The jewel of Southwest Florida, Naples, glitters like its enticing Gulf of Mexico waves. From its high-brow arts scene to its beautiful beaches and Everglades backyard, Naples gives people who like spending long weekends traveling too many options for too little time. This insider’s guide cherry-picks — scheduling the best activities for a well-rounded taste of Naples’ diversity based on my four decades covering the destination for hundreds of travel and food articles. Unfortunately, Naples was heavily impacted by damage from Hurricane Ian in September 2022. I have updated this article to reflect the most current status of its beaches, accommodations, restaurants, and attractions.
Note: Some restaurants and hotels in Naples have hosted me throughout the years, but all opinions are my own.
1. Naples Grande Beach Resort & Spa
Naples’s newest and hottest neighborhood centers around culture, shopping, and beach opportunities at its northern extremes, which attracts a youthful and familial audience. Conveniently located in the heart of North Naples, Naples Grande recently implemented high-tech, innovative spa treatments designed to calm, tighten, center, and rejuvenate. Some, such as its NuCalm treatments, are self-guided and use neuroscience principles to lower stress and improve the quality of sleep. I especially enjoyed my Cryolift facial treatment, which uses icy, numbing cold to lift and add glow to facial skin.
That’s just the beginning of the relaxing you’ll do at the resort where swimming pools, a nature boardwalk to the beach, sports programs, and a nice mix of restaurants and bars mean quality time when you aren’t out and about exploring the town.
Restaurants And Nightlife
More than a dozen places to eat and drink make Mercato in North Naples a happening shopping and entertainment destination day and night. A number of the restaurants and nightclubs are chains, but you can also find local joints like Narrative Coffee Roasters and Bar Tulia. The latter is a spinoff of a downtown darling with an Italian pub atmosphere. At Silverspot Cinema, enjoy dinner and a movie at the same place with state-of-the-art audio and luxury seating. Mercato also boasts some art galleries, shops, and megastores like Nordstrom Rack and Whole Foods.
3. Waterside Shops
Serious shoppers, however, head to Waterside Shops for all the name-brand fashion boutiques such as Gucci and Lilly Pulitzer. It’s not technically waterside, but the abundance of gorgeous water features justifies the name.
Pro Tip: The once-small town of Bonita Springs meets North Naples almost seamlessly. There are more restaurants and shopping along the main thoroughfare Tamiami Trail. Get off the beaten path to discover the burgeoning downtown’s eclectic blend of restaurants, lounges, and craft breweries.
4. North Collier Regional Park
The beach isn’t the only place to cool down and get wet in Naples. Sprawling North Collier Regional Park offers two main attractions in addition to picnicking and recreation. Bring your swimsuit, but plan on a sneakily educational visit to the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples (CMON), where a sense of place underlies hands-on exhibits encouraging art, spatial skills, and exploring nature.Then, it’s time to splash down at Sun-n-Fun Lagoon, a seasonal waterpark (opens Memorial Day) with a lazy river, slides, and water features for the tiniest to the most derring-do in the family.
5. Artis — Naples And The Baker Museum
The North Naples Artis–Naples complex virtually launched the town down its artful path with the originally named Naples Philharmonic — home to music, ballet, and Broadway plays. The Baker Museum came later to house prestigious art collections from Pollock to Chihuly. In the meantime, the shared campus has stretched to host film, educational programming, traveling exhibits, and even a rooftop bar.
6. Spawned Art
Performing art venues such as TheatreZone have spawned off the energy Artis created. Throughout town, galleries and artful oases such as Naples Art downtown feed off The Baker’s stature as a world-class destination for art. You’ll find art galleries throughout town, with concentrations in the Naples Art District midtown, Naples Design District in Old Naples, and Gallery Row on Third Street South. Note that the Naples Design District sustained hurricane damages but is busily rebuilding, with many of its galleries, stores, and restaurants already reopened.
7. Downtown Naples
Also known as Old Naples, the neighborhood defined by the Gulf of Mexico, Tamiami Trail, and the intersection of Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South is the heart of the town. Fifth Ave., as it’s called, especially has a reputation for high-class dining, high-end shops, and a cultural scene that includes Gulfshore Playhouse and Sugden Theatre.
8. Inn On Fifth
Inn on Fifth makes a good base for exploring all downtown has to offer because you’ll want to visit more than one day just to experience the wealth of fine restaurants like Sails and Del Mar Naples, both super sophisticated and seafood-inspired. The inn hugs Fifth Ave. on both sides with warmth and high style. The original inn holds a spa, two excellent seafood restaurants (Truluck’s and Ocean Prime), and a rooftop pool with a bar. Across the street, the Club Suites at Inn on Fifth operates on a concierge-level concept with roomy, luxurious accommodations and complimentary breakfast, beverage, and nosh service.
9. International Cuisine
In case you’re getting the impression that Naples dining is all seafood, here are a couple of suggestions that represent the global nature of the restaurant scene. Bha! Bha! Persian Bistro serves Middle Eastern delights in both a classic and innovative vein. Head to East Naples for the finest Indian cuisine prepared by a Bobby Flay Throwdown champ at 21 Spices by Chef Asif. Naples knows no shortage of Italian restaurants, in keeping with its name, but Sea Salt Naples on Third Avenue South makes stellar use of Chef Fabrizio Aielli’s Venetian birthright with a Mediterranean flair.
Pro Tip: While in the Third Street area, you won’t want to miss a stroll to the landmark Naples Pier, which juts out from the main municipal beach. Note that the pier suffered serious damage in the hurricane and is only partially open at this time and closed to fishing.
10. Tin City
One of the most popular places to eat waterside, Tin City in Old Naples, occupies historic docks with shops and eateries. My favorite restaurant there, Riverwalk, serves seafood with a Cajun twist. After lunch, hop aboard Pure Florida’s fishing and sightseeing tours to extend time in the great outdoors.
11. Lowdermilk Park
For visiting the beach with the little ones, Lowdermilk Park fills the job description with its playground, beach volleyball, and bird-mobbed lagoon. Picnic shelters and barbecue grills encourage families to spend the entire day here in the Old Naples area.
12. Naples Zoo At Caribbean Gardens
It began as gardens dedicated to tropical flora. As it transitioned to Naples Zoo, it kept its original lush setting and added some unique features, including a primate island. Boat rides motor past the habitat swinging with playful, delightful monkeys and lemurs. Feeding the giraffes (a $5 fee) is another highlight. They are among the wildlife exhibits where visitors can watch presentations at specified times. Plan on at least four hours to catch most of the daily shows.
13. Naples Botanical Garden
Visit the flora of Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, and, of course, Florida, at this beautiful showcase of subtropical vegetation and the cultures nurtured by it. Allow at least two hours to stroll Naples Botanical Garden and learn from QR-code guided tours. Ninety acres preserve natural Florida habitat, where wild orchids appear, including, for a short time each summer, the famed and elusive ghost orchid.
14. Wilderness Day Trips
Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve and Ten Thousand Islands and Florida Panther national wildlife refuges, a couple of state parks protect thousands and thousands acres of Everglades mangroves, wetlands, and highland acreage. For a taste of the vast wilderness, visit the Big Cypress Welcome Center and Oasis Visitor Center, both productive stops for spotting alligators, birds, and manatees. In Everglades City, you can catch boat tours and other programs from the Everglades visitor center or rent a kayak to explore part of the 99-mile paddling trail. Rangers can offer more advice on hiking, paddling, and camping among the rich wildlife in this unparalleled part of the world.
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