The beaches here are fantastic. Large expanses of soft white sand open onto calm blue gulf waters as a constant easy breeze flows off the water. They’re very nearly perfect, and the citizens of Collier County know it.
The beaches are welcoming to visitors, but it’s worth noting that many of the parking lots aren’t. All the good spots are reserved for residents; visitors are left to compete for spots usually a block or so away from the beach entrance. (And yes, you will be towed if you park illegally.)
Still, ample metered parking is available both in lots and along Naples’s Gulfshore Boulevard. Most spots are ticket-metered, meaning you go to an automated booth near your parking spot, buy a ticket (usually $4 per day), and place it on your dashboard; weekly permits are also available ($50), but keep in mind that both of these options can be used only for beach parking and not in the downtown area.
Gulfshore Boulevard Beaches
The most centrally located public beaches in Naples are along Gulfshore Boulevard. North Gulfshore Boulevard Beach (81 Seagate Dr.) is close to the Village on Venetian Bay and situated between two giant condominium complexes. It is a bit of a walk from the 38 parking spaces to the beach entrance, but once on the beach, you should immediately start walking north for one of the more isolated beach experiences in town; just a few steps past the condos it becomes almost deserted.
There is no such quietude to be found at Lowdermilk Park & Beach (257 Banyan Blvd.), perhaps the most popular of all the beaches in Naples. The central location and abundance of facilities—a playground, restroom and shower facilities, picnic areas, a volleyball court, and over 100 parking spaces—draws huge crowds almost every day, and in the summer, you can wind up elbow-to-elbow with other sun-worshippers. Still, the beach itself is gorgeous, and the waters are warm and beautiful.
Surfers and anglers head for the Naples Municipal Beach & Fishing Pier (25 12th Ave.). A block south of the pier, the waves break as high as they’re going to in this part of the state (which is to say, not very high at all), drawing determined boarders. The beach area between the two is pleasant, though it can get congested on holidays and during the summer. On a late spring weekday, though, this is one of the best places for a relaxing day at the beach.
Delnor Wiggins Pass State Recreation Area
Situated on a small barrier island a few miles north of downtown Naples, the Delnor Wiggins Pass State Recreation Area (11100 Gulfshore Dr., 239/597-6196, 8 a.m.–sunset daily, $5 per vehicle) offers a rustic and seminatural beach environment. The park is quite popular but also quite large; once you pay the entrance fee, you simply drive down the road until you find an appealing spot, pull over, and park. On the east side of the road are 80 acres of mangrove swamps, but on the west side is one of the more beautiful beaches in the area where, if you get there early enough, you can stake out a spot all to yourself. It can get quite crowded around sunset.
There’s no easy public beach access on Marco Island for those who want to make a day trip from Naples. With “No Trespassing” signs everywhere, the island is not exactly welcoming; the main beach is called “Residents Beach,” and most of the other strips of sand are cordoned off by towering condos and five-star hotels.
Still, if you’re willing to cough up $8 to park, Tigertail Beach (400 Hernando Dr.) is more than worth it. Isolated from the parking lot by dunes and a tidal lagoon, it’s absolutely beautiful, with long empty stretches of sand that beg you to wander along them for hours. Stop in to friendly Nene’s Kitchen (297 N. Collier Blvd., 239/394-3854, 7:30 a.m.–2 p.m. daily, dinner 5–8 p.m. Tues.–Sat., Nov.–Apr., main courses from $7) for a salad or sandwich afterward.
The 342-acre Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park (2 Barefoot Beach Blvd., Bonita Springs, 8 a.m.–sunset daily, free) is a prime destination for anglers and nature watchers, as the tidal creeks and mangrove swamps are ripe with fish, marine life, and birds. The beach itself is somewhat small—about 8,000 feet long—but it is natural and relatively quiet.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition