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November 18, 2018

Tour of Florida - Discover Paradise Coast

Our recent attendance at the 2018 Florida Governor's Conference on Tourism was inspiring, to say the very least. Based on the information we gathered at the event, we have selected a few highlighted locations to spotlight on a virtual "tour" of Florida. These articles will be released in a series - each featuring a different location. For more information on the destinations we're featuring, please click here. For now, please enjoy our previous features on Amelia IslandBradenton/Gulf IslandsHistoricCoastTreasure Coast, and Tampa Bay. Please note - information contained in this feature is not based on firsthand experience, but from promotional materials put out by representatives of the featured location at the 2018 Governor's Conference. 




-OVERVIEW-

Florida’s Paradise Coast – Naples, Marco Island and the Gulf Coast portion of the Everglades – provides travelers an array of holiday and business travel options year-round. Naples is a charming resort city on the coast, offering the ultimate in luxury, fresh local cuisine, great shopping, a thriving arts and culture scene, and much more. Slightly more relaxed than Naples, Marco Island is the largest of Southwest Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, and is surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico on one side and pristine mangrove estuaries on the other. Visitors to Marco Island can enjoy beautiful, white-sand beaches, fresh seafood and a variety of water activities including backcountry and offshore fishing, boating, and paddling. Located just south of Naples and Marco Island, Everglades National Park is the only subtropical preserve in North America and is part of the largest wetlands ecosystem in the United States, and it is one of 21 World Heritage Sites in the USA. More than 80 percent of Florida’s Paradise Coast, within Collier County, Fla., is dedicated to parks and nature preserves, with much of this area covered by the Everglades ecosystem and its many inhabitants, including hundreds of species of colorful birds, fresh and saltwater fish, alligators, bobcats, Florida black bear and the rare, endangered Florida panther. 


-ARTS & CULTURE-

Culture abounds in Naples. From theatre to dance, to its many art galleries and numerous fascinating museums, greater Naples is recognized internationally as a destination for the culturally minded. The Baker Museum houses 15 galleries with both permanent and traveling exhibits, and the adjacent Artis―Naples brings the finest in music, theater and dance to Naples each season, including the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra and the Miami City Ballet. The Naples Players, recognized as one of the top community theater groups in the country, perform throughout the year at downtown Naples’ Sugden Theatre. Theatre Zone brings Broadway style professional productions to town. Gulfshore Playhouse brings quality entertainment to the Norris Center in downtown Naples. Opera Naples has an increasing number of performances. Historical museums abound, featuring information on the area’s early inhabitants, the Calusa Indians, as well as early southwest Florida pioneers.

Of note is the January 26, 2019 debut of the exhibition of the Key Marco Cat, considered one of the finest pieces of prehistoric art ever discovered in eastern United States. The artifact, which was discovered during an archeological expedition on Marco Island in 1896 and stored since at the Smithsonian Institution, will be on loan to the museum through April 2021 as part of the Paradise Found: 6,000 Years of People on Marco Island special exhibition.  



