mountain range was labeled the Borscht Belt and hosted a certain pair of dirty dancers back in the day. Scott’s Family Resort, on Oquaga Lake, stood in for Steiner Resort and still offers access to the same summer cottages, ballroom and even bowling alley that the gang frolicked in onscreen. Plunger and romper not included. The Rockaways – Queens When Susie is kidnapped for cash by two mobsters, they drag her kicking and kind of screaming to the Rockaways, a NYC beach area in Queens known for its surfing, tacos and cheap beer. Of course, everything turns out OK on the subway ride, once the goons realize Susie also grew up there. You can follow in their footsteps by catching the A, J or Z trains to Rockaway Boulevard, or hopping on a NYC Ferry to Rockaway Landing. The Cedar Tavern – NYC When Midge starts dating the handsome bachelor, Benjamin, she is sucked into the New York art scene when they visit this dive bar. Known for its weekly salon for artists, The Cedar Tavern moved twice since it opened in 1866 and shuttered for good in 2006. The scene was actually filmed in McSorley’s, a similarly old-timey bar at 15 E 7th St. near University Place. Here you can toss peanut shells on the floor and order sloppily poured mugs of just two types of beer, light and dark. Sadly, if this were really where the two lovebirds came to mingle, they would never have made it inside – McSorley’s didn’t allow women until 1970. Miami Beach – Miami We haven’t had a ton of spoilers for season 3, but we do know that Susie and Midge head to Miami and have the pleasure of staying at the horseshoe-shaped Fountainebleau. A beachfront resort built in 1954 with a massive pool, Versailles-like gardens and swinging scene, it was luxury incarnate and favored by celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Judy Garland and even Elvis, and still enjoys a retro, sherbet-colored vibe today. Its Mid-Beach location has become more popular with the opening of other high-end resorts like the Soho Beach House and The Confidante. Las Vegas Other than the occasional crumb dropped by producers on Instagram, we don’t know much about the locations in Vegas, but we do know This Is Us star Sterling K. Brown joins the crew as a straight-talking manager and we do see some marquees mocked up with Maisel. Other than that, you’re just going to have to tune in on December 6th to find out if what happens in Vegas…well, you know the rest.

Inspiration

Where to Travel for the Best Canadian Wine

Despite its chilly reputation, Canadian wine has been winning awards and making a name for itself for years. That includes chardonnay from Prince Edward County, appellation wine in Nova Scotia and everything from full-bodied reds to crisp whites in the Okanagan Valley. Although the wine is often super affordable (think $15-$20 CAD a bottle with little to no tasting fees – that’s about $11.50 to $15 USD!) it still tends to be exclusive, since many wineries only sell their wine from the tasting room. So traveling to the wine is often your best bet, and luckily, Canada has a lot to offer. These are the best Canadian wine regions worth busting out your passport for. Okanagan Valley, British Columbia The Okanagan Valley is Canada’s only desert, with dry, hot (really!) summers and cool evenings. With more than 185 wineries, the Okanagan Valley is British Columbia’s largest wine region by far, and the second most productive in Canada. Four different sub-regions exist in this stretch of land and the soil is ripe for many different wine varietals, including merlot, pinot gris, syrahs and rieslings. The area attracts a diversity of winemakers, too. The first indigenous-owned and operated winery in North America, Nk’Mip Cellars, is at the southern end of the Okanagan in the town of Osoyoos. Their chardonnay won gold at the Chardonnay du Monde in 2018. Just 20 minutes north in Oliver, two brothers who immigrated from Punjab, India, now run the small but successful Kismet Estate Winery, which won more than a dozen awards in 2018 for everything from their syrah and malbec reserve to their rosė – all while selling the majority of their grapes to other winemakers in the area. And the area’s features are strong enough that vintner Severine Pinte left France to be the winemaker and viticulturist LaStella Winery since 2010. Prince Edward County, Ontario Two hours east of Toronto, Prince Edward County is a popular escape for Canadians and New Yorkers alike thanks to their nearly 500 miles of sandy shoreline. When it comes to wine, they’re still the new kids in town, though they have 40+ wineries and have spent the last two decades building their reputation as top-notch winemakers. The region is known for their pinot noir and chardonnay, whose vines they painstakingly bury underground at the end of each harvest to keep safe from the icy winters. Both Rosehall Run’s 2017 JCR Pinot Noir Rosehall and their 2016 Cabernet Franc Single won gold at the National Wine Awards of Canada, and the area has had a string of awards against international competitors as well. Bunches of wine grapes waiting for frost for ice wine harvest in Ontario © Horst Petzold | Dreamstime.com Niagara, Ontario Niagara is one of the better-known wine regions in Canada, most famous for their ice wines – a syrupy-sweet drink made from grapes left on the vine into winter, where temperatures have to reach -8 degrees celsius before they’re harvested. The seasonally frigid temperatures around the Great Lakes are especially well-situated to make this kind of wine, which is why Niagara has grown its vintner reputation on it. If you’re hoping for more than a dessert drink when touring wine country, two of Niagara’s rieslings took home gold at 2019’s Decanter World Wine Awards, and the baco noir from Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery won bronze at the 2019 Berlin International Wine Competition. To get around, you can drive, ride on a double-decker bus, or try one of the increasingly popular cycling tours. The Eastern Townships, Quebec The Eastern Townships, a collection of small cities and towns that sits two hours east of Montreal, is already a popular all-seasons getaway for New Englanders. Golf, water sports, skiing, cycling, four provincial parks and a high concentration of spas make it an easy choice when folks nearby need an escape. The elegant architecture and largely Francophone population make it feel much farther from the US than it actually is. The area is also responsible for the majority of Quebec’s local wine. One of the best ways to get a taste for the region is via their Wine Route, which follows more than 20 vineyards in the Brome-Missisquoi region. You won’t have to worry about finding your way around, as the entire 140 km (that’s about 87 miles) route is marked. Standout vineyards include Vignoble de l’Orpailleur, which has won numerous international awards for their ice wine, and Vignoble Domaine des Côtes d’Ardoise, Quebec’s first vineyard, which has mastered everything from reds to rosés and ciders over the years. Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia This area is perhaps better known for the Bay of Fundy, which has the highest tides on earth – sometimes as high as 56 feet – and regularly has 15 different species of whales swim by. It’s so special that it’s been named one of the seven wonders of North America, alongside other spots like the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls. But Annapolis Valley, which runs alongside the Bay of Fundy, has its own bragging rights, too. Home to the bulk of Nova Scotia’s wineries (11 of 18) you’d be remiss not to try Nova Scotia’s Tidal Bay appellation wine while visiting. This crisp white showcases the cool climate and oceanic influence, and uses a blend of white wines that must be grown in the Nova Scotia region. This year, Annapolis Valley vineyard Lightfoot and Wolfville won the award for Best Winery at the 2019 Atlantic Canadian Wine Awards as well as took home several different awards for their vintages, including a tied win for the Tidal Bay of the year.

