We are so lucky to be able to visit Southwest Florida each winter. The weather is almost always perfect, and there is so much for the kids to do! Over the last seven years, we have stayed in both South Fort Meyers and North Naples so we have sampled a variety of activities in these areas. Here are a few of our favorites!
Naples, Florida Must-Do Activities
Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens
The Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens is a must-do if you are in the SW Florida area. It is located north east of Naples proper, accessible by Route 41 and Highway 75. There is ample parking and this is a large zoo, so even crowded days wont feel so packed!
This zoo has great exhibits of local animals such as alligators and Florida Panthers. There is a cruise you can do on the man-made lagoon, which affords you the opportunity to see a variety of primates –and our favorite, the lemurs! (We love the Madagascar movies! <– affiliate link) Other exhibits include lions, tigers, black bears, zebras, and honey badgers. This year, we made a point to attend the reptile show where we saw snakes and a venomous lizard!
Admission is a little pricy, but you can find a coupon here. This fee includes admission, the boat cruise, zookeeper talks, the opportunity to view animal feedings and access to the playgrounds. If you want to feed a giraffe, that will cost $5 for three lettuce leaves (you can share among siblings). A camel ride is also $5 per child.
There are snack shops and we usually spend about ½ a day at the zoo. The zoo is on the site of the former Caribbean gardens and there are beautiful flora and fauna to see as well!
The Sun-n-Fun Lagoon is a Collier County water park located in the North Collier Park. In the winter months, this park is only open on the weekends, so check the operating schedule here. We visited on a recent Saturday, arriving early to grab some lounge chairs in the sun. Admission to this park is done by height – if you are over 48” you pay $13 and those under 48” (who can’t use the water slides) pay less, $6 (there is a Florida resident and senior discount). On this off-season visit the lazy river and diving boards were closed, so we did pay a reduced admission.
This park has the aforementioned giant water slides, a lazy river (open in the spring and summer months), a swimming pool, a diving pool, a splash pad for those 6 and under, and a splash pool for kids ages 5-12. There are lifeguards at each pool.
My kids love the Sun-n-Fun Lagoon, every year it ranks in their top 3 SW FL activities. We usually spend a whole day at this park. You can bring in waters and drinks and there is a snack bar to grab lunch. You can rent a locker for the day to stash away your valuables while you are swimming. There are plenty of lounge chairs where you can relax poolside. This park is such a great value and a true hidden gem of the area!
Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples (C’MON)
Now on vacation, I could sit at the beach or by the pool all day, everyday. But my kids like to run around and play, and it’s always good to have an indoor activity in the wings for a rainy day.
The Children’s Museum of Naples is located in the same park as the Sun-n-Fun lagoon. Admission is free for babies under one and $10 for everyone else (note: teachers are free). This museum is great for the 10 and under set. There are some great permanent exhibits (grocery play, seasons, restaurant, an art studio and the outdoor water play area and garden) and there is always a great rotating exhibit. On this visit it was a Curious George experience.
All of the exhibits are interactive and fun. There is even an indoor tree house to climb. We usually spend a few hours here and on this trip, it was my daughter’s favorite Naples activity. NOTE: The CMON is closed on Wednesdays (we learned that the hard way).
Now what trip to Florida would be complete without at least one beach day?
Vanderbilt Beach is a great beach for families. It’s located at the west end of Vanderbilt Beach Road in North Naples. There is a parking garage at the beach run by Collier County. Parking costs $8.
NOTE: On President’s Day the garage was filled by 10:30am so leave early or go late on weekends and holidays.
We love this beach because the sand is so smooth, the water is calm and clear. Along the beach there are several outposts where you can rent jet skis! Now that was my favorite part of the trip!
We rented a Jet Ski (wave runner) for half an hour from the stand which is a little south of the parking garage in front of the Ritz-Carlton hotel. Kids 5 and up can ride on the back. They also rent kayaks, paddleboards, and have parasailing and banana boat rides. I highly recommend renting a wave runner here as the water is calm, beautiful and there is not a lot of marine traffic in this area.
Pro-Tip: Vanderbilt Beach is also a prime spot for sunset viewing each evening. The Gulf Coast of Florida is the only place on the Eastern seaboard where you can see an overwater sunset!
Barefoot Beach is another Collier County park located in Bonita Springs. Take Bonita Springs Road west and over a little bridge there is a sign for a left turn. To access this public beach you have to drive though 1.5 miles of private road (strange, I know, someone’s poor planning). Again, the admission to park is $8 per vehicle.
To access the beach from one of the parking areas, you have to traverse a boardwalk. Along side the path you can see gopher tortoises all over the place (and be sure to check for them under your car when you are about to pull out). This beach is also calm and clean, but more shelly than Vanderbilt.
My daughter loved collecting shells all over this beach! After shelling, we headed to the nature center located in parking field 1 (which is also where the restrooms and snack bar are). At the nature center the volunteer gave us a double-sided color handout that described all of the shells one might see on this beach! We also learned about the local animals and watched a video on alligators. The volunteer gave my daughter some coloring pages and crayons. This was a great stop and we learned a lot about SW Florida sea life!
What are your favorite SW Florida activities?
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