Naples, Florida, has miles of spectacular beaches full of easy-to-spot wildlife and the best way to experience it is by exploring Naples by bike.
On a bike, you can gawk at the lushly landscaped mansions along the Gulf of Mexico and then stop at beach access points without worrying about finding parking or pumping quarters into meters. Some of those access points don’t have spaces for cars, so folks on bikes are the only ones there.
On a recent summer day, we brought our bikes from Fort Lauderdale and pedaled the five-mile length of residential Gulf Shore Boulevard and south to the tip of Naples at Gordon Pass. We parked our car for free on a city street about three blocks west of the Gulf and then used our bikes all day to explore.
Naples is the land of the privileged, full of huge Gulf-front second homes. With yards like botanic gardens, Naples mansions require an army of maintenance workers. In the summer, their trucks are the primary traffic along Gulf Shore Boulevard.
Happily, Naples has done as exceptional job of sharing its perfect beaches with the rest of us. Every east-west street in the heart of Naples ends in a public beach access point. Many of these access points have shaded benches, showers and water fountains. Some have paths or boardwalks that wind through shaded vegetation and then open to a dazzling vista of white and blue.
The beaches and these pocket parks are litter-free and pristine. These are public facilities and yet they feel exclusive.
No matter where you reach the beach, you can walk seven miles uninterrupted. The white sand beach is wide and hard packed, perfect for beachcombing. There is little commercial development along Naples beach, and thus you are mostly viewing beach-front estates.
We swam at two beach access points – one off Gordon Drive on the southern end of the Naples at a beach access point with no parking for cars. Here, after a refreshing swim, we walked down to Gordon Pass and watched egrets and pelicans catching little fish in shallow pools formed by the breakwaters.
Later in the day, ready to cool down again, we stopped at an access point on the northern stretch of Gulf Shore Boulevard. Here we felt the hard flat surface of sand dollars underfoot in the sand and we pulled up one after another to admire. These fuzzy sand dollars are living creatures and we of course placed then back in the sand. (“Day trading in sand dollars,” our daughter quipped.)
Any visit to Naples beaches needs to include the historic Naples Pier. First built in 1888, it’s been rebuilt five times after hurricanes! Located at the west end of 12th Avenue South off Gulf Shore Boulevard, it is an especially nice place to watch the sunset.
The 1,000-foot pier has rest rooms, a snack bar and a bait shop and, best of all, it’s free. (Also, you don’t need a license to fish on Naples Pier.)
Every time we visit the Naples Pier we see dolphins, and on this visit, there were multiple dolphins visible on both sides of the pier. Below us, the water shimmered with huge schools of glistening shiners that darted en masse as larger fish swam near. Overhead, gulls, pelicans and the occasional osprey dove for fish. A stringray flapped its wings gracefully past dozens of needlefish in the shallow water.
I live two miles from beaches on the Atlantic Ocean and I am always thrilled to see the bounty of sea life along Gulf beaches.
Bicycling along Gulf Shore Boulevard and Gordon Road was the kind of low-stress, low-traffic biking I like. The road is smooth and wide enough for a well-marked bike lane. Because the road is in an exclusive residential neighborhood, it does not generate much traffic. The historic center of Old Naples is also a lovely place to meander by bike. It’s just west of the Naples Pier.
Naples, a city of 14 square miles, has 30 miles of bike paths so there are other places to bike, too. Here’s city information on bicycling.
Naples Cyclery rents a wide range of bikes as well as child trailers and surreys for family fun.
A note about parking and logistics:
- If you plan to park near the beach, bring plenty of quarters. Meters are 25 cents per minute ($1.50 an hour) and online forums are full of warnings that Naples is happy to issue parking tickets. (A ticket will set you back $32.) Just a few blocks from the beach, parking is free.
- There are restroom facilities at Naples Pier and Lowdermilk Beach Park, 1301 Gulfshore Blvd. North. Sixteen beach access parks have showers, but no restrooms.
Other things to do around Naples
There are several terrific places to go if you make Naples the center of a longer trip:
- If you visit Naples for the weekend, after you shower and recover from beaches and biking, you’ll want to head to its attractive shopping and dining street, Fifth Avenue South. You’ll find outdoor cafes, galleries and appealing shops.