-SHOPPING-

From historic districts to waterfront plazas, the Paradise Coast offers visitors a variety of shopping options, including:
  • Trendy Third Street South has art galleries, fashion houses and boutiques, antiques, jewelry, home décor and outdoor cafes and popular restaurants, all within walking distance of the beach. It is the only street in the U.S. to have its own Street Concierge. The concierge booth is staffed daily to answer questions and provide advice on dining, events, shopping and more.
  • Fifth Avenue South is a dynamic, pedestrian-friendly area featuring a variety of art galleries, as well as clothing, gift and design boutiques, restaurants and bars, the Sugden Theatre and the Naples Art Association.  The Street was named the #2 Best Alfresco Dining Neighborhood in the U.S.A. by editors and readers at USA TODAY’s 10 Best travel section. 
  • Located on the Gordon River leading into Naples Bay, Tin City is an eclectic, historic tin-roofed shopping area that served as a fish and clam processing facility featuring in the early 1900’s. Visitors will find nautical and nature-themed gift shops, clothing and souvenir shops, casual seafood restaurants on the water and treat shops offering homemade ice cream, cookies, monkey bread and more. 
  • Waterside Shops is a beautiful, upscale center accented by flowing water and fountains that is anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom. Top brands with stores at Waterside Shops include Hermes, Gucci, Tiffany & Co., Cartier and many more.
  • Naples’ Treasure Trail along Tenth Street in the Naples Design District is a collection of consignment and resale shops with donated items for sale, often including those from top-name designers.
  • Other shopping options include Bayfront, Village Shops on Venetian Bay, Mercato, Coastland Center Mall, the Naples Outlet Center. North of Naples and just south of Southwest Florida International Airport visitors can find Miromar Outlets, Gulf Coast Town Center and Coconut Point Mall.


-GOLF CAPITAL-

With over 90 golf courses in the Greater Naples metro area, the region is #1 in the National Golf Foundation’s rankings of Golf Holes Per Capita. Florida’s Paradise Coast was selected by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators as the 2014 Golf Destination of the Year-North America. Top public courses provide ample opportunity for visitors to get into the swing, including the The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club’s newly redesigned course, the TPC Treviso Bay course, Panther Run Golf Club at Ave Maria and the Flamingo Island and Mustang courses at Lely Resort. However, many area resorts either own their own private courses or have affiliate relationships with area private clubs. Many avid golfers have discovered that the best way to obtain tee times at Naples premiere private golf clubs is to choose an affiliated hotel for a visit. Entry onto area courses may be obtained through stays at resorts that have their own courses, including LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort, Naples Grande Beach Resort, Marco Beach Ocean Resort, The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples (yes, there are two – the beach resort and the golf resort), The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort, and GreenLinks Golf Villas at Lely Resort. Information on where to play and stay is available at the Paradise Coast Web site’s Golf section. 

Naples is home to three top nationally televised tournaments each year – the ACE Group Classic, part of the PGA Champions Tour is played each year in February at TwinEagles Golf Club; the LPGA’s season-ending CME Group Tour Championship is played each November at Tiburon Golf Club; and Greg Norman hosts the annual QBE Shootout in December, also at Tiburon Golf Club.



-ATTRACTIONS NEWS 2018/2019-

The iconic Naples Pier is back open and now serves beer and wine at the Cosmos concession stand. The pier reopened July 30 after repairs to damage caused by Hurricane Irma. The pier is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The pier is free to all and has a blanket fishing license, meaning visitors do not need to get a Florida fishing license to fish from the pier. Naples Pier draws a crowd each evening as the prime spot in town to watch the sunset.  

Excitement continues to build about the grand opening on January 26 at Marco Island Historical Museum of the return on loan from the Smithsonian of the Key Marco Cat and other rare Pre-Columbian Native American artifacts discovered on Marco Island, Florida in 1896. The loaned artifacts will be displayed as part of the newly updated Paradise Found: 6,000 Years of People on Marco Island permanent exhibit. The Key Marco Cat has been described as one of the finest pieces of Pre-Columbian Native American art ever discovered in North America.

Naples Botanical Garden features the Reflections on Glass: Fräbel in the Garden exhibit October 1, 2018 through Marco 31, 2019, with a collection of whimsical glass sculptures and installations by flamework glass artist Hans Godo Fräbel. Autumn is around the corner, and so is the inaugural Fall Walk at the Garden on the evenings of Friday, Saturday and Sunday, October 26, 27 and 28 from 6-9pm. This seasonal experience will feature lights, live music, and exciting activities and sights throughout the Garden for the whole family, including a pumpkin patch and more. Gourd fun will be had by all. Explore the Garden after hours, get crafty with staff and volunteers and watch the sun set over the restored Preserve— a true taste of the Everglades only two miles from downtown Naples. Music over the Water Garden stage will be the perfect backdrop to new fall family memories. 