Inspiration

6 Things to Do On and Around Sanibel Island, Florida

Famous for vast wildlife preserves, leafy mangroves, world-class tarpon fishing, stellar seashells, and a laid-back way of life, Sanibel Island and its surrounding cays attract an array of vacationers, from regular beach-loving folks to high-profile visitors such as former FBI director Robert Mueller and the rapper Pitbull. The non-human residents are pretty spectacular, too: schools of dolphins leap above the shimmering waters, and friendly manatees have been known to brush up against moving kayaks out of playful curiosity. (Jamie Beckman) Sanibel is also a plum post-retirement destination for what locals call “PIPs” — previously important people (think: ex-CEOs) looking to pump the brakes after pressure-cooker careers. The area’s conservation-first mindset has a pleasant side effect for those who yearn to detox from technology and the daily grind: There are no stoplights on Sanibel Island, cell phone service isn’t exactly a guarantee, and no structure can be built higher than a palm tree. Sound enticing? This exclusive island paradise is accessible at any budget, especially if you’re a road tripper willing to toss bicycles into a hatchback and strap kayaks to the roof. Here's our guide to the best the area has to offer. 1. Check In South Seas Island Resort pool complex on Captiva Island. (Courtesy South Seas Island Resort) Make your home base a standard villa with a full kitchen at a beach resort that has a slew of amenities, including golf courses, spas, restaurants, and marinas. Preparing your own meals and taking advantage of the free and cheap perks (more on that in a minute) are keys to planning a wallet-friendly trip. Pro grocery tips: To save big, hit the Publix Super Market at Sanibel Beach Place in Fort Myers before crossing the Sanibel Causeway Bridge onto Sanibel Island ($6 toll, free return trip). Or buy local at Bailey’s General Store on Sanibel Island, where you can shop in person or pick up an advance online order. Either way, you’ll save cash and not miss out on the area’s seafood, like seasonal stone crabs and mussels from Bailey’s and local pink shrimp, flounder, and grouper sold at Publix. For an upscale, family-friendly, large-resort feel, splurge on a stay at the sprawling South Seas Island Resort (from $200 per night) on Captiva Island. Its two and a half miles of private beaches, along with beach chair and umbrella rentals, three pools with two waterslides, 11 tennis courts, and island trolley, are free to use. Rooms have full kitchens, and gas grills and picnic tables are available by the pools and marina for your own personal barbecues. To quickly stock up on food and drinks midway through your stay, there’s a grocery store/deli on the property. On Sanibel Island proper, Sundial Beach Resort & Spa (from $219 per night) has beach-chic down pat, with bright-white furnishings, full kitchens, and island-themed decor. There are five heated swimming pools and lots of complimentary offerings, like kayaks, paddleboards, and bikes, as well as equipment for pickleball and volleyball. And there's no shortage of activities for kids. Locals have repeatedly voted Sundial “Best Staycation,” so you know it’s clutch. Back on Captiva, Tween Waters Inn (from $108 per night) offers guestrooms with mini fridges, modern studios with mini kitchens, and suites with full kitchens. If you're feeling flush, book an entire historic pastel-painted seaside cottage. Once you’re settled in, choose your poolside vibe: the Play Pool, the Serenity Pool, or two hot whirlpools. A quick trip across the street takes you to the inn’s private beach, replete with a volleyball court and complimentary kayaks. Beach chairs and umbrellas are an extra charge. 