Insider's Guide: Beaches
From state parks to residence-lined shores, Southwest Florida has a beach for you.
“The biggest dilemma when chilling on the pearly white sands in Naples is to decide which way to look.”
“The water on Fort Myers beaches is some of the calmest and safest Gulf swimming available in Florida.”
“Barefoot Beach is 8,200 feet long and located in a 342-acre park. The surf is gentle with waves generally measured in inches, and the water is very shallow, making this a great beach for bathing and swimming for families. The sand is fine and contains many small shells.”
Dr. Beach, aka Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, is a professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University. For the past quarter-century, he’s been rating the top U.S. beaches, and it’s no surprise that ours keep making his top 10 picks. In 2013, Barefoot Beach was his No. 6 choice. But it depends on whom you ask. U.S. News named Sanibel Island No. 2, and The Travel Channel’s top 10 included three of our beaches. Others vote for the shimmery white strand at Marco Island’s Tigertail Beach, or the soft dunes of Naples’ Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park. Wherever you decide to pitch your umbrella, the pristine waters and sugary sands of the Gulf of Mexico are just minutes away.
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 use various credit-card-friendly pay stations. 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.
SOUTH MARCO BEACH ACCESS is located on South Collier Boulevard, with parking available a short walk across the boulevard on Swallow Avenue. Includes restroom facilities. Parking: $8. (239) 252-4000. Open from 8 a.m. to sundown.
TIGERTAIL BEACH, a county park located at the end of Hernando Drive, has restrooms, boardwalks, picnic area, playground, butterfly garden and concession stand offering beach equipment rentals, food and drinks. Parking: $8. (239) 252-4000. Open 8 a.m. to sundown.
CLAM PASS PARK is a county park 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 kayaks available. Restrooms and foot showers available. Parking: $8. (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 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 per 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. (239) 213-3029. Open sunrise to sundown.
NAPLES PIER, at 12th Avenue South in the heart of Old Naples, has restrooms 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. naplespier.com
NORTH GULF SHORE BOULEVARD BEACH, located at the end of Seagate Drive, is open 8 a.m. to sunset. Metered parking. (239) 252-4000.
VANDERBILT BEACH PARK, at the end of Vanderbilt Beach Road, is a tree- and residence-lined county beach. Vanderbilt offers parking with handicap accessibility to the beach. Snacks and watersports rentals available at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples and Vanderbilt Inn resorts. Metered parking or parking garage available. (239) 252-4000. Open 8 a.m. 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.
LEE COUNTY PARKING
Residents or visitors 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 Recreation Facility, 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. Lee County parking passes may be purchased by visiting leeparks.org or by calling (239) 533-7440.
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 and snack bar. 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 and restrooms. Parking: $2 per hour. Lee County parking passes no longer accepted. Open from 7 a.m. until dusk.
DOG BEACH, where dogs may run free. Located at 8800 Estero Blvd. No facilities, although parking is free. (239) 707-1874. Open from 7 a.m. until dusk.
LITTLE HICKORY ISLAND BEACH PARK is between Bonita Beach and Lovers Key. Popular beach for fishing. Restrooms, picnic tables and shelters available. Parking: $2 per hour.
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, public pool and a large beach pavilion available for rent. Marine biology classes 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, picnic tables, concessions, grills, hiking paths and wheelchair-accessible beach access. Parking: $2 per hour. (239) 765-6794. Open dawn until dusk.
BUNCHE BEACH PRESERVE on San Carlos Bay, on John Morris Road off Summerlin Road before the Sanibel Causeway, overlooks Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island. Here, 718 acres are nature preserves, making it a popular location with fishermen and paddlers. No facilities; limited parking. (239) 765-6794. Open 7 a.m. to dusk.
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 trolley. (239) 765-6794.
LAKES REGIONAL PARK is located off Gladiolus Drive. Bathrooms, bike and boat rentals, freshwater fishing allowed. No swimming. Pavilions for rent, biking and walking trails. Train ride runs along the lake. (239) 533-7580.
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, paddleboards and bike rentals available. Public boat ramp; suggested donation of $2 to launch. (239) 463-4588. Open every day 8 a.m. to sunset.
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.
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. Parking: $2 per hour. (239) 472-3700. Open daily 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
CAUSEWAY ISLANDS. 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. Free parking.
GULFSIDE CITY PARK/ALGIERS BEACH. 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) 472-3700.
LIGHTHOUSE BEACH is at the site of a historic, working lighthouse at the eastern tip of Sanibel. Small fishing pier, restrooms, drinking fountains, hiking paths and parking for recreational vehicles. Parking: $2 per hour. (239) 472-3700.
TARPON BAY BEACH, on the southern end of Tarpon Bay Road on Sanibel. Pets on leashes allowed. Has restrooms and parking for recreational vehicles. Parking: $2 per hour. (239) 472-3700.
TURNER BEACH is at the north end of Blind Pass, which separates Sanibel and Captiva islands. Popular with families and fishermen, although signs caution some areas against swimming due to swift currents. Restrooms and outdoor showers available on Captiva side. Parking: $2 per hour. (239) 472-3700. Open sunrise to sunset.