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. A greenway project connects with nearby Naples Zoo and other parks. Birds and other local fauna come here to recover from injuries, and guests can peek into the nursery and see them on-the-mend. A theater and seasonal programs complete the Conservancy's education mission.
Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Kids love the Little Explorer Play Zone and animal rehab center.
Chelle's expert tip: The Little Explorer Play Zone features a crawl-through gopher tortoise burrow and a life-size bald eagle's nest to perch in.
Nationally accredited, the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens is one of the best attractions in the city. Celebrated by locals and travelers, this 52-acre park features exotic creatures such as panthers, alligators, leopards, bears and lions. Guests pay one rate to enjoy lively multimedia animal shows and feedings and a boat cruise to the primate island to see monkeys and lemurs. For its size, it boasts some superlative exhibits. The Black Bear Hammock, for instance, is the largest such accredited exhibit east of the Mississippi. The grounds are attractively maintained with the lush vegetation of the zoo's once-called Caribbean Gardens. Play areas amuse toddlers. To take in all the sights and shows requires about four hours.
Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Lots of animals, playgrounds and educational programs make this a well rounded family experience.
Chelle's expert tip: Don't miss the rare Madagascar fossas and meet the keeper programs.
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 Things to Do with Kids because: The observation tower and ranger programs add dimension to a family day at the beach.
Chelle's expert tip: Avoid swimming in the waters at the pass, which run swiftly and can be a challenge - especially to children.
The Environmental Learning Center at the reserve does a stellar job of interpreting the habitat of the estuary in a modern, state-of-the-art facility. The first floor holds a gallery that hosts changing exhibits of wildlife art in addition to its gift shop and an impressive, inviting gallery of interactive exhibits that include a 2,000-gallon aquarium built into the roots of a recreated mangrove tree, plus a touch tank and beautifully executed exhibits. Upstairs, explore the Naples area's timeline and visit a Cracker shack to listen to human history. Then take the bridge to a short nature trail on the other side of Henderson Creek. The center also hosts guided walks, kayak tours and other education programming.
Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Interactive exhibits and outdoor trails make this a well-rounded and educational family attraction.
Chelle's expert tip: Ask about weekly kayaking tours that take you back in the estuary to see birds flitting among the mangroves.
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 Things to Do with Kids because: Its playground and duck pond endear this beach even further to kids.
Chelle's expert tip: Parking is metered at 25 cents per 10 minutes. The meters take Visa and MasterCard.
For nature lovers traveling on a budget, it doesn't get any better than the land and water trails of Big Cypress National Preserve. This behemoth freshwater neighbor to Everglades National Park covers more than 720,000 acres and is home to such rare creatures as the Florida panther, Florida manatee and all the alligators you've ever cared to see. Begin your explorations at the new free Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center. Its boardwalk trail lets you spy on manatees in the waters and anhingas in the trees. Inside, listen to the sounds of pig frogs, limpkins, thunder and rain and other 'Glades music. Drive Loop Road for the best wildlife sightings and stop at the free Oasis Visitor Center to learn more about the environment and free ranger programs.
Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: The free Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center has hands-on exhibits and a boardwalk where you can usually see manatees.
Chelle's expert tip: Best spots to find alligators: The boardwalks at H.P. Williams Roadside Park and the Oasis Visitor Center.
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 Things to Do with Kids because: In a park setting, it has natural kid magnets such as a prehistoric giant sloth skeleton, fort, locomotive and swamp buggy.
Chelle's expert tip: In mid-November, the museum hosts its Old Florida Festival, a weekend of historic re-enactments and demonstrations.
While Naples is famous for its pristine beaches, the city also has flourishing wetlands such as the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary - known for its ancient cypress forest and colony of nesting American woodstorks. The Audubon facility is also the gateway for the South Florida Birding Trail, part of the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail. Save an afternoon to meander down the park's 2.25-mile boardwalk, which is interpreted with educational signs that lead visitors along a self-guided tour. The walkway allows guests to travel through a wet prairie, landmark cypress trees, pine uplands and a marsh as they observe the native wildlife.
Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Boardwalk trails loop at different lengths for all ages of children, plus they'll love the Swamp Theater and gift store.
Chelle's expert tip: Don't miss the Blair Audubon Center and Tea Room - filled with interactive exhibits, a wonderful nature store and a healthy food cafe open November through April.
Located adjacent to Golisano Children's Museum of Naples (CMON) in North Collier Regional Park, it provides a get-wet, splashy sequel to a museum visit. The family can kick back in the lazy river or wage water pistol war, dare the five steep 38 foot slides, swim in the dive and lap pool or snooze on the sand beach. The little ones love the Turtle Cove Pool, where they can play with others their size - ages 5 to 12 - amid colorful fountains and showers. A concession operation sells food, ice cream, sunscreen, swim diapers and other pool and beach necessities.
Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: It's a water park: What do kids love more than splashing and sliding in the water?
Chelle's expert tip: Pack swim suits when you visit the CMON museum next door and make it a day at North Collier Regional Park.
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 Things to Do with Kids because: Designed by and for kids, it is the ultimate Naples family attraction.
Chelle's expert tip: The museum holds its own Garden Cafe, selling cold sandwiches, salads and snacks made from fresh ingredients and preservative-free bread.