Are you looking for somewhere serene and relaxing for you next vacation? well here’s an idea…. Naples, Florida! Naples is located on the Southwestern side of the State and currently has a population of 22,206. Its history goes back thousands of years to the early settlers, the Calusa Indians, but the current day Naples was discovered in the late 1800s by General John S Williams and Walter Haldeman and development of the city began shortly after. It was named Naples after its namesake Naples in Italy and first started out as a winter retreat. It was to carry the essence of the Italian City (Now I know why there were so much Italian restaurants along 5th avenue).
Naples is a natural beauty and very calm, it’s no wonder it is one of the cities that makes up Florida’s Paradise Coast. There you will find miles upon miles of beautiful white sand beaches, animals in their natural habitats like dolphins, sea gulls, fishes swimming around you while bathing, and beautiful sunsets. It is a very popular spot for fishing and golfing. Below I have narrowed down some of the top things to do in Naples based on my recent visit.
Naples Botanical Garden
The Garden which is located in downtown Naples, is a 170 acre botanical landscape that was founded in 1993. The Garden is divided it into sub-gardens each specific to a particular region. For example, the Florida Garden focuses on plants that are native to Florida, like palm trees and also plants from other parts of the world that tend to thrive in the Florida climate, you will also find a manmade waterfall in this garden. Then there is the Asian Garden where you will find a Thai pavilion, Asian Art and plants like the lotus, veggie patches and temple trees. Also there is a Caribbean Garden that is reminiscent of a Caribbean home that has a farm yard just out front with fruits trees such as guava, sugar cane, and papaya.
The parking here is free, the fee to get in is $25, but we were told that after 1:15 p.m. instead of paying the entry fee we could just give a donation of whatever amount we wanted. There is also a gift shop onsite. The garden closes at 2:00 PM. Give yourself about 90 mins to explored the entire garden.
Dolphin Watching Tours
Spotting dolphins is one of the great things about Naples, at least it was for me. Though there are multiple ways to see them, like hanging out at the Naples pier or just out swimming, there is nothing like a tour that takes you out into the water around Naples Bay and into the Gulf of Mexico. When we booked our tour, we ended up on a small deck boat, not what I expected based on the photos on Pure Florida’s website but it turned out to be a great experience. It was more intimate, there were three of us in our group and another party of two.
We enjoyed the boat bouncing over the waves as it sped along the Naples Bay and the views of the mansions that we passed by. The captain gave us some details about the surrounding waters, information about plants species like the mangroves and also about the animal species that are found in the area. Afterwards the boat was docked and we were taken to a beach to pick up shells along the gulf coast. If you are not into shelling you could opt to go for a swim, or stay in the boat and chill like the elderly couple that was on the tour with us.
Along the shore we found some beautiful seashells, I especially like the small two toned conch shells. The beach was not crowded at all, it was only us and there were two yachts anchored not very far from shore. In the far distance though, we could see a beach umbrella erected, like there were people enjoying the privacy of the beach.
On our way back from shelling, we spotted a baby dolphin that looked like it was hunting for food, we trailed it for a while and then the captain of the boat took us out to the Gulf in hopes that we could see some more, and we were not disappointed
This historical monument is a popular location amongst visitors and locals alike. Here you can spot dolphins, fish, people watch or enjoy the sight of the sea gulls diving into the water for food and the pelicans sitting on top of the water waiting for their prey. There is also a beach along the pier, but the most common event that attracts people to this popular spot are the beautiful sunsets.
If you are there for the dolphins it’s best to go early mornings or late evenings, per the locals that’s when they come out in their numbers, I even heard mention of a black and white one. While there in the early afternoon we were able to spot one that was hanging around.
The pier has a concession area where you can buy items such as ice cream, slushies, snacks and beach supplies. Just in front of the concession shop there is a covered eating area. There are also restrooms, showers and there is paid parking nearby. We were able to park in a parking lot just about a block from the pier.
