In Southwest Florida, Naples is as far south as you can go before you hit the Everglades. This inhospitable landscape was tamed in the 1920s with the construction of the Tamiami Trail and the Seaboard Air Line Railroad.
Naples is a stellar destination with many different things to win you over. There’s majestic nature, marvelous white sandy beaches, sophisticated culture, and dining and shopping in three downtown districts.
In the six years before I wrote this article, two Category 5 hurricanes had made landfall close to Naples. I came not long after Hurricane Ian, and although Naples was licking its wounds, the city was back on its feet already.
1. Naples Botanical Garden
On Bayshore Drive on the south side of town, Naples Botanical Gardens showcases more than 1,000 species of plants, flowers, and trees.
These are mainly from the tropical and subtropical zones, between the between the 26th parallel north and the 26th parallel south
This is a convenient getaway when I’m looking for a little tranquility, and is part of a larger wetland preserve encompassing almost 200 acres.
If I had to pick a standout area, it would be the LaGrippe Orchid Garden, with a multicolored display of orchids from all over the world.
Though it’s fine to explore on your own, I’d join one of the scheduled guided tours for more insight.
2. Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park
If you’re looking for a beach with less development, there’s a blissful place just north of Naples. Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park is known for its white sandy beach and clear waters, perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
That beach is truly special, with a mile-long strip of pristine white quartz with a soft texture. Late in the day it takes on a magical quality in the low sun, so this is another essential location at sunset.
When I was here, a lot of the previously lush vegetation had been ripped out by Hurricane Ian. Although the beach had a different appearance, the white sands and crystal clear waters were as beautiful as ever.
3. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
Nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts won’t have problems filling their schedules when visiting Naples.
This nearby National Audubon Society property is home to a variety of environments, from sawgrass prairie to pine flatwoods. What makes this place unmissable in my book is one of the largest stands of virgin bald cypress in the United States.
The sanctuary was established in the 1950s with the purpose of safeguarding this habitat. You can marvel at these ancient trees along a spellbinding boardwalk, more than two miles long.
During you walk you may see alligators, white-tailed deer, otters, and red-bellied turtles, as well as a diversity of wading birds and songbirds.
4. Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens
With a history going back to 1919, Naples Zoo is small by Florida standards, but is not to be missed. This landscape was originally a botanical garden that was revived in the 1950s and then became a full-fledged zoo in the late 1960s.
What caught my imagination here were the spectacular lakes, dotted with islands harboring the zoo’s important collection of primates. You’ll get to see them up close on the Primate Exhibition Cruise.
The giraffe exhibit is a family favorite, as you can feed these lovable animals for a small fee. Also worthy of mention are the spectacular alligator enclosure, with feeding shows, and the century-old botanical plantings.
5. Fifth Avenue South
Take as long as you need to acquaint yourself with Naples’ prime dining, shopping, and entertainment district. Going back to the 1920s, this palm-lined drag has always been Naples’ de facto main street, only with a different name.
Stretching from the Tamiami Trail in the east to the Gulf of Mexico in the west there’s a string of galleries, boutique shops, jewelers, and bookstores.
This is where I come when I’m in search of a special something. If you’re just here for a stroll, the street is also a window-shoppers’ paradise, and you can pause at Cambier Park on the south side.
Bring an appetite, as there are more dining options than I can list here. These run the gamut from seafood to Persian cuisine, with ice cream parlors, bakeries, and coffee shops in the mix.
6. Crayton Cove
Right on the bay there’s a little commercial district with a maritime flavor. Home to the Naples Yacht Club, the Naples City Dock, Crayton Cove has a lot of water-oriented businesses. If you’re looking for a sailing or fishing charter, this is a good place to start.
When I took a look the dock had just been completely rebuilt, and had more than 80 slips, accommodating vessels up to 60 feet.
By the water there’s a small but enticing assortment of shops, galleries, and eateries. So you may find that Crayton Cove takes up more of your time than expected.
7. Lowdermilk Park
North of the main municipal beach there’s another exceptional beachfront Park. Lowdermilk Park has more than 1,000 feet of sandy beach and incredible ocean vistas.
No shock that It’s one of the city’s top beach destinations for locals and out of town visitors alike. I’d urge you to stay until late in the day. You may get to see dolphins swim by as the sun goes down.
The park’s amenities include a volleyball court, picnic tables, covered seating areas, bathrooms, and showers.
Many guests who plan on staying a full day bring their own food. For those who don’t, there’s a concession stand, the Flip Flop Grill, for satisfying bites like hot dogs, sandwiches, burgers and salads.
