From world-class art exhibits to top-notch golf courses, these Naples and Marco Island attractions provide the best of Southwest Florida living.Less
This longtime institution, which philanthropist Myra Janco Daniels started as the Naples Philharmonic in 1997, is the place to see the Naples Philharmonic orchestra, local and traveling ballets, international performers and Broadway touring shows. For visual arts, the onsite Artis—Naples, The Baker Museum showcases thought-provoking exhibits and works from iconic artists like Dale Chihuly, Georgia O’Keeffe and René Magritte.
Visitors can stroll the boardwalk at the Audubon preserve, stopping to take in views of towering bald cypress trees, marshes, prairies and abundant wildlife. Expect to see up to 60 wading bird species—most famously the formerly endangered wood stork—as well as gators, deer and, if you’re lucky, the elusive ghost orchid that blooms on the cypress trees. Florida panthers are also known to roam the 13,450-acre preserve.
Go on a Sunday, and you’ll see families playing Ultimate Frisbee on the expansive lawn, couples lounging on picnic blankets, kids running giddily across the modern playground and small groups huddled inside the Eva Sugden-Gomez Center. The riverside park stuns with its native vegetation and standout features, including a bike repair station, a pedestrian bridge that connects to the mangrove-lined Gordon River Greenway, and a 34-foot-tall knoll for a bird’s-eye view of the entire scene.
Yes, the traffic to get to Barefoot Beach can be daunting on weekends. But don’t let that deter you. Visitors are rewarded with one of the last undeveloped barrier islands in Southwest Florida. It’s home to the protected gopher tortoise, whose burrows provide emergency shelter for all kinds of wildlife. You’ll also find plenty of sabal palm, sea grape and gumbo-limbo trees along the 1-mile walking loop—plus, an ample variety of fish, which makes this a great spot to cast a line.
Located in the thick of Ochopee’s swamps, this park is home to some of the darkest night skies in the eastern U.S. Camp overnight on one of eight campgrounds, or come for the day to explore the changing ecosystems. Kayak and canoe tours through the waterways are popular, and there are also options for hiking, driving and swamp buggy tours. You can also look into the Everglades swamp tours out of famed photographer Clyde Butcher’s gallery, located within the park.
Led by seasoned captains, one of Marco Island’s top private boat tours picks you up from Goodland Boat Park for 2- to 4-hour rides centered around dolphin spotting and shelling. Adventurers can easily tack on wakeboarding and tubing. Then again, you may be perfectly satisfied to cruise around the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge and its network of bird-filled backwaters, mangrove islets, private beaches and storied sites.
Though the beach is in the heart of Naples’ shopping and dining, it feels a world away, with its 3/4-mile boardwalk—made from recycled plastic bottles—that curves through the mangroves, leading to the white sand. A free tram is also available to whisk guests back and forth. Once at the beach, head to the concession area and take a right; eventually, you’ll run into a mangrove-lined estuary, where manatees tend to gather.
This 5-acre historical park in the heart of Naples offers visitors an insider look at local history. In addition to the information on ancient animal and plant life, the Calusa Indians and pioneer living, an outdoor area features artifacts of frontier life, including a sugarcane press, summer kitchen and Seminole village.
The 21-acre Conservancy has been an ecological pioneer and remains a constant behind the many conservation efforts that keep Naples green. In the Nature Center, which was renovated in 2021, your kids can hold a starfish or crab in the tidepool-like touch tanks, marvel at baby turtles in a live display, and learn from scientists via daily nature programs. Book a cruise on the Conservancy’s pontoon to spot birds, manatees and dolphins in their natural environment.
With designated spots known to attract trophy catches, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, in central Naples, is perfect for fishing. And with picnic areas, wheelchair access and Naples Beach Adventures renting out everything from kayaks to umbrellas, there’s fun for the whole family. Park rangers on staff lead nature tours and boaters can launch from Turkey Bay to explore the estuaries in the Cocohatchee River, which leads to the Gulf.