The only freshwater lake public beach in the Naples area, Sugden Regional Park is most well known for its sailing events and programs, but the 60-acre Avalon Lake is also a great place for kayaking and water skiing. The park rents water sports equipment including paddle boats. A scenic walking trail takes you around the lake, and visitors also enjoy picnicking, playing on the playground, fishing from the pier and relaxing on the sand beach. Water-skiing and sailing lessons are available at this county maintained facility in a quiet neighborhood on the east side of Naples - including instruction for those with special needs.
Big Hickory Island holds the community of Bonita Beach, an erstwhile fishing village turned swank. At the island's southernmost end, beach-lovers come to play. The closest beach to Interstate 75, it attracts a lively crowd of active beach-goers with all sorts of water sports rentals and beach volleyball. Although many come to party at Bonita Beach Park, it is also family friendly with a playground, picnic shelters with tables and grills, beach rentals and a burger joint that feeds you indoors and outdoors. Heading north, you will find about ten additional smaller public beach accesses, with free but limited parking, lining Hickory Boulevard.
Public beach access is limited on Marco Island. This one, at the southernmost end of the island, is easiest to get to and find, although there is a bit of a walk from the parking lot on the other side of Collier Boulevard. Marco Island boasts a soft sugar-sand brand of beach, wide and usually teaming with activity - volleyball, jet-skiing, parasailing, paddle-boarding, you name it. Set back high-rises line most of the shoreline. Native vegetation grows between development and the sand. The only facilities are restrooms in the parking lot, but there is a restaurant next to the access where you can use the restrooms if you're eating or drinking.
This beach adventure begins with a tram ride or walk across a three-quarter-mile boardwalk through a mangrove estuary, so you get to experience at least two different Naples habitats within minutes. The park fronts the Naples Grande Beach Resort, located adjacent to its parking lot, which means it can be heavily populated, especially in the winter and spring season. The lovely coastal habitat spans 35 acres and also includes a tidal bay area where beach-goers can observe wading shorebirds, osprey and other marine life. Boat and cabana rentals are available at the county-operated facility, plus there are restrooms, showers and a resort food concession.
At Marco Island's northern end, a sand spit peninsula intercept the sand, stealing the beach from the main island. Sand Dollar Spit is accessible from Tigertail Beach, the public access operated by Collier County, and is known for its sea shells. Meanwhile at Tigertail, a lagoon has formed at the public access that fills with birds, especially in the morning breakfast hours. The access also has playgrounds, water sports rentals, a food concession and restrooms. To get to Sand Dollar Spit, you can swim across the lagoon or walk south to where it connects to land.
Vanderbilt Beach in North Naples fronts a line of resorts, including the Ritz-Carlton. The good news is: That affords beach-goers venues for bar-hopping and dining. The bad: It gets a little crowded. Plenty of open white sand carpets the beach along the gently lapping Gulf of Mexico. In the quiet early morning hours, beachers can enjoy hunting for sea shells and watching shore birds. You can walk for miles along this stretch, to Clam Pass Preserve Park to the north and along housing developments and residential neighborhoods to the south. Perks such as a concession stand, public restrooms, showers and bike racks appeal to the midday crowd.
Lowdermilk Park holds the most full-service facilities of any Gulf of Mexico beach in the Naples area, making it a good fit for families with children. They can gather for picnics in one of the two gazebo pavilions that the park rents out, check out the duck pond, play on the two playgrounds and enjoy the calm and safe sea here, away from any rushing pass waters. Other facilities include sand volleyball courts, restrooms and showers, handicap access and beach wheelchairs and a food concession stand. Its close proximity to the downtown area adds to its convenience for visitors of all ages.
A staple in the community for more than 100 years, the Naples Fishing Pier is a must-see attraction close to the downtown goings-on around Third Street South. Once the entry point for those who arrived to Naples by boat, the main mode of transportation in the early days, today its importance lies in the recreational rather than practical realm. Six miles of flawless, white sand meet aquamarine waves that lull beach lovers into relaxation. Bring a rod to try fishing off the pier, or just watch as others reel in their catches. The pier and beach never close, and provide the perfect spot to watch the setting sun dip into the endless sea. It's a nightly ritual for fishermen, strollers, lovers and pelicans.
This pristine park offers the ideal beach experience complete with tropical hammocks, scenic tidal creeks and lush mangrove swamps. For those who eschew beach crowds, this is usually a good bet, because it is a little trickier to get to - through a neighborhood development mined with speed bumps and roaming gopher tortoises. The 342-acre preserve features a one-mile nature trail, public showers, a picnic area, a concession stand, a butterfly garden and equipment rentals. Rangers give free nature walks and shell talks at the chickee learning center. Its natural, unspoiled quality appeals to wildlife watchers, fishermen and beach bums alike.
Recognized as one of the best beaches in the US, the sandy shore at Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park is all-natural and devoid of the high rises and development of most of the other local beaches. A nature trail leads to an observation tower at the beach's north end. Fishermen head to the pass to hook into fish being flushed out of the Cocohatchee River. This is a popular park, but you can usually find parking in one of the many lots if you arrive early enough. The park posts a sign on the road leading to it when it is full, but there's another parking lot less than a quarter mile away if you don't mind walking. Picnic areas have grills, restrooms and showers.