As of September, the rare “super” ghost orchid at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, the largest ghost orchid ever discovered, was in bloom with multiple blossoms. The sanctuary’s website has a page with the latest information on the plant and its bloom status. If you haven’t yet visited Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary at night, then you’ll want to check out the fun and fascinating Corkscrew After Hours events providing access to the 2.5-mile boardwalk under night skies and special themed programming. Upcoming event dates are October 12, November 16 – Swamptoberfest-Corkscrew’s 3rd Annual Family Night; November 16-Dragonflies and Damselflies; February 15-Wetlands and March 29-TBD. 

Those looking for a low-impact and fun way to take a sightseeing tour in either Naples or Marco Island can check out Trike Tours USA. The battery-powered trikes offer a fun and stable ride and are good for all ages. 

Marco Island Ecotours has a fleet of fun Craigcat mini catamarans that you pilot using a joystick to steer yourself through the waters of the Ten Thousand Islands. Spot dolphins, manatees and other wildlife as birds soar overhead on a guided tour through the estuary.


-OUTDOORS-

Naples, Marco Island and the Gulf Coast Everglades
Hiking trails, nature boardwalks, scenic drives and paddling routes provide excellent access to the cypress swamps, upland prairies and mangrove-lined saltwater wilderness of the western Everglades. Take a Ten Thousand Islands guided paddling adventure through America’s only subtropical mangrove wilderness within both Everglades National Park and the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. An excellent selection of guide services and outfitters may be found in the area to help you discover this spectacular wilderness region, and perhaps, a lot more about yourself along the way. 

There’s no doubt you’ll encounter wildlife. While biking or hiking within Big Cypress National Preserve, the Picayune Strand State Forest or Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, keep a keen eye out for the elusive, endangered Florida panther. Other species you may spot include Florida black bear, white tailed deer, bobcat, otter and hundreds of species of birds, both migratory and year-round native species. 

One of the best aspects of the Gulf Coast Everglades region is that it tends to be filled with somewhat offbeat and quirky surprises, some of which take you beyond your normal vacation activities.  

Unusual Sights 
The nation’s smallest post office, you say? Yes, you’ll find it right alongside U.S. 41, also known as the Tamiami Trail, just east of the road to Everglades City. The Ochopee Post Office, at 8 feet, 3 inches by 7 feet, 4 inches, is a former tool shed pressed into service as a U.S. Post Office after a fire destroyed the previous Post Office in 1953. If you blink you’ll miss it, so watch for it on the south side of the highway just east of Wooten’s, home to the area’s original airboat and swamp buggy tours.  

Speaking of Wooten’s, if you haven’t seen enough alligators and crocodiles already in the wild at one of the roadside viewing areas or from a kayak or airboat, you’ll get up close to over 200 huge ones at Wooten’s Alligator Park & Animal Exhibit. You can hold a live baby alligator for a souvenir photo if you are so inclined, or just marvel at all the reptilian flesh in such close proximity.  

Another good place to view alligators as well as other wildlife is on the Airboats & Alligators tour at Lake Trafford in Immokalee. This 1,500-acre shallow freshwater lake is an important part of the Corkscrew Swamp and the Imperial and Cocohatchee River watersheds, along with the Camp Keais Strand and the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge watershed that drains into the Ten Thousand Islands. 

Lake Trafford is the largest lake south of Lake Okeechobee and serves as an important ecotourism resource. The lake has the highest density alligator population in the state of Florida. Other common sightings include wild boar, dear, wild turkey, cattle, and many species of wading birds and birds of prey. Take an airboat ride with Airboats & Alligators to view the wildlife. After an extensive environmental restoration process, Lake Trafford’s largemouth bass population has rebounded. Freshwater fishermen also love the lake for catching bluegill and crappie. Adjacent to the lake is the expansive and unspoiled Pepper Ranch Preserve with multiple trails for off road biking, hiking and horseback trail riding. 

