courtesy nps.gov

Florida’s Paradise Coast – This Southwest Gulf Coast area of Florida includes the resort cities of Naples and Marco Island, the quaint “Old Florida” communities of Everglades City and Goodland, the agricultural area around Immokalee, over 30 miles of beautiful, white sand beaches, the Gulf Coast side of Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve and lots of Florida State Parks, community parks and nature preserves, including Audubon’s famous Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, and the expansive and pristine coastal estuary system known as the Ten Thousand Islands.

There is plenty to do up and down the coast. Here are some of our favorites:

  1. NAPLES BEACH & PIERNaples Pier, open 24/7 for fishing as well as people, bird and dolphin watching, is the locally popular gathering spot to watch the colorful nightly ritual of the sun setting into the Gulf of Mexico. The pier is the most-visited attraction in Naples. The historic Naples Pier had a complete renovation during Summer 2015, including new restrooms, new soft lighting during nighttime hours and all new, durable wooden planks and guardrails. The beach near the pier is in a high-end residential area with lush tropical landscaping and private homes, with no high rise buildings to block the view. There is no charge to visit the pier. A public paid parking lot is located one block from the pier entrance on 12th Avenue South.
  2. AUDUBON’S CORKSCREW SWAMP SANCTUARY Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary features a 2.25 mile boardwalk through a variety of habitats, with countless opportunities to experience the serene beauty of the Southwest Florida environment. The sanctuary is home to an extremely rare ghost orchid that blooms sometimes several times per year within view of the boardwalk. Audubon volunteers can be found to assist with wildlife identification along the boardwalk. The sanctuary also has an extensive nature center with a gift shop and café.
  3. BIG CYPRESS NATIONAL PRESERVE Big Cypress National Preserve , the first national preserve to be established as part of the U.S. National Park Service, offers a wide variety of recreational opportunities, from wildlife drives to the Florida Scenic Trail for experienced hikers, along with a public boardwalk leading into a pristine cypress dome, paddling on the Turner River, as well as hunting and off road vehicle use by special permit. Check out the Big Cypress Welcome Center just outside Everglades City to learn more about the Big Cypress Swamp and the Western Everglades
  4. STONE CRABS Beautiful keepsake shells can be found on all of the Naples, Marco Island and Everglades area beaches. Some of the best shelling in Southwest Florida may be found on Keewaydin, the 8-mile long barrier island located between Naples and Marco Island. Accessible only by boat, there are several area sightseeing boat tours that stop there for some peaceful beach walking and excellent shelling. The Keewaydin Express shuttle boat is a great way to hitch a ride to and from Keewaydin, which is the only dog-friendly beach in the region. Dogs can ride the Keewaydin Express boat, too! There are several other barrier islands nearby that are great for shelling, including Kice island and Cape Romano.
  5. DOLPHIN EXPLORER  Dolphin Explorer boat works daily on the 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project, a multi-year population and behavior survey of the area’s resident bottlenose dolphin population, puts kids to work on board as citizen scientists to assist researchers with their work to document the area’s resident dolphin population. You can hop on board with the researchers for two public cruises per day departing out of the Rose Marco Island Marina.

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