If you live in Florida, like I do, you sometimes let ordinary, everyday life get in the way of enjoying Florida's star attraction – the beach. No matter how many times I go, it never seems to be quite enough. I envy visitors who spend every waking minute along the shore. I gaze wistfully their way whenever I pass a beach, and have to fight the temptation to ditch an appointment or meeting and join them, high-heels and all.
It really struck home a few weeks ago that I need more beach in my life (really, everybody does). And one of my favorite places to "get more beach" is Florida's Paradise Coast – Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades, where the beach is always close by.
Those oft-described sugar-sand beaches extend south from Barefoot Beach to Naples, with its multiple beach access points, and then another four miles along Marco Island. Sometimes the beach peeks between Gulf-front homes. Other times it takes you by surprise, revealed in a wide-open sweep of breathtaking white sand and azure waters just tempting you to dive right in.
There are plenty of reasons to savor the beaches of Florida's Paradise Coast. Here are my top five reasons to head to the beach:
1. Because Others Say So
Don't take just my word for it. Leading travel experts constantly sing the praises of the unique combination of surf, sand and sun – all framed by palm trees swaying in the breezes. Yes, it's that idyllic.
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." An illustrious panel of travel editors from Conde Nast, USA Today and Fodor's are among the area's beach admirers, recently naming Naples as America's Best All-Round Beach for the Travel Channel. How's that for a pedigree? Bloggers also list Naples beaches among their top in the world and Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park as one of Florida's top 10 beach parks.
2. A Nightly Show
With apologies to P.T. Barnum, I happen to think the greatest show on earth occurs every night along Florida's shores – and without the scary clowns. Florida's Paradise Coast beaches, the Naples Pier and Gulf-front restaurants are the perfect spots for taking in those spectacular sunsets, almost always accompanied by an enthusiastic round of applause and, if you're lucky, by the elusive green flash.
3. If by Sea
Rent a boat or bring your own and enjoy the area's scenic shores by water. You'll get to the beach faster and don't have to worry about traffic or red lights, plus your hair will have that glorious tousled look we like to call ''island hair." You'll even discover beaches, picturesque backwater mangrove estuaries and rookeries that can only be reached by boat. For a slower pace, kayaks and canoes get you even closer to the water's surface – and you can work on your tan and get an upper body workout at the same time.
4. Free Souvenirs
Forget the T-shirt. Show those stuck at home you were thinking of them by sharing your new shell collection. Nothing says you've been to Florida like a starfish or sand dollar. Shelling enthusiasts once confided in me that the northern and southern tips of Marco Island are prime hunting grounds for rare finds like the scotch bonnet, zigzag scallop, hawk-wing conch and even the elusive junonia. Just remember, county regulations forbid taking live shells.
5. Park It!
There's more to our beaches than the aforementioned surf, sand and sun. Beach parks offer a host of activities, including water sports, volleyball and more. Follow a boardwalk through natural Florida habitat perfect for birding, nature photography and fishing. You might even see a sea turtle nest, and you'll definitely forget there's a city with all its amenities just a short walk or drive away.