Along the Tamiami Trail you’ll find plenty of scenic spots to pull over and hopefully pull off an extraordinary Everglades photograph. Watch the sky. As clouds build vertically in the sky it makes a dramatic counterpoint to the vast horizontal landscape. Another tip – emulate the mastery of famed large-format photographer Clyde Butcher by trying some Everglades landscape photography in black and white. Drive east on Tamiami Tail and stop at Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery for inspiration. The gallery also hosts guided swamp walk adventures. 

Janes Scenic Drive, Turner River Road and Loop Road in the Everglades area all make for wonderful scenic driving tours. Drive slowly and pull over often. Wildlife sightings include raccoon, black bear, dear, birds, butterflies and even the extremely rare and endangered Florida panther. One of the more unusual stops along Loop Road on the eastern side closer to Miami is the homestead and outdoor photography studio of Lucky Cole. Lucky specializes in Everglades and biker-themed glamour photos, all shot outdoors. He invites his clients to be as tame or wild as their hearts desire.  

At Trail Lakes Campground on Tamiami Trail within Big Cypress National Preserve, the gift shop and welcome center is dedicated to the mythological Skunk Ape, long rumored to be the Yeti of the Everglades. Known as Skunk Ape Headquarters, you’ll find souvenirs and information on reputed sightings. It is also home base for Everglades Adventure Tours, featuring mesmerizing trips through the swamp prairies on a native Gladesman-style pole boat and other adventures.

At Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, you never know what you might see. A 2.25-mile boardwalk winds through the nation’s last old growth virgin bald cypress forest as well as several other habitats. The sanctuary is a magnet for bird and animal species, many of them rare, threatened or endangered.  Volunteers and visitors identify all the species spotted each day on a board at the beginning of the trail. In summer months, an extremely rare ghost orchid with multiple blossoms often thrills visitors with multiple blossoms viewable by spotting scope from the public boardwalk.

Paddling Can Be a Life Affirming Adventure
Kayaking is one of the fastest growing outdoor activities, and it is something that all ages are pursuing with great enthusiasm. This makes it a wonderful choice for a multigenerational family excursion. Several of the outfitters in Everglades City, such as Everglades Area Tours, use motorboats to ferry passengers and kayak to remote regions, putting paddlers in the best spots for a memorable eco tour of the Everglades’ labyrinthine mangrove creeks and rivers, renowned as some of the most beautiful wilderness in the world. Spend half a day exploring or embark on a multi-day wilderness camping expedition, and bring a fishing rod, since the area is spectacular for kayak fishing.  

The Everglades Wilderness Waterway is often thought to be the paddling experience of a lifetime if explored from start to finish. Paddlers must allow 7-9 days to go from Everglades City to Flamingo, with all gear, food and water packed in and packed out. Everglades Rentals & Eco Adventures, based at The Ivey House in Everglades City, offers guided waterway trips along the entire route with a shuttle ride back to Everglades City. Everglades Area Tours offers guided, multi-day kayak camping adventures taking you deep along the Wilderness Waterway with camping on deserted beach islands, then back to Everglades City. 

Angling Adventures
Fishing the near-coastal estuaries of the Ten Thousand Islands is nothing short of spectacular. Every day brings a new adventure, with multiple species in abundance. These backcountry trips offer excellent fishing for popular Florida gamefish including tarpon, snook, redfish, seatrout and more. Offshore adventures await from numerous boats docked at Naples City Dock, Rose Marina and others. Try your luck targeting grouper, snapper, cobia, permit and more.  

Fish, Dive or Spearfish on the Artificial Reefs
Thirty-seven new artificial reefs built from over 18,000 tons of clean concrete area creating new aquatic wildlife habitat off the coasts of Naples and Marco Island. Anglers from amateur to expert level can catch their limit while fishing from charters boats or spearfishing with Offshore Naples Fish & Dive Charters. There is a wide variety of excellent local guides for both backcountry and offshore angling. Check the fishing guides & charter listings at www.ParadiseCoast.com.