8. The Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples
For families traveling with young children, here’s a spot where kids can not only have a great time but learn a few things along the way too.
The Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples is one such place. Its active, hands-on exhibits help kids explore a wealth of topics.
These cover the ecology of the Everglades and Gulf of Mexico, weather, commerce, farming, the physics of water, space exploration, art, and transport.
I was super impressed with the lifelike Banyan Tree in the heart of the museum. Kids can explore this awesome exhibit along stairs and walkways.
9. Naples Pier
This historic structure stretches more than 1,000 feet into the Gulf and is my go-to for a stroll. For one thing, it’s the absolute best spot to take in a majestic Florida sunset.
Located on 12th Avenue just off the boardwalk, it’s the site of the city’s Fourth of July fireworks show, which is nothing short of stunning. The pier’s amenities include bathrooms and fish cleaning stations.
Now, on my last visit the pier had sustained damage in Hurricane Ian in 2022 and was temporarily closed. When I compiled this list the city was raising funds to make the pier more resilient against future storms.
10. Naples Depot Museum
This historical museum is housed in the Naples Railroad Depot (1926), built when the Seaboard Air Line came through Naples. As with many of the local stations along the line, this building has a refined Mediterranean Revival design.
Passenger service came to an end in 1971, and the museum here now is dedicated to the area’s transportation history. You’ll learn how technology and transport helped tame Southwest Florida’s otherwise impassable terrain.
On show are railcars, a buggy made to cross the swamps, Seminole dugout canoes, and a mule wagon. There are also plentiful interactive exhibits that gave me a new perspective on Naples’ early years.
This museum shares a site with the Naples Trail Museum, with interactive model railroads and mini-train offering rides to little ones.
11. Collier Museum at Government Center
The county maintains five museums, two of which are in my list. As well as the Depot Museum, it’s worth making time for this attraction at Naples’ Government Center.
The area’s history stretches back hundreds of years, and the museum’s exhibits cover all kinds of interesting topics. These range from prehistory, geology, and dinosaurs to Native Americans, the pioneer days, agriculture, and the economy.
I loved finding out about the terrifying megafauna that inhabited the tropical sea that once covered Southwest Florida.
The museum has been open to the public since 1978, and it’s a good idea to check out the grounds. Awaiting you here are cultivated gardens, a recreated Native American village, and a courtyard with plenty of covered seating.
12. Naples Art Institute
A launchpad for local artists for more than seven decades, the Naples Art Institute is a cultural pillar at Cambier Park.
If you’re just visiting Naples I’d keep the Watson Gallery here in mind. This hosts a dynamic schedule of exhibitions by local, national and international artists.
I was awestruck by a display of paper art by the Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave. The entire exhibit was laid out like the interior of Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul, complete with depictions of Kahlo’s dresses, jewelry and other personal items.
As a true art center, the institute has an educational vocation, and hosts three major art fairs in January, February and March.
13. Palm Cottage
This historic residence is open year-round and is owned and managed by the Naples Historical Society.
The cottage was built in 1895 by one of Naples founding residents, and is the city’s oldest home. Inside you’ll see beautiful hand-crafted details, and will get a feel for life in Old Naples.
The cottage grounds and adjacent Norris Gardens are often seen together as part of the guided tours that are available from Tuesday to Saturday. I’d make a reservation in advance, as walk-ins might not be accommodated.
The Historical Society also provides mile-long walking tours of the Naples Historic District, setting off from this spot.
14. Revs Institute
Miles Collier, the grandson of Collier County’s founder, established this automotive institution in 2008.
Collier’s father and his uncle were big motor racing fanatics, and helped promote the sport in the 20th century.
More than a museum, the Revs Institute preserves, studies, and restores historically important automobiles. The collection is nothing short of amazing, with decades of legendary sports and racecars.
Some of the many icons in the ever-changing display are a 1939 Mercedes-Benz W154 Silver Arrow, a 1959 Porsche RSK, a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport Coupe, and a 1953 Porsche 350 Couple. In fact there’s a whole wing devoted to Porsches.
15. Tin City
Facing the bay, this kitschy marketplace has dozens of vendors across four buildings. Tin City is full of quirky shops selling everything from arts, crafts, and collectibles to bathing suits, perfume, and shells.
I can’t think of a better place to pick up a few keepsakes to remind you of your trip. Much of what you’ll see is rooted in Florida and coastal culture.
You might find locally produced art, Florida wine, organic soaps, jewelry, home decor, and fashion for men, women and children. Tin City also shines as a dining spot, not least because of Pinchers, part of a small Florida chain of seafood shacks, famed for their deals.