July 31, 2014

Visitors Guide: Beaches

bb1.bmpWhere on this planet can you stand on a sugary beach and see nothing in any direction except sand, gentle aquamarine waters, robin’s-egg blue skies and not a single footprint except your own—unless you count the tiny footprints of seagulls and sandpipers? A few rare places, perhaps, but let’s narrow the field. Where can you find all of this within a few minutes of a world-class art and theater district, glamorous shopping enclaves, five-star resorts and renowned golf courses? The answer, of course, is only here in Paradise, on Southwest Florida’s shores of the Gulf of Mexico. A pure white ribbon of sand hugs our coastline from Fort Myers to Naples, and the Gulf is dotted with lush green islands fringed with mangroves and sandbars. Some believe the sun rises and sets on our beaches here, and literally, it does. Wherever you are, a beach is sure to be just around the bend.
    
When you’ve seen one beach here, you definitely haven’t seen them all. We have dunes covered with golden sea oats, beach plums and tentacled flowering vines. We have remote beaches sprinkled with colorful seashells and resort beaches colored by rainbow-hued umbrellas. Some of our beaches are accented by glamorous mansions and charming tin-roofed cottages, while on others the only architecture is a palmetto-roofed chickee hut. Certain of our beaches are favored by giant sea turtles that return each summer to deposit their eggs in the sand. Others are among the nation’s most important coastal bird sanctuaries. But don’t take our word for it. The world’s toughest beach critic, Stephen “Doctor Beach” Leatherman, consistently proclaims our Gulfshore beaches among the finest in North America.

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 $4 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.

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. $6 metered parking. (239) 252-4000. Open from sunrise 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 $6 per vehicle. Lot fills quickly. (239) 252-4000. Open sunrise to sundown.

NAPLES

Clam Pass Recreational Area is a county park near the Naples Grande Beach Resort on Seagate Drive. Golf carts transport visitors to a beach with a picnic area and concession stand. Chairs, cabanas and watersports equipment available for rent. Restrooms and foot showers available. Parking $6 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 $3 plus tax. Park rangers conduct nature programs. Admission is $3 per car carrying one passenger or $5 per car carrying two to eight passengers. (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 per hour. (239) 213-3029. Open sunrise to sundown.

Miramar Beach. 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 9:30 a.m. to sunset; pier open 24 hours.

North Gulf Shore Boulevard Beach
, located at the end of Seagate Drive, is open sunrise to sundown. Outdoor shower. Metered parking. (239) 252-4000.

Vanderbilt Beach, 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.

Lee County Parking
Residents can purchase Lee County parking permit stickers at the Terry Park Administration building, 3410 Palm Beach Blvd., Fort Myers, (239) 461-7400; and Estero Community Park and Recreation Center, 9211 Corkscrew Palms Blvd., Estero, (239) 498-0415. 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 www.leeparks.org or by calling 533-7440.

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. Parking $6 per vehicle. (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 $1 per hour. Lots fill quickly. Beach access is north of the main beach. Closes at 11 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 8600 Estero Blvd. No facilities available for humans, although parking is free. (239) 533-7275.

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, food concessions, public pool and a large beach pavilion available for rent. Marine biology workshops are offered. Free parking. (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. A trolley (50-cent fare) runs every 15 minutes from Main Street Park-and-Ride lot. (239) 461-7400. Open 8 a.m. to 30 minutes after 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.

Lovers Key State Park. Barrier islands between Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Beach. Parking is plentiful. Admission $1 for pedestrians and bicyclists, $3 for single-occupancy vehicles, $5 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.

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 $1 per hour. Lots fill quickly. (239) 765-6794. Open 8 a.m. to 30 minutes after sundown.

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. Parking $2 per hour. (239) 472-6397.

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. Open from sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset.

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. 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. Open sunrise to sunset. (239) 395-1860.

SOUTH FORT MYERS

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) 432-2006. Open sunrise to sunset.

Which Beach Is for You?
Looking for a beach volleyball pickup game? Try the Naples Pier, Naples’ Lowdermilk Park, Marco Island’s Tigertail Beach or in front of the Holiday Inn on Fort Myers Beach. Shell-seekers: there’s Sanibel Island, or take a shelling cruise to Cayo Costa (near Sanibel) or Cape Romano (near Marco).

The pros say Fort Myers Beach is ideal for building sand castles. Take the pooch to Dog Beach, south of Lovers Key. There’s excellent fly-fishing on Keewaydin Island. You’ll find beach toy concessions at most state and county beach parks.

Want kiteboarding action? Check out Marco’s Tigertail Beach, the Naples Municipal Beach at the Naples Pier, or the Sanibel causeway. Can’t decide between beaching and bird watching? Do both at Lovers Key. For family gatherings, try the gazebo and pavilion at Lowdermilk Park.

For party action, head for Fort Myers Beach. Or, have a romantic beach picnic at Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Recreation Area, which is also one of our many wheelchair-accessible beach parks.

The Sanibel Lighthouse is a sublime spot to watch the sun rise over the Gulf of Mexico. The best beach to see a spectacular sunset? Why, every single one of them!

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