For Beach Lovers Only
Everything you need to know about making the most of the shores of Southwest Florida.
Photo by Jim Freeman
People will talk about Southwest Florida being a golf mecca, about a burgeoning food scene and the bountiful natural beauty of the Everglades. But if you want to pinpoint the one thing that draws most people to our region, be it for a quick vacation, a warm winter or home for good, you need to think sand and sunsets.
Beaches are our No. 1 amenity and the thing that popularizes Southwest Florida as a destination. Lee and Collier counties have more than 50 miles of beaches perfect for castle building, strolling or just lounging. And whether you prefer a rustic and secluded spot, one with all the amenities and the people who flock to them, or something in between, Southwest Florida has got you covered.
Here are five of our favorites.
One of the most unique beach experiences in Southwest Florida, the 32-acre TIGERTAIL BEACH ON MARCO ISLAND offers a little something for everyone. First, the beach is divided into two separate areas by a tidal lagoon that offers super-placid waters for paddle boarding, swimming and more. The vegetation along the sand bar that acts as a buffer between the Gulf and the main beach area offers a spot to see shore birds—it’s an important nest site for several species—and to cast a line. Plus, the beach has all the amenities you’d look for in a family-friendly spot with a restaurant, equipment rentals and restrooms. Located off Hernando Boulevard
Perhaps the most family-friendly beach in Southwest Florida, LOWDERMILK PARK IN NAPLES offers a great mix of wide sandy beaches and amenities to make your time there fun and convenient. In the past year, the beach has been converted to offer its full parking lot for both resident and visitor parking, with hundreds of spots in the lot and on the street nearby. Two gazebos, which can be reserved for a small fee, serve as space for parties. A playground and volleyball courts offer fun for those who don’t like the water. Outdoor beach showers, big bathrooms and a large covered picnic area are also onsite. Plus, as one of the most popular beaches in Naples, it’s a great place to people-watch. And if you want an adult beverage, The Naples Beach Hotel’s bar is a five-minute walk along the Gulf. Corner of Banyan and Gulf Shore boulevards
There isn’t a lovelier walk to the beach than the three-quarter-mile boardwalk through the mangroves at CLAM PASS IN NAPLES. The thriving tidal ecosystem is home to various birds and other wildlife, plus the mangrove roots provide important spawning grounds for various fish and shellfish. And once you’ve made it through, one of Naples’ most pristine and beautiful beaches awaits. If you don’t feel like hauling all your beach gear on foot, there are trams that run continuously throughout the day along the boardwalk. With a concession stand, restrooms, equipment rentals and more, you won’t need to bring much. Plus, with nearly 200 parking spaces, you will rarely have to fight for a spot. Corner of Crayton Road and Seagate Drive
Consistently rated as one of the best beaches in the United States, BAREFOOT BEACH IN BONITA SPRINGS might be the most perfect combination of nature and amenities along the Florida Gulf Coast. A 342-acre preserve that is home to gopher tortoises, sea turtle nesting grounds, natural sabal palm and gumbo-limbo groves, and more, the park also has more than a mile of the best sugar-sand beach you are likely to find anywhere. Explore the park on a 1-mile nature trail. Enjoy the large pavilion areas for a family gathering. And don’t worry about parking. Between the park and the Barefoot Beach access point, there are nearly 500 spaces. Off Bonita Beach Road
One of the best spots for shelling in Florida, BOWMAN’S BEACH ON SANIBEL is worth the five-minute trek from the parking area to the secluded, rustic beachhead. A walk along the several miles of coastline is sure to turn up wonderful shells of a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Although there is a large parking area and amenities, such as picnic areas and showers, Bowman’s feels more rustic and remote than most easily accessible beaches in Southwest Florida. Plus, unlike most local beaches, it welcomes pets as long as they remain on leash and you clean up after them. Off Bowman’s Beach Road
BEST PARK/PRESERVE BEACHES
These beaches offer wonderful natural environments.
