Most of the attractions in Southwest Florida are outdoor venues or learning centers, which educate and inform visitors about the region’s bountiful nature and wildlife.
Take Naples, for instance, where the most visited attractions include the Naples Botanical Garden and Naples Zoo. The garden, which opened a new visitors’ component with a café in 2014, showcases subtropical vegetation in settings that reflect the culture of Brazil, the Caribbean, Asia and Florida. The zoo began as botanical gardens in 1919 and today is home to wild animals from around the world. In 2016 it debuted a special Florida panther exhibit to house a local cat blinded by a shotgun blast.
The Collier County system of museums occupies five unique venues in Marco Island, Naples, Everglades City and Immokalee—all of them family-friendly. The Naples Depot Museum unveils a restoration of its 1947 tavern car in February 2017. The town’s most family-friendly museum, Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, sits next to every kid’s favorite, the Sun-n-Fun Lagoon water park in North Naples.
Naples is known, too, for its superlative golfing opportunities. Besides playing lush, natural golf courses, adults and kids alike can get their game on at various golf schools and programs in the area.
In Fort Myers, the Southwest Florida Museum of History dwells in a former-life train depot. The Edison & Ford Winter Estates, one of Southwest Florida’s finest historic treasures, offers guided and self-guided tours and recently debuted a special family audio tour and petting zoo events. Families should not miss the nearby hands-on Imaginarium Science Center.
New on Fort Myers Beach, the Mound House, under development for several years and the town’s oldest standing structure, opened a cultural museum in late 2015 examining the Calusa, who built a shell mound on the property. Go inside and take a peek.
For families in Sarasota, the canopy boardwalk in the new Children’s Rainforest Garden at Marie Selby Gardens is a don’t-miss. Other family musts include the circus museums at The Ringling, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium and Sarasota Jungle Gardens.
Bradenton’s history dates back to Hernando de Soto, and a national historic site recalls his first landfall. The South Florida Museum and Parker Manatee Aquarium nicely displays de Soto-related exhibits, plus prehistoric animal recreations and an aquarium starring Snooty the manatee. Manatee Village Historic Park gathers the town’s history in an oak-framed park setting.
Bradenton’s Cortez community retains its feel of an Old Florida fishing village with a working waterfront and maritime museum. A number of charter boats depart from the docks to take you deep-sea or back-bay fishing. Head east of town for a little extreme adventure at TreeUmph!, an aerial obstacle course with zip lines.