You’ve Always Wanted to Be a Dolphin Naturalist
Spend a few hours doing what marine researchers do while on board the Dolphin Explorer out of Rose Marina on Marco Island. Guests serve as citizen scientist dolphin researchers during the sightseeing cruise. Lead by dolphin researchers, passengers participate in the 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project, a 12-year scientific research study to identify and track the movements of resident dolphins in the Marco Island and Naples areas. Children may complete tasks onboard for the Dolphin Explorer Education Program (D.E.E.P.) and receive a special patch for helping the crew count the number of dolphin seen during their trip. Group experiences are available in addition to the twice-daily public cruises.

Shelling Adventures
The main beaches of Naples and Marco Island are usually strewn with beautiful shells. Die-hard shell collections can up their game by taking a guided shelling tour by boat to some of the nearby deserted islands and sandbars. Your mind will be blown by the vast array of beautiful, and sometimes rare collectible shells strewn across the deserted sands. Try a trip with Marco Island Boat Tours or Reel Kind Fishing & Tours from Marco Island. 

Get Out There and Get Fit
During the winter season, rangers at Big Cypress National Preserve offer free guided swamp walks as well as guided bicycle rides and canoe trips. Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, the native orchid capital of North America, offers ranger guided swamp walks and canoe tours, usually between November and April for a small charge. Both offer excellent and invigorating experiences deep within the cypress forests of the western Everglades. During summer and fall, private guides area available to take you on guided swamp walks in search of rare orchids and other botanical wonders, and for a variety of hiking, paddling, or boating explorations of the western Everglades ecosystem. 

Sporting Clays in the Everglades
Gulf Coast Clays, located in the Everglades just outside the boundary of Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, offers unrivalled scenery for clay shooting on trap and skeet ranges as well as a 15-stand sporting clay course accessed by golf cart. 

-ACCOMMODATIONS-

The JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort’s $320 million renovation includes the November 2018 opening of the luxurious, adults-only Lanai Tower – the third tower at the expansive 810-room beach resort on Marco Island. In addition to the 94 new adults only guest rooms, the new tower also features a chef-driven restaurant, rooftop lounge, a luxurious new pool deck, the 10-K Alley entertainment center with a combination or real and virtual games and more. The resort is the only JW Marriott beachfront resort in the continental U.S.

Hilton Marco Island Resort & Spa reopens its 310 completely renovated guestrooms in fall 2018. The Hilton’s full property renovation includes a redesigned lobby, expansive pool deck space, The Deck at 560 Restaurant & Bar and 12,000 sq. ft. of upgraded meeting space. Until the guestroom reopen, the restaurant is open, day passes are available for pool and beach access, and social and corporate events are being hosted in the newly redesigned meeting space. 

The Ritz-Carlton, Naples reopened September 3, 2018 after an extensive summer restoration project including upgrades of the exterior façade, spa and meeting facilities. The popular Gumbo Limbo beachfront restaurant is scheduled to reopen November 4 when improvements there are complete. Meanwhile, the beachfront Sand Bar is open with a select menu from 11 a.m. to sunset. 

In the southeast Naples area, two WoodSpring Suites extended stay hotels are under development. The first, located just off I-75 at the entrance to Alligator Alley, opens late summer 2018. The second is under construction just east of downtown Naples with plans to open in mid-2019. WoodSpring Suites hotels offer weekly rates, in-room kitchens and a no frills, cost-saving approach to extended stays. 

The 109-room Old Naples Hotel in the Third Street South shopping and dining district is in the planning stages. The hotel will be located near the site of the Naples Hotel that opened in 1889 and the design embraces the compelling history of the Naples Historic District. The property is one block from Naples Beach and Naples Pier, and is surrounded by the upscale shops and restaurants along pedestrian-friendly Third Street South. The hotel plans to have a soft opening in late 2020 and be fully operational in early 2021. 

