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While Southwest Florida’s beach cities receive all the accolades, two small towns offer a perfect day trip from Marco Island, Naples, Ft. Myers, and points in between. Each is as different from the other as they could be. Here are the best things to do in Immokalee and the best things to do in Ave Maria.

Things to See and Do in Immokalee

Meaning “My Home” in Miccosukee, this hard-working tomato farm combines the old with the new but in a town that is unattractive at first sight. Instead, the people are what give Immokalee its attractiveness. 

Immokalee is located approximately an hour from Naples, just over an hour from Marco Island. It is just under an hour from Fort Myers. The accessibility makes it an ideal day trip from all popular locations in Southwest Florida.

yellow building outside of Seminole Casino in Immokalee, FL

Court Lady Luck at the Seminole Casino and Hotel

506 S. First Street

Fans of games of luck will have a field day in this 24-hour facility. Whether you prefer card games, playing new and classic slot machines (there are over 1400 to choose from!), you’re sure to find something to keep your interest – just pace yourself! 

Not a gambler? Enjoy one of the many live acts from headlining artists from comics to musicians. Or try a delicious treat at one of the four on-site eating facilities, from coffee shops to fine dining.

wooden building - Immokalee Pioneer Museum at Roberts Ranch

Learn Local History at the Immokalee Pioneer Museum at Roberts Ranch

1215 Roberts Avenue W.

Dating back to the earliest settlers, the Calusa Indians, then the Seminoles, the area was known for its hunters and trappers before settlers brought cattle ranching to the site. The museum is now part of the Collier County Museums and features the longest-running ranch in Southwest Florida. The facility belongs to the National Register of Historic Places. 

Lake Trafford

6001 Lake Trafford Road

The largest natural lake in Collier County hosts facilities for groups of all ages to enjoy. Visit the Lake Trafford Marina to enjoy an airboat ride where you’re almost guaranteed to see alligators. There are plenty of fishing opportunities, as well. Birdwatchers should bring their binoculars. Photographers will walk away with fabulous nature photos.

walking trail among palm plants at Pepper Ranch Preserve

Pepper Ranch Preserve

6315 Pepper Road

If you’re looking for a spot to camp, mountain bike, hike, or horseback ride, then Pepper Ranch Preserve is an ideal spot. Open at various times throughout the year during the non-hunting season, the preserve is the perfect way to get out into nature. Designed to protect the aquifer and panther conservation, you’ll need a day pass from the visitors center before embarking on your exploration.

CREW sign for Corkscrew Marsh

Explore the CREW Marsh Trails

The Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (“CREW”) Land & Trust preserves the largest watershed in Southwest Florida. CREW offers several hiking trails throughout the area as well as hunting areas. If you’d like to learn more about the importance of this watershed, schedule a guided walk where you’re sure to spot both animals and flowers that an untrained eye could easily miss.

PRO TIP: Schedule a full-moon hike for an amazing, unique experience!

Florida road with panther crossing sign

Visit the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge

12085 SR 29 South

An easy stop off Alligator Alley (I-75), this refuge is tasked with preserving the state animal – the panther, an endangered species. Two hiking trails are open every day during daylight hours and are free to the public. While rarely seen, the website details what to do if you encounter a panther on your trail. Access the tracks from a point about a quarter of a mile north of the intersection of I-75 and SR 29. An Open House is held annually on the third Saturday of March, Save the Florida Panther Day, during which visitors can access areas usually closed to the public.

fruits and vegetables on display at Immokalee Farmers Market

Buy Tomatoes (and More!) at the Immokalee State Farmer’s Market

424 New Market Road E.

Recognizing the importance of farming to the local area, the State Farmer’s Market is an opportunity for local providers to showcase produce, both locally grown and brought in. Each vendor has its stall offering slightly different offerings. Please note that the town has two farmer’s markets, but this is the one that stays open year-round. 

PRO TIP: Walk around once before settling on who has the best price or offerings.

Feel the Speed at the Immokalee Regional Raceway

205 Airpark Boulevard

Fans of drag racing can feel the action at this regional raceway. An entry fee of $20 allows visitors to see the test and tune taking place on Friday nights in preparation for Saturday and Sunday races.

