Family Fun in Southwest Florida
Southwest Florida is known for its incredible year-round weather. Of course, there are the endless beautiful white sand beaches along the Gulf of Mexico, but Southwest Florida offers lots of other activities for children of all ages to enjoy. There are plenty of outdoor activities to soak up the sun, and just as many indoor activities to get out of the heat or rain.
Conservancy of Southwest Florida – A must-visit spot for children and adults of all ages. Situated on over 20 acres in the heart of Naples, the Nature Center has a vast collection of both indoor and outdoor exhibits highlighting Southwest Florida’s unique ecosystem. In addition to the exhibits, there is also the touch tank, play zone, discovery lab, and electric boat rides on the Gordon River.
Dolphin Eco Tour – Hop on a 47’ catamaran that leaves from Marco Island and navigates through the Gulf of Mexico and backwaters of 10,000 Islands. See multitudes of resident dolphins that have been photo ID’d and are known by name to the captains and tour guides. The Dolphin Explorer shores up on one of the barrier islands allowing plenty of time for bird watching and amazing shelling opportunities.
Edison Ford Winter Estates – Located in the River District of Fort Myers, Edison and Ford Winter Estates features the former winter homes of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, as well as a research lab, botanical gardens, and a museum. The 15,000-square-foot museum displays thousands of artifacts, experiments, and objects from their everyday life. The spectacular gardens contain more than 1,700 plants and a garden center with plants and trees that are available for purchase.
Everglades Wonder Gardens – The Wonder Gardens is a botanical garden and refuge for rescued and non-releasable birds and reptiles. As one of the best examples of Old Florida, this tropical zoo is located in historic downtown Bonita Springs. Along with a vast assortment of Florida birds and reptiles, it offers educational programs and events, alligator encounters, and beautiful gardens.
Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples – Both educational and lots of fun, this interactive museum, also known as C’mon, has permanent, semi-permanent, and traveling exhibits. The exhibits are all hands-on, they have a water play station, and an enormous 2-story banyan tree for the kids to climb on. C’mon is conveniently located in North Naples, off Livingston Road near the North Collier Regional Park.
Hertz Arena – If you need to get out of the heat, a visit to the (now) Hertz Arena is the perfect solution. The arena offers Public Ice Skating; both family-friendly and weekend nights for the grown-up crowd. They play great music, have laser light shows, hockey and figure skate rentals, and a great concession stand. The Hertz Arena is located just off I-75 in Estero. Don’t forget to bring your sweatshirt!
IMAG History & Science Center – This STEM-based museum in Fort Myers offers unique activities for children of all ages. The center features aquariums, animal exhibits, interactive displays, and many programs for all ages.
Naples Botanical Garden – Located in the Bayshore Arts District, this incredible garden sits on over 170 acres of plants from around the world. The Garden offers arts, science, education, conservation, and programs geared toward all ages. The landscaping of the different areas captures the spirit and plant life of Brazil, Asia, the Caribbean, and of course, Southwest Florida. Night Lights in the Garden, held during the winter holiday season, is not to be missed.
Naples Depot Museum and Naples Train Museum – For train enthusiasts, the Naples Depot Museum gives visitors a look at the booming days of rail travel in Southwest Florida. Along with interactive exhibits, the museum also features Seminole dugout canoes, a mule wagon, a swamp buggy, and restored rail cars. Housed in the restored Seaboard Air Line Railway passenger station in downtown Naples, it shares the site with the Naples Train Museum. The Train Museum features an intricate working display of Lionel Trains that is constantly being updated as new trains and additions are added. Don’t miss a ride on the outdoor railway which circles the depot – rides are free with museum admission.
Naples Zoo – As a nationally accredited zoo, you can walk through the winding paths taking you passed beautiful animals, exotic plants, and multiple play areas. Take a ride on the primate expedition cruise on Lake Victoria to see the lemurs, monkeys, and apes. Visit Safari Canyon Open-Air Theater and watch live animal shows, see the alligators get fed, meet the keepers, and feed the giraffes. There are several cafés throughout the zoo, water bottle filler stations, or you can bring in your own coolers and eat in the designated areas.
Shell Factory & Nature Park – One of the most unique attractions in Southwest Florida. With over 50,000 square feet, the gift shop houses the largest collection of seashells, fossils, and coral. Numerous attractions include a rock-climbing wall, 40’ climbing pole, zip line, bumper boats, miniature golf, paddle boats, gem mining, and more. At the Nature Park and Botanical Gardens there are over 400 animals, including an aviary, Eco Lab, and playground. After a day in the park, stop by one of the many eateries they have on site.
Sun-N-Fun Lagoon -Located in North Naples, adjacent to the North Collier Regional Park, Sun-N-Fun water park is great for kids of all ages. There are multiple giant water slides, diving boards, a lazy river, lily pads, a toddler splash pool, and even a lap pool for adults. Lockers are available as well as plenty of lounge chairs throughout the park. A concession stand with food, snacks, and drinks is on-site; or a hand stamp will allow reentry so you can eat outside of the park.
The playgrounds in Southwest Florida are clean, updated, and have the typical climb-on structures and sports fields, but these parks shine with a wide variety of unique activities.
Baker Park – As one of the newest parks in Naples, Baker Park is a 15-acre park located on the Gordon River and is connected to the Greenway (an incredible walking and biking trail) via a bridge that crosses the Gordon River. The park has a 1.3-mile loop and features a kayak launch, outdoor fitness, playgrounds, splash pad, picnic shelters, and a performance stage. Baker Park does allow leashed dogs in the park and is conveniently located right next to the Naples Dog Park.
Cambier Park – located in downtown Naples, there are two different playgrounds, a gated one for younger children and a bigger one for older children. These are not your typical climb on – slide down structures, all of the interactive equipment provides exhausting fun for the little ones. As well as a bandshell that features music and movies on the grass.
Collier County Public Library – Do not forget about the Collier County Public Library system! With incredible programs for all ages beginning with newborns, the children’s department offers Toddler, Preschool, and Family Storytimes, craft projects, summer programs, weekly summer movies, and themed projects. They have a wide variety of children and young adult books and will issue library cards to children so they can independently check out books at an early age.
Eagle Lakes Community Center – Located in East Naples, this park boasts a 2.5-mile nature trail, lighted playground, basketball, soccer, football, softball, and baseball fields, a fitness center, and an aquatic complex. The aquatic complex features a wading pool, children’s activity pool, 177’ open slide, and 122’ closed slide, as well as a lap pool and springboards.
Lake Parks – Set on nearly 280 acres in Fort Myers, this park is focused around the man-made lakes offering fishing and paddle crafts. With biking, jogging, and walking paths, bikes of all kinds are available for rent. There are multiple playgrounds, pavilions, and fitness stations throughout the park, as well as the Railroad Museum of South Florida where they offer train rides between the lakes and wooded areas and through a 100-foot tunnel.
North Collier Regional Park – As the epitome of parks in Southwest Florida, North Collier Regional Park offers everything you could ask for in a comprehensive park. Located on the same property as C’mon and Sun-N-Fun Lagoon, the park showcases the Can U Dig it state-of-the-art playground with unique slides, swings, climbing apparatus, and a covered fossil dig area. The 6,000-square-foot fitness complex features a double-enclosed gym and a state-of-the-art workout facility. The exhibition hall houses a variety of local exhibits as well as multiple meeting rooms. The park is known for its multiple soccer and softball fields which are teeming with kids and families during the sports season. For those preferring a leisurely walk or bike ride, the trail runs around the two-and-a-half-mile perimeter.