STAYCATIONS: Getaways for every budget and timeframe

Two beachgoers rest on a quiet part of the coastline at Lovers Key State Park in this panorama photograph. Lovers Key offers 2 1/2-miles of sandy beach unspoiled by condos and high-rises.

Photo by GREG KAHN // Buy this photo

Two beachgoers rest on a quiet part of the coastline at Lovers Key State Park in this panorama photograph. Lovers Key offers 2 1/2-miles of sandy beach unspoiled by condos and high-rises.

Forget the plane tickets and cross-country road trips. Why travel a long distance to indulge in a getaway when your backyard is a vacation destination? Southwest Florida is home to some of the best beaches, state parks and most indulgent hotels in the country. Whether you want to sneak away for a day, a weekend or even an entire week, the options are endless. And trust us; you don’t have to break the bank to have an enjoyable retreat.

IF YOU HAVE ONE DAY

Save: Marco Island day trip

If you’re in the market to take it easy on the wallet while keeping the good times rolling consider taking a day trip to Marco Island. Once you reach the peak of the Jolley Bridge and overlook the shimmering island, you’ll start to feel like you’re on vacation. Marco Island is a charming little beach town complete with plenty of inexpensive family activities. As the largest Barrier Island within Southwest Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, Marco boasts six miles of beach and 100 miles of waterways making it perfect for a mini-staycation.

Marco’s Tigertail Beach, Hernando Drive, offers plenty of amenities and the beach staff is friendly and accommodating. Tigertail features six boardwalks, kayak rentals, a playground and even a snack bar that serves breakfast and lunch. The beach, which has been called one of the best for bird watching, is also home to a butterfly garden. If you choose not to put your toes in the sand, there are plenty of other options on the island to keep the kids occupied.

If you prefer to brush up on some history in the comfort of air conditioning check out the Marco Island Historical Museum, 180 S. Heathwood Drive. The free museum features traveling and permanent exhibits which give patrons a look into the settlement of the island from its early roots as a fishing village in addition to nature photography exhibits and artist exhibits.

Are your children playground connoisseurs? Delight them with a trip to Frank E. Mackle Community Park, 1361 Andalusia Terrace, which is located in the heart of Marco. The 28-acre park is open every day and includes a kid’s cove playground, a fishing lake brimming with big ones, bocce courts, a covered basketball court and a multitude of fields for soccer to football. Head inside to the community center and you’ll find ping pong and pool tables as well as a teen center. There’s even a splash park where children can cool off on hot summer afternoons. With the exception of an $8 parking fee at Tigertail Beach, admission to all three places mentioned is free.

Spend: Everglades Day Safari West

Airboat rides are a popular activity in the Everglades and there are several companies that will give tours of the swamps via airboats. Jason Easterly/Staff .je

Airboat rides are a popular activity in the Everglades and there are several companies that will give tours of the swamps via airboats. Jason Easterly/Staff .je

Feeling adventurous? Trade in your swimsuit and beach ball for your wide-brimmed hat and binoculars and commit to connecting with nature during an all-day affair. The Everglades Day Safari, takes customers on an energy-packed excursion through Southwest Florida’s most interesting ecosystem. A perk for those living in Lee County: The safari offers round-trip pick-ups from select hotels as far north as Sanibel.

A knowledgeable and well-trained naturalist guide leads the group throughout the day. First on the agenda is a leisurely nature walk into the cypress swamp forest of the Everglades. The area is home to a variety of wildlife including rare birds, Florida panthers, bears, deer and otters. Rest your legs after the walk and climb aboard a boat for a scenic cruise into the Ten Thousand Islands in Everglades National Park.

Tunnels hover over the Turner River, an Everglades tributary that drains into the estuaries of the Ten Thousand Islands. Ripple was standing about waste deep in the water when he took this photo. “I use the kayak as a floating table. I walk along until I see what I want and then shoot. But there are parts of the river I won’t get in to. There are places where the gators gather and the water is murky.”

Contributed photo

Tunnels hover over the Turner River, an Everglades tributary that drains into the estuaries of the Ten Thousand Islands. Ripple was standing about waste deep in the water when he took this photo. “I use the kayak as a floating table. I walk along until I see what I want and then shoot. But there are parts of the river I won’t get in to. There are places where the gators gather and the water is murky.”

The safari includes a break for lunch at Seafood Depot where hungry guests can sample gator nuggets. After lunch the group embarks on a wildlife drive into Big Cypress National Preserve where native plants and reptiles are plentiful.

The day finishes with an airboat cruise through the marshes and swamps of the Western Everglades. Your chance of seeing an alligator are high since the Everglades is home to an abundance of the toothy creatures. Want to ensure kids young and old hit the hay early and gab for weeks about the wildlife they saw? Take ‘em on this safari. The cost for the day safari is $145 for adults, $125 for children.

IF YOU HAVE A WEEKEND

Save: Lovers Key Resort

Don’t let the name fool you. Lovers Key isn’t just for lovers. The island is located at the south end of Fort Myers beach and proves to be a premium spot to soak up some sun for a family staycation.

The key got its name from the fact that it used to only be reachable by boat and was said to be frequented by couples looking for a romantic retreat. Today the barrier island is a hotspot for outdoor activities and the perfect place to see wildlife.

Have a weekend to sneak away? Lovers Key Resort, 8771 Estero Blvd. Fort Myers Beach, sits right on the edge of the key and offers a great location to catch some shuteye or watch the sunset when you aren’t taking advantage of the state park amenities. Even better, the resort offers a discounted Florida resident rate through Aug. 31. Rates start at $119 per night and the resort offers a daily continental breakfast and even access to a private beach.