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park: Easily accessible yet pristine beach and preserve off Gulf Shore Drive in North Naples
Lovers Key State Park: Located on a series of barrier islands that separate Bonita Springs from Fort Myers Beach. Home to an amazing amount of wildlife and great for kayaking
Cayo Costa State Park: Accessible only by boat or ferry, this 2,400-acre barrier island is the best place to camp on the beach in Southwest Florida.
BEST SECLUDED YET ACCESSIBLE SPOTS
If you don’t want crowds, try these spots.
Vedado Way Naples: Off Gulf Shore Boulevard North, this beach access point has a decent amount of parking but is rarely busy. It’s surrounded by exclusive condos that are empty most of the year.
Gasparilla Island State Park: Worth the haul to Boca Grande for its beautiful blue-green water, plus a cool lighthouse and museum to explore
BEST SPOTS FOR PEOPLE-WATCHING
The busiest and most interesting spots to enjoy the human element
Fort Myers Beach Pier: Surrounded by a plethora of bars and beach hotels
Naples City Pier: The most iconic beach spot in Southwest Florida, especially jammed on holidays and school breaks
Vanderbilt Beach: With large amounts of parking, enhanced amenities and a prime location, this might be the busiest beach in our area.
There’s no arguing that a little bit of color makes us feel appealing. But spend too much time on our sunny shores and you’ll just wind up a-peeling. Not only are burns unattractive, they’re dangerous. In fact, your risk of melanoma doubles if you’ve had five or more sunburns.
But there are some obvious and not-so-obvious things you can do to protect yourself. First, you could stay clothed. Most clothing has a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) between 3 and 115, depending on the weave. The higher the better. And, of course, there are now clothing lines dedicated to making clothes that offer higher levels of UPF. Even J.Crew has them. But be warned, their UPF wears out gradually the more you wash them.
Speaking of which, it’s important to note that basal and squamous cell carcinomas, which make up more than 90 percent of all skin cancers, most often appear on the head and neck, so hats are an important accessory. Look for one with a brim of at least 3 inches. And don’t forget your eyes. You want sunglasses with UV ratings of at least 99 percent.
Of course, chances are you’ll want to wear that new bathing suit, so you need to consider sunscreen options. Dr. Daniel Wasserman, a board-certified dermatologist with Skin Wellness Physicians in Naples, says the trick to sunscreen protection is simple: “Quality, quantity and frequency.”
For quality, he says stick with the basics: zinc and titanium (but don’t worry, the new nanoparticle technology will keep you from looking like a lifeguard from the ’80s). For quantity, put a full shot glass worth of lotion on your body for each application. (Most of us put on nowhere near that much—ultimately watering down our 50 SPF to something closer to 20.) Regarding frequency, “They need to be reap- plied,” Wasserman says. “We’re in Florida, we’re not in Maine. ... And there is a lot of water around us and these bodies of water literally act like a mirror. So not only are we getting UV radiation from the sun but we’re also getting it as it bounces up from the water. ... Put on sunscreen every hour and a half.”
And if all else fails, technology can come to the rescue. Yep, there is an app for tracking your time in the sun. Wolfram Sun Exposure Reference App ($1 on iOS) calculates pertinent information to tell you just how quickly you will burn and alerts you to avoid it.
With the proper knowledge, it seems like a day at the beach might actually be a day at the beach.
Mind Your Manners
Illustration by Edwin Fotheringham
It’s a perfectly sunny day in Southwest Florida and you’re all set for a day at the beach. Sunblock? Check! Beach chair? Check! Manners? MANNERS? Yes, manners matter at the beach. Just because you’re ready to relax doesn’t mean you can let your manners slide.
A few things to remember:
STOP, LOOK and LISTEN:
• When you arrive, don’t park yourself right next to someone (give your neighbors some space!).
• When you leave, be careful when lifting your towel to ensure any sand doesn’t blow in their direction.
• Don’t play loud music, talk on the phone in a loud voice or use profanity.
KEEP IT CLEAN:
• Do not litter.
