If you’re traveling down Florida’s west coast, Naples is one of the last places to restock and refuel before setting off for the Keys, 100 miles south. But Naples is worth more than a quick stop. The city offers boaters a myriad of recreational opportunities, great restaurants and first-class beachfront accommodations that invite you to linger longer on the Paradise Coast.
Naples was founded in 1886 but was only accessible by boat until 1927 when the Florida railroad system was finally extended; the “Tamiami Trail” highway linking Miami to Naples and points north wasn’t completed until two decades later. This relative isolation spared Naples the fate of its east coast neighbors, keeping runaway development in check.
Today, Old Naples — the roughly 15-block area south of Central Avenue — retains much of its early-20th century charm, and Naples Pier, the neighborhood’s 130-year-old focal point, is a great place to get your bearings and catch a brilliant Gulf sunset before heading out to the area’s top-flight eateries. Pier amenities include restrooms and a concession stand selling bait, food and beach supplies.
For a unique food and entertainment experience, Celebration Park in the Bayshore Arts District near Naples Botanical Garden is home to a permanent food truck rally, pavilion, picnic tables and open-air tiki bar. The brainchild of local entrepreneur Rebecca Maddox, Celebration Park is a magnet for foodies, lovers of live entertainment and visitors seeking a laid-back Florida vibe.
Looking for a special spot to spend a night on land? Consider the Hotel Escalante, an 11-bungalow Mediterranean-style retreat with a pool, spa and first-rate restaurant set amidst courtyard fountains, tropical gardens, private patios and verandas.
Saltwater and freshwater fishing is a top leisure pursuit in Naples, netting ambitious anglers an array of species such as redfish, snook, tarpon, grouper and snapper. How about an Everglades airboat or kayak tour? Or maybe a hike at one of the area’s many parks? Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park are two local favorites. Also, 10 public golf courses are at your fingertips. And don’t forget the Naples Zoo, Botanical Gardens, upscale shopping on Fifth Avenue South, or just stretching out on miles of pristine beach. Seagate Beach and Lowdermilk Park Beach are two of the best.
If you’re here in November, January or March, check out the Swamp Buggy Races at Florida Sports Park — the only place in the world to see these weirdly awesome machines. If your transportation interests trend toward the classics, Revs Institute on Horseshoe Drive has 100+ restored and preserved “automobiles of historic significance” on display.
Where to Dock
Naples Bay Resort & Marina
Billing itself as “Southwest Florida’s only waterfront hotel with a fully operational marina featuring direct access to the Gulf of Mexico,” the marina offers 97 wet slips with electricity, complimentary Wi-Fi and pump-out services, onsite fuel, and dock box storage and transient slips in the summer.
Naples Boat Club
Naples Boat Club encompasses a dry-rack boat storage boathouse, 47 wet slips for monthly, seasonal or annual dockage, and related businesses, including the Wharf Tavern Restaurant, Molly’s Marine Service, Allied Marine and others. Amenities include a full-service fuel dock, clubhouse, pool and waterfront storage with quick access to the Gulf, Gordon Pass and Naples beaches.
Naples City Dock
Located at the end of 12th Avenue South about three miles north of the Gordon Pass, Naples City Dock boasts 84 slips on floating docks and mooring balls. The 400’ frontage can accommodate various size vessels, and the marina offers high-speed diesel, ethanol-free gas, laundry, an outdoor lounge area and complimentary pump out.
Where to Dine
This award-winning French restaurant began as labor of love in 1999 after Jacques and Lysielle Cariot “retired” to Naples from France. Retirement didn’t stick; starting an elegant eatery was their new plan. With a 49,000-bottle wine cellar and a menu that redefines fresh and fine dining, you’re in excellent hands.
Captain & Krewe
Open every day, this casual café serves local seafood, simply prepared, in a laid-back atmosphere. Small plates include ceviche, crab cakes, spicy shrimp, fish tacos, chargrilled oysters, chowder, lobster roll… choose one, or choose them all, and kick back and enjoy! Tip: The raw bar tucked in the back of the place is a local hotspot.
Dolce e Salato
For adventurous and authentic Italian cuisine, this breakfast and lunch spot might make it seem like you’ve died and gone to heaven. This combo market and eatery serves croissants, cakes and biscotti with its cappuccino and espresso. Italian frittatas and special egg dishes round out the morning menu, followed by lunchtime appetizers, signature sandwiches, pasta creations, Italian classics and weekly specials. Happy hour includes complimentary tastings from the menu.
Located at the Hotel Escalante, Veranda E serves what it calls “Global Haute Cuisine” with an Asian twist. Featuring an on-premises sustainable organic garden, the chef crafts culinary classics with local grouper and snapper, short ribs, rack of lamb and filet mignon. An impressive wine list rounds things out. Atmosphere abounds.