Lovers Key State Park, 8700 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, has a ton of activities to keep the family busy including bike trails, canoeing and kayaking, nature trails, a playground and more. The park also offers environmentalist-guided tours if you crave a little more structured exploring. During the summer months the park also hosts fishing clinics, wading trips and estuary tours.

Have a passion for wildlife viewing? Lovers Key offers one of the best birding areas in Southwest Florida. The park is home to osprey nests and two bald eagle nests in addition to roseate spoonbills, snowy egrets, the American kestrel and other species.

Spend: Hyatt Regency Coconut Point

Looking for a little luxury on your staycation? Look no further than Hyatt Regency Coconut Point, 5001 Coconut Road, Bonita Springs. The resort is located in the friendly town of Bonita Springs, a short drive from Naples or Fort Myers. The well-appointed hotel overlooks a 5,000 square foot adventure pool complete with a corkscrew slide. The resort has two additional pools including an adult-only lap pool with a neighboring hot tub. Cabana rentals are also available should you choose to watch the children’s cannonballs from a safe distance.

Photo with no caption

The resort is sure to please all members of the family with its myriad of amenities which include a kid’s camp, spa and award-winning golf course. Camp Coconut is offered to children ages 3 to 12 and is led by trained counselors to give parents peace of mind while they indulge in other hotel amenities. Activities include a shark tooth hunt, pool contests, a balloon toss, arts and crafts and more. Children will also learn about local plants and wildlife as well as the native Calusa Indians who called this part of Florida home.

The resort also has a climbing wall for more adventurous guests. Space for the camp fills up quickly so it is recommended that reservations are made in advance. While the children are at camp, parents can relax at the Stillwater Spa or even take a paddle board tour on the Calusa Blueway. Nightly rates vary and special packages are available.

IF YOU HAVE A WEEK

Save: Collier-Seminole State Park

Sometimes the only way to really get away from it all is to unplug and go off the grid for a bit. Collier-Seminole State Park, 20200 U.S. 41 E., Naples, is just the place to reconnect with nature and get some R&R without being too rough on the wallet. Dust off the tent in the attic, pack a cooler and grab some firewood and you’re set.

Located in southern Collier County; the park is home to an almost 14-mile canoe trail that flows down the Black Water River to through a mangrove forest.

Collier-Seminole caters to campers seeking both primitive and full-facility camp sites. Don’t worry; you won’t have to go without running water or facilities for when nature calls. Showers and restroom facilities are available. A picnic pavilion is also onsite for guests. The fee to camp is $22 per night and includes water and electricity. Florida residents who are 65 years and older are permitted to receive a 50 percent discount on current base campsite fees as well.

Before settling in for a snooze under the starts, guest can join park rangers and other guests at a campfire circle. The circles allow park rangers to connect with park guests and educate them about local wildlife. Birding and wildlife viewing are also very popular at the park and the hiking trails are prime locations to spot animals who call the park home.

Spend: Captiva/Sanibel

Sanibel/Captiva touts itself as the perfect vacation spot. With 15 miles of beaches, 22 miles of bike paths, 250 kinds of shells and zero stop lights, it’s easy to see why. Sanibel and Captiva are located west of Fort Myers and have seven public beach accesses. Captiva is the smaller of the sister islands clocking in at 4 miles long and a half a mile wide.

The islands are rich in history and were favored by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling. The J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, 1 Wildlife Drive, is located on Sanibel Island and is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States.

The islands offer a large variety of accommodations with many catering to families and even Fido. The Sundial Beach Resort & Spa, 1451 Middle Gulf Drive, Sanibel, has a summer special of buy three nights and get the fourth for free. Sundial has five pools in case you tire of the stretch of white sandy beach that the resort looks out over.

Sundial Beach Resort & Spa in Sanibel Island.

Sundial Beach Resort & Spa in Sanibel Island.

The resort also offers programs for children of all ages should mom and dad want a lunch rendezvous. The resort recently completed a $5 million renovation in May and has opened up its once private restaurants and bars to the public.

The islands are a mecca for migratory birds and wildlife and a bike ride around Sanibel is suggested for taking all of the island’s beauty in. At the eastern tip of Sanibel is Old Town, a charming historical area with plenty of sights to explore when you’re not busy building sand castles.

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FACEBOOK BUZZ

We asked "What is your favorite place to staycation?" Here are some of your responses

Jennifer Zuck Smith: Fort Myers!!! Diamond Head Resort!!

Amy Wojcik: Marco Island. Become a “Paradise Club” member at the Marco Island Marriott and rooms are only $109/night! Valid for Lee and Collier residents only I believe.

Kaitlyn Fish: Captiva. It’s like going to a tropical island without the long travel time

Lesley Garlock: Regatta at Vanderbilt Beach.

Jerome Tocio Jr.: Laplaya right here in Naples! It is by far the best resort anywhere. And...I have traveled all over the world!

Dana Pineda: Marco Island!

Lauren Wilczewski Gasperson: La Playa Resort, Naples, Fla.

Daniel Portella: Camp out on Keewaydin.

Kelly Mellert: Celebrated our Anniversary at Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa and it was simply wonderful - everything we could have asked for and more!

David Schulz: Many visitors to Naples stay for a short time in a resort or beachfront condo. For example some Lely Resort visitors will stay in Greenlinks or lease a home and experience the wonderful amenities and lifestyle that Naples resort living offers.

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