COLLIER COUNTY BEACHES
BAREFOOT BEACH PRESERVE
Where it is: West end of Bonita Beach Road
Why we love it: There’s lots of wildlife to be seen on this barrier island, including gopher tortoises, butterflies and a variety of birds. A mile-long shaded nature trail offers a respite from the sun—and the drive in offers eye candy in the form of magnificent beachfront homes.
Ease of parking: Good. Three parking areas ensure lots of places to park, and you can park along the road if the spots fill up. (Be sure to check for gopher tortoises under your car when you leave!) The fee is $8 per car; free with a Collier County beach parking sticker.
Where it is: West end of Immokalee Road in North Naples
Why we love it: There’s nothing like a barbecue on the beach, and Delnor-Wiggins is the place to go to do just that. Nab a charcoal grill in a tree-shaded picnic area (don’t worry—there are plenty of them!) and host your own toes-in-the-sand shindig.
Ease of parking: Good. The fee is $6 per car for as long as you stay.
Where it is: West end of Vanderbilt Beach Road in North Naples
Insider’s scoop: Vanderbilt is one of Naples’ most popular beaches thanks to its prime North Naples location. Finding some sand to yourself can be hard to come by, particularly during season, but its walking-distance proximity to restaurants and bars makes it worth the crunch after a long day in the sunshine.
Ease of parking: Fair; better when you arrive early in the day. There’s metered parking or a parking garage that handles a capacity of 375 cars. The fee is $8 per car; free with a Collier County beach parking sticker.
Where it is: West end of Pine Ridge Road in North Naples (adjacent to the Naples Grande)
Why we love it: The trip to the beach is almost as enjoyable as the destination. A three-quarter-mile boardwalk winds through a mangrove forest and a tidal bay area teeming with marine life and birds. Walk it for an up-close view, or take the free golf cart trolley. Once on the beach, you’ll find restrooms, a beach bar with snacks and drinks, and plenty of rental options, including towels, chairs, umbrellas, aqua bikes, canoes and windsurfers.
Ease of parking: Good. The fee is $8 per car; free with a Collier County beach parking sticker.
Where it is: The northern end of Naples Beach, at Banyan and Gulf Shore boulevards
Why we love it: Picnics have never been better than at Lowdermilk, thanks to its picturesque landscaped park area with a beach view. Sand volleyball courts, two playgrounds, a duck pond, concession stand and restrooms with showers make it a great place for impromptu get-togethers with family of all ages.
Ease of parking: Not good. Parking is metered at 25 cents per six minutes (pay with coins or MasterCard or Visa); free in designated areas with a Collier County beach parking sticker.
NAPLES BEACH AND PIER
Where it is: West end of 12th Avenue South in downtown Naples
Why we love it: Whether it’s for fishing, a game of sand volleyball or to glimpse a little bit of history, the recently renovated Naples Pier is a must-see for visitors and locals alike. If you’re in the mood for a stroll, there are great views on both sides of the sand, thanks to impressive real estate on both north and south sides of the pier.
Ease of parking: Fair. Parking is metered at 25 cents per six minutes (pay with coins or MasterCard or Visa); free in designated areas with a Collier County beach parking sticker. You can also opt to receive a text when your space is about to expire and extend your meter via your phone.
MARCO ISLAND BEACHES
Where it is: South Collier Boulevard
Ease of parking: Not so good; better when you arrive early in the day. Park in the lot across the street from the beach for $8 per car.
Where it is: The end of Hernando Drive
Why we love it: Tigertail is known for its shells, so if shelling is your thing, this is the place to be. You’ll likely see lots of birds, butterflies and other wildlife, but be prepared for a bit of a walk/wade to get to the beach.
Ease of parking: Good. Parking is $8 per car, or purchase an annual beach parking permit for $50 (available at Caxambas Park).
LEE COUNTY BEACHES
Where it is: Along Estero Boulevard from Bonita Beach Road northward
Insider’s scoop: There’s plenty of family-friendly activities at this beach, including a playground, covered picnic areas and jet ski rentals. Skip a visit to nearby Doc’s Beach House—what it offers in prime location, it seriously lacks in service and quality. Instead, try Coconut Jack’s (you’re almost certain to see manatees splashing in the bay) or The Fish House (best lobster roll in Bonita).
Ease of parking: Fair; better when you arrive early in the day. There’s a large parking lot ($2 per hour), but it fills up quickly. If you can’t find a spot in the lot, 10 smaller public beach access points offer free but limited parking at intervals along Estero Boulevard.
Where it is: 8800 Estero Blvd.
Insider’s scoop: This is the only beach in Southwest Florida where dogs are permitted to romp off-leash. Check the tides before you go and avoid a visit at high tide, when you’ll have to wade through mucky water to get to the beach.
Ease of parking: Good and free, just how we like it.
Where it is: Estero Boulevard north of Big Hickory Island
Why we love it: For years only accessible by boat, Lover’s Key is the place to go if you’re feeling adventurous. Biking and hiking trails, guided kayak tours through the estuary, fishing, paddleboarding and canoeing are popular options here, and shelling is abundant, as well.
Insider’s scoop: If you’re coming with a small group, park at the north gate and walk south to the trails and beaches. There is a $2-per-person donation box as you walk in from the north. If you park within the entrance to the park, which is further south, the cost is $8 per car.
Ease of parking: Good.