11 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Naples, Florida

Written by Lana Law
Feb 1, 2019

A stunning palm-lined stretch of seemingly endless soft-sand beach lines the ocean at Naples, but this is far more than just a beach destination. Trendy and chic, 5th Avenue in downtown offers al fresco casual to fine dining, as well as quality boutique shops. Museums for adults and kids, a zoo, and boat excursions are just some of the many attractions in Naples. And if this isn't enough to fill your days, head to a nearby nature reserve for a hike, or explore more beach action on Marco Island or in the parks farther north. Find out more with our list of top things to do in Naples.

1. The Beach and Naples Pier

Naples Pier and Beach | Photo Credit: Lana Law

The beach at Naples is one of the finest along Florida's Gulf Coast, where golden sand lapped by usually calm waters is backed by beautiful homes and lush vegetation. Wildlife is plentiful here, with wading birds hunting for their next meal along the shoreline, and dolphins make a regular appearance just offshore.

Naples Pier has been a landmark since 1888 and is always a popular place for a sunset stroll, or to do a bit of fishing. There is no charge to walk on the pier, and you'll find a small concession selling snacks and fishing supplies. Just to the south of the pier, volleyball nets are usually set up. While the entire beach is a great area for walking, the most level sections are south of the pier.

Access to the pier is at the end of 12th Avenue South, and there is a pay parking lot located here. You can also find beach access points and metered parking at regular intervals on either side of 12th Avenue, and these are generally less busy than the area right around the pier.

2. Dining and Shopping on 5th Avenue

Fifth Avenue South | Photo Credit: Lana Law

A trip to Naples would be incomplete without a visit to 5th Avenue South, the main downtown strip, running from 9th Street South down to 3rd Street South. Lined with cafes and restaurants with patio seating, high-end boutiques, a famous ice-cream shop, and posh hotels, this is a great place to dine or even go for an evening walk to watch the steady parade of cars cruising the strip. This street is busy most of the day but really comes to life from 5pm to approximately 10pm. Early evening dining specials are frequently on offer at many of the restaurants.

Since this is Naples, it's probably easy to understand why a disproportionate number of the restaurants along here are Italian. You can also find Middle Eastern, Asian, French, and classic American options.

3. Cruises and Boat Tours

Boat tour in Naples Bay | Photo Credit: Lana Law

One of the great attractions of Naples is the Gulf of Mexico and its azure blue waters. A fun way to get out and enjoy all that the ocean has to offer is on a boat tour, which might include a stop on a deserted sand island. Along the way, there's a chance you'll see dolphins surfing in the boat's wake or manatees cruising slowly just beneath the surface. One popular tour is the Manatee-Eco Tour and Shelling Adventure. This three-hour trip cruises the waterways and mangroves, looking for dolphins and alligators, and stops at an island for shelling and walking on the beach.

One of the most enjoyable ways to cap off a warm day in Naples is to take a Gulf of Mexico Sunset Cruise. Boats cruise out towards the Gulf of Mexico, past beautiful Keewaydin Island and the spectacular waterfront homes of Port Royal. The sunset cruises leave from Tin City.

4. Third Street South & the Farmer's Market

Third Street South | Photo Credit: Lana Law

Similar in nature to 5th Avenue South, 3rd Street South is packed with restaurants and retail. The area is smaller and has a fun vibe with a slightly more casual feel, perhaps because the Naples Pier is just a short stroll away. You can enjoy outdoor dining and then take a sunset walk on the Pier or along the beach. A majority of the restaurants are located between Broad Street and 13th Avenue South.

Every Saturday morning (7:30 to 11:30) from November to April, a portion of 3rd Street is blocked off from traffic and opens as the Third Street Farmer's Market. Vendors sell fresh produce, prepared foods, crafts, and other goods. This is incredibly popular, and the area is generally packed on market mornings. There is a large parking lot behind the shops and restaurants, accessed off 13th Avenue South.

5. Tin City

Tin City | Photo Credit: Lana Law

Tin City is a rustic-style waterfront shopping complex on Naples Bay, housed in historical buildings dating from the 1920s. Inside, you'll find two dockside restaurants and close to 70 shops selling interesting items from souvenir T-shirts right through to fashionable jewelry. Once you've finished shopping, settle in to a waterside restaurant to watch the boats cruise by while you eat. Tin City is just a short walk from 5th Avenue. A popular sightseeing cruise leaves from the docks here.

6. Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens

Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens | Photo Credit: Lana Law

This small city zoo, easily identified from the road by a bright, colorful fish statue, is a perfect way to spend an afternoon away from the beach. The zoo has a variety of animals in three major categories; birds, mammals, and reptiles. The animals range from tigers to alligators. One of the highlights is the Primate Cruise, a 15-20 minute catamaran cruise past the animals. This zoo is uniquely designed to allow visitors to get closer to the animals than at more traditional zoos.

The botanical garden was founded in 1919 and became the home of the zoo 50 years later.

7. Marco Island Beaches

Marco Island beach | Photo Credit: Lana Law

The beaches of Marco Island, 30 minutes south of Naples, are a bit different than those closer to Naples. The beach on Marco Island stretches uninterrupted for six miles, but the width of the beach in some sections, particularly closer to the north, is shockingly wide. Some areas are backed by towering condos and others by natural areas. You can really find what you're looking for, regardless of your taste. The three main beach accesses are Tigertail Beach, located at the north end; the centrally located access; and an access at the south end.

Each of these beach areas has its own feel. Tigertail Beach, the first beach you come to, looks out onto a small body of water and mangroves. This is where many families set up shop. You can rent umbrellas, kayaks, and SUPS, and there are restrooms. But other people who park here walk around this beach, beyond a line of mangroves to the south, where the beach opens up into a huge stretch of white sand.

