Best Museums in Naples

Museums That Reveal the Best Attributes of the Naples Area

Visiting a museum is not typically the first thing on the to do list of visitors to the Naples area in Southwest Florida. However those who fall in love with the area – which accounts for the greatest percentage of visitors – are eager to learn more about the social, cultural and natural history of this one of a kind destination. Refer to this list to prioritize which museums you want to see first, depending upon your interests.

Those who are intrigued by the tales of mastodons, ancient Calusa tribesmen, Seminole Wars and the modern history of the Naples area as it developed from an Indian outpost to the modern resort mecca it has become today will find a number of history oriented museums. Begin at the Collier County Museum, whose indoor and outdoor exhibits are the most comprehensive. It was the first of five historical museums that now cover the entire county.

Others who want to learn about the unique environment of Everglades wetlands, beaches and subtropical jungle should head to the Southwest Florida Conservancy and its Nature Center. If you are looking to give your children an easily understandable and hands on lesson on local environment, the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples does an incredible job of engaging families. Other museums focus on art, the Holocaust and transportation.


The Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton

The Conservancy's Nature Center, which underwent a major up-design in recent years, comprises an indoor and outdoor complex with many facets. The Dalton Discovery Center is an interactive museum where visitors can explore the eco system of Southwest Florida. It houses more than 100 live animals and hands on exhibits for all ages. Situated on the Gordon River, the Nature Center offers interpretive boat cruises and kayak rentals. Nature trails also explore local ecology and there are plans to develop a greenway project with nearby Naples Zoo and other parks. Birds and other local fauna come here to recover from injuries. A theater and seasonal programs complete the Conservancy's education mission.

Recommended for Museums because: The discovery center is the shining star in Naples' natural history education skies.

Chelle's expert tip: The Little Explorer Play Zone features a crawl-through gopher tortoise burrow and a life-size bald eagle's nest.

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Liles Hotel
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton

Built in 1926, the Liles Hotel is one of the oldest buildings in Bonita Springs, part of a historic plaza in Riverside Park. City workers occupy office space within, but visitors are welcome to peruse its historic exhibits and two-story hallways for free. The Bonita Springs Historical Society maintains and changes the exhibits, which deal with everything from Indian mounds to homemade dolls. The hotel later became the Imperial River Court tourist camp, and the six historic fishing shacks next to it survive from that mid-20th century era. A lovely fountain and old water tower complete this riverside flashback to yesteryear.

Recommended for Museums because: This is Bonita Springs' only collection of historical photographs and exhibits.

Chelle's expert tip: Liles Hotel Historic Plaza sits at the heart of Old Bonita Springs; Riverside Park is the setting for various community events and art fairs throughout the year.

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Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida
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This museum began as a student project, and today its photos, written materials and artifacts take visitors chronologically through the Jewish experience from pre-World War II through post-Nazi liberation. One exhibit is devoted to local Holocaust survivors and their families. An authentic, 10 ton, World War II era railway boxcar sits in the parking lot for visitors to see when it is not traveling as an educational outreach tool. The facility also hosts traveling exhibits related to war and the Holocaust. Opt for a one-hour audio tour or 90-minute guided tour (1 and 2:30 weekdays in season, 1:30 on weekends and in off-season).

Recommended for Museums because: The region's only museum devoted to Judaism and the Holocaust, it does a fine job of raising awareness.

Chelle's expert tip: Every year on Jan. 27, the museum observes International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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Marco Island Historical Museum
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The importance of Marco Island to ancient Calusa Indian civilization, which spread throughout Southwest Florida and even into the Keys, was established in 1896 by archaeologist Frank Hamilton Cushing in what has been called one of the most significant archaeological discoveries in North America. The most famous of his excavation finds was a 6-inch wooden effigy that's come to be known as the Key Marco Cat. The original currently resides in the Smithsonian Institution, but museum planners hope to someday bring it and other Cushing discoveries back home. In the meantime, a super-sized bronze replica presides over the courtyard, which was constructed to simulate the tribes' shell mounds. Inside the still-developing museum, two exhibit rooms are devoted to Calusa culture. The Calusa and their Legacy exhibit revolves around a recreated Calusa village with a temple and other realistic vignettes.

Recommended for Museums because: It underscores Marco Island's historical importance as a capital of the erstwhile Calusa culture.

Chelle's expert tip: Combine a visit to the museum with the Otter Mound Preserve for a full-on Calusa experience.

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Naples Depot Museum
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton

Located in the beautifully restored Seaboard Air Line Railway passenger station in downtown Naples, the Naples Depot Museum tells the story of the city's development and the crucial role railroads played in its transformation from a primitive village to a booming tourist destination. Visitors to the cherished site, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, peruse fascinating exhibits showcasing local history, from dugout canoes crafted by the Seminoles to swamp buggies and rail cars. Highlight of the exhibits, a movie plays every seven minutes in the museum's windows, giving visitors the virtual experience of watching the circa 1927 Orange Blossom Special train pulling into the station. Three authentic rail cars sit alongside the depot.

Recommended for Museums because: This museum is extremely well done, relating Naples' transportation history to all aspects of its development.

