The dolls and I have been doing overnight trips to Naples, Florida, for 13 years. We tag along on hubby’s work trips. It has been a haven of rest for me for years. I think we have done everything worth doing there. For sure we have done everything free! We have annoyed countless clerks with our late checkouts, many maids with our messes, and bothered staff by starting at the last minute on the free breakfast buffet. Hotels are downright fun and we take advantage of every hot tub, pool, warm cookie hour, and free water bottle. We tend to stay in Hilton Hotels, so we like the Hampton Inn for being close to the beach, but the Holiday Inn Express is excellent, too. There is a nice LaQuinta right there, too. We just prefer the hot breakfast buffets. Naples has mostly huge, private homes on the beach, not hotels, so expect to travel a bit to get to the beach. The Gulf Coast is nice for kids since the waves are minimal.
So, what to do once you are there? The beach, of course! There is a long stretch of beach from the pier to Lowdermilk Park with most streets dead ending in a few parking spots and a short boardwalk on to the sand. Some have showers. We like the free parking toward the end of the upscale shopping stretch known as 5th Avenue. Street parking is free along Fifth until 3 blocks before the beach. So we park for free and walk four blocks. If you want bathrooms and a playground or picnic tables close by, Lowdermilk Park is your beach spot. Beware! Most spots are resident only and require a permit. The parking for tourists is a small lot and fills quickly. Beach parking is a little on the pricey side in Naples. Vanderbilt Beach is very touristy, but it is nice to walk to shops and restaurants. Delnor Wiggins Pass State Park is scenic. The pier is free and a local favorite for watching the sunset. Look out for the graceful dolphins that frequent the beach, too. Watch our video on turning a beach trip into an educational field trip.
Museums and Nature Trails
What do you do when you are tired of the sun and the heat? Collier Museum at Government Center is free and has lots of hands on history. My dolls still love exploring this 5 acre property, home to dinosaur bones, Seminole chickees, a fort, a restored cottage, a locomotive, a sugar press, and a World War II tank. We have played and re-enacted favorite pioneer stories here. Most of the fun is outdoors, so save it for a cooler day.
If you decide to head to the mall, look for the cutest nature trail right next to it, the Naples Preserve. If you look carefully, you are sure to see gopher tortoises. It is short and sweet. We love it. The mall has a Humane Society, so be sure to visit the puppies. And get a free giant gumball from the machine in Skechers. I pretend not to see the pricey mall carousel and train.
What if it is raining? If trains are your thing, be sure to check out the Naples Depot Museum. A defunct train station turned museum, it has cool artifacts and a train ride for kids. If there are World War II buffs in your tribe, check out the jam packed Naples Museum of Military History, another free museum that sits right in the Naples Municipal Airport. My girls were excited to see what ration books looked like since they had read about them in Molly, the American Girl story. The Annex to the museum (a few steps away) has memorabilia from all of the other wars that the United States has been involved in.
Check out other history field trip ideas here!
Eats and Treats
Be sure to grab a cappuccino at the 5th Avenue Coffee Company and cool flavors of gelato, like rose or lavender, at Adelheide’s Organic Sweets, both on 5th Avenue. Peace, Love, and Little Donuts is fun and the cookies in Mikkelsen’s Pastry Shop are delish (another treat in a weird location, warehouse district). Both are a little pricey.
There is a huge playground just behind the 5th Avenue Starbucks! And we love ducking into the Spice and Tea Exchange, caddy corner to the playground, to sniff and see what is on sale. The owner is darling. And on Bayshore Drive, look for a hole in the wall with amazing tacos, Taqueria San Julian. The best pizza in Naples is at Baci’s on U.S. 41. Though Tin City is a heinous tourist trap, my kids have always enjoyed the nearby Shell Shack, for all things aquatic.
There are other things to do and see in the surrounding area, including Miromar Outlet Mall. I focused on the free stuff in Naples proper. Enjoy and let me know what else you find!
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