You will find no nature-deficit disorder in Southwest Florida, where the great outdoors ranges from gorgeous, award-winning beaches to the raw wilderness of the Everglades ecosystem. Around Naples and Everglades City, a number of state and federal parks and preserves safeguard fragile Everglade habitats—home to myriad birds and fish, deer, Florida panthers, bobcats, manatees, alligators, crocodiles, turtles and river otters.
Big Cypress National Preserve, the most massive of the public lands provides inimitable opportunities for recreation among wildlife. Everglades National Park and Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge protect the seas and wetlands of the so-called River of Grass.
Beach glamour begins in Marco Island and Naples with award-winning strands that cover the gamut from the municipal beach and its historic fishing pier to the wild Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park.
What do travelers, and particularly families, find so endearing about local beaches? The soft, white sand, gently sloping sea bottom and tot-friendly waves win raves. Certain beach destinations, furthermore, have reputations for distinctive characteristics, such as the seashell overload on Sanibel and Captiva islands and sharks’ teeth findings in Venice.
The best shelling beaches around Sanibel include Bowman’s Beach and offshore Cayo Costa, which is accessible only by boat. A number of charters will take you there to collect shells. In Venice, head to the fishing pier at Brohard Beach or to Caspersen Beach to sift for sharks’ teeth in the sand.
Other superlative beach qualities: Captiva Island and Lovers Key State Park are often listed in the most romantic category; in Sarasota, Siesta Key’s sand is famously soft and blindingly white, so don’t forget to pack the shades.