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On Florida’s aptly named Paradise Coast, Naples has white sandy beaches and pristine waters. Beyond the sand and surf, and the shopping, the city’s proximity to outdoor adventure and charming fishing villages makes for a to-do list that will outlast any spring break trip. Here are our picks for the top things to do in Naples.
35 miles (56km) south of Naples lies Everglades City, close to both Everglades National Park and Ten Thousand Islands. To the east of this quaint fishing town, the Everglades are prime for a kayak tour or airboat ride to see the native reptiles and birds. On the gulf side of Everglades City lies an intricate waterway of small islands (Ten Thousand Islands) known for some of the state’s best fishing. A trip to the swampy city would not be complete without a taste of gulf seafood: the rustic City Seafood is dockside and serves fried seafood and gator, a Florida specialty.
Part of Naples’ revival in the past 20 years has been driven by an emphasis on local restaurants. Affluent residents that eat out multiple times a week have also fostered a dining scene recognized as one of the best in southwest Florida. Campiello is a Tuscany-inspired restaurant that represents luxury in food and setting. A beautiful interior includes a glass atrium ceiling, while two outdoor courtyards host a lively crowd and after-dinner drinks. Campiello’s open kitchen turns out wood-fired pizzas, homemade pastas and some of the best entrées in the city, including a delicious grilled veal chop.
The city’s 100-plus galleries and art museums make Naples one of the best small towns for art in the country. Downtown Naples is home to Gallery Row, along Third Street South, a collection of shops containing everything from Florida landscapes to modern European art. Baker Museum shows evidence of the city’s commitment to art, with an intriguing range of items. Modern and contemporary pieces are curated by a knowledgeable staff, and both the permanent collection and temporary exhibits are world class. Enjoy lunch outside in the courtyard, which contains some of the museum’s sculpture collection.
Those preferring a short venture into the Florida wilderness will appreciate the Gordon River Greenway. The nature preserve in the heart of Naples is frequented by bikers, runners, and dog-walkers looking for a quiet jaunt. From the elevated walkways you can look across the natural Florida vegetation and wildlife, and visitors can access observation decks perfect for birding or catching a glimpse of animals scurrying below. The greenway is a great way to escape the city, and walking or running along the trail is a daily ritual for many residents.
Filled with more fishermen and crab traps than hotels, Goodland is a popular weekend destination. Located on the southeast corner of Marco Island, 24 miles south of Naples, this small city is laid-back and sleepy during the week, but hosts one of the area’s biggest parties on the weekends. Stan’s Idle Hour is a waterside dive that draws a crowd of residents and bikers for its year-round Sunday outdoor concert: patrons sit at wooden picnic tables, sip beer, and eat fried fish while bands play on the outdoor stage. Tasty rum punches and tropical mixed drinks are also on the menu, resulting in a scene not unlike the sort depicted in Jimmy Buffett songs.
Staying at one of Naples’s waterfront resorts is well worth a splurge, as experiencing beautiful stretches of beach while being showered with luxury is a hallmark of the city. The Naples Grande, five miles from downtown Naples, is a secluded option with incredible views of the gulf. Guests here can either take a short tram to the beach or sunbathe from their gulf-side patios. A poolside bar and restaurant, complete with local fish, highlight the Grande. For a spot mere steps from the beach, the Edgewater Beach Hotel is also one of the city’s favorites.
Just eight miles north of Naples is Clam Pass Park, where you can walk a boardwalk 1.8-mile (3km) long, cutting through a dense forest of black, white and red mangrove trees. This path eventually brings you out onto a secluded white beach where you’ll find a small but lively beach bar – one of the most romantic spots in the area for a sunset cocktail. Swimming in the Pass itself is safe and, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can cross to its northern side, where you’ll find a stretch of completely unspoilt shoreline.
The Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is another must-visit for outdoorsy visitors to Naples. Located 30 miles (48km) north of the city, it’s home to the biggest forest of bald cypress trees in the United States, some of which are more than 130 metres (425ft) tall. The best way to explore this swampy haven is by strolling along the 2¼-mile boardwalk, which traverses pine flatwoods and marshlands and provides ample opportunity to spot the sanctuary’s resident alligators, otters and white-tailed deer. Flora includes the “super” ghost orchid, the largest of its kind to have been found in the world.
One of the most enjoyable ways to spend a few hours in Naples is to take a boat trip out into the Gulf of Mexico. Many of the best tours are available on Viator and feature wildlife-spotting, offering travellers unmissable chances to see dolphins and manatees swimming in the gulf’s turquoise waters – but there are also trips to the Ten Thousand Islands, romantic sunset outings and kayaking explorations of the area’s dense mangrove forests. Adrenaline junkies might also want to hire a jet ski to get around a little more quickly.
Naples’ quaint 1920s railway station, located in the heart of downtown, now houses two museums that are well worth a visit, especially if you have little ones in tow. Key highlights at the Depot Museum include beautifully restored old coaches, memorabilia from the “Roaring Twenties” and an old swamp buggy. When you’re done there, wander over to the privately run Naples Train Museum, where you can marvel at a detailed scale model and where kids can hop on a miniature locomotive for a tour of the site.
Additional reporting by Mark Nayler