There’s still time for families to enjoy those last trips to the beach before the end of the summer. Between spending countless hours building sand castles, splashing in the waves and collecting seashells, there are so many activities for making memories. On a road trip to see the beaches of Naples and Sarasota, two of my girls and I set out to explore the best learning adventures we could find in these sandy Florida towns.
Beyond miniature golf and arcades, we hunted for shark teeth, played bingo in the gardens and explored mangrove forests. Oh, and we spent some quality time on some of the best family beaches in the country, too. Take a look at five of my favorite things to do and explore with kids in Naples and Sarasota, Florida but know that you can easily apply many of these adventures to beaches near you.
1. Hunt for Shark Teeth. We’d heard a lot about shark teeth that could be found on the shores of Venice Beach and Caspersen Beach. Less than 30 minutes from Sarasota, it’s an easy drive down the coast with collection buckets. We did our hunt for shark teeth at Mote Aquarium in Sarasota where children can pan for shark teeth at Fossil Creek. At your favorite beach, have your children keep their eyes peeled for shark teeth, fossils and casings from sea animals that wash up on the beach.
2. Play Nature Bingo. Take a break from the beach to visit a local botanical garden, which likely offers scavenger hunts and interactive activities for children. At the Naples Botanical Garden, it’s a must to pick up a game card from inside the mailbox in the Children’s Garden to play Nature Bingo. Each square requires children to do certain activities, like find a plant that may have lived at the same time as dinosaurs. Or, create your own game cards to take along before you visit a botanical garden or explore local flora and fauna.
3. Explore Mangrove Forests. Learning about mangroves is a must if you plan to visit Florida, which has beach-protecting mangrove forests up and down the east and west coasts of the state. Make your way to Clam Pass Beach Park in Naples and walk along the boardwalk through the mangroves to get to the public beach. Free morning nature walks are offered to help visitors understand local conservation efforts. Or, spend time with your kids learning about the different types of mangroves and their work to prevent beach erosion before your next trip to the shore.
4. Squawk with Seabirds. Many shore towns work to protect the local seabirds. At Save Our Seabirds, a wild bird sanctuary in Sarasota, my kids learned all about local seabirds that have been rescued. In fact, every bird at the sanctuary has a name, a story and a personality. We learned that while some of these chatty birds will be released following rehabilitation, others have made Save Our Seabirds their permanent homes since they are no longer able to survive in the wild.
5. Assist with Dolphin Research as a Citizen Scientist. Dolphin programs are very popular with families. We went to Marco Island, which is just outside Naples, for a three-hour boat ride through the Gulf and neighboring estuaries aboard the Dolphin Explorer. The kids loved helping the survey team catalog dolphins and taking the Dolphin Challenge to earn a patch, along with several photos of dolphins seen during the voyage. It was a wonderful learning experience for me and the kids onboard the boat.