Chelle's expert tip: Railroad buffs shouldn't miss the Lionel Museum next door with its eight operating model trains and a mini railroad outside for kiddie rides.

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Museum of the Everglades
Photo courtesy of Naples Marco Island Everglades CVB

This charming little museum in the midst of Everglades City occupies a renovated historic laundry building, a business that was started by developer Barron Collier to serve the community of road builders during the construction of the Tamiami Trail in the 1920s. It exhibits some vintage laundry equipment from the period. The museum also explores the tremendous feat of blazing a trail through the swampy and buggy Everglades, the region's Calusa and Seminole Indian and fishing heritage and other aspects of local bygones. Take your pick of four excellent video documentaries to watch. The museum also hosts special changing exhibits.

Recommended for Museums because: Well-designed exhibits and historic digs make this museum a must see for all visitors to the Everglades area.

Chelle's expert tip: In late February, the museum hosts Marjory Stoneman Douglas Festival in honor of the woman responsible for the preservation of Everglades National Park.

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Old Naples
Palm Cottage
Photo courtesy of Naples Marco Island Everglades CVB

The Palm Cottage displays a special piece of Naples history. Constructed in 1895, this storied home is on the National Register of Historic Places and is now a museum that has been decorated to reflect its previous 19th-century charm. If the walls could talk at Palm Cottage, they would tell of wild parties with the likes of Gary Cooper and Hedy Lamarr in attendance. A theater shows oral history films telling more stories about Naples. See unique furniture pieces, antique kitchen appliances and heirloom portraits of Naples natives from over a hundred years ago. Visits to the cottage are by guided tour only. After touring the house, be sure to explore the adjacent Norris Gardens, which opened in 2007. They include the Pioneer Garden, Edible Garden, Palm Garden, Water Garden, Garden of the Senses, and Shade Garden.

Recommended for Museums because: This is the definitive historic museum for old Naples, and the garden is worth a visit in itself.

Chelle's expert tip: Just steps from the beach and Third Street South, this adds an easy educational element to a day of sunning or shopping.

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Golisano Children's Museum of Naples (CMON)
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A microcosm of Naples culture and nature in pint-sized stature, C'MON opened in 2012 in a park setting in North Naples. The Naples Trolley is the centerpiece as you enter the 30,000 square-foot hall of the colorful ship-shaped building. Inside the trolley, kids get their picture taken for a driver's license and punch buttons to go virtually to some of the museum's 12 different galleries. Behind it, a mammoth, very real-looking banyan tree has its 350 branches filled with stuffed animal toys. Inside, kids can step into a virtual pond and watch the fish flit away and water plants grow. The Journey through the Everglades exhibit's boardwalk winds up into the tree and overlooks the mangrove maze of pods with hands-on learning experiences. As visitors make the journey, lighting and sound effects mimic spending a day in the moody environment. At the Beach, kids can fish with poles and magnetic bait, then identify the fish they caught. Indoor and outdoor exhibits sneakily teach kids about the environment. There's even a space for teens and changing exhibits that appeal to adults.

Recommended for Museums because: This is one of the best, most original children's museum in Florida.

Chelle's expert tip: The museum has its own healthy cafe.

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Collier Museum at Government Center
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While visiting museums is not a typical activity for visitors to Naples, Florida, this one is a must-see for those interested in the multi-textured bygones of Collier County. Impressive indoor vignettes and an outdoor historical park take you through eras of prehistoric animals and peoples, Spanish exploration, Seminole Indians and Seminole Wars, pioneer settlement, logging, the building of Tamiami Trail, pineapple farming, fishing, World War II and modern development and tourism. Highlights include a logging locomotive, vintage swamp buggy, recreated Seminole village and war fort and early homes. One of the latter contains a taxidermy collection of local fish, birds and other wildlife.

Recommended for Museums because: The Naples' area first and definitive historical museum, it presents history in an entertaining fashion.

Chelle's expert tip: In early March, the museum hosts its Old Florida Festival, a weekend of historic re-enactments and demonstrations.

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Baker Museum
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Part of the Artis--Naples cultural center in North Naples, The Baker Museum polishes Naples' reputation for the fine arts. The three-story, 30,000-square-foot museum boasts 15 engaging galleries filled with paintings, sculpture and drawings. The expansive collection even includes the museum's entrance gates, which were crafted by renowned metal artist Albert Paley, and stunning chandeliers and a Persian Ceiling by acclaimed glass artist Dale Chihuly. Permanent exhibits include a collection of modern American masters from 1900 to 1955, including Alexander Calder, Jackson Pollock and Hugh Breckenridge, plus two monumental sculptures by Louise Nevelson. Special exhibitions run throughout the season and ensure a new experience with each visit.

Recommended for Museums because: For a town Naples' size, The Baker impresses with its quality permanent and traveling exhibits.

Chelle's expert tip: Don't miss the galleries inside the adjacent performing arts hall when you visit The Baker.

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Meet Chelle Koster Walton

Chelle Koster Walton – the Local Expert for Naples, Florida and the Caribbean – has been covering the destination for 30 years. Her top-selling Sarasota, Sanibel Island, and...  More About Chelle