Last Updated on September 22, 2022 by Wandering our World
Florida – the famous Sunshine State. Wherever you go, we’re sure you won’t be disappointed by the pearly white beaches, azure waters at your toes, and shopping malls galore.
But, within Florida, what are your best options? How do they differ from each other? Beyond the obvious, you might also want to consider the water sports on offer, museums and art galleries, as well as the fine dining opportunities.
We know and love Sarasota, Fort Myers and Naples. But we also know how hard it is to make a decision between all three.
So to help you decide which one’s right for you, we’ll be comparing Sarasota, Fort Myers and Naples right here.
We will show you the best of what each location has to offer too, the excursions on offer, as well as the atmosphere, vibe and nightlife in each. All so you can get the most out of your vacation!
- A Quick Overview
- How Do The Beaches & Activities Compare
- How Does The Nightlife Compare
- Our Verdict
A Quick Overview Of Sarasota, Fort Myers, Or Naples
It’s a self-proclaimed ‘ultimate beach destination’, but Sarasota backs this up with their famous Siesta Key Beach and it’s lively atmosphere. In fact this beach has even been named the number 1 beach in America in the past!
The beaches at Sarasota have all the usual beach activities you’d hope for – kayaking, snorkeling, swimming – but also some quirky ones too. As we show you in the next section!
But alongside those idyllic beaches, you’ll be able to find many restaurant options. From luxurious dining experiences to independent seafood restaurants on the coast.
While all that sounds great, Sarasota offers so much more too. It’s known as Florida’s Cultural Coast, so if you’re looking to get in touch with history and culture you can enjoy the theatre, local art galleries and live entertainment here. Some must-visit places include the Sarasota Ballet, Florida Studio Theatre, and Sarasota Opera.
All these elements combined create the makings of a truly unforgettable holiday with a bit of everything for everyone. And that’s what Sarasota really offers. A fantastic beach vacation but with many options away from the coast too.
Fort Myers is another gem on Florida’s Southern Gulf coast. Again, stunning beaches are the norm here, as are shopping outlets left, right and centre.
Fort Myers offers great fishing opportunities too, but is also known for their famed inventors and creative minds. A recommendation for anyone going to Fort Myers is to check out the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford winter estates that are now museums. They’re situated next to each other after Ford decided to buy land next to his mentor Edison back in 1916.
If scientific appreciation is less your thing, rest assured there are many eating options here, as well as sporting attractions to get the whole family involved.
In general this destination can be a little quieter and more peaceful than the other two. Especially if you head out to the stunning islands and beaches lying off the Fort Myers coast. More on those later…..
Naples once again, has it all, but perhaps one-ups the other two locations when it comes to a more upmarket vacation.
This is a place with world-class fine dining, golf courses, high-end shopping retailers, and some of the most exquisite beaches Florida has to offer. Simply put, it’s easy to treat yourself during a holiday in Naples!
That said, for those looking to take the whole family on vacation there are plenty of more affordable activities for all age and experience ranges, as well as the relaxing appeal of the beach.
With golf courses for all abilities here, along with the Everglades and hiking trails only a stone’s throw away, there are so many things to choose from in Naples. This is a place enjoy the beach, shop and eat out (we’ll explain why next).
It’s definitely not a Spring Break vacation, but more of a golf with a glass of wine at the clubhouse sort of place.
How Do The Beaches & Activities Compare?
If you’re after sun, sand and sea, you’re in the right place for sure!
But are you after a more relaxing beach vacation? Or are you looking for water sports and action? The answer to that may be what influences your decision between Sarasota, Fort Myers, or Naples
In terms of beaches and marine life, it doesn’t get much better than Sarasota.
We could tell you all about the top-tier beaches, but we’re sure you can imagine them (just imagine that perfect beach you’ve been picturing all year while sat in the office).
However what really sets Sarasota apart from the other two is the wide range of interesting and quirky activities to do while at the beach. Activities that you can’t really find anywhere else in Florida.
Our personal favorite has to be hunting for prehistoric shark teeth on Venice Beach! It’s possible to find these amazing natural relics on the beach, and while you might not be lucky enough to find out, even the search itself is good fun – especially for children.
While you’re at Venice Beach, we also recommend grabbing some fishing gear and testing your skills, or renting a bike to explore the gorgeous Sarasota County Trail.
And if heights don’t scare you, there’s also the Myakka River State Park Canopy Walk which will allow you to walk amongst the trees and immerse yourself in stunning views and surroundings.
And of course, Sarasota has all the more traditional water sports to get involved in too. With kayaking, paddle boarding and sailing other great ways to explore the deep blue waters here.
Let’s not forget the award winning Siesta Beach though. Once named the best in the USA, and also widely considered as one of the best in the world, if you’re after the perfect beach holiday that will earn you bragging rights and Instagrammable photos, you can’t beat it.
