“The Ultimate Beach Guide A-Z” appeared in the September 2016 issue of Naples Illustrated.
With many miles of sandy shoreline along Naples and its surrounding communities, our banquet of beaches satisfies every type of beachgoer. Here are dozens of ways to experience the finest attributes of the Paradise Coast, from Marco Island to Bonita Beach.
ACTIVE. Cue the parasailing chute and paddleboard. For those who equate water sports with beaches, the choices abound. Fishing? The pier at Naples Municipal Beach, of course. Sailing? Sugden Regional Park. Vanderbilt Beach excels in all flavors of water sports with concessions for paddleboards, kayaks, wave runners, and parasailing. (colliergov.net)
BEACH BUM. There are those who want nothing more than to soak up rays—and hold the exercise, please. For the utmost in beach chill, check into one of our famous beach resorts, such as The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, or Naples Grande Beach Resort, where flagged cocktail service is the ultimate lazy beach-day indulgence.
CHILDREN. With small tots, avoid the passes, where currents are stronger. Lowdermilk Park near downtown Naples is ideal for families, with its playground and duck pond. Tigertail Beach on Marco Island offers a safe lagoon and playgrounds for toddlers, as well as water-sports rentals for the older kids.
DOGS. Bonita Beach Dog Park caters to pets with an off-leash beach, doggy shower station, disposal bags and station, and restrooms. It lies between Lovers Key State Park and the bridge over New Pass. Wear shoes you don’t mind getting wet, because at high tide you often have to walk through water to get to the narrow beach. (leegov.com/parks).
EVERYBODY IN! Cool down your summer beach day with a dip in the Gulf of Mexico. And score a little exercise while you’re at it. Our calm waters are conducive to swimming—especially in areas without a lot of motorized water-sports action or rushing pass waters, such as the beach that fronts Pelican Bay, a short walk south from Vanderbilt Beach.
FAUNA. Nature lovers go to the beach for the wildlife. Shorebirds skitter and stab at the sand. Dolphins poke their smiles out of waves. Pelicans dive-bomb for breakfast. What a show! Tigertail Beach on Marco Island offers some of the best birding. Head to Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park, voted No. 2 on Dr. Beach’s 10 Best Beaches in the America list for 2015, to see gopher tortoises navigating the sands. Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, ranked ninth by Dr. Beach, is known for its summer nesting population of loggerhead sea turtles.
GREEN FLASH. When conditions are clear and the sun slips over the edge of the sea, it will on occasion send up a green flash of light as a grand finale. Some say a little rum helps your chances of seeing a green flash, so head to The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club’s Sunset Beach Bar & Grill just in case that’s true.
HANDCRAFTED SANDCASTLES. It just so happens that the sand on local beaches makes the best sand-castle-building material. The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club occasionally offers its young resort guests aged 5 to 12 Sand-castle Building as one of its free kids’ program activities.
INTIMATE. Local boat charters can make for a romantic excursion to an unbridged island in the Ten Thousand Islands south of Marco Island. Or rent your own vessel for a truly twosome experience. Try Everglades Area Tours for excursions customized to your vision of romance.
JET SKIS. Adjacent to Bonita Beach Park, the main access in Bonita Springs, Bonita Jet Ski & Parasail rents personal watercraft by the half-hour and hour. It also leads two-hour dolphin tours by Jet Ski.
KEEWAYDIN ISLAND. Officially called Key Island, locals refer to it as Keewaydin, the name of an erstwhile resort on the unbridged barrier island southwest of downtown Naples. The 8-mile-long island attracts birds, sea turtles, and recreational boaters. The latter congregate en masse most weekends at the island’s north end, with concession boats on the scene to cater. Those looking for a bit more seclusion venture farther south.
LOGGERHEADS. Since prehistoric times, loggerhead sea turtles have lumbered onto local beaches to deposit their nests of round, leathery eggs. Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park in North Naples offers a turtle-walk program during the summer to educate park visitors about the endangered creatures. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida monitors populations on Keewaydin Island and other city beaches. Local resorts join the effort to protect the species by asking their guests to close their curtains at night so that the lights do not confuse mother sea turtles and their hatchlings. LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort in Naples goes as far as designing a summer package that includes the opportunity to adopt a sea turtle.
