To experience Naples’ split personality and contrasting scenic vistas, this itinerary takes you from gorgeous gulf-front to the backyard wilderness known as Everglades territory.
Start your morning on the beach, when the birds are most active and typically outnumber humans. Clam Pass Park in North Naples makes a good introduction into a day filled with the promise of wildlife and its habitat. Walk the boardwalk over bird-filled estuary to reach the beach for a morning stroll punctuated by the roll of waves.
Head to downtown Naples for breakfast along the scenic beach backroad. Off Pine Ridge Road, turn south on Crayton Road to Gulfshore Boulevard, where beautiful homes and glimpses of the Gulf of Mexico sweeten the drive.
Life is wild at Big Cypress National Preserve. — Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton
Hang a left on 12th Avenue to indulge in Euro-style breakfast at Jane’s Restaurant. Now it’s time to get outta town. Follow 12th Avenue in the opposite direction (east) to Eighth Street. Turn left and continue to Fifth Avenue, which funnels into Highway 41/Tamiami Trail – your escape route. Make sure you are armed with good insect repellent, sunscreen and plenty of water.
Highway 41 East leads to Everglades territory. First stop: Collier-Seminole State Park, a friendly first encounter with Everglades habitat. Drive through, stop to see the historic exhibits, hike or bike the trails or rent a canoe.
Just down the road, Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve provides opportunity for walking along its boardwalk to see wild orchids and alligators. Or continue on, take a left at County Road 29 and drive along W.J. Janes Memorial Scenic Drive for great birding in a jungle setting.
When you’re ready for lunch, drive south on 29 to Everglades City. Fill up on Everglades fare at Oyster House Restaurant. It’s right across from the western gateway to Everglades National Park, so plan on a kayak paddle or boat tour. Everglades City also has a number of airboat tour operators who can give you a zippy, noisy introduction to the Everglades’ “River of Grass” marshlands.
Heading east back on Highway 41, you have several options for experiencing the 'Glades. Take a hike along Marsh Trail, part of the Ten Thousand Islands refuge; stop in at the Big Cypress Welcome Center for a stroll and the educational exhibits; or drive Loop Road to view raccoons, river otters, birds, huge turtles and gators. Want more gators? They’re practically guaranteed below the boardwalk at Big Cypress Oasis Center.
As you head back west to Naples, stop at Joanie’s Blue Crab Café for your final flirt with gator tail, frog legs and other Everglades specialties.