A sunbather’s paradise by day, and party scene by night, make sure Siesta Beach is on your bucket list.
In fact Siesta Beach sums up Sarasota well. This place has a mix of daytime activities to keep the curious and adventurous happy, but also plenty of lively evening action to keep the fun going too.
Noticing a common theme? The beaches at Fort Myers are picture-perfect too, no doubt about that. However, what sets this destination apart are the opportunities for shell combing, and island hopping.
In fact those island hopping adventures make Fort Myers a perfect place for someone who’s looking for some adventure.
One of those nearby islands, Mound Key Archeological State Park, has a fascinating story behind it. With a landscape partly formed from shells deposited by the Calusa Indians more than 2,000 years ago, this 125-acre island is a look into the past, and still has incredible canals and ancient water systems preserved from so long ago! It’s a wonderful natural and cultural excursion.
As with many of the other nearby islands, it’s only accessible by water, but fully worth the boat ride which you can get from Lover’s Key State Park.
Bowman’s Beach, situated on Sanibel Island, is also mostly untouched and stunning. More quiet and secluded than the more well-known beaches, this is a must-visit for anyone who wants a relaxing beach holiday. It’s a place you can truly enjoy the sunshine in peace.
But if you want a bit more action then head to Fort Myers Beach itself!
Windsailing, windsurfing, jetskiing, parasailing… you name it, you can do it there. You can also enjoy calmer options such as sailing or just swimming around in the crystal-clear waters.
In many ways that’s the advantage of Fort Myers. You can be in the middle of the action on Fort Myers beach in the morning, but exploring historical and cultural sights on secluded islands in the afternoon.
And then we have Naples, with its world-renowned, highly ranked beaches. Striking avenues lined with tall shadowy palm trees overlook the impressive beaches there, creating a beautiful relaxed atmosphere, perfect for families or those looking for romance.
With 16 miles of shoreline there are an abundance of beaches to choose from, but the standout recommendation has to be enjoying the 1,000 foot long Naples Pier – a true icon of the city. It’s also less crowded than other famous American piers.
The well-loved sunshine in Florida can become a bit much for some at the peak of the day, but the Pier comes in handy providing some much-wanted shelter and shade.
For a more secluded beach, try Naples Municipal Beach, which we often find to be less crowded than you may expect. Then head to Seagate in the evenings for a mesmerizing sunset view.
Aside from the beaches themselves, Naples has over 700 restaurants for you to choose from, able to satisfy any potential cravings you may have. From truly luxurious high-end dining options to classic seafood gems and food trucks, this is another selling point for Naples.
In fact if restaurants are high up on your priority list when deciding between Sarasota, Fort Myers, and Naples, then the latter is probably your best choice.
How Does The Nightlife Compare?
So you know the beaches won’t disappoint wherever you go, and you know the activities each destination provides. But what about when the sun sets and the party animal within us comes out to play?
It’s not quite Miami at spring break, but Sarasota has a fun vibe of its own when the sun goes down. With live music, exotic cocktails all night long, and a generally classy yet funky feel, there’s plenty to do come night in this town.
Nightlife in Fort Myers ranges from chill and casual with a wine in hand, to parties at Times Square and Fort Myers Beach itself. Regardless of how hard you do or don’t want to party, Fort Myer’s nightlife caters to all tastes, from funky, and vibey to clubbing and crowds.
Of the three destinations, Naples’ nightlife is probably the least established, and is better described as ‘up-and-coming’ for the time being.
Currently, entertainment in Naples focuses more on daytime activities, such as golf. And the nightlife scene tends to be more chill and mellow. So nightlife is probably best characterized as having a laid back, calming beach vibe.
You’ll find plenty of local entertainment and bands as the sunsets as opposed to clubbing.
Recommended: A Local’s Guide to Nightlife in Naples
Sarasota, Fort Myers, or Naples: Our Verdict
It’s Florida. We said it at the start, but it’s hard to separate Sarasota, Fort Myers, and Naples when it comes to beaches. Shopping and restaurants also won’t disappoint in either destination, so it’s the general atmosphere and activities on offer that will distinguish which is best for you.
If you want that perfect mix of everything – with culture, history, water sports, and more – then Sarasota truly does have it all. From daytime activities to keep the curious and adventurous happy, to nighttime parties to keep spirits high.
If you want to visit the homes of some of the most ingenious minds of the last century, while also relaxing along a peaceful coast with plenty of nearby islands, we suggest Fort Myers.
And lastly, if you’re looking for a more luxurious feel, with plenty of daytime entertainment options and restaurant, and you’re less concerned about a lively nightlife scene, then Naples will be a good fit.