October 21, 2014
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Insider's Guide: Beaches

Picture Perfect: No matter what beach you choose, sunset is a perfect time to be at water's edge in Southwest Florida.

     A beach is a beach. Sand, water and shells, right? In more ordinary worlds, perhaps this is true—but this is no ordinary world. From the air, our 30-milelong sandy coastline resembles a glistening white ribbon embraced by the pale green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Sunlight piercing straight through to the sandbars might reveal cavorting dolphins or a giant loggerhead turtle swimming toward the palm-fringed shore. But only when you step barefoot onto the sand, feel the salty air kiss your cheek and the stress of the day slip away in one long sigh, will you know that you have arrived in Paradise.

     Even here in Paradise, no two beaches are exactly alike, and no one beach remains the same today as it was yesterday. Today’s fluffy powder may be smooth as silk tomorrow after a sudden rain shower. This morning’s sea is mirror-smooth, reflecting the cotton candy clouds above; this afternoon a disturbance at sea might bring gentle waves and frothy whitecaps, an enchanting invitation for a sail along the shore.

     Some beaches are home to hundreds of shore birds, so used to humans that they simply open a path for the random beach walker to pass through. Along one beach are Mediterranean-style mansions; on another one can glimpse the tin roofs of Old Florida cottages. Some beaches are the playgrounds of Florida’s most fabulous luxury resorts, with their glamorous matching umbrellas and butler services; others are gathering spots for young athletes on their stand-up paddleboards and kiteboards. Still others are best-kept secrets, where the only footprints might be your own.

MARCO ISLAND

SOUTH MARCO BEACH is located on South Collier Boulevard, with parking available a short walk across the boulevard on Swallow Street. Includes restroom facilities. $8 metered parking. (239) 252-4000. Open from 8 a.m. to sundown.

TIGERTAIL BEACH, a county park located at the end of Hernando Drive, has a bathhouse, restrooms, boardwalks, picnic area, volleyball court, playground, butterfly garden and concession stand offering beach equipment rentals, food and drinks. Parking $8 per vehicle. Lot fills quickly. (239) 252-4000. Open 8 a.m. to sundown.

NAPLES

CLAM PASS RECREATIONAL AREA is a county park near the Waldorf Astoria Naples on Seagate Drive. Golf carts transport visitors over a three-quarter-mile boardwalk to a beach with a picnic area and concession stand. Chairs, cabanas and watersports equipment available for rent. Restrooms and foot showers available. Parking $8 per vehicle. (239) 252-4000. Shuttles run daily from 8 a.m. to sunset.

DELNOR-WIGGINS PASS STATE PARK is at the intersection of 111th Avenue North and Gulfshore Drive. Facilities include grills, picnic areas, restrooms with wheelchair access and outdoor showers. Use of the boat ramp is $5 plus tax. Park rangers conduct nature programs. Admission $4 per car carrying one passenger; $6 per car carrying two to eight passengers; or $2 for a pedestrian, bicyclist or extra passenger. (239) 597-6196. Open 8 a.m. to sunset.

LOWDERMILK PARK is located along Gulf Shore Boulevard at Banyan Boulevard. The park offers 1,000 feet of beachfront, outdoor showers, gazebos, picnic tables, a playground, volleyball court, concession stand and duck pond. Wheelchair accessible restrooms. Metered parking $1.50 per hour. (239) 213-3029. Open sunrise to sundown.

VIA MIRAMAR BEACH has public access on Gulf Shore Boulevard North, just south of Harbour Drive, with ample parking and an outdoor shower. A short walk south takes you to the jetty at Doctors Pass, which provides Gulf access from Naples Bay. Metered parking. Open sunrise to sundown.

NAPLES FISHING PIER, at 12th Avenue South in the heart of Old Naples, has showers, restrooms, a bait shop and a snack bar. Dolphins are seen frequently. Metered parking is located nearby, with additional parking and access points along Gulf Shore Boulevard. (239) 213-3062. Amenities open 9:00 a.m. to sunset weekends, 10 a.m. to sunset weekdays; pier open 24 hours. naplespier.com.

NORTH GULF SHORE BOULEVARD BEACH, located at the end of Seagate Drive, is open 8 a.m. to sunset. Outdoor shower. Metered parking. (239) 252-4000.

VANDERBILT BEACH PARK, at the end of Vanderbilt Drive, is a tree- and residence-lined county beach. Vanderbilt offers parking with handicap accessibility to the beach, restrooms and showers. Snacks and watersports rentals available at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, and Vanderbilt Inn resorts. Metered parking or parking garage available. (239) 252-4000. Open sunrise to sundown.

Family friendly: No matter how big your group, both counties offer several beaches with full restroom and shower facilities, plus concessions and playgrounds for the kids.

BONITA SPRINGS

BAREFOOT BEACH PRESERVE. Look for the signs at the intersection of Barefoot Beach Boulevard and Bonita Beach Road. Enter past the security booth and continue two miles. This 342-acre preserve contains a coastal hammock and a one-mile nature trail. Facilities include changing rooms, showers, restrooms, snack bar and canoe launch. The preserve also offers nature interpretation stations. Collier County beach parking permits or $8 per vehicle for parking. (239) 252-4000.

BONITA BEACH PARK off Bonita Beach Road at 27954 Hickory Blvd. Facilities include picnic tables, grills, playground, sand volleyball court, restrooms, changing rooms, watersports rentals and a concession stand. Guided walks available on the mile-long nature trail. Parking $2 per hour. Lots fill quickly. Beach access is north of the main beach. Open from dawn until 9 p.m.

