Every once in a while, we decide to visit a new part of Florida, and so far, we’ve yet to be disappointed. Since we don’t really care to spend a lot of time in the car, we pull up a map, see what’s within a few hours, make reservations and head out. Recently, we ended up on the southwest coast of Florida and spent a few days exploring Naples, Bonita Springs and Fort Meyers. We had intended to make our way to Sanibel Island, as it’s famous for the shells that you can find on the beaches, but we never made it!
The less than two hour drive from the east coast (Fort Lauderdale area) to the west coast takes you straight across Alligator Alley, from one side of the Everglades to the other. The Everglades are home to an amazing assortment of reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds and wild animals, many of which are on the national endangered species lists. Personally, I think the Everglades is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s so peaceful, and I love the chance to see alligators sunning themselves along the banks of the waterways.
We opted to stay in Bonita Springs because it was located directly in the middle of Naples and Fort Meyers, so we figured it would be an easy place to get to and from our destinations. After checking into a brand-spanking-new hotel (chain hotel, but they were still hanging the curtains in the windows!), we headed to the beach. We made our way to Lover’s Key State Park and jumped on board for a 5 minute tram ride to hit the beach in search of shells. The beach was absolutely beautiful, and we had a great time walking along the 2.5 mile shore finding tiny crabs, horseshoe crab bodies, shells, and playing in the surf.
We headed north, along the coast in search of a place to stop for dinner and decided on Junkanoo, a beach-front place that had plenty of choices to please everyone. The girls jumped right off the deck and played in the powder-soft sand while we kicked back and watched the sun start to set.
Later that night, we made our way to Fifth Avenue South in Naples, a swank gallery, restaurant, shop, ice cream parlor lined street with live music that was a perfect way to wind down after a fantastic afternoon.
Our second day took us to the Naples Zoo, an absolutely fantastic, not-too-big zoo that had a great assortment of animals in exceptionally large areas. Even though there was a pretty big line when we got there, we never felt like there were too many people. We always had a chance to see the animals up close, and the girls loved being able to feed the giraffes! They had several areas to purchase snacks and souvenirs, a boat ride, and lots of chances to see zoo staff interact with a variety of animals. The alligator feeding is something that’s not to be missed – they’re HUGE!!!
After a quick bite for lunch, and cupcakes from a fabulous bake shop Grace and Shelly’s Cupcakes we headed to our next destination – The Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Meyers. These two amazing homes were the winter residences of two equally amazing inventors. To be able to catch a glimpse of the past through these men and their families was one of my favorite parts of our trip. Lucky for us, the houses were still decorated for Christmas with themed trees found throughout the houses and all around the grounds. Although the interiors of the houses are off limits to guests, they have the doors open with plexi- glass, so you can easily see all the parts of these beautiful homes, situated directly on the bay.
Our final morning was spent at Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park, another beautiful, sprawling, beach, with almost two miles of pristine white sand. As we headed out, we caught a quick view of two eagles and an eaglet peeking out of its nest – nature at its best!
It was hard to believe how quickly we got home, back to the hustle of the southeast coast of Florida. It wasn’t even three hours from getting into our car, and leaving the ultra-soft sand, the awesome shells, and the sunsets that couldn’t be beat to head home and ring in the new year with friends. I honestly have to say that as much as I absolutely love heading down to the Keys, the southwest coast has gained a lot of respect from this beach bum!
Florida IT Mom – Erin
* We did not receive monetary compensation for this review. The review is in our own words and is our opinion. Your results and opinions may differ. All photos taken by Erin Ryan