At the heart of Old Bonita Springs along the Imperial River, Riverside Park holds the downtown area, which currently undergoes redevelopment, together. Here most of the town's special events – Fourth of July parties, art fests and the annual Celebrate Bonita Festival take place. A band shell accommodates live music. Also in the pretty little hometown park, you will find the historic Liles Hotel, which holds city offices and a small museum; and a row of six refurbished historic fish houses that are home to local artists and other businesses. The site appeared in the Sean Connery movie Just Cause.
Recommended for Parks because: Quiet and serene most times, it pumps with community spirit during special events.
Chelle's expert tip: Bring a picnic lunch or pick up something from the nearby authentic Mexican eateries.
This beach adventure begins with a tram ride 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 Waldorf Astoria Naples 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 food concession.
Recommended for Parks because: It pleases everyone with beach rentals at one end and secluded preserve in other parts.
Chelle's expert tip: Walk up or down the beach from the public access to lose the crowds.
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 meets 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.
Recommended for Parks because: Arguably Naples' best known and most visited beach, it is convenient to downtown and great for fishing.
Chelle's expert tip: Park for free in the lot off 14th Avenue and combine a walk on the beach with a visit to local shops, bars and restaurants.
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.
Recommended for Parks because: It is known for its wildlife and off-the-beaten-path feel.
Chelle's expert tip: The entrance and fee booth to the park is adjacent to the Bonita Beach public park.
At Marco Island's northern end, an island and a sand spit peninsula intercept the sand, stealing the beach from the main island. Coconut Island and Sand Dollar Spit are both accessible from Tigertail Beach, the public access operated by Collier County. Both barrier sand structures are known for their 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. From the spit's north end, Coconut Island is a short walk away.
Recommended for Parks because: This is Marco Island's best public beach access for nature lovers and those looking for a measure of seclusion.
Chelle's expert tip: In winter and spring, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida conducts muck-about walks at the beach to study sea creatures in the lagoon.
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.
Recommended for Parks because: Naples' only freshwater beach is known for its superlative sailing and water-skiing programs
Chelle's expert tip: The park is the site of a popular Ice Cream Social held every July to celebrate Parks and Recreation month.
Cambier Park IS Naples' community park, situated smack in the center of downtown Old Naples just south of Fifth Avenue South. The park's band shell hosts free live concerts throughout the year. Its Norris Center is home to Gulfshore Players community theater. The Arthur L. Allen Tennis Center holds 12 lighted Hydro-Grid Har-Tru Courts and a tennis shop, plus you will find five lighted shuffleboard courts, two bocce courts, a softball field and a playground that local families adore. The 13 acre park offers shady areas for picnics and a covered pavilion. The park gets its name from circa 1926 town engineer William Cambier.
Recommended for Parks because: This is a community park in every sense of the words and a popular gathering place for locals and visitors alike.
Chelle's expert tip: Besides a Sunday Jazz series, Cambier Park hosts a number of other bands. Check out the schedule online.
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, go check out the duck pond, play on the two playgrounds and enjoy the calm and safe waters 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.
Recommended for Parks because: This is Naples' ultimate family beach park, centrally located and amenties-rich.
Chelle's expert tip: Parking is metered at 25 cents per 10 minutes. The meters take Visa and MasterCard.
History and nature combine to make Collier-Seminole State Park a favorite with families, campers and nature-lovers. It is the easiest way to access Everglades ecology in this part of the state. Witness history at a "walking dredge" exhibit – a relic of the days when engineers built Tamiami Trail through the buggy, hot Everglades swampland. In the replicated Civil War blockhouse, you will find natural-science interpretative exhibits about local fauna – river otters, bobcats, manatees and a wealth of birds. You can explore the park's 7,271 acres by hiking, biking and canoeing trails. The park rents canoes and offers camping sites for RVs and tents. Day visitors can enjoy the playground and picnic areas.
Recommended for Parks because: Arguably one of the region's most beautiful state parks, it makes an easy introduction into Everglades habitat.
Chelle's expert tip: The park hosts Jammin in the Hammock Annual Bluegrass Festival each February.
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.
Recommended for Parks because: This is Naples' most natural Gulf of Mexico Beach - a great place for fishing and bird-watching.
Chelle's expert tip: Avoid swimming in the waters at the pass, which run swiftly and can be a challenge - especially to children.