Consistently ranked among the world’s best, Naples Collier County’s 17 miles of Gulf beaches can be reached within a half-hour drive from most anywhere in the county. Forming a winding ribbon of shell-strewn white sand, the county’s coastline extends south from Barefoot Beach at the Lee County line to Marco Island, the largest of the area’s famed Ten Thousand Islands.
The shore alternates between more than three miles of city and county beach parks, state preserves, neighborhoods of beachfront cottages, mansions and high-rises and the Gulf-front resorts in Naples.
Travel south from Naples and beaches give way to a mangrove-tangled coastline that signifies the beginning of the Everglades. Most beachfront homes are found in named communities, gated and non-gated. Those not directly on the Gulf are within an easy walk and boast something their beachfront siblings can’t-deep water for a prized boat-in-your-backyard lifestyle. Yet living on the beach comes with a cost: higher home prices and some lack of privacy (all beaches are public).
Barefoot Beach is flanked by a county beach park and the 324-acre Barefoot Beach Preserve state park where visitors are updated daily on wildlife sightings-everything from bottle-nose dolphins to sea turtles and gopher tortoises. The neighborhood is a short walk or bike ride away from several restaurants (seafood is the specialty) and retail stores along Bonita Beach Road. The adjoining Bonita Springs beach access offers picnic and restroom amenities and wide shell-crushed beaches. Some of the best hotdogs around can be found under the umbrella of a curbside vendor. Nearby Doc’s Beach House, a two-story landmark, serves up burgers, sandwiches, seafood, a fabulous grouper sandwich and pitchers of beer. Open until 11 p.m., it’s also one of the most popular sunset-viewing spots on Bonita Beach.
Delnor-Wiggins Pass is coveted for its amenities that give visitors the opportunity to enjoy nature’s bounty, from snorkeling, sun worshipping and swimming to fishing and kayaking along estuaries and scuba diving the hard-bottom reef of the Gulf. Gulfshore Drive ends at Vanderbilt Beach’s southern boundary and is lined by condos, resorts and the occasional single-family home. Vanderbilt Beach Park offers sugary beaches and newly added parking, thanks to a new parking garage. Residents and beach visitors soon discover the area’s close-to-everything amenities, including top-star dining at Baleen in LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort; Da Ru Ma, a Japanese steak house; or the Turtle Club, part of the quaint Vanderbilt Beach Resort.
Neighboring Clam Pass Beach Park marks the northern point of Naples proper and its 10 miles of beaches that earned kudos in 2005 from the Travel Channel as America’s Best All-Around Beach. Beaches stretch along Gulf Shore boulevards north and south from Seagate Drive to Gordon Pass, the southernmost point of the famous Port Royal neighborhood. The coastal boulevard passes elegant high-rises, high-end resorts and restaurants, and offers glimpses of the Gulf between the homes, an eclectic mix of new estates and older cottages, some dating back to the late 1880s. Clam Pass’ three-quarter-mile boardwalk winds through scenic mangrove forests and over coastal dunes en route to the 35-acre county park, where amenities include picnic areas, rentals and a canoe launch. Naples Cay and Park Shore, just south of Naples Grande, are mainly high-rise condo communities, offering a mix of old and new buildings. Naples Cay is set on 33 acres of preserve and the white-sand beach of Clam Bay. Park Shore incorporates single-family homes and towers along Gulf Shore Boulevard North and the picturesque and oft-photographed Village on Venetian Bay, an upscale collection of restaurants, boutiques and galleries.
Beach outposts in Naples include Lowdermilk Beach Park, in The Moorings, offering shade trees, picnic tables, concessions and sand volleyball; public access points at the eastern boundaries of Naples’ east-west avenues; and the picturesque Naples Pier, which extends 1,000 feet into the Gulf and is found at the west end of 12th Avenue South. The pier is especially popular with anglers. The facility also offers a concession stand, bait shop and volleyball nets. It’s another favorite spot to catch a sunset.
Gulf Shore Boulevard North
Gulf Shore Boulevard North assumes its southern coordinate at Central Avenue, and rambles south passing old cottages and multimillion-dollar beachfront estates, hidden behind thick landscaping. One of Naples’ most historic homes, the 1895 Palm Cottage, is found along the boulevard close to the beach. It was the home of Louisville Courier Journal owner Walter Haldeman, who helped put Naples on the map. Gulf Shore Boulevard South eventually becomes Gordon Drive, the western boundary of Port Royal and the Port Royal Club, one of the world’s most exclusive members-only clubs.