Beaches by Interest

Jet skiing

Jet skiing is a popular water sport off the Paradise Coast.

By Samantha Crespo

All Florida beaches are the same, right? No, not in Naples, Marco Island or the Everglades, where the beaches have won many prestigious awards, including being named to TripAdvisor.com's 2011 Travelers' Choice Awards for the Top 25 Beaches in the U.S. TripAdvisor's announcement described the area as "sophisticated" and "charming," with "world-class hotels and resorts." In addition, the easy access to "secluded islands" and the "wild Everglades" was one of the area's key selling points for travelers.

In an area where beaches abound, you're bound to find a shore that suits your personal style.

Guests of Vanderbilt Beach Resort, LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort and The Ritz-Carlton, Naples call Vanderbilt Beach their backyard. But you don't have to be a resort-goer to enjoy this popular spot. Vanderbilt Beach provides public access to the Gulf of Mexico, white sands wispy with sea oats, abundant shells and birding. More than a pretty face, Vanderbilt Beach offers concessions, restrooms and showers, expanded parking, handicap access and proximity to the shops and restaurants of north Naples.

Tip: For additional dolphin (and other wildlife) sightings, take the Marco Island Ski & Watersports-guided WaveRunner tour, departing from the beach in front of the Marco Island Marriott and Hilton.

Marco Island's four-mile shoreline welcomes guests of the Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort, Marco Beach Ocean Resort and Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa, and is book-ended by the public accesses of Tigertail Beach Park and South Beach. Both beaches juxtapose natural with manmade – South Beach's palm-lined walkway and Tigertail's dunes and lagoon contrast the island's skyward architecture.

Family Fave
On Marco Island, Tigertail rates with families for providing nice-to-haves among nature. A playground, sand volleyball court and picnic area with grills help stage the quintessential family beach day, facilitated by concessions for beach equipment and refreshments, parking, showers, restrooms and handicap access.

Amenities are everything during a family beach day, and Naples Municipal Beach delivers with parking aplenty at a metered lot on 12th Avenue South, picnic tables and showers. Its residential surroundings give it a low-key feel, and its landmark pier holds a classic place not only in the annals of family outings, but in local history -- this freight and passenger dock dates to 1888. A concession stand, parking and restrooms update the structure, which invites fishing 24 hours a day. No license required.

Naturally Inviting
Tigertail's amenities improve on its natural assets: a butterfly garden, tidal lagoon, picturesque dunes and boardwalks that grant glimpses of numerous bird species. The beach is a site on the Great Florida Birding Trail, as is Naples' Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park. It's equally celebrated for its mangrove forest and tidal pools that support a variety of marine life, including loggerhead sea turtles. An observation tower, boardwalks and boat ramps greet guests at this barrier island escape.

At nearby Clam Pass Beach Park, you can view the mangroves up close from the boardwalk (a tram also runs the three-quarter-mile stretch to the dune-dotted beach).

North of Naples, Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park calls to naturalists. Explore on your own or inquire about ranger-led programs to learn of the flora and fauna that characterize the barrier island, from the gumbo-limbo tree to the gopher tortoise.

Adventure Happy
Take your love of nature further by cruising to Keewaydin Island as part of the Ten Thousand Islands Dolphin Project. Sea Excursions' master naturalist will guide you along Keewaydin's beach; aboard the 30-foot Dolphin Explorer, researchers will engage you in identifying and tracking dolphins in area waters.

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