Destination: Naples, FL
Fans of the Sunshine State looking for a change in scenery and a different vibe are directed to Naples on the southwest coast.
Located on the Gulf of Mexico about a half-hour south of the Fort Myers International Airport, Naples offers visitors plenty to see and do. And folks who don’t like dealing with the traffic congestion and hustle-and-bustle of South Florida and Orlando will love the far-more-laid-back pace of the town whose affluence makes it the Palm Beach of Florida’s West Coast.
The area—which includes nearby Marco Island and the Everglades, and which is identified in tourism campaigns as the “Paradise Coast”—is one of America’s oldest locales, having been discovered by Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513. Today, however, its claim to fame may be the wealth of the region’s largest municipality: Naples is reportedly the sixth-richest town in the U.S. and boasts more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the nation.
A great way to get a first-hand look at the unabashed opulence of Naples, which was named for the Italian city that sits in a location in that country that is quite similar to where Naples is in Florida, is via a boat tour. There are several cruises offered; the missus and I chose the Sweet Liberty, a 53-foot catamaran. It is highly recommended.
The first part of the two-hour cruise takes place on Naples Bay, a placid body of water lined with the homes of the “One Percent.” Among the often-jaw-dropping, multi- (and multi-multi-)million-dollar abodes—mostly inhabited but six or eight weeks a year—are those owned by members of the Pabst brewing family, the CEO of CVS, the son of the man who invented Play Dough and Tersea Heinz, widow of Sen. John Heinz (of the ketchup dynasty) and her current husband, former Secretary of State and presidential candidate, John Kerry.
For some, the best part of the Bay cruise may be the opportunity to get up-close and personal with the dolphins who call it home. On our trip, at least, several spent a decent chunk of time frolicking in the boat’s wake and giving those on board many great photo and video opportunities. Once the Sweet Liberty hits the Gulf of Mexico, the sail is hoisted for a breezy ride over the waves.
But that’s not the only way for visitors to sample the Gulf. It can also be enjoyed from one of the city’s many acclaimed beaches, any of which match up with the best Florida has to offer.
If landlubbing is more your speed, there’s certainly plenty to do. A stroll down the main drag, 5th Avenue (Naples’ version of Palm Beach’s legendary Worth Avenue), offers numerous (mostly high-end) shops, art galleries and food-and-drink outlets. Three eateries located within a block or so of each other are owned and operated by Culinary Concepts, whose principal, Skip Quillen, is a Turnersville native (Washington Twp. High School, class of 1976).
Pazzo Cucina Italiano (853 5th Avenue S.) is a lively space with rustic European décor done up primarily in earth tones. Beyond its menu, which covers both northern and southern Italian cuisine, Pazzo boasts an ample selection of cocktails and wine (from Italy and California).
Chops City Grille (837 5th Ave. S.) is a luxe steakhouse with modern design boasting an extensive adult beverage list (350 bottles of wine; 100-plus whiskeys) and a menu that includes both American and imported Waygu steak at prices that appear to be lower than at similar restaurants, although you’ll still pay as much as $85 (for a 6-ounce Japanese cut).
Yabba Island Grill (711 S. 5th Ave.) is a funkier, more casual establishment that features outdoor seating and live music. This is the place for “tropical island” drinks and more informal dining (although steaks and seafood are on the menu). If 5th Avenue is a little too upper-crust for your tastes (and pocketbook), Tin City is just a few minutes away by car. Located on the Naples Waterfront, Tin City consists of several dozen stores and a selection of shorts-and-flip-flops-style restaurants. This is the place to get all manner of tchotchkes like Naples-branded fun-wear, scented soap and candles and clothes for adults and kids without busting the budget in a family-friendly environment.
And speaking of family fun, Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens (1590 Goodlette Rd.) provides hours of activities and the chance to see not only requisite species like lion, giraffe and leopard, but more unusual forms of wildlife including the rare mountain bongo (part of the antelope family) and Reeve’s muntjac (a type of deer). There are also exotic reptiles and birds on display, as well as a large variety of trees, plants and flowers.
Naples boasts a full range of accommodations, from popular chain hotels to lavish resorts. If you want to splurge (and be in the center of the action), there’s Inn on Fifth (699 5th Ave. S.) and its higher-end sibling across the street, Club Level Suites at Inn on Fifth. The latter is a boutique hotel whose impressive amenities include a daily five-hour, serve-yourself “happy hour” featuring an array of top-shelf liquor and munchies including cocktail shrimp and a 24-hour, sweet-tooth selection of popular candies. And its car service fleet includes a Bentley SUV!
For more information, go to www.paradisecoast.com/naples