In the royally rewarding pastime of shelling, the junonia is the crown jewel – a spiral shaped, creamy, brown-spotted mollusk that washes up on shore only on rare occasions. On Sanibel Island near Naples, however, there’s a better chance of finding one in February and March, when the extreme tides deliver the widest variety of shells. Sure, it’s peak season for snowbirds escaping the cold up north (with up to 100,000 extra people around here these months), but planning can help visitors find not only the top treasures of the beaches around Naples, but also the priceless places for shopping, boating, spotting alligators, and soaking up Florida sunshine.
Activities & Attractions
Neapolitans know that March means the beginning of sea turtle nesting season, when more than 100,000 of the reptiles arrive on Florida beaches. At Barefoot Beach Preserve in Naples, some 8,200 feet of beach and sand dunes serve as home to loggerheads, but is also open to the public for building sandcastles, catching rays, and looking for the “green flash” of the sun as it sinks into the sea.
Eat All the Stone Crab You Can
Florida’s official stone crab season runs from October 15 to May 15, and the state’s sweetest place to try the delectable claw meat is arguably Triad Seafood Café (where the more famous Miami Joe’s Stone Crab gets its supply). Located in Everglades City, roughly 30 miles outside of Naples, it’s open only on Friday and Saturday nights for bottomless bowls with mustard sauce. Gather at one of the picnic tables overlooking the Barron River and aim to have your photo taken by owners Orlo and Pam for the “Glutton Board.”
Explore the Everglades
Low humidity, clear skies, and average high temperatures of 77 degrees make February and March – the dry season – excellent months to embark on an adventure in the largest subtropical wilderness (at 1.5 million acres) in the U.S. Reserve a “river of grass” tour with Coopertown Airboats, which was founded in 1945 and has been featured in “The Big Year,” among other movies.
Start Your Own Big Year
Bird watching in the Sunshine State is at its best in March, when migratory patterns send the great crested flycatcher, northern parula, and other neotropical specialties flying over Naples and Collier County – 80 percent of which is dedicated to parks and nature preserves. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge offer opportunities to spot flamingo, wood storks, roseate spoonbill, great blue heron, and many other species.
Shell Sanibel Island
It’s called the “Sanibel Stoop” – the hunched-over position showcased by thousands of shell seekers, aged 2 to 102, as they stroll the brown sugar sands in search of the perfect whelk, conch, and tulip. To increase your chances of discovering some of the best prizes delivered by the most fruitful tides of February and March, plan a pre-dawn outing timed with low tide, walk west along the barrier islands, and reward your efforts with breakfast at the Lighthouse Café.
Festivals & Events
Everglades Seafood Festival, 2/9–11
Held in Everglades City (part of Greater Naples), this three-day country fair festival features plenty of feasting on fresh seafood, live music, and fairway attractions. More than 100 vendors sling gulf shrimp, stone crab claws, fried gator, and more.
Cars on Fifth, 2/10
Close to 600 Ferraris, Jaguars, Porsches, Corvettes and other vehicles roll through the city of Naples during this annual event. Don’t miss the memorable Drive Off of all of them at 4 p.m.
Chubb Classic PGA Champions Tour at TwinEagles, 2/12–18
Paradise Coast Half Marathon & 5K, 2/18
This race promises “mile after mile of meticulously maintained landscaping, winding roads, water features, hundreds of palm trees, and nearly 20 lakes.” It’s not just a way to get a workout in, but a great way to go sightseeing.
Naples National Art Festival, 2/24–25
During this premier, must-see local event, stroll through the balmy Cambier Park and along 8th Street South to peer at pieces from local and national artists in media ranging from painting and jewelry to sculpture and wood.
Naples Craft Beer Fest, 3/3
Only once a year does the city gather for this massive toast to craft beer, which features a wide variety of beers from breweries across the country and the world.
Naples St. Patrick’s Day Parade, 3/17
Floats, fire engines, and fun draw more than 40,000 people to this luck-of-the-Irish celebration on Fifth Avenue South, and the largest parade in Southwest Florida. Pick up a coffee at The Café on Fifth and find fewer crowds as the parade turns south on 8th Street (where you can refuel at Captain & Krewe Seafood Market & Raw Bar).
Marco Island Seafood & Music Festival, 3/23–25
The largest and only developed island of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, Marco turns three days in March into a massive party of lobster pickings, fried clams, cold drinks, and more.
Where to Stay Edgewater Beach Hotel