If spending a long weekend in paradise sounds like a dream come true, you’ll want to book a trip to Marco Island and Naples, Florida right now. It’s actually nicknamed Florida’s Paradise Coast, and the moment you sink your toes into their white sand beaches, you’ll see why. Thanks to the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB for inviting my family, I spent four beautiful days there last week. Read on for all the highlights of my trip and a complete guide to visiting with your family.
Where is Marco Island and Naples?
First things first, it helps if you can picture where Marco Island and Naples are as you read about the things to do there. If you know where Miami is, travel just about two hours to the west, then up north a tiny bit, and you’ve arrived!
Really, it’s smack-dab between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, just on the opposite side of the peninsula. Naples is slightly north of Marco Island, but they’re both fairly close together. With the Everglades to the East and nothing but water to the west, it’s truly a slice of paradise.
Even though I’ve lived in Miami for almost 20 years I never went to Marco Island before. Shame on me! It is beautiful!!! White sand beaches, friendly people, great family activities…Florida’s Paradise Coast has it all! We went at the end of September and had the perfect beach weather 90 degrees during the day and mid 70s at night. However, it’s nice pretty much year round in southern Florida, so there’s really no wrong time to go.
Where to Stay in Southwest Florida
Before you head out for a long weekend (or even longer) of family fun, you’ll need to decide where to park your bags and rest your head at night. Trust me, you’ll want to be comfortable after spending long days exploring.
I highly suggest staying at a hotel on or very near the beach if possible. If you need a quick recommendation, I stayed at the Hilton Marco Island and it was wonderful. Beach-front hotels are super convenient because they are usually located next to many local attractions, including, of course, the white sand beaches. There’s really nothing quite like waking up and heading out onto 30 miles of pristine beaches set against the turquoise backdrop of the Gulf Coast.
You can also stay in the heart of the town if you prefer being in the middle of the action. It’s not a bustling city, so it won’t be too crazy, but you’ll be close to all the arts and cultural centers. Still, my recommendation is definitely the beach.
What to Do While Visiting Florida’s Paradise Coast
Once you’ve checked in and gotten settled, it’s time to plan your itinerary. We packed so much fun into four days that it’s hard to decide where to start.
You’ll need to hop in your car for this one, but it’s so worth it. The Naples Zoo is just a 30-minute drive away from Marco Island. My kids loved it. You can feed the giraffes and learn about the Florida panther too! They’re very dedicated to conserving Florida’s natural flora and fauna as well as teaching families about other animals from around the world. While it’s not as large as, say, the San Diego zoo, it’s just the right size for an afternoon excursion.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida
If you’re passionate about conservation and want to learn more about the native nature of the area, The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is definitely a must-visit attraction. There are plenty of wonderful nature trails to hike, play areas for young kids, and a really neat Discovery Center with touch tanks. My daughter even got to drive a boat with the captain on our visit.
The Dolphin Explorer Tour and Cruise
Hands down our favorite activity, the Dolphin Explorer Tour and Cruise gives you a chance to learn all about these amazing animals up close. Like really up close, the dolphins came almost right up to our boat. We even saw two manatees! My kids were so excited about shell collecting, and we ended up with two large bags to bring home. Now I just have to figure out what to do with all of them! Craft time, anyone?
C’mon Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples
The C’mon Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples was definitely a highlight of the trip for my kids. The LOVED it! Unlike museums where everything is behind a display case with warnings not to touch, the C’mon is all about hands-on exploration. There are tons of other fully immersive interactive exhibits for kids of all ages. Kids can learn what it’s like to care for animals in the Adopt-A-Pet veterinary clinic, practice fishing in the At the Beach exhibit, or dream up new inventions in the Built It exhibit or Inventioneer’s Lab.
Save time for the beach
Whether you plan on just one of the activities above or try to fit all of them in, make sure you save plenty of time for the beach. They’re not just beautiful, they’re award-winning beautiful! Both Naples and Marco Island beaches have appeared on numerous “best beaches” lists and won some very prestigious travel awards. In fact, you could spend your entire vacation just touring the different beaches and never get bored.
What to Eat in Florida’s Paradise Coast
Marco Island and nearby Naples has plenty of dining options for families, from places to grab a quick bite before hitting the beach to landmark inns with live music. Check out a few of the fantastic restaurants that we tried.
The Local in Naples is the area’s first “farm and sea to table” dining establishment, and it’s absolutely amazing. Lots of local produce, organic meats and real fresh ingredients. They make their own pizza dough, and the pizza was amazing for the kids. My favorite dish was the Chef’s Choice. It’s Cowboy Rubbed Beef Brisket with a coffee & brown sugar rub plus, tomato, arugula, roasted tomato salsa and avocado. SO yummy! They also offer options for just about every type of diet, from keto to vegan.
The Snook Inn is actually a famous landmark, so you’ll definitely want to eat there at least once. We enjoyed our dinner with a beautiful sunset view and some pelicans flying over us. Outdoor dining was so nice! I had the lobster tail with mahi mahi. Cocktails were awesome I had a Mai-Tai (the restaurant’s most popular cocktail). Go there in the evening for some live music and amazing sunset views!
Poolside lunch at Edgewater Beach Hotel, Naples
If you’re looking for something super casual, stop by the Edgewater Beach Hotel for a poolside lunch. What can be better than a fresh salad, some seafood and a margarita while looking at the ocean? That was amazing! It is a cute small hotel, very unique and cozy. The menu is surprisingly robust for a poolside bar.
While I definitely recommend eating at these three delicious places, you can also just explore a bit and find neat little bistros or fresh seafood shacks along the beach. Half the fun of a trip is trying things off the beaten path, after all.
Being in Marco Island and Naples was definitely like stepping into paradise. I can’t wait to go back and visit again. It’s only two hours away, so I’ll have to make it a point to take more weekend getaways there.
Special thanks to the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB for arranging this wonderful trip. All opinions are my own.