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I have been going down to Naples, FL since I was a kid. My family, on both sides, has been going down for generations. What once used to be a quiet, sleepy little town on the Gulf of Mexico has now become the chic counterpart to the Atlantic’s Palm Beach.
With its plethora of restaurants and hip boutiques, Naples has become the sophisticated destination on Florida’s west coast. Mind you, though, many people do not like to admit it, or want that – they still think of Naples as the serene oasis on the gulf, not caught up in the social ties of PB. Whatever your stance, there is no denying that Naples is one of the most beautiful spots in all of Florida – with its aqua blue water, white sand beaches and spectacular sunsets, the scenery it offers is sublime.
With Naples’ growth has come an increase in family activities, both outdoors and indoors. There are SO many things you can do with the kids now. Whatever the weather, you will not be sitting around your hotel room on any given day. Speaking of hotels, there is the The Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club (a kids paradise- on the water, with Kids Club, activities, etc.) to hotels and motels more inland, to the chic boutique hotel the Edgewater Beach Hotel, to the very upscale Ritz, a bit removed from town.
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Favorite Things to See and Do with Kids in Naples, Florida
With its pristine white beaches, the coast of Naples is one of the prettiest around. If you are not staying at a hotel on the beach, there are a variety of public entryways on different side streets, but the best one for kids has got to be Lowdermilk Park on Gulf Shore Boulevard North. It has two playgrounds, a concessions stand with, actually, good food, volley ball courts, and right on the beach. Go for an evening visit one day and catch the famous sunset. 1301 Gulfshore Blvd North.
The Naples Zoo
A trip for us is not complete without a visit to this wonderful zoo. Small in size (but not too small), it is easy to navigate, and much to see. The highlight for us is always the Primate Expedition Cruise (we call it Monkey Island) – catch a 15-minute tour boat through islands of monkeys, apes and lemurs. There are also alligator feedings, tigers, lions, hyenas, giraffes, camel rides, and so much more. We love this little gem of a zoo.
1590 Goodlette-Frank Road, 239.262.5409. Open 7 days a week, 9-5, last tickets sold at 4:00. Adult tickets, $19.95, kids ages 3-12, $14.95, 2 and under free.
I can’t say enough about this fabulous botanical garden, one of my favorites in the country. The kids section, The Children’s garden, is so well-done. With tree houses and caves and treasure hunts and water fountains, it’s a child’s adventure land. We always come dressed in suits so that my girls can spend plenty of time running through the fountains. There are also the Asian, Brazilian and Carribean gardens, so make sure to check those out too. A great diversion from the every day beach and pool, I highly recommend going to the Botanical Garden.
4820 Bayshore Drive, 239. 643. 7275. Open 7 days a week, 9-5 (Tuesdays 8-5), last tickets sold at 4:00. Adult tickets $14.95, kids ages 4-14 $9.95, kids 3 and under free.
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Stretching 1,000 feet into the water, the Naples Pier is one of the longest and most beautiful piers around. With views of both the gulf and shoreline, one can glimpse dolphins, fishermen reeling in their prey, and the surrounding homes on shore, which are some of the most luxurious in town. It is Naples’ most popular place to fish, and the great thing is, anyone can – you don’t need a license. The kids love watching all the fishermen and all the action that goes on at the pier.
Located at 12th Avenue South off of Gulf Shore Boulevard
A Trip to the Everglades for airboat and swamp rides
Our pick is Wooten’s, which also has an animal sanctuary and alligator shows. The Grasslands airboat tour is a lot of fun as you cruise along like you’re on – well – air. The Swamp Buggy tour is an elevated ride over muddy and dry land and into the “thicket” of the everglades. Learn about that ecosystem and the animals, such as pythons, that live there. It’s a unique experience and one the kids won’t forget. It’s a little less than an hour away.
Wooten’s, 32330 Tamiami Trail East, Ochopee, FL, 1.800.282.2781. Open 7 days a week, 9-5. Call number above for pricing.