Marco Beach Ocean Resort has completed a comprehensive renovation of its one- and two-bedroom suites and has updated the resort’s Gulf Ballroom and pool furniture. The updated luxury interiors capture the essence of the boutique resort’s beachfront location in a palette of soft blues and mint greens against white and sandy-hued backdrops, with warm and washed wood tones, linen-inspired upholstery, and elegant mirror and satin nickel surfaces. Each of the resort’s 94 suites offers a kitchenette, spacious living room and private balcony overlooking the Gulf of Mexico or lush garden terraces. Meanwhile, signature restaurant Sale e Pepe has once again been awarded AAA Four Diamond status. 

LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort, celebrating its 50th anniversary, has announced the completion of its $30 million property-wide renovation, along with new offerings for guests to experience the essence of LaPlaya Living, a comprehensive wellness program encouraging a happy and healthy lifestyle with a new package celebrating the milestone anniversary—ideal for those seeking a “new year, new you” adventure. The resort showcases quintessential Floridian elegance while transforming ‘50’ with a modern spin inspiring adventure, wellness, and a fresh new perspective. In late 2017 the resort completed an additional property-wide renovation including lavish new guest rooms in the Gulf Tower, a reinvigorated lobby, and a stunning new look for restaurant BALEENnaples, a newly transformed lobby reflecting Naples’ abundant flora and fauna with custom artwork and modern furnishings. 

Naples Grande Beach Resort completed a multimillion-dollar refresh that is reflected in its guestrooms, public spaces, pools and lush outdoor landscaping in December 2017. The 474-room property is set on 23 waterfront acres adjoined by a pristine 200-acre nature preserve and mangrove estuary that embodies a quintessential southwest Florida experience. Guests will find a revitalized appearance from the lobby to the top of the 18th floor, where all public spaces and tower guestrooms have been refreshed, repainted and renewed with Naples Grande signature coastal chic aesthetic. Refreshed décor and sleek, new flooring can be found throughout Aura Restaurant and the Lobby Lounge, which now has the addition of Mantra, serving inventive pan-Asian cuisine and cocktails in the evening.  Additional amenities that have been restored to their grande glory include the resort’s signature restaurant; The Catch of the Pelican, The Spa at Naples Grande, the resort’s meeting space including the premier Vista Ballroom, as well as the guest elevators throughout the property. 

The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club has completed a total redesign of the AAA Four-Diamond beachfront resort’s historic golf course. The redesign was done with input from golf icon and acclaimed course designer Jack Nicklaus in collaboration with noted course architect John Sanford. The course is open for public play as well as for resort guests. This major $9 million project follows $50 million in impressive renovations and enhancements at the resort over the last few years. Set on 125 lush acres, complemented by seven miles of pristine white sandy beach, The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club is located directly on the beach with an on-site championship golf course, a world-class spa, and an award-winning tennis center. 

-DINING-

The dining scene continues to grow in Florida’s Paradise Coast with new restaurants and the growing Sizzle Southwest Florida Restaurant Weeks in June and December.

Naples Restaurant Week has expanded to include Marco Island and other communities and is now known as Sizzle Southwest Florida. The semiannual promotion celebrates fine dining for an affordable price in the greater Naples, Marco Island and Fort Myers areas. This popular dining promotion takes place in the spring and fall at participating restaurants offering three-course prix-fixe dinner menus with special upgrades and deals starting at $26 and $36. The goal is to encourage increased traffic to the best area restaurants and to celebrate the wide array of cuisine available in the Naples area. The Winter Edition takes place the first two weeks in December.