If you're looking for more action, head to the central access, where you'll find umbrellas for rent, volleyball nets set up, and usually a crowd of sun-lovers sprawled out across the sand. Parking here is limited, but you may be able to find parking in Turtle Lot.

8. Naples Botanical Garden

Naples Botanical Garden | Photo Credit: Lana Law

If you have a passion for plants or just want to experience what it's like to walk among more than 1,000 tropical plants, be sure to visit the Naples Botanical Gardens. Spread out over 170 acres, the garden is more than just pleasant paths through colorful and interesting plants. The gardens are specifically focused on plants and ecosystems that exist between the 26th parallel north and the 26th parallel south.

Some of the highlights are the Kapnick Brazilian Garden, the Buehler Enabling Garden, Lee Asian Water Garden, Kapnick Caribbean Garden, and the Smith River of Grass. The Naples Botanical Gardens are located about three miles south of downtown Naples.

9. Naples Depot Museum

Naples Depot Museum | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Just a short stroll from popular 5th Avenue is the free Naples Depot Museum. Housed in the original Seaboard Air Line Railway passenger station, the museum has a wide range of historical and interactive displays both inside the building and on the museum grounds. These include train memorabilia, restored coaches, a swamp buggy, old autos, and other historical displays.

Behind the Depot Museum is the Naples Train Museum, which operates separately and charges a fee. Here, you can see a wide variety of working model trains, with a minimum of 10 moving at any point in time. For the kids, train rides on a mini train complete with a real steam or diesel locomotive are available on most weekends and the ride is included with the admission fee.

10. Golisano Children's Museum of Naples

Golisano Children's Museum | Photo Credit: Lana Law

Golisano Children's Museum of Naples provides a fun and stimulating day out for young and old. Kids will love the 18 exhibits, including Adopt-a-Pet, Dinosaur Train, Journey through the Everglades, Mother Nature's House, World Cafe, and Build It!. One of the most engaging exhibits is the giant Banyan Tree, where adventuresome youngsters can crawl from level to level right up to the top.

11. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Boardwalk at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

For a pleasant outing on a cool or cloudy day, or even first thing in the morning, take a trip to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. The sanctuary is an oasis for wading birds, alligators, otters, turtles, and other critters. The main attraction here is the 2.25-mile boardwalk, which meanders out over swampland, pine flats, and wet prairie.

A particular highlight of the walk is a section that goes through old growth, with Bald Cypress trees towering up to 130 feet above you. These ancient giants are massive, some with a girth of 25 feet, and are related to the giant Redwoods found in California. The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is about a 45-minute drive from downtown Naples and is well worth the trip.

Where to Stay in Naples

One of the best places to stay is near 5th Avenue South, in the heart of the action. However, if you just want a beachfront resort experience, those options are also available. Prices increase dramatically the closer you get to the beach.

  • Luxury Hotels: The Inn on 5th is in a fabulous location on 5th Avenue, close to the restaurants on 3rd Street, and not far from one of Naples' best beaches. The hotel features an amazing 3,600 square-foot rooftop pool area complete with daybeds and cabanas. A complimentary on-call shuttle to the beach is available for guests' use.

    The Ritz-Carlton Naples occupies a beautiful stretch of sand in the northern part of Naples. This 450-room hotel offers the finest accommodations and service, complemented by multiple heated pools, and for those not keen on laying on the beach all day, two 18-hole golf courses.

    A short walk from 5th Avenue is the sprawling Naples Bay Resort & Marina. The resort has five outdoor pools, including a lazy river and a two-story walk-through waterfall, a wellness center featuring yoga and Barre classes, and a spa. A complimentary shuttle takes guests to the beach, 5th Avenue South, and 3rd Street South.

  • Mid-Range Hotels: Within walking distance of 5th Avenue and Tin City, is the Holiday Inn Express & Suites. The hotel has rooms that come with a complimentary breakfast and a large pool area with cabanas and loungers, and it's within close proximity to a couple of restaurants.

    Located in northern Naples is the Best Western Naples Inn & Suites. A lush setting with large trees and tropical flora surround the pool area, and breakfast is included. Chain restaurants are nearby, and the hotel also offers a complimentary shuttle to the beach at nearby Lowdermilk Park.

    At the top end of mid-range and enjoying an excellent and enviable location on Naples Bay is the Cove Inn. Here, you'll find a waterfront pool, rooms with balconies, and two restaurants with patio seating.

  • Budget Hotels: Offering strong value in a good location is the pet-friendly Red Roof Plus Inn & Suites. Located next door to the Holiday Inn and Suites, this budget hotel has been recently renovated and features a wonderful large pool set in lush grounds. The rooms are clean and comfortable and many have pool views. The hotel is within walking distance of Tin City and 5th Avenue South.

Farther north from the downtown area but located near Vanderbilt Beach is La Quinta Naples North Bonita Springs. The hotel has a good pool area overlooking a small lake and is close to many chain restaurants. Another decent option, but also north of downtown Naples, is the Naples Garden Inn. Rooms are set around the pool area, and covered seating is available under thatch roofs.

More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com

Resorts in Florida: For a resort experience in the Naples area, be sure to see our article on the Top Resorts in Naples. The reality is, if you are interested solely in splashing out at a beautiful resort to soak up the sun lounging by the pool or on the beach, you can find an assortment of places up and down the Gulf Coast. For a list of the best, see our piece on the Top-Rated Resorts on the Florida Gulf Coast.

Destinations within a Three-Hour Drive: In just a couple of hours, you can be exploring the beaches and attractions of Miami or Fort Lauderdale on the Atlantic coast. Heading north up the Gulf Coast, Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach are only an hour or less away, and Tampa is still well under a three-hour drive.

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