After spending a glorious month in winter as a snowbird in Naples, Florida, it’s easy to see why this Gulf Coast city in the Sunshine State ranks among the top four in U.S. News and World Report’s 2020-2021 list of “Best Places to Retire in the U.S.”
Why retirees flock to Naples on the Paradise Coast
According to the same report, individuals of retirement age and those nearing it give high marks to Naples when it comes to happiness. With its beautiful beaches; an abundance of sunshine in January, February and March (Why have Jack Frostbite on your nose when you can enjoy 70 to 80-degree temps?); and unlimited outdoor attractions — it’s a perfect city for boomers. I loved my stay so much that I’ve already booked another visit for 2022.
After being cooped up inside for most of the past year due to the pandemic, I was eager to spend as much time as possible outdoors while in Florida. Now that I’m back I’m happy to report on five fun activities I enjoyed in the great outdoors.
Best Outdoor Activities in Naples
Here are some of my favorite outdoor activities in Naples:
1. Spend an afternoon or early evening at Delnor-Wiggins State Park Beach
I’ve visited many beaches along the Gulf Coast and found Delnor-Wiggins State Park Beach in Naples to be one of the nicest and most accessible. The Gulf’s blue waters are calm and cool, and the short distance from parking lot to sand makes schlepping umbrellas and chairs easy. You’ll find restrooms near the beach entrance and shower sprays to wash your feet when you leave. Hint: Plan weekday visits to avoid the worst crowds.
The beach invites walking and shell hunting, although it’s just as enticing to sit and watch the pelicans land on the water. If you choose to go later in the day, you can catch the sunset. But, remember to bring your bug spray because the evening flies enjoy that time of day, too.
Beyond the beach, Delnor-Wiggins offers boating, fishing, geo-seeking, hiking, and picnicking. For those who like to paddle, Naples Beach Adventures rents kayaks (with guided tours), canoes and stand-up paddleboards.
2. Nourish your inner nature at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
Nature and bird lovers will enjoy a visit to Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Western Everglades. It’s popular with nature photographers as well. I spent a morning there as a guest of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The Sanctuary spans 13,000 acres, primarily composed of wetlands. It includes the largest remaining virgin bald cypress forest in the world as well as one of the largest nesting colonies of Federally Endangered Wood Storks in the nation. Other species found here include the Florida panther, American alligator, gopher tortoise, Florida Sandhill crane, limpkin, roseate spoonbill, snowy egret, tricolored heron, white ibis, Big Cypress fox and the Florida black bear. Also keep an eye out for rare plants, such as the ghost orchid.
I was in total bliss during my two hours on the boardwalk trail. My senses were on high alert in the forest — listening intently to the calls and gazing deeply between the tall cypress trees when I heard a noise to see if I could identify a bird.
Since I’m a yogi, I also appreciated taking a break during my walk to sit in stillness on a wooden bench in the wilderness and meditate in such a peaceful environment.
If you want to visit the sanctuary, buy tickets. (Current pandemic protocols may include advance reservations and masking.) While at the sanctuary, don’t miss the Nature Store on your way out for nature-inspired mementos. All proceeds benefit the protection and restoration of the sanctuary and its educational programs.
3. Walk along the famous Naples Pier and visit Historic Old Town
Apply sunscreen and wear a wide-brimmed hat when strolling the famous Naples Pier during the day. This 1,000-foot-long landmark juts out over the Gulf. It’s especially attractive to anglers; you can bring your rods and set up gear without a license.
The Pier is another spectacular place to watch a Naples sunset. Arrive at least a half-hour beforehand to find metered parking (you can set up text message alerts, which are handy when your meter is running out). After ogling the sunset, plan on enjoying dinner nearby in Historic Old Town located around Third Street South. Even though there are many wonderful restaurants, make dinner reservations way in advance (even months ahead if possible) as it gets very crowded in season.
4. Go shopping at The Village Shops on Venetian Bay and stay for a pre-dinner cocktail or two
For upscale shopping, head over to The Village Shops on Venetian Bay, known as the “Jewel of Naples.” At times, I felt like I was in Naples, Italy, with its waterfront views. The shops offer more than 45 retailers and restaurants.
In addition to enticing women’s and men’s clothing boutiques, you’ll find shops selling children’s apparel (for the grandkids ), unique souvenirs, home décor, jewelry and shoes. I treated myself to a small container of seafood spice and sweet paprika at The Spice & Tea Exchange.
There are eight spots to find food, including options for casual and fine dining as well as desserts. Snag a seat on the Bayside Seafood Grill & Bar’s patio, located upstairs by the outdoor bar, for a happy hour cocktail and appetizers. It’s another fabulous place to catch a Naples sunset. For a special occasion, I recommend M Waterfront Grille, which has plentiful outdoor seating along the waterfront.
5. Take a day trip to Marco Island
Many visit Marco Island, “the largest and only developed land in Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands,” for a luxury resort vacation or timeshare stay. But, it’s only a 45-minute ride from Naples, making it an easy day trip.
My companion and I left Naples late morning and arrived at Marco Island by lunchtime. Doreen’s Cup of Joe, open for breakfast and lunch, is especially busy in the morning. We sat down at one of the many outdoor tables at 12:30pm and found the breakfast menu still available. My delicious Greek omelet came with a side of a yummy squash hash made with walnuts and cranberries.
We spent the afternoon hopping the public beaches. Tigertail Beach, located on the north end, was quiet and quite desolate for early March. We liked South Beach much better. Located on the southern part of the Island beyond all the large beachfront hotels and condos, South Beach is popular for shelling, so bring a plastic bag or bucket. Do pack water shoes or flip-flops; we found it challenging to walk barefoot with all the broken shells.
Ready to book your winter vacation 2022 to Naples?
If you’re even thinking about taking a winter vacation in 2022, don’t wait to make your reservations. With more people being vaccinated and travel restrictions starting to lift, thanks to all of its outdoor activities, Naples is a prime warm-weather destination for boomers and others who can still work remotely.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- With its warm climate, sunny days and beautiful beaches, Naples is an attractive destination for retirees, snowbirds and day visitors.
- Naples and nearby Bonita Springs offer a wide variety of arts and cultural offerings as well as an abundance of good restaurants.
- Some of the best outdoor activities in Naples are provided by Mother Nature.
- If you plan to visit between January and March, start planning your visit early, even a year ahead, as hotels and rentals fill up quickly. Most condos in communities require a minimum 3-month rental for snowbirds.
COVID restrictions and health and safety measures change frequently. Check with the hotel or resort for current protocols and seek out updated information from the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau.
IF YOU GO
All photo credits: Judy Freedman
Disclosure: The author received a complimentary ticket from the team at Naples, Marco Island and Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau to visit Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. She only recommends products, places and services she has used/experienced personally that she believes will be good for her readers.
Other Florida destinations previously on Getting on Travel:
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