- One of the most exquisite parcels of land that has been preserved in Florida is found about 15 miles east of Naples, Florida — the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Its 2.25 mile boardwalk takes you into a green and liquid world where at every turn you see scenes so beautiful they could have been arranged by the world’s best floral designer. Birds, gators and all sorts of flora (including rare orchids) can be seen along the boardwalk. Admission is $10 for adults. The address is 375 Sanctuary Road West.
- There’s an outstanding hiking and biking trail at Bird Rookery Swamp. The free 12-mile-long trail is great for fat-tire bikers and bikers. Bird and wildlife abound as you pass through a cypress swamp.
- Naples has plenty of great beaches, but Clam Pass Park has a special twist. First, just reaching it is an adventure: You can walk or take a free tram from the parking lot down a three-quarters-mile long boardwalk through a mangrove forest. Then, from the shady mangrove tunnel, you emerge to a beach with sand that is blindingly white and water impossibly turquoise. The pass itself is a narrow river-like opening in the mangroves, shallow enough an adult can stand at the center except at the highest tide. If you hop into the waters of the pass, you are gently swept away by the tide. If the tide is coming in, you float into a shallow mangrove-fringed lagoon. If the tide is going out, you float out into the Gulf, which remains shallow for a great distance. It’s a natural “lazy river” adventure, where the pull and depth of the water is safe but still fun. Located at Seagate Drive and Crayton Road.
- Barefoot Beach, a Collier County park, was named the sixth best beach in America in 2013 by the Florida professor Dr. Stephen Leatherman, who does an annual beach ranking and has become known as Dr. Beach. Though it’s easy to reach, Barefoot Beach makes you feel miles away from highways and highrises. It’s one of the last undeveloped barrier islands on Florida’s southwest coast. You may find sand-dollars, shells or spot a bottle-nosed dolphin in the water in the distance . Gopher tortoises and their burrows are plentiful along the nature trail that runs between the sand dunes and the hammock. It’s located on Barefoot Beach Road off Bonita Beach Boulevard.
- When you’re ready for an afternoon beyond Naples, head south an hour where the road ends in Chokoloskee , an island just off Everglades City. You’ll have to travel many miles to find a more evocative, authentic look at Old Florida. Here you’ll find Smallwood Store, a general store that is now a museum. It opened in 1906 when Chokoloskee was the Wild West and Ted Smallwood was a pioneer. This wooden building was an Indian trading post, post office and general store. It’s still owned and run by Ted Smallwood’s family. While in the area, explore historic Everglades City and have fresh fish right at the fishing docks. From October to April, this is one of the best places to have stone crabs.
- Get a taste of the Everglades driving the Tamiami Trail into the Everglades. The Tamiami Trail, the main artery through Naples, continues into the Everglades as you take it south and east. It gets you close to Everglades scenery and offers several outstanding stops along the way. Your destination could be Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery, 52388 Tamiami Trail. Butcher is a world-renown photographer whose large-scale black-and-white photos are designed to make the viewer feel like he is at the center of the photo. Butcher’s studio overlooks a scenic pond, frequented by alligators and wading birds. Along the way, be sure to stop at the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. It’s just north on U.S. 29 on the Tamiami Trail. The 2,000-foot-long boardwalk through old growth cypress swampland is a stunning place.
- Sun-N-Fun Lagoon is a big, busy and happy water park run by Collier County. If offers five water slides, a lazy river, a diving area, and areas that provide water play for younger children in shallower pools. It’s located at 15000 Livingston Road in Naples, 20 minutes north of downtown. Entrance is $12 for adults and those over 48 inches tall; $5.50 for those under 48 inches. Snacks, lockers and life jackets are available.
- The best shopping near Naples is at the Miromar Outlet Mall, 10801 Corkscrew Road, Estero. It boasts 140 brand name and designer shops and is built around fountains, koi ponds and water features that never let you forget you’re in Florida. The quality and choice of stores at this outdoor mall is impressive.
- Kids will enjoy these two attractions: Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, a small high-quality museum at 15080 Livingston Road, and the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, which is located in a historic botanic gardens.