A haven for retirees and those fleeing Northeast winters, tony Naples, FL on the Gulf Coast is a surprisingly family-friendly destination. Miles of sun-drenched beaches share the city with gardens, a zoo, nature centers, museums, and more, making it a pleasant experience for families looking for a reprieve from the theme parks and pirate festivals of Florida’s north. Naples, FL also offers unrivaled natural scenery and environmental wonders.
We can’t discuss Naples, FL without mentioning Hurricane Ian, the devastating Category 3 storm that made landfall just north of Naples in September 2022 and brought much of the area to a standstill. Among the losses were Naples Pier, one of our favorite family attractions in the city, and the Gulf Coast Visitor Center in nearby Everglades City. Both are slowly being rebuilt; as of April 2023 access to the pier is limited and fishing is suspended.
Frolic on the white-sand beaches of Naples, FL.
Top Attractions in Naples, FL for Families
1. Beautiful Beaches
While some Naples and Collier County beaches remained closed after Ian at the time of publication, several family-friendly beaches have reopened, including Clam Pass Park at Doctors Path and Lowdermilk Park on Gulf Shore Boulevard North. The sand is soft and white, and the Gulf of Mexico water is ideal for swimming, wading, and beachcombing. The surf at these beaches is gentle; just remember the sunscreen.
Visitors to this environmental learning center can enjoy more than 100,000 acres of pristine mangrove forest, uplands, and protected waters. There's also a 2,300-gallon aquarium, a touch tank, and stroller-accessible hiking trails. Boat and kayak tours are available, too.
This topical zoo, accredited as both a zoo and a botanical garden, is home to all sorts of animals including panthers, monkeys, bears, alligators (of course), and more. The zoo offers fun toddler programs, giraffe feedings, animal shows, a Primate Cruise, and other fun experiences.
At this fantastic children's museum, kids can enter an igloo, walk inside a seashell, weave through a maze, climb a two-story banyan tree, experiment with a water-play station, and participate in many other interactive activities. The museum is accessible to all regardless of physical or learning abilities.
Park's the place (I couldn’t resist the Monopoly reference) in Naples, where Big Cypress Bend Bend Boardwalk has long been a family destination. Alas, the boardwalk remains closed at the time of publication, but Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, home of the boardwalk, is open. Fakahatchee is the largest state park in Florida and an ideal detour on a return trip from the Everglades.
This non-profit houses and cares for parrots that were abandoned or abused or are otherwise in need of a home. Families can book an hour-long tour of the Bird Gardens on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, during which they can interact with over 100 birds. If weather allows, they can even hold and take photos with macaws.
This overlooked gem managed by the City of Naples features a 75-foot pool with six lap lanes, a teaching pool with a lengthy water slide (for guests at least 48 inches tall), and a beach-entry pool with interactive water features. Best of all: Admission is always FREE.
12. Kayak Tours
Southwest Florida is a nature-lover’s paradise. Get close to the native vegetation on a guided kayak tour from Naples Beach Adventures, Naples Outfitters, Paddle Naples, and elsewhere. Most kayak tours are a few hours long through the mangrove forests along calm water.
Naples’ abundance of parks, wildlife refuges, and other green space means there are plenty of places to exercise your legs and clear your mind. A couple of hiking trails we like are the Gordon River Greenway (a two-plus-mile mixture of asphalt and mulch) and the Crew Bird Rookery Swamp (a 12-mile loop that is part of the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed). Most trails in Naples are friendly to leashed dogs, but do avoid the resident alligators.
Want to see Naples in style? A Segway is an entertaining way to play tourist with teens. Segways are battery-powered, two-wheeled vehicles ridden while standing and controlled by simple shifts of body weight. Segway Tours of Naples offers daily scheduled tours of the downtown area for those at least 14 years of age. Note: Riders must weigh between 80 and 300 pounds.
16. Spring Training Baseball Games
Take them out to the ballgame at the spring training facilities of the Minnesota Twins and the Boston Red Sox, located only minutes from Naples, FL. Enjoy the more intimate experience of a big-league preseason game in February and March at a fraction of the cost of Target Field or Fenway Park.
17. Bike Rides
With its series of flat terrain, Naples, FL attracts a host of pedaling families. Interested cyclists can rent bikes and gear at Beach Bum Rentals, Big Momma’s, Naples Cyclery, or elsewhere. Rental venues can provide information on the best trails for kids by age.
Naples is an ideal walking city, but if little legs get tired it’s comforting to know there is a trolley nearby to continue the sightseeing journey. Naples Trolley Tours offers fully narrated excursions through the city that cover more than 100 points of interest. Hop on or off as you like, and take it easy on your feet.
The one-of-a-kind (at least for South Florida) science center in nearby Fort Myers features aquariums, animal exhibits, interactive displays, presentations, and other innovative programming designed to inspire visitors' imaginations. Enjoy more than 60 STEM-based exhibits, a 3-D movie theater, touch tanks, and even the opportunity to be a TV weather forecaster.
What toddler doesn’t love trains? At the Naples Train Museum, little ones can watch nine trains operating at a time along the museum's indoor track. There are even diesel and steam-driven trains to ride outdoors, weather permitting. Note: The museum is only open on weekends, from mid-October through the end of April.
In a city full of waterside attractions, one of the most popular in Naples is Tin City, a gallery of mom-and-pop shops where families can find everything from beach essentials to designer clothing. Enjoy more than 30 boutique stores (no chain stores), a host of charming restaurants, ice cream shops, and more. You can even book a relaxing cruise that takes off right from the facility.
Great Kid-Friendly Restaurants Naples, FL Has to Offer
These are just a couple of our favorites, but there are plenty more.
You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into an Italian trattoria when you enter Osteria Tulia. Casual furnishings, friendly service, and rustic dishes ooze Italian authenticity. The large children’s menu includes dishes named after Chef Vincenzo Betulia’s sons. The hand-rolled pasta dishes are outrageous.
This farm-to-table spot is indeed a local’s delight. Chef-owner Jeff Mitchell, a father, periodically offers kids' cooking classes in his spacious kitchen. The menu changes daily based on what’s in season, but expect healthy salads, flatbread pizzas with a variety of toppings, creative soups, and vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options.
A favorite of residents, snowbirds, and tourists alike, Regina’s turns the clock back with ice cream sodas, sundaes, egg cremes, and malts. Jukebox music and the smell of homemade waffle cones add to the ambiance.
This Hilton hotel is near an outdoor shopping mall, within five miles of the Old Naples historic district, and a free shuttle ride away from Clam Pass Beach. Families can enjoy the hotel's outdoor pool with a waterfall as well as its free bicycle rentals.
A version of this post was first published in 2015.