Most people begin their Naples explorations at the beach, and this list suggests two favorites: Delnor-Wiggins State Park and Naples Municipal Beach and Pier. The former takes you away from city life to experience the region’s rich bird populations, while the latter is within walking distance of some of Naples’ best shopping and dining.
The beach, however, is not Naples’ only habitat environment. Much more extensive and teeming with wildlife, Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve and Ten Thousand Island National Wildlife Refuge forever preserve vast acreage of environment that ranges from sea and estuary to marshlands and hammock forests. Naples’ many nature attractions interpret the mind-boggling range of public lands and conduct tours and programs for satisfying interaction with nature.
Between beach and wilderness lies a most enchanted, thoroughly civilized land of wealth-driven culture, shopping, dining and golf. At the area’s various museums and sites, learn how the town developed from Florida’s final frontier to a mecca for the rich and famous seeking winter warmth.
This list picks the best options for experiencing the Naples area in a well-rounded manner that takes in its greatest treasures – its beaches, environment, history and culture. For families, we’ve thrown in the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples (C’MON).
While visiting museums is not a typical activity for visitors to Naples, Florida, this one is a must-see for those interested in the multi-textured bygones of Collier County. Impressive indoor vignettes and an outdoor historical park take you through eras of prehistoric animals and peoples, Spanish exploration, Seminole Indians and Seminole Wars, pioneer settlement, logging, the building of Tamiami Trail, pineapple farming, fishing, World War II and modern development and tourism. Highlights include a logging locomotive, vintage swamp buggy, recreated Seminole village and war fort and early homes. One of the latter contains a taxidermy collection of local fish, birds and other wildlife.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: One of a handful of county historical museums, this is the original and most comprehensive.
Chelle’s expert tip: Admission to the museum is free to all. It lies close to the Naples Depot Museum, which is also free admission.
The Conservancy’s Nature Center, which underwent a major up-design in recent years, comprises a multi-faceted indoor and outdoor complex. The Dalton Discovery Center is an interactive museum where visitors can explore the eco-system of Southwest Florida. It houses more than 100 live animals and hands-on exhibits for all ages.
Situated on the Gordon River, the Nature Center offers interpretive boat cruises and kayak rentals. Nature trails also explore local ecology and connect to a greenway project with nearby Naples Zoo and other parks. Birds and other local fauna come here to recover from injuries, and you can observe them at the rehab center. A theater and seasonal programs complete the Conservancy’s education mission.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: It lies at the heart of Naples’ environmental consciousness and activities.
Chelle’s expert tip: The Conservancy’s Nature Center is currently closed for renovation and expansion until late 2021. Kayaks are still available for rent and offsite programs take place.
Nationally accredited, the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens is one of the best attractions in the city. Celebrated by locals and travelers, this 52-acre park features exotic creatures such as panthers, alligators, leopards, bears and lions.
Guests pay one rate to enjoy lively multimedia animal shows and feedings and a boat cruise to the primate island to see monkeys and lemurs.
For its size, it boasts some superlative exhibits. The Black Bear Hammock, for instance, is the largest such accredited exhibit east of the Mississippi.
The grounds are attractively maintained with the lush vegetation of the zoo’s once-called Caribbean Gardens. Play areas amuse toddlers. To take in all the sights and shows requires about four hours.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: It started as a botanical garden, so its flora combines with its incredible array of fauna to make it world-class.
Chelle’s expert tip: For express admission, pre-purchase tickets online. Last admission is 3:30 p.m.
Part of the Artis–Naples cultural center, which underwent an extensive renovation in North Naples, The Baker Museum polishes Naples’ reputation for the fine arts. The three-story museum boasts 15 engaging galleries filled with paintings, sculpture and drawings. The expansive collection includes the museum’s entrance gates, which were crafted by renowned metal artist Albert Paley, and stunning chandeliers and a Persian Ceiling by acclaimed glass artist Dale Chihuly. Permanent exhibits include a collection of modern American masters from 1900 to 1955, including Alexander Calder, Jackson Pollock and Hugh Breckenridge, plus two monumental sculptures by Louise Nevelson. Special exhibitions run throughout the season and ensure a new experience with each visit.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: A world-class art museum, it showcases important American artists and hosts traveling exhibits.
Chelle’s expert tip: Advance online reservations are currently required for museum admission.
For nature lovers traveling on a budget, it doesn’t get any better than the land and water trails of Big Cypress National Preserve. This behemoth freshwater neighbor to Everglades National Park covers more than 700,000 acres and is home to such rare creatures as the Florida panther, Florida manatee and all the alligators you’ve ever cared to see.
Begin your explorations at the free Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center. Its boardwalk trail lets you spy on manatees in the waters and anhingas in the trees. Inside, listen to the sounds of pig frogs, limpkins, thunder, rain and other ‘Glades music.