• Do not undress on the beach (using a towel wrapped around your body is not a good idea and makes others uncomfortable). And, unless it’s a designated “nude beach,” please cover up appropriately.
FUN IN THE SUN:
• A great activity is to toss around a Frisbee or balls, etc., but please be careful of those around you. It’s best to stay out of high-traffic areas.
• Don’t fish in busy swim areas. It’s difficult for others to enjoy the beach if they’re worried about your hook in the water.
• No matter how tempting it might be, DO NOT FEED THE BIRDS!
Unfortunately, some people are so excited to be at the beach they forget others are around. So, what should you do if other beachgoers aren’t as mannerly? As with most situations, it’s always best to take the high road. Be respectful, honest and considerate. Perhaps they don’t know that feeding the birds is annoying or that their music is too loud.
If they’re too close to your beach area, you could pick up your chair and move (I’ve had to do that recently).
Regarding leftover litter ... During my time at The Ritz-Carlton, I was taught that “housekeeping is the responsibility of everyone.” While it’s not always a pleasant thing to do, you could pick up any leftover trash and dispose of it properly.
I think good beach etiquette also includes simply smiling, nodding and/or saying hello to others as well. Recently, I was at the beach and brought along an inflated octopus. I figured if you’re going to reach out to people, you might as well go full-out and do it with eight arms. It got lots of attention, many smiles and never once misbehaved.
—Suzanne Willis, etiquette consultant
-Water (6 to 12 ounces every 10 to 15 minutes you’re active outside, according to the Cleveland Clinic)
-A cooler packed with ample snacks or one of our three picnics (p. 92), plus napkins and necessary utensils - Sunscreen (See our side- bar on p. 84 for the latest on SPF.)
- Hat—the bigger the better!
-Sunglasses. Who wants to squint at the beautiful view?
-A keeper cord for said sunglasses if you’ll be moving around at all or going on the water
-Seating, whether it’s a chair or a towel large enough to spread out on
-Towel for drying
-Change of clothes (You never know where the day might take you.)
-Change, if you don’t have a beach sticker (Each 10 minutes will run you a quarter.)
-An umbrella or tent if you plan to stay long
-Entertainment aside from people-, wildlife- and wave-watching (radio, Frisbee, book, paddleboard, inner tube or whatever else floats your boat)
-A camera if you have a place to conceal it—chances are you’ll spot a dolphin, shore bird or sunset you want to remember.
-Bug spray if you’ll be there when the sun goes down
-A stylish tote to carry all these things in
The Ultimate Selfie
Want to capture yourself in that memorable moment or against that beautiful backdrop? Go-to Naples photographer Heather Donlan (heatherdonlan.com), who has spent many a portrait session on the sand, tells us how to achieve a better beach selfie with five easy tips beyond point, shoot and hope for the best.
1.Incorporate some of your surroundings.
By angling your camera, and putting yourself off-center, it enables your viewers to see a little more of the background, making your selfie a little more interesting for your viewers.
2. Be cautious of the time of day.
When the sun is high and bright in the sky, it can lead to harsh and unflattering shadows on your face. The best light of the day is always at sunrise or sunset, when the light is soft and colorful.
3. Get creative.
Playing with depth or experimenting with your photo in post-processing can help your selfie really shine. Why not see what your photo looks like in black and white? You may love it.
4. Screen-shot your videos.
The best way to get a shot of your whole body (and even some of the background) is to prop your phone up against something and start the video mode. You can take as much time as you need to position yourself in the shot. When you’re done, take a screen shot from your video as a “still image.” (For her post-sunset selfie, pictured, Donlan propped her downward-angled phone on a piling, set it to video and then chose her favorite frame.)
5. Make it a silhouette.
Silhouettes can be a safe way for those of you a little more camera-shy to show off your beach selfies. The key is for the background to be brighter than the foreground, where you, the subject, would be. I like to create silhouettes about 10 minutes after the sun goes down, when the sky is nice and vibrant.
Have fun with it! We’d love to see what you come up with, so make sure to use the following hashtags when you are out there on the beach so we can see how you do!