As you step off the Pier or before stepping on, why not take a tour of Palm Cottage which is located by the parking lot at the southeastern corner of 12th Avenue S and Gulf Shore Blvd S. Palm Cottage which was built in 1895 by Walter Haldeman, is the oldest home in Naples. At the Palm Cottage you can take a guided tour of the property, as well as sign up for a tour of Naples historic district, learn about the history of the town and view original works of art as well as newly added ones, and also explore the Norris Garden at the cottage.
The Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens started out in 1919 as a botanical Garden by Botanist Dr. Henry Nehrling. Animals were first introduced to guest on September 1,1969 by Lawrence and Nancy Jane Tetzlaff, who wanted to move their animals from Ohio to a warmer climate. For some time it remained a zoo and botanical garden but today it is more of a Zoo.
At the zoo in Naples you will encounter a wide variety of animals like bears, crocodiles, Florida Panther, lions, hawks, and so much more. Try not to be traumatized by the pythons (gosh those things are huge). There is a short river expedition that takes you on a guided tour of the small island surrounded by Lake Victoria, on this expedition you will learn of the primates that “hang” out on these islands. Learn about giraffe behaviors and spend some time feeding them and taking photos while doing so. The zoo has a café and also concession stands throughout.
Upon entering the zoo you will first go through the gift shop where you can purchase tickets or show the tickets that you purchased in advance online. Purchasing tickets in advance is highly recommended. They are open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and tickets are $22.95 for adults and $14.95 for children ages 3-12. Face masks are required in some areas, like the gift shop, on the expedition and in the restrooms. Oh and the parking here is free.
Shopping and Dining
One of the things that Naples is famed for is its high-end shopping, and oh yes there is much of that to do there. Along 5th Avenue South you can find Art Galleries, Bohemian styled clothing stores, real estate offices, beach wear, jewelry, Italian restaurants and the Inn on Fifth. Most of the retail locations here on are owned by locals. There is the Coastland Center your typical Mall with brand name stores such as Macys, Dillard’s, and Forever21. There is also the Waterside Shops that showcases stores like Ann Taylor, Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch, Saks and Fifth.
Along the Naples Bay you will find Tin City, a shopping area with a rustic look. As you step inside you can find anything from souvenirs to jewelry to clothing and waterfront dining.
Suppose you are from one of those landlock states where there are no beaches and you are just wanting to come relax and enjoy the beach, there are a lot of beaches in Naples. There is Clam Pass Park a beach access point that takes you along a boardwalk surrounded by mangroves and other species of plants. It takes about 10-15 minutes to walk the boardwalk or you can wait for the tram to take you down to the beach, it takes about 5 minutes by tram. The fee is $8 for parking without the Collier County Beach Parking Permit. The park is open from 8 a.m. to Sunset. There is a restaurant on the beach, restrooms, and showers.
Lowdermilk Park is another popular beach spot in Naples. Here you can find concession, volley ball courts, children’s playground, restroom and showers. You will also need to pay for parking here at the parking meters.
Vanderbilt Beach Park is located near major hotels and offers paid parking for $8, has concession, restrooms and foot showers. Also don’t forget that there is also a beach at the Naples Pier, it also has a volley ball court.
Above I have listed just some of the many things that you can do in Naples, Florida. There are other activities such as fishing; you can book one of many fishing charters which will take you out for the best fishing experience. Also rent a Jet Ski and explore the marine life, spot dolphins or jet pass the fancy homes, you have the choice of staying on Naples Bay or ski out into the Gulf of Mexico.
You can also go food truck hopping at Celebration Park, the waterfront park lined with food trucks and listen to live music while you eat, there is also a bar onsite. Celebration Park is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. As I mentioned above golfing is very common in Naples some resorts offer golfing as part of the amenities and there are also public golf courses. If you are looking for a nightlife scene, Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South get’s pretty lively after dark and Marco Island a neighboring city to Naples has an active night life. And lastly if you want to view more of the city and learn more about it you can book a Naples Trolley Tour .
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