Seriously, it’s time to get outside!
This year, Chicago had its third-snowiest year in recorded history. After almost a week of warm spring weather, on April 16th, New Englanders woke up to snow. And Virginia public schools had so many snow days it was decided that in order to make up the time, schools should add minutes to the school day; adding days would make the school year stretch well past its normal cutoff. This winter has sucked. Unless, of course, you live in Southwest Florida. We are undeniably lucky to live here, but not just because we have sunshine in spades. Our little corner of the Sunshine State is special because of what it encompasses: White sugar-sand beaches, miles of mega-diverse marine estuaries and the mysterious and expansive Big Cypress Swamp. Whatever kind of playground you consider paradise, Southwest Florida probably has it. And there’s no better time than the present to enjoy the 239. In the past few years, outdoor recreation opportunities here have exploded. What was once only a golfer’s and boater’s paradise is now the playing field for paddleboarders, yogis, mountain bikers and hikers too. Here are 15 things we love outdoors in Florida right now.
1) Yoga. Anywhere, anytime. Step one: Get your yoga mat. Step two: Head to the beach of any of the area’s numerous parks. Step three: Go nuts. Can you imagine doing yoga in a park in Boston? You’d freeze your asana off during all but three months of the year. But here, the world is your yoga mat, and that’s something we take for granted. You can join us for an open-air yoga class; Fit Nation is sponsoring a free outdoor yoga session at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point at 10 a.m, on May 10. Bring your yoga mat!
2) Full moon paddleboarding. When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, it’s time to put down that slice of ‘za and grab your paddleboard instead. In the past three years, moonlight paddleboard meet-ups have blossomed with as many as 80 paddlers going out together. If you want to join in on the fun, check out Sweetwater Paddle Sports in Bonita, which offers monthly full moon tours complete with glow sticks.
3) The Florida Mudcutters. You need mountains to mountain bike, right? Wrong. The Florida Mudcutters have been building trails since 1999, when Lee County let them build trails at Caloosahatchee River Regional Park in Alva. (The group’s name comes from the fact that the Army Corps of Engineers had left big piles of mud all over the land when they dredged and rerouted the Caloosahatchee. The group spent several years “cutting the mud.”) Currently the group is working on a set of trails at Conservation Collier’s Pepper Ranch in Immokalee. Four and a half miles are done (it takes dozens of man hours to complete even a single mile of trail), with about 10 more miles of trail still left to build.
4) Keewaydin Island. Seven miles of mostly unadulterated bliss that you can only get to by boat? If we weren’t so busy doing wall balls and training for triathlons we’d be here every weekend.
5) The wee morning hours (5 to 7 a.m.). Florida is hot. But really, that’s a blessing in disguise. Why? Because it gets you up and out the door at sunrise. Grumble as you may when the alarm goes off, but these truly are the most magical hours of the day. The birds are just shaking the sleep from their eyes, the sun is just beginning its morning calisthenics, and you still have the whole day ahead of you.
6) Dolphin, rays, turtles and pelicans. In the pool, it’s annoying when you have to share your lane with some lady doing aqua-aerobics. But in the Gulf, there’s no greater thrill than swimming past a school of rays. While many ocean species are still rebounding from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, numbers are up, so your chances of high-fiving a passing dolphin (don’t actually do that, it’s illegal), are pretty good.
7) The year-round growing season. In other places, people have to wait until summer to eat farm fresh, locally. Thanks to an uptick in the local farm business, fresh local produce is easier and easier to come by—year round. In Bonita, check out Farmer Mike’s U-Pick, which offers everything from mangos to strawberries and hot peppers. In Collier, check out Collier Family Farms, which just received its USDA Organic certification.
8) Causeways. What Southwest Florida lacks in hill terrain, we make up for in causeways. And we love them. There’s nothing better than banging out a dozen hill repeats over a bridge at dawn. If you’ve never tried it, you’re in for a lung-busting treat.
9) The Tamiami Trail Triathlon. Founded as a way to encourage visitors to interact within South Florida’s different National Park Sites, the Tamiami Trail consists of canoeing, hiking and cycling. Cycle the 15-mile loop at Shark Valley (watch out for gators!), hike the three-mile trail outside the Oasis Visitor’s Center at Big Cypress National Preserve, and finish the day off by canoeing the 3.5-mile trail from the Everglade’s City Visitor Center.
10) It’s always sundress weather. Dear God, there is no finer piece of apparel. Women love them for how they feel post paddle board session. Men love them because, well, what’s not to love about a woman in a sundress?
11) The Rookery Bay Greenway. This technically doesn’t exist yet, but we can hardly wait for it. The idea is to connect the Naples Botanical Gardens with Rookery Bay National Marine Estuary via an off-road, multi-use path. The path will wind through mostly still-wild areas, offering two-wheeling Neapolitans a respite from the bustle of U.S. 41 during season. 12) Mud runs! From the Gruesome Twosome to the Swamp Buggy Mud Blast and the South Florida Mud Run, getting dirty has never been so popular. We love mud, and we love that this new sport is taking off. Best of all, we think this is the best place in the world to train for mud running—in summer our daily thunderstorms give us plenty of mud to practice in!
13) Spearfishing is BACK! We don’t like that the invasive lionfish has moved into Collier County, but if there is a silver lining, it’s that spearfishing rules have been relaxed in an effort to control the population. One of the most physically demanding types of fishing, spearfishing takes both skill and swimming abilities. If you’ve been looking for a new sport, this is it.
14) The “Three Feet Please” campaign in Naples. To protect cyclists, early this year the City of Naples put “Three Feet, It’s The Law” stickers on all of its city vehicles, including waste management trucks, police cars and even the beach patrol vehicles. It’s a nice show of support for local cyclists and gives us one more reason to love riding Naples’ picturesque streets.
15) Local hops. Somehow Southwest Florida has been way behind the curve on the microbrew trend, but finally, with the arrival of the Fort Myers Brewing Company, Point Ybell Brewing Company and the Naples Beach Brewery, we’ve got something worth toasting. Nothing tastes better after a hard, hot run like a cold beer, especially one brewed in our own zip code. And while you can’t find these beers yet in grocery stores, they’re starting to pop up on local bar taps.