When it comes to being a great place to visit, Naples, Florida, also has just as much excitement and visitor appeal as its Mediterranean namesake.
In fact, we’d go as far as to say, if you’re looking for a wonderfully refined and quality-conscious destination that more than matches some of Europe’s high-end hangouts, then this city in the south-west corner of the Sunshine State should be high on your list of priorities.
Its geographical location – three-and-half hours’ drive from Orlando and two from Miami – means it isn’t an obvious or even easy place to visit, but don’t let that put you off. For an overnight stay, this makes for a scintillating stopover; if you can manage two nights, you’ll be able to sample much of the rich Naples charm and style.
In simple terms, it is a superbly elegant city, small-scale by European standards maybe, but packed with eye appeal and no small amount of glamour. Here’s an example – during our most recent visit, parked outside the Ocean Prime restaurant on swanky Fifth Avenue was a $400,000 Lamborghini Aventador. Very nice if you can afford it!.
It is home to Florida’s ‘old money,’ the company CEOs and wealthy families of yesteryear who like to keep a low profile but be surrounded by the beautiful things in life, and just the quickest of drives around the area will confirm that sense of wealthy indulgence.
Part of the state’s Paradise Coast, Greater Naples spans roughly nine miles north to south and about five east to west, but the area you’re going to visit is much more contained. The heart of the city is laid out in a grid, with avenues running East-West and streets running North-South, flanked by Gulf Shore Boulevard along the Gulf coast and Tamiami Trail (Highway 41) on the city’s eastern edge, just eight blocks from the shoreline.
It all starts with ritzy Fifth Avenue, the Bond Street of Florida, full of designer boutiques, exclusive galleries, fine jewellers and classy architecture, as well as pavement cafes and distinctive restaurants, albeit without the same price tag as Mayfair. Here’s where you should have breakfast, lunch and dinner, indulging your inner gourmet with a terrific variety of international cuisines, as well as hand-crafted cocktails, wines and craft beers.
Ocean Prime is a superlative choice for a special occasion meal with its rich array of steaks and seafood, notably its signature Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli, Florida Grouper with Lobster Gnocchi, 16oz Ribeye, and mouthwatering Crab Cakes. Equally, The French Brasserie Rustique is a suitably chic lunch spot, featuring classic French dishes and clever modern twists, like their Idaho Trout Amadine and delectable Notorious Frosé cocktail, a magical mix of Notorious Pink Grenache sparkling wine with Epic French vodka, house-made rose syrup and local citrus – guaranteed to put a few extra La’s in your Ooh La La!
Cross the road to Osteria Tulia (or to Bar Tulia in the evening) and you have an adventure in rustic Italian dining right on tap, with memorable salads, pizzas, pasta and seafood. Don’t miss the Charred Octopus appetiser, melt-in-the-mouth Burrata Cheese Salad or the Braised Shortrib Panini, as well as more cool cocktail creations, including Susan’s new favourite, the ‘I Dream of Greenie,’ a genuinely dreamy concoction of Nolet gin, muddled arugula (yes, really), pink peppercorn syrup and lemon. Truly, an epic creation in a glass. Oh, and Fifth Avenue looks fabulous at night, too.
But Naples isn’t all about fine food and drink. There’s a LOT more to explore once you head out along Gulf Shore Boulevard and Gordon Drive. If you’ve ever taken the Scenic Boat Tour in Orlando’s Winter Park, you will have seen the lakefront spreads of the rich and famous. Well, Naples’ two exclusive avenues are all that and more besides, true repositories of high style and mind-boggling wealth. You’re still free to drive along this ‘Millionaire’s Row,’ though. You can even park at the south end and walk along the beach for some of the best views of the astounding mansions that line the seafront.
For culture, the locals flock to Artis-Naples, home of the distinguished Baker Museum, one of Florida’s foremost fine-arts museums, and the Naples Philharmonic orchestra. Also here are the Hayes Hall Jewelery Counters, with some incredibly creative artistic displays, many of which are for sale.
Families will be captivated by Naples Zoo, a 43-acre zoological and historic botanical garden founded in 1919. Many of the animals can be viewed from the lake that surrounds their ‘islands’ on the gentle Primate Expedition Cruise, while other habitats include Black Bear Hammock, Backyard Wildlife Habitat, the Honey Badgers and the Giraffe Feeding Experience.
For a (slightly) more active tour, give Trike Tours USA a try. Based in the tourist centre of Tin City (a former fishing wharf converted into unique shops and cafes), Trike Tours feature either sit-down or stand-up three-wheeled trikes and two-wheeled Segways for a 90-minute sight-seeing excursion around the city. They are easy to manage, great fun to trundle around town on, and afford an unequalled view of the avenues, shops and homes that make up this beautiful panorama.
When it comes to daytime fun, Naples Pier is the place to be. This iconic former 1888 passenger boat dock is now a 1,000ft-long exercise in enjoying the marine vista, with the chance to see fish, turtles, the occasional manatee and dolphins frolicking in the gentle surf. Many people come here to fish, and there are places nearby to either rent or buy a cheap fishing rod. There is bait for sale on the pier, and no licence is required.
Just watching is good fun, though, and, of course, you also have the choice of almost 10 miles of beautiful, soft, white sands to stretch out on in either direction. This is also the place to be at sunset, where everyone congregates to see the day’s rays slip below the horizon in a spectacular natural ode to dusk. The concessions stand on the pier sells beer and wine, so you can toast the occasion in suitable fashion!
After dark, you want to go somewhere lively, and the ‘in’ spot currently is Celebration Park, where the locals flock to enjoy an impressive array of semi-permanent food trucks, live music and drinks from the extensive bar overlooking Haldeman Creek, one of the inlets from Naples Bay.
Finally, you want to know where to stay on your Naples sojourn, and there really is only one place that puts you right in the heart of all the action and glamour. The Inn on Fifth is a swish, upmarket boutique hotel right in the middle of Fifth Avenue’s stylish hustle-bustle, and it strikes just the right note for a cosy little hideaway when you’ve had your fill of all the wonderful attractions just beyond its door.
Whether you’re here for the shopping, the fine dining, the arts, culture or just the beach, Naples is one of Florida’s secret gems that we think everyone should know about!
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