Coming in fall 2018 to the emerging Bayshore Arts District neighborhood just east of downtown Naples is something completely new and different, a food truck park and wine bar. Celebration Park will have an open-air, covered large bar space serving wine and champagne by the class and a variety of craft beers on tap, and there will be waterfront seating overlooking Haldeman Creek. Owner Rebecca Maddox has recruited eight food trucks serving a variety of eclectic cuisine. A few blocks away from Celebration Park, a new craft brewery and garden called Ankrolab Brewing Company is under construction with plans to open in early 2019.

Fresh seafood, including local stone crab claws caught in season between October and May, and the latest continental and fusion cuisines are abundant, along with many opportunities for café, alfresco or waterfront dining – from casual to elegant. Some of the Naples area’s top local favorites are seafood centric, including The Dock at Crayton Cove, Riverwalk and Pinchers in the central downtown area, the beachfront restaurants HB’s on the Gulf, the Turtle Club, Baleen and Gumbo Limbo, and Fish Restaurant at the waterfront Village on Venetian Bay. 

For a relatively small city, Naples boasts a large number of locally owned and operated restaurants, giving the area a real ‘sense of place’ through dining, apart from many Florida cities that are dominated by popular chain restaurants. Over forty of these local restaurants belong to the Naples Originals group that regularly features special gift certificate savings and other promotions. 

We’re hungry to try the new tours offered by Naples Culinary Walks. A variety of morning, afternoon and evening tours last about three hours takes you into some of the best local dining neighborhoods. 

Craft brew fans are also eagerly awaiting the expansion of Bone Hook Brewing Company into a full-service restaurant and brewery in the location of the former Public House in north Naples. Meanwhile, fans can still experience Bone Hook Brewing Company in its original location.

As the popularity of local and regional craft beers continues to grow, more and more local restaurants and bars continue to add selections from the area’s hometown breweries. 

Each year in early March the annual Naples Craft Beer Fest features beers from around the country. Local restaurants provide food pairings with select beers and the chefs compete to win the People’s Choice award for best pairing. Tickets always sell out in advance to this popular event usually held at the Bayfront shopping, dining and residential complex on Naples Bay. In early November the Marco Island Craft Beer & Fine Food Festival features a variety of craft beers from Florida brewers along with food pairings by six of Marco Island’s top restaurants.

-FUN FACTS-

The peak season for visitors in the area is January through April. From May through December, visitors can find exceptional deals on hotel accommodations. Rates drop by one third to one half of what they are in the peak winter season. Savvy travelers know to take advantage of the great savings on hotel rates, golf course greens fees and less crowded attractions and beaches.  

The Naples, Marco Island, Immokalee metropolitan area is ranked the #1 Happiest Healthiest City in the United States for the third consecutive year by the Gallup-Sharecare State of the American Well-Being Community Rankings.

The Naples, Marco Island, Immokalee metropolitan area is #11 in “The 25 Happiest Cities in the United States” ranking in the National Geographic/Blue Zones Index. The area is featured in the November 2017 cover story in National Geographic and in the newly published The Blue Zones of Happiness by National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner.

Naples has two beaches that have been listed multiple times on Dr. Beach’s Top Ten USA Beaches list. Barefoot Beach Preserve Park was recently listed at #2 and the beach at Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park t #9. They are located right next to each other in north Naples, separated by the waterway of Wiggins Pass.

The Travel Channel designated Naples as America’s Best All-Around Beach in 2005, due to the diversity of great things to see and do in the destination, all surrounded by beautiful white sand beaches. 

The iconic Naples Pier stretches 1,000 feet into the Gulf of Mexico from Naples Beach at the west end of 12th Avenue South. The original pier was built in 1888 then destroyed by fire in 1922 and after reconstruction, was damaged by hurricanes in 1910, 1926 and 1960. The pier is a favorite for sightseers and fishermen with plenty of space to cast a line. It’s one of the top spots in the area to catch the spectacular nightly sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. 

Marco Island was ranked as the #1 USA Island and the #4 Island in the World for 2014 by TripAdvisor’s Travelers Choice. 