LITTLE HICKORY ISLAND BEACH PARK is between Bonita Beach and Lovers Key. Popular beach for fishing. Restrooms, picnic tables and showers available. Parking $1 per hour. Dog Beach, where Fido may run free. Located at 8800 Estero Blvd. No facilities available for humans, although parking is free. Open from dawn until dusk. (239) 533-7275.

LOVERS KEY STATE PARK. Barrier islands between Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Beach. Parking is plentiful. Admission $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists, $4 for single-occupancy vehicles, $8 for motor vehicles carrying up to eight passengers. The park features pavilions, nature trails, a concession stand and a bridge linking the two barrier islands. Canoe, kayak and bike rentals available. Public boat ramp; suggested donation of $2 to launch. (239) 463-4588. Open 8 a.m. to sunset.

CAPE CORAL

CAPE CORAL YACHT CLUB, 5819 Driftwood Parkway. Located on the Caloosahatchee River, the area features picnic tables, restrooms, outdoor showers, tennis courts, a free boat ramp, barbecue area, bait shop, public pool and a large beach pavilion available for rent. Marine biology workshops are offered. Free parking; $10 per boat trailer to park. (239) 574-0806. Pool hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

FORT MYERS BEACH

BOWDITCH POINT REGIONAL PARK.Take Matanzas Pass Bridge onto the beach; turn right at foot of bridge and follow Estero Boulevard to the end. Seventeen acres of recreational area and nature preserve. Includes restrooms, showers, picnic tables, concessions, grills, hiking paths, wheelchair-accessible beach access and a pavilion available for rent. Parking $1 per hour. (239) 765-6794. Open dawn until dusk.

BUNCHE BEACH on San Carlos Bay, on John Morris Road off Summerlin Road before the Sanibel Causeway, overlooks Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island. Here, 731 acres are nature preserves, making it a popular location with fishermen and paddlers. No facilities; limited parking. (239) 765-6794. Open sunrise to sunset.

FORT MYERS BEACH is just east of Lynn Hall Park and features plenty of beach bars and cafés. Rent WaveRunners, go parasailing, jet-boat and more. Park at Lynn Hall, in a private lot or at meters under the bridge; or ride the 50-cent trolley. (239) 765-6794.

LAKES REGIONAL PARK is located off Gladiolus Drive. Bathrooms, showers, bike rentals, canoe rentals, freshwater fishing allowed, boats allowed with trolling motor only (call to register). No swimming. Pavilions for rent, biking and walking trails. Train ride runs along the lake. (239) 533-7580.

LYNN HALL MEMORIAL PARK. Located in the heart of Fort Myers Beach. Turn right at foot of Matanzas Pass Bridge, left off North Estero Boulevard. Amenities include restrooms, a playground, fishing pier, picnic shelters, grills, and shops and restaurants at Times Square pedestrian mall. Parking $2 per hour. Lots fill quickly. (239) 765-6794. Open dawn until dusk.

SANIBEL/ CAPTIVA ISLANDS

ALGIERS BEACH/GULFSIDE CITY PARK. Located off Casa Ybel Road on Sanibel Island. Named after a steamboat once pulled ashore and turned into a house, these beaches offer shaded picnic areas, boardwalks and restrooms. Pet friendly. Parking $2 per hour. (239) 472-6477.

BOWMAN’S BEACH is located off Sanibel- Captiva Road on Bowman’s Beach Road. Popular Sanibel beach, noted for its wildlife, shelling and seclusion, it offers plentiful parking plus restrooms, changing rooms, showers, drinking fountains, picnic tables, grills and parking for recreational vehicles. Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (239) 395-1860.

SANIBEL CAUSEWAY BEACHES. Visitors pay a toll to Sanibel and Captiva islands. Beaches are located on both sides of the road with picnic tables and restrooms on the second island and offer excellent shelling and fishing. Leashed pets welcome. No fee to park.

LIGHTHOUSE BEACH is at the site of a historic, working lighthouse at the southeastern tip of Sanibel. Small fishing pier, restrooms, drinking fountains, hiking paths and parking for recreational vehicles. Parking $2 per hour. (239) 472-6397.

TARPON BAY BEACH, on Tarpon Bay Road on Sanibel. Pets on leashes allowed. Has restrooms and parking for recreational vehicles. Parking $2 per hour. (239) 472-6397.

TURNER BEACH is at the north end of Blind Pass, which separates Sanibel and Captiva islands. Popular with families and fishermen, although signs caution against swimming due to swift currents. Restrooms and outdoor showers available on Captiva side. Open sunrise to sunset. (239) 395-1860.

Lee County Parking

Residents can purchase Lee County parking permit stickers at the Terry Park Administration building, 3410 Palm Beach Blvd., Fort Myers, (239) 533-7275; Estero Community Park and Recreation Center, 9200 Corkscrew Palms Blvd., Estero, (239) 498-0415; and Wa-Ke Hatchee Park Recreation Center, 16760 Bass Road, Fort Myers, (239) 432-2154. Without a permit, visiting beachgoers should pay fees or feed parking meters as applicable. Gated beach entrances close at sunset; all other beaches close at 11 p.m. Beach parking passes may be purchased by visiting leeparks.org or by calling (239) 533-7440.

Collier County Parking

Parking is free with a City of Naples or Collier County beach-parking permit, which full-time residents and taxpayers may obtain from any community park. Without a permit, beachgoers should use metered parking spaces or pay $8 per vehicle for county beaches. Yearly permits for visitors staying within Naples’ city limits are available for $50 at the customer service desk at City Hall, 735 Eighth St. S., across from Cambier Park.(239) 213-1800.

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