A baby American Alligator rests on a wooden log in the Florida marsh. This photo was taken near the Gulf Coast of Florida, at Corkscrew Swamp Wildlife Sanctuary.
A baby American Alligator rests on a wooden log in the Florida marsh at Audubon Corkscrew Swam Sanctuary.

Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

375 Sanctuary Road W., Naples

Though it has a Naples address, this Sanctuary is more accurately located in Immokalee. The boardwalks allow visitors to explore the western Everglades without disturbing the environment. This center is home to the Ghost Orchid, discovered in 2007. 

PRO TIP: Bring binoculars to spot the Ghost Orchid as it blooms in a bald cypress tree about 100 feet from the boardwalk and 50 feet up.

Things to See and Do in Ave Maria

Outside of Ave Maria Oratory in Florida

Funded by a generous $250 million donation from Tom Monaghan, Domino’s Pizza founder, Ave Maria is an exceptional extension of Naples. Founded in 2005 around a planned college town, the entire town consists of a well-designed town center, Catholic college, and subdivisions by various home builders. 

Ave Maria is located approximately an hour away from Marco Island and Ft. Myers and 30 minutes from Naples. Because of the proximity to these three major areas, Ave Maria makes for a perfect day-trip destination from Naples, Marco Island, and Ft. Myers. Almost all events start from the Ave Maria Town Center, so park your car and take advantage of this easily walkable university town.

buildings in downtown Ave Maria FL

Stroll the Ave Maria Town Center

Annunciation Circle

Over 30 stores, restaurants, and services form the Town Center. On Saturday mornings, a local farmers’ market features products and businesses surrounding the Ave Maria Oratory on the Town Center’s green areas. Apartments and condos are built over the shops, furthering the easily walkable town concept. 

inside of Ave Maria Oratory with metal crossbeams

Reflect at the Ave Maria Oratory

Ave Maria Boulevard

The centerpiece of the town, the Ave Maria Oratory, opened in 2007. The 100-ft. high steel structure is based on a hand-drawn image by Tom Monahan, a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright and his architecture. The front facade is made of marble and features the Annunciation when the Archangel Gabriel announces himself to Mary.

While the architecture is unusual for a Catholic church, it will appeal to Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiasts and makes sense in an area prone to hurricanes.

freeze over entry way to Ave Maria Oratory

Take a Free Trolley Tour

Departing from Town Center, this 45-minute guided tour includes many facts about the town and architectural details of the oratory. Call 239-352-3903 for up-to-date schedules and reservations (which are highly recommended).

mosaic of Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II at the Ave Maria museum

Visit the Mother Theresa Museum

5050 Ave Maria Boulevard (Thomas and Selby Prince Building)

Located at Ave Maria University, a small liberal arts Catholic college, this museum is dedicated to inspiring others to pursue love and service, just as Mother Theresa did during her lifetime. Displays include mementos from her life, such as handwritten notes and original publications from her funeral, Beatification, and Canonization.

Ride a Bike (or Hike) the Trails on John Paul II Boulevard

Considering that the town was designed with walkability in mind, all you need to get around is a bike. Bring your own since there are no bike rentals in town. The good news is that you can easily find a bike rack.

golf ball on edge of hole at sunrise

Play Golf on Panther Run Golf Club

6005 Anthem Parkway

This highly rated Golf Digest 18-hole championship golf course should be played. While you can buy a membership, you can also pay-as-you-play as one of the few public golf courses in the greater Naples area. 

Day Trip Recommendations for Immokalee and Ave Maria

Because both Immokalee and Ave Maria are relatively small, they can easily be seen during a combined day trip from whichever location you are in Southwest Florida. Ave Maria is closer to Naples and Marco Island, while Immokalee is closer to Fort Myers. But the two towns are about 15 minutes from each other, and both are worth exploring.

Do you enjoy visiting small towns? What are you interested in seeing?

These additional Southwest Florida posts might interest you:

Happy travels,
Annick, The Common Traveler

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SW Florida's inland towns of Immokalee and Ave Maria are worth a day trip | The Common Traveler shares what to see in each town and what to expect during your visit.

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