To outsiders, Naples may seem like just another monied Florida community, like Palm Beach or South Beach. Sure, many of the seasonal and year-round residents may be loaded and there are plenty of mansions to attest to this fact, but the feeling in this community is a little less stuffy and a little more relaxed than some other wealthy vacation spots. And the beaches, most within walking distance from the city, are some of the best in the state.
The biggest dilemma when chilling on the pearly white sands is to decide which way to look. On one side are the rolling waves, and on the other the gleaming mansions that make up Millionaires' Row. One of the most popular beaches at Naples Pier is in the city, on 12th Avenue South. Another great beach lies a few miles north of Old Naples, at the Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park. This is a great place to spread out the family's beach blanket and camp out for the day as there are bathhouses and food stands on site and rentals available for everything from umbrellas to kayaks to snorkeling gear.
Off the beach, there is plenty to see and do in Naples. Fishers can join the locals for a day of fishing off Naples Pier right in the center of town. It's no surprise that the golf is top notch and tee times are a commodity, so golfers should think ahead and reserve some times on the greens. Shoppers can peruse the boutiques, galleries and antique shops on Third Street South and Fifth Avenue South, though with the high prices it might be best to leave the credit cards back at the hotel on ice. And when the sun is ready to go down, it's time to head back to the water for a seaside cocktail and a toast to an all-around perfect day.
Best in Old Naples
The Inn on Fifth
Web site: www.innonfifth.com
It may be six blocks from the beach, but the Inn on Fifth has enough personality and elegance to make it worth the walk. Travelers appreciate the high-quality rooms, each with a private balcony or terrace. Sunbathers will be ready to kick back in a chaise lounge beside the heated pool. Spa seekers will find pampering at the on-site, full-service spa. And shoppers will be in heaven as this inn boasts an address on the shopping street in town, with enough choices to tempt the most reluctant window-shopper.
Most Romantic Accommodation
Web site: www.hotelescalante.com
After spending a night in this luxurious hotel, visitors could easily wake up thinking they've traveled in both time and place to another Naples - the one across the sea in Italy. That's how successful the Hotel Escalante is in creating a Mediterranean ambiance in this old Florida town. The lavish rooms feature Frette linens covering king-size beds and private balconies or patios. The gardens are impeccably maintained and feature an exotic blend of plants and flowers that might pique the curiosity of even the least likely amateur botanist. And even though the wonders of Italy don't lie just outside the grounds, the beach and plenty of cafes and restaurants are just a few blocks away.
Best Family Resort
The Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club
Web site: www.naplesbeachhotel.com
Like any good family resort, The Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club has something to keep the kids busy while Mom and Dad enjoy some quiet time on the links, at the spa or unwinding on the beach. The Beach Klub 4 Kids keeps the vacation lively with treasure hunts, beach walks, games and enough face painting to guarantee the younger set will be exhausted by day's end. Likewise, there is no need for the older kids to feel left out, as the staff plans teen-friendly volleyball tournaments and tennis and golf clinics. It's the perfect, low-stress family vacation - happy parents, happy kids and some change to spare as children under 18 stay free.
Food & Drink
Best Beach Bar
Sunset Beach Bar at The Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club
Web site: www.naplesbeachhotel.com
After a long day of sunning, shopping or putting on the glorious greens, a great way to end the day is with an umbrella drink at this beach-side bar. A full bar menu and live entertainment are nice perks, but the real reason people come is all in the name - the sunset. This is one of the best spots in town to celebrate the end of another hot Florida day as the friendly crowd at the bar cheers on the setting sun.
Web site: www.campiello.damico.com
One of the newest restaurants on Naples' dining scene is the best Italian in town. That's not all, though. It's also the best place to be seen, ideally at the open-air bar with a fancy martini in hand. It can be hard to score one of the best seats in the house, but it can be just as difficult to choose one of the 32 special martinis. Campiello is part of a national chain - one that takes its food seriously, with frequent trips to Italy to keep the most authentic dishes cooking back in the stateside kitchens. Diners can peek into the open kitchen and watch the food being prepared; fresh pizzas are slipped into the wood-burning oven, and fresh ingredients are chopped and diced for a menu of pasta, meat and seafood treats.
Best Seaside Dining
The Dock at Crayton Cove
Web site: www.dockcraytoncove.com
Hours: opens 11 a.m. for lunch and dinner daily
The open-air bar on the dock is where locals come to talk about fishing, catch up with friends and relax while looking out at the sea of boats on the bay. The atmosphere is casual and unpretentious, and so is the food. The crowd picks up daily from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and again from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., when regulars and tourists alike come for margaritas and the notorious raw bar.
Best Irish Pub
McCabe's Irish Pub & Grill
Web site: www.mccabesirishpub.com
With big plans for an early morning round of golf or a long day at the beach, it's easy to call it a night after dinner. But if the walk back to your hotel takes you by McCabe's Irish Pub, the strains of live Irish music and the sound of jolly bar patrons spilling out onto the street just might tempt you to pop in for a pint or two of Guinness. The good mood is contagious, the sounds of the tin whistle and bodhran inspiring, and the crowd interesting. You never know - the guy on the bar stool next to you could be the richest man in town. But save those conversations about investments and mutual funds for another night and enjoy the best craic, or good time, in Old Naples.
Naples Museum of Art
Web site: www.thephil.org
The Naples Museum of Art is like a 2-for-1 dose of culture, as this newcomer on Florida's art scene is attached to the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts. The museum houses its collections of paintings, sculptures and drawings in 15 galleries spread out over three floors. The museum is home to a varied permanent collection, but the real treat is the traveling exhibits that set up for a few weeks or months at a time. For a full day of culture, check out what's happening at the Philharmonic Center, which features concerts, musicals, opera and ballet - a whole smorgasbord of artistic treats.
Best Day Cruise
Web site: www.naplesprincesscruises.com
Surrounded by such wealth and luxury, not to mention a bay teeming with posh yachts, it's easy to fantasize about living such a well-heeled lifestyle. The Naples Princess can help create this illusion, at least for a few hours, with a ride on its 93-foot luxury yacht. Granted, you'll be taking a trip with about 148 other guests, but you can use your imagination as you cruise Port Royal and the Gulf of Mexico while enjoying lunch, dinner or a mind-blowing sunset.
Best Day Trip
Everglades National Park
Web site: www.nps.gov/ever
A trip to southwest Florida is not complete without a visit to Everglades National Park. Though it's only a short trip from Naples to the "river of grass," the atmosphere and mood of this special national park are worlds apart. How you choose to spend your day is up to you. Just outside the park, kids will enjoy an airboat tour that glides through that tall grass and allows for views of alligators. Adventurers will enjoy a canoe ride gliding through the grass and extreme, wild surroundings. And trivia lovers and fact geeks will be inundated with information about the park's history, habitat and wild residents on a 2-hour tram tour led by one of the park's naturalists. On bike, by kayak, on foot - the choices are endless when it comes to exploring the Everglades.