Websites are included when the names are not self-explanatory.
ADOPT A CREATURE. Help naturalists take care of injured and orphaned wildlife by adopting a manatee (savethemanatee.org), a sea turtle nest (Conservancy of Southwest Florida) or even that pretty sand dune nesting bird, the snowy plover (Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation).
Paddle the GREAT CALUSA BLUEWAY. The long, long trail winds in and out of rivers, creeks, and along the coast. Paddle for an hour or practically forever.
Watch MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL at February and March spring training games. Check the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox schedules at floridagrapefruitleague.com. Our home team, the Fort Myers Miracle, plays all summer.
Take a moonlight BAT PADDLE. Seriously. They say it’s a bit stinky, a bit spooky and totally fun! See CGTkayaks.com
BICYCLE the GORDON RIVER GREENWAY. The 1.5-mile trail is deep in nature, yet right in the heart of Naples.
***Meet a CALUSA INDIAN. Well, some very life-like ones. The shells from their discarded seafood dinners over the centuries built huge mounds, and sometimes whole islands (Like Marco!). Visit mounds at Randell Research Center on Pine Island. See artifacts and lifelike village scenes at the Marco Island Historical Museum.
Meet a herd of grass-munching UNDERWATER COWS. Sea cows, that is! Tons of them (literally!) gather in the warm water at Manatee Park near the Florida Power & Light power plant in Fort Myers. Paddle alongside them on your own, take a guided tour, or see them up close from shore. Check out calusabayoutfitters.com
Discover the mysterious DOMES. They’re sinking, sinking, sinking into the sea around Cape Romano. Take a boat ride to see them before they’re gone!
***Be a DOLPHIN EXPLORER. Get your official researcher patch after your amazing adventure aboard the Dolphin Explorer. If you’re the first to discover a new dolphin in the pod, you get to name it. Dolphin-study.com
Taste stuff at a FARM MARKET. There’s more than you expect for kids at our growing community of farm markets. There are yummy free things to taste and fascinating produce like purple cauliflower to take home.
Go to a FESTIVAL. There’s at least one happening every month of the year. Kids love the Medieval Faire in Lakes Park the first two weekends of January.
Go GLAMPING in the Everglades. Your guide sets up, packs up and cooks your meals; you and the kids have all the fun. Two popular outfitters are Everglades Area Tours and Everglades Adventure Tours.
***Ride a HORSE. M&H Stables (Naples) has slow, easy trail rides on the edge of the Picayune Strand State Forest. The Saddlewood Horse Club (Cape Coral) hosts a monthly Horse Interaction Day, when kids ride, feed and even paint horses and ponies. capehorses.com.
***INVENT SOMETHING AWESOME! Register the kids for a summer or school break Young
Inventor’s Camp at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, or bring them on a Saturday morning for the super-cool interactive Young Inventor’s Tour.
***Become a JUNIOR RANGER, Sign up for free at any state or national park (including refuges and preserves). Membership includes special activities and programs.
KNOCK ONE OUT OF THE PARK in the batting cages at Mike Greenwell’s Bat-A- Ball Family Fun Park.
Watch a LEOPARD claw into its birthday present. It’s true -- the creatures at the Naples Zoo get presents on their birthdays, as well as treats wrapped like colorful eggs in the spring and holiday boxes in December.
***Play weird MINI GOLF. Naples and Marco courses tend to be elegant, while those from Bonita Springs to Fort Myers get pretty crazy. Check out the knights and castles at Castle Golf, the pirate ship and baby alligators at Smuggler’s Cove, or the wild animals at Golf Safari, Congo River and Jungle Golf.
See awesome displays of METEORS, ASTEROIDS and GALAXIES at the Calusa Nature Center Planetarium.
Watch Thomas the Tank and other miniature Lionel trains chug around the model city at the NAPLES TRAIN MUSEUM. Then hop aboard the mini-train, pulled by a diesel locomotive. Check naplestrainmuseum.org for dates and times.
***Fall in love with a BURROWING OWL. Can any creature be more adorable? They nest in the ground all around Cape Coral and peek out at visitors. There’s even a Burrowing Owl Festival in February. Get details at ccfriendsofwildlife.org.
***Examine some WILDLIFE POOP. For real! “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s scat trail, features special poop boxes topped with very realistic looking bird or animal scat. Open the box to reveal what creature did the deed.
Meet a QUEEN: So many festivals, so many queens! Some favorites are the Shrimp Festival Queen (Fort Myers Beach in March) the Edison Pageant of Light Queen (Fort Myers parade in February) the Mango Queen (Cape Coral in July) and the Swamp Buggy Queen (Naples parade in November).
Take Fido and ROVER to the BEACH. Our two beautiful dog beaches are Keewaydin Island (accessible by boat) and Dog Beach, right near Lovers Key. Bring their drinking water!
***SCOOP UP a live BABY OCTOPUS, tiny horseshoe crab, and who knows what else on a naturalist-guided walk in the shallows of Bunche Beach (near Fort Myers Beach). Or check out the awesome summer and school holiday nature camps at Sanibel Sea School or the Ostego Bay Marine Science Center on Fort Myers Beach.
LEARN TO SAIL with the Gulf Coast Sailing Club on Lake Avalon (Sugden Community Park, Naples). Then maybe graduate to bigger sailboats with the family programs at Steve and Doris Colgate’s Offshore Sailing School (Fort Myers Beach).
***Have fun with SELFIES. Opportunities are everywhere! Among my favorites is in front of The Ship’s Store at Crayton Cove.
Hang out with the SEMINOLES. Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian Museum is a wonderful interactive cultural experience, well worth the drive.
Check out a SPIT. A sand spit, that is! It’s an island that was once part of the mainland. You can wade or kayak across a narrow lagoon from Marco Island’s Tigertail Beach Park to Sand Dollar Spit for swimming and shelling. Back at the park, enjoy the playground, shady picnic tables and grills, water sports rentals and butterfly garden.
Climb into a TREE HOUSE. A huge banyan tree is the popular centerpiece of the Children’s Garden at Naples Botanical Garden.
U-PICK your own STRAWBERRIES and SUNFLOWERS seasonally at Farmer Mike’s in Bonita Springs.
***Be a VETERINARIAN in an interactive game at Sanibel’s Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW). See live feeds from inside the animal hospital and read the doctors’ notes. Future veterinarians age 13 up can sign up to visit the hospital and rehab areas.
Kayak through the WILD AND MYSTERIOUS MANGROVE TUNNELS of the Ten Thousand
Islands or the Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve. Check out iveyhouse.com in Everglades City or gulfcoastkayak.com on Pine Island.
EXcite your imagination at C’MON, the Children’s Museum of Naples and the IMAGINARIUM (Fort Myers), our region’s two outstanding hands-on children’s’ museums. Meet a Madagascar hissing cockroach, make your own lightning bolt, be a weather forecaster in a live TV studio, or climb a rock wall, just for starters.
***WhY not catch some Zs in a SEMINOLE STYLE CHICKEE at the edge of the Big Cypress
National Preserve? Book your overnight at Everglades Adventure Tours.
Karen T. Bartlett is Travel Editor of Neapolitan Family. She is the author of 11 destination travel books, and publisher of the award-winning books, A (mostly) Kids' Guide to Naples, Marco Island & The Everglades, and A (mostly) Kids' Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands and the Fort Myers Coast.