Attractions

By CHELLE KOSTER WALTON

Most of the attractions in Southwest Florida are outdoor venues or learning centers, which educate and inform visitors about the region’s bountiful nature and wildlife.

Take Naples, for instance, where the most visited attractions include the Naples Botanical Garden and Naples Zoo. The garden showcases subtropical vegetation in settings that reflect the culture of Brazil, the Caribbean, Asia and Florida. The zoo began as botanical gardens in 1919 and today is home to wild animals from around the world.

The Collier County system of museums occupies five unique venues in Marco Island, Naples, Everglades City and Immokalee — all of them family-oriented. The town’s most family-friendly museum, Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, sits next to every kid’s favorite, the Sun-n-Fun Lagoon water park in North Naples.

Naples is known, too, for its superlative golfing opportunities. Besides playing lush, natural golf courses, adults and kids alike can get their game on at various golf schools and programs in the area.

In Fort Myers, the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, one of Southwest Florida’s finest treasures, offers guided and self-guided tours. Nearby, the IMAG History & Science Center combines science and history with programs that include virtual reality, touch-tank, animal encounters and stingray feedings. It’s a one-stop museum that appeals to adults and children alike.

The Mound House cultural museum, a restoration of a 1906 home, is the oldest standing structure on Fort Myers Beach. See the rich history of the Calusa Indians who built a shell mound on the property some 2000 years ago. Go inside and take a peek.

At Lee County Manatee Park in North Fort Myers, watch manatees from the observation deck and boardwalk or rent kayaks and paddle out to see them coming and going into the “bay.” The area is especially interesting during the winter months; the colder it gets the more manatees there are.

The world-class Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens lies on a lovely riverside estate in Punta Gorda.

For families in Sarasota, the canopy boardwalk in the Children’s Rainforest Garden at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is a don’t-miss. Other family musts include the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium and Sarasota Jungle Gardens.

Bradenton’s history dates back to Hernando de Soto, and a national historical site recalls his first landfall. The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature and Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat Aquarium nicely displays de Soto-related exhibits, plus prehistoric animal recreations. The aquarium is a second-stage rehab center for rescue manatees before they are released into the wild.

Stroll along Bradenton Riverwalk for views, play areas, and easy-to-absorb learning experiences.

Bradenton’s Cortez community retains its feel of an Old Florida fishing village with a working waterfront and maritime museum. A number of charter boats depart from the docks to take you deep-sea or back-bay fishing.

Head east of town for a little extreme adventure at TreeUmph!, an aerial obstacle course with zip lines.