The Paradise Coast was ranked as 2014’s Golf Destination of the Year – North America by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators. Known as the Golf Capital of the World, Naples has the most golf holes per capita in the United States.  

Naples is said to have more millionaires per capita than any other city in Florida.  

Naples was named the #1 Best Destination for Luxury Travelers by editors and readers at USA TODAY’s 10Best travel section.

There are approximately 100 art galleries in the greater Naples area, extending from Gallery Row in downtown Naples all the way out to the Big Cypress Gallery in the Everglades – the studio of famed black and white nature photographer Clyde Butcher, known as the “Ansel Adams of the Everglades” for his stunning, large format black & white Everglades landscapes. Both the Marco Island Center for the Arts and The von Liebig Art Center in Naples offer free galleries, excellent gift shops featuring work by local artists and a full lineup of classes and workshops.  

Downtown Naples’ Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South shopping districts are renowned for their unique boutiques offering fashion, gifts and fine art – situated along pedestrian friendly, tropically landscaped avenues lined with outdoor café seating at most of the restaurants. Third Street South even has a live Street Concierge offering helpful advice on area shopping and dining.  

Fifth Avenue South was named the #2 Best Alfresco Dining Neighborhood in the U.S.A. by editors and readers at USA TODAY’s 10Best travel section. 

Shelling on Marco Island’s beach rivals that of Sanibel and other better-known shelling destinations. Shelling gets even better when shell seekers hop on a boat to comb the beaches of nearby deserted outer islands and sand bars, filled with treasures from the sea.  

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, located on the outskirts of the Everglades just 25 minutes from downtown Naples, is regarded as one of the top bird watching spots in the United States. It is the favored nesting ground in the world for the endangered wood stork and supports many year round and migratory bird and animal species. Corkscrew is also the Gateway Site for the South Florida section of the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail. There are currently 12 Collier County sites included on the trail. 

The Big Cypress National Preserve was the first National Preserve established by the National Park Service, on October 11, 1974. The 729,000 acre preserve allows more recreational activities than a National Park, such as hunting and off road vehicle use.  

The Ten Thousand Islands section of Everglades National Park is the only place to regularly see both alligators and crocodiles cohabiting. 

The Wilderness Waterway that stretches for 99 miles from Everglades City to Flamingo at the southern tip of mainland Florida is considered by canoe and kayak paddlers to be a paddling experience of a lifetime. Completely removed from civilization, the paddling adventure takes between seven to nine days and requires camping and transport of all food and supplies. Backcountry camping permits are required and can be obtained at the Everglades National Park Gulf Coast Visitor Center.  

The Ochopee Post Office, located along the Tamiami Trail in the Everglades, is the smallest post office in the United States. 

Everglades City is known as the Stone Crab Capital of the World. Stone crab claws are harvested during the annual season from October 15 to May 15. Only claws are harvested from the stone crab – fishermen are required to return the live crab back to the ocean, where it regenerates new claws. Therefore, stone crab is known as Florida’s Renewable Seafood Resource. 

-GETTING HERE-

Getting to Naples is easy – visitors only find it difficult to leave this relaxing paradise. Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW), the region’s largest airport, is just 30 minutes to the north in Ft. Myers. If you’re driving, four exits from I-75 offer drivers entry into Naples. Exit 101 to State Road 84 leads visitors to downtown Naples. Exit 105 (Golden Gate Parkway) leads to Airport-Pulling Road, the Naples Municipal Airport and US 41.  Exit 107 (Pine Ridge Road) leads you to US 41, Waterside Shops and Naples.  Exit 111 (Immokalee Road) leads to North Naples and the National Audubon Society’s renowned Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary – just 15 miles east. If you are driving from Orlando, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or Palm Beach international airports, take I-75 (Alligator Alley) to Exits 101, 105, 107 or 111. Naples can also be reached from Miami via U.S. Highway 41, also known as the Tamiami Trail.

More information: www.Paradisecoast.com, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.