#BeachSelfie #HeatherDonlan #GulfshoreLife
Photo by Jim Freeman
Southwest Florida is very capable of swaddling you in extreme luxury. From the Presidential Suite at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples to the two-story Admiral Suite at the Westin in Cape Coral, the word “pam- per” can be defined to within an inch of its life.
But there are times when you just want to get away from it all. And we mean “it all.” No concierge. No room service. No roads—to or from. Just good ole back to nature. And for those moments we suggest you harness your inner adventurer and make your way to the 2,426-acre barrier island state park of Cayo Costa (“key by the coast”). There are approximately 9 miles of pristine beaches, pine forests, mangrove swamps and oak-palm hammocks that are virtually indistinguishable from when the Calusa Indians resided there centuries ago.
Located just north of Captiva Island, Cayo Costa has kept its idyllic landscape because it’s accessible only by sea. But don’t worry; even if you don’t have your own boat (or you’re not Diana Nyad), there are regular ferry services to the island from neighboring Captiva Island, Pine Island and Punta Gorda. Depending on your departing locale, you can go for full-day trips, half-day trips or even overnight for as long as you like. But remember that there are no grocery stores on the island, so things could go Survivor pretty quickly. And golf carts and flip-flops are the modes of transportation once there.
But if you do feel like extending your stay, the park offers 12 rather utilitarian cabins and 30 campsites for people looking to really unplug themselves from the mainland. There is access to bathrooms and showers and even ice machines, so it’s not precisely like the Calusas experienced it, but there isn’t any air-conditioning either, so plan accordingly. And don’t forget the bug spray.
Of course, if tents or cabins are too much reality for you, there are a few very nice private cottages available that put you smack dab in the middle of paradise without sharing a sleeping bag with a lizard.
3 Picnics to Pack
Soggy, sandy, spoiled—three things you definitely don’t want from your beach picnic. Three area markets give you smart meal suggestions to suit every sun worshipper.
1. Sunset Smorgasbord
Three60 Market, Naples, three60market.com
If you’re picnicking in the evening, keep your focus on the horizon with these hassle-free finger foods easy to assemble from ingredients most of us already have in our fridge.
• Caprese salad skewers: fresh plum tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, balsamic glaze drizzle
• Olive spears: black and green olives marinated for an hour in orange juice, salt, pepper and rosemary
• Spiced-up chips and dip: Greek yogurt mixed with cucumber, salt, pepper and a hint of cayenne pepper and served with pita chips
• Light wrap: thinly sliced pears, manchego cheese and sprouts wrapped with fresh sliced turkey
Ada’s Natural market, Fort Myers, adasmarket.com
Lunch on the go doesn’t have to be a sandwich. Ada’s suggests packing a variety of healthful foods for a satisfying spread, and even freezing BPA-free water bottles as ice packs you can drink after they’ve done their duty.
• Oranges and bananas come naturally wholesome in their own wrapping, or grapes provide a refreshing high-moisture alternative.
• Dried apricots and raw almonds are also loaded with nourishing vitamins and electrolytes.
• Sprouted grain pitas cut into triangles make the perfect edible utensils for bean or quinoa salads, tabouleh or hummus.
• Rolls of all-natural turkey or roast beef and a few cubes of cheese round out the meal.
• The iconic watermelon triangles top the list for healthy dessert, but fruit bars or organic cookies that aren’t too chewy or chocolaty to get messy in the heat are great fork-free treats, too.
3. All-Out Delicious
Wynn’s Market, Naples, wynnsonline.com
Throw calorie-counting to the wind for an afternoon, and pick and choose from the deli and bakery for an indulgent option.
• Old-fashioned fried chicken—does it get any better?
• Gourmet cheeses and a fruit spread to pair with mini croissants—fancy, yes, but guaranteed delicious
• Candied nuts for a sweet crunch
• Classic coleslaw and potato salad
• Handhelds all the way: brownies or chocolate-covered strawberries (or both!)