2. Explore an Animal Kingdom Bring your binoculars to J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, or ask for a free pair—you won’t want to miss the spectacle of ospreys, yellow-crowned night herons, and roseate spoonbills here in their natural state, especially at low tide, when the birds are most visible as they hunt for food. For bragging rights, try to spot the elusive mangrove cuckoo. It’s seen so rarely that if you do catch a glimpse, even the locals will be jealous. Hike or bike the refuge’s Indigo Trail boardwalks ($1 per person), or grab the gang and motor down the four-mile Wildlife Drive ($5 per vehicle, $1 per pedestrian or cyclist). The 100-acre Bailey Tract of interior wetland is free to enter and explore. Kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding, fishing, and boating are allowed in some areas, as long as you follow the refuge’s rules. Searching for seashells on Sanibel Island. (Ian Fletcher/Dreamstime) 3. Eat Cheeseburgers in Paradise, in Paradise Locals report that Jimmy Buffett wrote “Cheeseburger in Paradise” after eating a particularly tasty one at Cabbage Key Inn & Restaurant on Cabbage Key, in Pine Island Sound. Now’s your chance to do as Buffett did. Hop a water taxi with Island Girl Charters (from $29) to get there, then order a Cabbage Key Hamburger with cheese ($13.25) and a “cold draught beer,” even though the brews technically come in cans (from $4.69). 4. Go On A Shoreline Treasure Hunt Shells in dazzling colors wash ashore every day thanks to the islands’ unique geographic position, making the area a collector’s paradise. Prepare for the best seashell-collecting experience of your life by investing in Sanibel & Captiva Shells and Beach Life ($8), an in-depth, waterproof, illustrated guide to the area’s shells and where to find them. Then start combing: Turner Beach, on Captiva Island, and Blind Pass Beach, on Sanibel Island, are two of the best public spots for shelling. Experts recommend venturing out the hour before and the hour after low tide, when the odds of nabbing good and rare shells are highest. Or opt for an after-dark excursion, a secret the pros swear by. 5. Learn from Locals (Even the Feathered Ones) CROW wildlife rehabilitator Katie Mueller holds Lola the American Kestrel, one of the clinic's ambassador animals. Lola has an irreparable broken wing, so she lives at the clinic rather than in the wild. (Jamie Beckman) At Sanibel Island’s Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife ($7 for kids, $12 for adults), animal lovers can watch veterinarians and medical interns save creatures in dire straits, like owls who’ve been hit by cars, turtles with broken shells, or seabirds who’ve been accidentally hooked by a fishing line. Meanwhile, kids can hang out with the education center’s “animal ambassadors,” like Billy, a curious nine-banded armadillo who sometimes emerges to scamper freely indoors under the watchful eyes of his caretakers. You’ll need to register in advance to tour the hospital, so make sure you plan ahead. Need a break from the kids? Drop them off for a few hours at Sanibel Sea School (from $55 per child), where they’ll learn to surf in shallow waves and get a thorough ocean education while they're at it. Family programs, including stand-up paddle boarding excursions and shell walks, are also available. Wander through the ceiling-scraping stacks at Gene’s Books for best-sellers and obscure genre finds. The quaint, mystery-heavy indie store has beach reads galore at deep overstock discounts, many of the titles organized into ultra-specific categories like Scandinavian Mystery, Italian Mystery, and much more. 6. Soak Up the Setting Sun One activity that’s not optional here: admiring the technicolor sunsets. If you’re staying at South Seas Island Resort, take in the free, family-friendly daily “sunset ritual” on Sunset Beach, featuring acoustic guitar music by Livingston Taylor, brother of James, who’s toured with Jimmy Buffett and the Beach Boys. Or post up alfresco at Mucky Duck, a local favorite on Captiva Island, with a slice of icy homemade key lime pie ($7) and a CoronaRita (a margarita with a mini Corona bottle flipped upside down into it), and watch the big orange ball fade away. No matter where you’re doing the viewing, look for the “green flash” at sundown – it’s an optical effect that happens right when the sun sinks below the horizon. The Details Sanibel Island isn't necessarily known for its bargains – resort fees can be particularly high – so it's worth taking the time to hunt for good deals on accommodations. Keep an eye out for promotions, and consider booking and paying in advance for the best rates. Summer is the least expensive time to visit the area’s islands; just be aware that temps can creep high in those months.

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