There’s more to Naples, Fla. than chi-chi shopping boutiques and never-ending rounds of golf. (Although, there’s nothing wrong with shopping and golf.) The seaside town located on Florida’s Gulf Coast is chock-full of family-friendly activities and attractions — if you know where to look.
A central home base that caters to adults and kids is key. Throw in easy beach access, guest rooms equipped with mini-fridges, coffeemakers and microwaves, and a central pool in a landscaped courtyard within eyesight of the pastel-colored Adirondack chairs outside each guest room and discover family-friendly nirvana — also known as Lemon Tree Inn.
Karen T. Bartlett, a long-time Naples resident and author of A (Mostly) Kids Guide to Naples, Marco Island & The Everglades who describes Lemon Tree Inn as “simply adorable,” reared two, now-grown, children in Naples. She’s quick to give a nod to some of the more obvious kid-friendly places around Naples including Tin City and Naples Pier, but she encourages visiting families to dig into the treasure trove of area attractions known to locals. Insiders’ tip: Admission to all Collier County Museums is free, with the exception of some annual events such as the Old Florida Festival. Here’s a sampling of Bartlett’s favorite family-friendly places in and around Naples.
· Collier County Museums comprises five individual museums: Collier County Museum, Immokalee Pioneer Museum, Marco Island Historical Museum, Museum of The Everglades and Naples Depot Museum. Each location showcases a different component of the region’s history. Scheduled events include Pirates Day (Marco Island) and huge antique auto show (main branch). Check the museum calendar for updates.
· A visit to the Vicky C. and David Byron Smith Garden at the Naples Botanical Garden is like stepping into a fairy tale. The interactive layout encourages exploration. One trail leads visitors on a botanical journey from “tree to sea,” while another recreates the region’s native ecosystems including a cypress swamp, a hardwood hammock and shell mound. Even adults can’t resist exploring the whimsical Cracker House with its colorful garden, and the very unusual Hidden Garden featuring found objects, such as a toilet “clogged” with flowers. The most popular attraction for kids is the massive live ficus tree house. A splash pad and a butterfly house are other favorites.
· The Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples (aka C’mon) is a 30,000-square-foot junior explorer’s play land of interactive exhibits, including a dozen hands-on exhibit galleries. Kids and adults have a blast exploring the maze. Children can “try on” careers including weather forecaster, farmer, chef, fisherman, artist, architect and veterinarian. Playing Swiss Family Robinson while climbing the museum’s Banyan Tree to a lookout platform is a favorite activity. Check the museum website for special events and activities.
· Naples is blessed with miles upon miles of beautiful beaches, but three — Lowdermilk Beach Park, Clam Pass Beach Park and Tigertail Beach — are particularly family friendly. Amenities at Lowdermilk include picnic tables, a playground, sand volleyball, a duck pond, snack bar and restrooms, outdoor showers and a handicap-access beach wheelchair ramp. Clam Pass is unique in that access is via a ¾-mile boardwalk that meanders through a mangrove stand en route to the beach. Choose to walk or hop aboard the tram that runs continuously throughout the day. Amenities include restrooms, a concession stand for beach equipment rental, food and drinks, and a handicap-access beach wheelchair ramp. Both Lowdermilk Beach and Clam Pass Beach are stops on the Naples Trolley route, which stops in front of Lemon Tree Inn.
Located on Marco Island, about 20 miles south of Naples, Tigertail Beach offers a bathhouse, five boardwalks, beach equipment rentals, food and beverage concessions, a playground, a butterfly garden and a handicap-access beach wheelchair ramp.
· Located on Chokoloskee Island near the western edge of the Everglades, Smallwood Store dates to 1906 when Ted Smallwood opened a trading post to serve the pioneers, Seminole Indians and explorers in the remote area. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974, the store closed in 1982 with all its dry goods, furs, medicines, tools and other provisions still on the shelves. Ted’s granddaughter reopened the store as a museum in 1990. The Smallwood family offers boat rides into the Ten Thousand Islands.
Bartlett set out to write The Mostly Kids’ Guide to Naples, Marco Island & The Everglades as a resource for vacationers and newcomers. Turns out the books are very popular with grandparents in anticipation of grandkid visits, and the activities are as popular among adults as children.
“One woman was raving about the fun she had exploring the Everglades, based on ideas suggested in the book” Bartlett said. “I was thrilled to hear that, and asked her, ‘How old are your kids?’ She looked at me puzzled and said, ‘We don’t have any kids.’”
Just goes to show, the key to a successful family vacation is discovering the places that are fun for adults and kids.
About Lemon Tree Inn: Lemon Tree Inn is a locally owned 34-room boutique hotel. Individually decorated guest rooms feature four-post mahogany beds, wicker sleigh beds and unique artwork combined to evoke the feel of Old Florida. Complimentary continental breakfast is served poolside and cold lemonade is on offer all day. For more information or to book a reservation, call 888-800-LEMO or visit www.LemonTreeInn.com.