Also known as C’mon, it has 30,000 square feet of interactive exhibits and 12 hands-on exhibit galleries. It is a mega play space for the younger ones, but the older ones as well, as the museum’s target age group is 1-14. We come here on rainy days, and our girls get their work-out for the day. Even on a nice day, as they have phenomenal outdoor activities as well.
15080 Livingston Road, 239.514.0084. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Closed Wednesday. Sunday, 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Children 1 + $10, Under 1 free, Adults $10.
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Due to Naples’ grid lay-out and flat surface, it’s a great place to bike with your kids. You can cover a lot of territory on bikes (even with the young ones in the trailers which we have done), from biking around town all the way up north on Gulf Shore Boulevard. There are bike lanes everywhere, so it’s very safe. We spent a whole day biking one day when it was chilly, and saw places I had never seen before.
For rentals, check out The Bike Route (655 Tamiami Trail North, 239.262.8373) and Big Momma’s Bicycles (850 Seagate Drive, 239.263.0728)
Ok, so this might be tourist trap central, with oodles of souvenir and cheese ball shops, but it is SO FUN for kids, especially the younger ones, I had to put it in. In the heart of Naples in the marina, lies Tin City, what once used to be a bunch of tin-roofed buildings way back when. Today Tin City has over thirty shops and two waterfront restaurants. We always go to our favorite restaurant there, Riverwalk, your classic burger and fish ‘n chips spot, and right on the water with great views and fun waterside paths for the kids to walk up and down. While waiting for a table, we ramble along the board walks of TC and check out all the quirky shops. It’s an old-school joint, and old-school fun.
1200 Fifth Ave South, 239.262.4200, Monday-Saturday 10:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m., Sunday 12:00-5:00 p.m.
Dovetailing with Tin City above, take one of the boat rides that depart from the marina in Tin City for some dolphin watching, fishing, shelling and more. We’ve used Pure Naples boating service, cruising around on their double-decker dolphin viewing boat called the Double Sunshine. This is something I always rolled my eyes at until we did it – and it turned out to be great. We saw a ton of dolphins up close and the kids went bananas.
1200 Fifth Ave South, 239.263.4949. Open 7 days a week, 7:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m.
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One of the unique things about Florida has always been the Everglades and its tropical wetlands. Within these wetlands lie Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a 13,000 acre Audubon full of botanicals and wildlife. About 30 minutes east of Naples, this is a greta place to explore animals in their natural habitat. Think alligators, rare birds, panthers, lizards, snakes, even the Florida bear. My girls love visiting Corkscrew Sanctuary because they get to see so many animals outside of the confines of the regular zoo, and in their natural setting. Highly recommend.
Located in the heart of downtown Naples, just south of swanky 5th Avenue South, is the lovely 12.5 acre park. It has become tradition for us to go here too because it has, as my girls would say, “the best playground we’ve ever been to.” It is also well located in town so that if you want to go get coffee in the morning or ice cream in the afternoon, you don’t have to get in your car to do so. My girls love coming here, and for us it’s the perfect spot to go in the morning before hitting the beach.
755 8th Ave South
Naples is known for all its fabulous restaurants and is a food mecca. There are a lot of them, and most are kid-friendly. A hot-spot and not to be missed is Tommy Bahama on Third Street. May sound cheesy, but this always-packed umbrella drink spot actually has delicious Caribbean cuisine and super-fun live music. Other favorites include Cafe Lurcat (my personal favorite), Luna Café, Campiello, USS Nemo, The Dock, Bistro 821, Chops, Fujiyama (great hibachi and sushi), Yabba and more. For excellent cheap eats try Grouper and Chips and Brooks Gourmet Burger and Dogs. You can view my full post on Dining (and Shopping) in Naples here.
Naples has two main shopping districts, Third Street South and 5th Avenue South. Many of them are upscale and for adults, but there are some children’s shops mixed in. Not to be missed is Beth Mone’s Children Shoppe in the Third Street area, which has been around forever. It has clothes, accessories and toys for all ages, with some classic designers like Florence Eiseman mixed in with more hip items. Every mom I know loves this store. There’s also Lilly Pulitzer around the corner, and a bunch of more souvenir type shops around 5th Avenue. See my post above in the restaurant section for a full list of shops.
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