Guest blogger Emily Paster is a freelance writer and mother of two living in the Chicago suburbs. She writes about food and parenting on her blog, West of the Loop.
Naples is a tony hamlet on Florida’s southwest coast. Less developed than the familiar cities on the east coast of Florida, Naples is a terrific choice for families looking for white sand beaches, gentle surf, natural beauty and a cosmopolitan atmosphere. To get to Naples, fly into the nearby Ft. Myers airport, which is served by several discount carriers including Southwest and Air Tran.
The downtown area, known as Old Naples, has a thriving restaurant scene and high-end shopping. Even the white tablecloth restaurants are used to accommodating kids, so expect children’s menus and high chairs almost everywhere you go. In high season, which is Christmas to Easter, it is a good idea to make reservations because restaurants get very full and there can be long waits.
Some favorites with families include Tommy Bahama’s Cafe for its welcoming patio and live music and Yabba Island Grill for a lively atmosphere and great seafood. Newcomer Rosso Pommodoro has excellent pizza and paninis and is located near a shady playground off of Old Naples’s main drag, Fifth Avenue. Also on Fifth Avenue is British-style pub The Jolly Cricket — an excellent choice for a casual lunch.
Although the beach and pool will likely be your family’s main activities, there is a lot to do in and around Naples. So when your kids start to turn pink and tire of shaking sand out of their swimsuits, try one of these outings.
1. The Naples Botanical Garden. Sometimes in January or February, the weather in Naples can dip down into the 60’s. It’s still nicer than what you will find back home, but it’s not exactly beach weather. On those days, try a visit to the Naples Botanical Garden. This 170-acre site with seven different habitats in located just south of Old Naples. The whole garden is a tropical paradise but kids will especially enjoy the Children’s Garden with its butterfly habitat and tree houses for climbing.
2. The Naples Pier. Near the bustling shopping district of Third Street South in Old Naples is the 19th century Naples Pier. Stretching out from Naples Municipal Beach into the Gulf of Mexico, the pier is a beloved community landmark. Watch the fisherman cast their lines while the pelicans swoop and dive. If you are lucky, you may see a dolphin swim by. When you get hungry, the restaurants of Third Street South will welcome you for lunch. On Saturday mornings, the Third Street South area is home to a lively farmers’ market featuring locally produced food and crafts.
3. Adventure Naples. Whether you are looking for a cruise, a fishing trip or a guided jet ski tour, the folks at Adventure Naples and Cruise Naples have it all. The experienced captains put safety first and make sure that your family has an amazing maritime experience. See the gorgeous ocean-front homes from the water or explore the hidden channels of a mangrove swamp. Whichever adventure you pick, it will be a highlight of your trip. The sunset cruises are especially popular.
4. The Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples.The Golisano Children’s Museum opened in 2012 and is already a huge attraction in Naples. The indoor space has lots of hands-on exhibits for toddlers and preschoolers, including an exhibit on the nearby Everglades. Upstairs, older kids will find an area just for them with high-tech activities including a fashion design studio and forensics lab. This being Florida, of course, there’s a pleasant outdoor play area as well. Speaking of outside, right across the parking lot from the Children’s Museum, you will find the Sun-N-Fun Lagoon, a top-notch water park complete with slides, multiple pools and a lazy river. The kids will love it!
5. Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens. The Naples Zoo is consistently rated one of the top attractions in the area for families. The zoo offers a great mix of local Florida animals, including panthers and alligators, and exotic creatures such as lions and zebras. The Primate Expedition Cruise, which allows for great views of the many monkeys, should not be missed. The Naples Zoo also offers some animals not often seen in other zoos, including African Honey Badgers and the rare fosa from Madagascar. The landscaping on the grounds is quite beautiful making the zoo a pleasant outing for the whole family.
So, when planning your next cold-weather getaway, be sure to consider a trip to beautiful Naples. You will quickly see why this town is such a favorite with families.
Photo credit: Emily Paster