MANGROVES. Clam Pass Park has the added bonus of a mangrove canopy and tidal bay you must cross to get to the beach. The wild mangrove habitat provides a marine nursery, attracts butterflies, and makes for a pretty, shaded stroll down the boardwalk. Or you can ride one of the complimentary shuttles.
NIGHTLIFE. Stroll along the beach by moonlight for cocktails at some of the local resort clubs. Start at Gumbo Limbo at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples for sunset, then walk to the Turtle Club at Vanderbilt Beach Resort for dinner. End with a nightcap at the beach fire pit at LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort. On Marco Island, start at Quinn’s on the Beach at the Marriott Resort Marco Island for a sunset cocktail and show. Then hit the Toulouse Lounge at Marco Island Beach Resort and the Sandcastles Lounge at the Hilton Marco Island.
OBSERVATION TOWER. For those thumbs-up Instagram beach photos, you need elevation—something we don’t have a lot of in Southwest Florida. Hike up the observation tower at Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park in North Naples and the brand new one at Tigertail Beach on Marco Island to capture the best shots.
PADDLE CRAFT. Tigertail Beach on Marco Island stocks a full fleet of kayaks and paddleboards for use in its calm lagoon created by Sand Dollar Spit. Once you have your sea legs, head out to bigger challenges in the Gulf of Mexico.
QUIET. The lovely spots that offer beach access with no facilities, such as some of those along Hickory Boulevard on Bonita Beach and along Gordon Drive in Naples, are where you will find a sliver of peace and quiet. Many don’t even have spaces for cars to park, so plan on riding your bike or walking in.
REELING. You can fish from shore at any local beach, as long as you have the proper fishing license. Anglers have the best luck near the pass at Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park or at Gordon Pass in south Naples. At the Naples Pier at Naples Municipal Beach you are covered by the pier’s license, so you do not need to purchase one yourself.
SEASHELLS. The more secluded the beach, the more seashells you will usually find. A prime example of this rule of thumb, Coconut Island north of Old Marco—more of a sandbar than an island, really—is a shell-seeker’s dream, because one can only get there by boat. Big Hickory Island in Bonita Beach is another well-kept sheller’s secret.
TORTOISES. Heed the signs when you drive into Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park, which is accessible from Bonita Beach. They warn of gopher tortoises, and they’re not kidding. Certain times of day you will see tortoises walking the roadways and hanging out in the parking lot. (Check under your car before you back out.) The state-listed reptile digs long burrows, which it shares with more than 350 different species.
UNTETHERED. Some days you just want to channel a Jimmy Buffett song and leave mainland, mainstream life behind to get stranded on a sandbar. That’s when you need a boat to escape to such remote islands as Coconut, Keewaydin, Cape Sable, and others in the Ten Thousand Islands.
VOLLEYBALL. Nothing resembles spring break—no matter what time of year—like a rousing game of beach volleyball. Pack up “Wilson” and head to Lowdermilk Park in Naples or Bonita Beach Park in Bonita Springs.
WEDDINGS. Lovers Key State Park, north of Bonita Beach, hosts an estimated 200 weddings each year. With “lovers” right in the name, what do you expect? It also doesn’t hurt that it has a designated wedding gazebo right on the beach. The park got its name in the days before it was reachable by car. It annually hosts a vow-renewal ceremony on Valentine’s Day that drew more than 150 people in 2016.
XCITEMENT. At Naples Municipal Beach, sand meets city for a dose of cosmopolitan. Just steps off the beach, you can visit the Historic Palm Cottage and its garden, then head to the Third Street South neighborhood for shopping, cocktails, and dining as casual as Old Naples Pub or as fine as The Continental.
YUM. If you’d rather not have to lose eyeshot of the beach when you take a food break, we have two suggestions for a proper beach dining ambience: Doc’s Beach House next to Bonita Beach Park in Bonita Springs and Sunset Grille at South Beach Park in Marco Island. Other beaches, such as Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park and Clam Pass Park in North Naples, have their own food concessions.
ZEBRA LONGWINGS. Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park lives up to its “preserve” status by protecting a number of species, including the winged insects of its native butterfly garden. The zebra longwing, Florida’s state butterfly, flits among the garden’s host plants along with other species.