Drive Loop Road for the best wildlife sightings and stop at the free Oasis Visitor Center to learn more about the environment and free ranger programs.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Everglades is the most unique feature of this destination and Big Cypress offers the best opportunities to explore the habitat.
Chelle’s expert tip: Best spots to find alligators: The boardwalks at H.P. Williams Roadside Park and the Oasis Visitor Center.
A microcosm of Naples culture and nature in pint-sized stature, C’MON lives in a park setting in North Naples.
The Naples Trolley is the centerpiece as you enter the 30,000 square-foot halls of the colorful ship-shaped building. Inside the trolley, kids get their picture taken for a driver’s license and punch buttons to go virtually to some of the museum’s 12 different galleries.
A mammoth, very real-looking banyan tree is the museum’s centerpiece. Inside, kids can step into a virtual pond and watch the fish flit away and water plants grow.
The Journey through the Everglades exhibit’s boardwalk winds up into the tree and overlooks the mangrove maze. At the Beach, kids can fish with poles and magnetic bait, then identify the fish they caught.
Indoor and outdoor exhibits sneakily teach kids about the environment. There’s even a space for teens and changing exhibits that appeal to adults.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: C’MON is the premier educational attraction for children in the Naples area.
Chelle’s expert tip: The museum holds its own Garden Cafe, selling cold sandwiches, salads and snacks made from fresh ingredients and preservative-free bread.
A staple in the community for more than 100 years, the Naples Fishing Pier is a must-see attraction close to the downtown goings-on around Third Street South. Once the entry point for those who arrived in Naples by boat, the main mode of transportation in the early days, today its importance lies in the recreational rather than practical realm.
Six miles of flawless, white sand met by aquamarine waves lull beach bums into relaxation. Bring a rod to try fishing off the pier, or just watch as others reel in their catches.
The pier never closes, and it’s the perfect spot to watch the setting sun dip into the endless sea. It’s a nightly ritual for fishermen, strollers, lovers and pelicans.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Not only is it Naples’ most central and popular beach, but its historic pier also anchors the town to its past.
Chelle’s expert tip: Combine a walk on the beach with a visit to local shops, bars and restaurants such as casual Old Naples Pub or fine-dining Ridgeway Bar & Grill.
Recognized as one of the best beaches in the US, the sandy shore at Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park is all-natural and devoid of the high-rise backdrop and development of most of the other local beaches.
A nature trail leads to an observation tower at the beach’s north end. Fishermen head to the pass to hook into fish being flushed out of the Cocohatchee River.
This is a popular park, but you can usually find parking in one of the many lots if you arrive early enough. The park posts a sign when it is full, but there’s another parking lot less than a quarter mile away if you don’t mind walking.
Picnic areas have grills, restrooms and showers.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: This is Naples’ most naturally preserved beach equally loved by nature-buffs and sun-worshippers.
Chelle’s expert tip: Avoid swimming in the waters at the pass, which runs swiftly and can be a challenge – especially for children.
While Naples is famous for its pristine beaches, the city also has flourishing wetlands such as the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary – known for its ancient cypress forest. “super” ghost orchids and colony of nesting American wood storks. The Audubon facility is also the gateway for the South Florida Birding Trail, part of the Great Florida Birding Trail.
Save a morning to meander down the park’s 2.25-mile boardwalk, which is interpreted with educational signs that lead visitors along a self-guided tour. The walkway leads guests through a wet prairie, a cypress forest, pine uplands and a marsh as they observe the native wildlife.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: This is a top attraction in the Naples area for bird- and nature-lovers.
Chelle’s expert tip: Currently, admission is by advanced ticket reservation online only. Last admission is at 1 p.m.
Highlights of its beautifully designed 170 acres include a Caribbean Garden with a traditional re-created chattel house, a dramatic waterfall feature with giant lilypads in the Brazilian Garden and preserved natural wetlands with a birding tower.
The Lea Asian Garden adheres to the property’s mission to showcase the plants and culture of subtropical climates. In addition to a 250-variety plumeria collection, a rice paddy and Asian water elements and vegetation, it incorporates a re-created 15th century Hindu temple and other exotic shrines and structures.
The Florida Garden takes an educational path with an enabling garden designed for physically impaired visitors, a section devoted to eco-gardening, a boardwalk and birding tower and the Naples Garden Club’s Idea Garden, where local gardeners can come away with helpful knowledge to put to use at home. In 2016, the garden opened a visitors component with a cafe and shop.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: One of Naples’ best attractions, it encompasses six gardens and a nature preserve featuring subtropical flora.
Chelle’s expert tip: Bring the kids – the Children’s Garden has a treehouse, cave, butterfly house and other fun features.