With Florida flaunting two of the most stunning coastlines in the world, it took plenty of confidence for the communities of Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades to name their personal stretch of coastline the "Paradise Coast." But their confidence is well deserved.
As a travel writer covering the world, I've strolled hundreds of beaches from the South Pacific to the South China Sea. Still, this magical coastline on the Gulf of Mexico is my paradise. It also happens to be my home. Let me introduce you to my soft white sand and sea-oat covered dunes; to the ever-changing palette of aquamarine and blue waters; to the artful downtown scene. And my islands. I can't showcase them all, of course. There are ten thousand of them.
Our spectrum of beaches ranges from secluded coves to the wide strands where the colors of beach umbrellas, floats and sailboats mingle with the laughter of children to make a joyful, musical kaleidoscope. Some beaches are steps away from glittering hotels or chic shopping districts; others can be discovered only by boat.
Grill your lunch at a beachfront park or feast on five-star cuisine seaside. Relax in the shade of an authentic Native American chickee hut, fish from Naples Pier or chug through the mangroves on personal watercraft to meet friendly manatees and playful dolphins. Spread a blanket on the sand to watch fireworks or enjoy a jazz concert on the Gulf. Or simply lounge in a chaise, watching snowy egrets stroll by and seagulls dive for supper. Paradise takes many forms here.
We Neapolitans aren't alone in our love affair with the beaches of Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades. The Travel Channel has called Naples America's Best All-Around Beach and Condé Nast Traveler magazine has put us in their top 20. We've even been anointed by the ultimate authority, Stephen Leatherman – "Dr. Beach" himself.
The beaches of Old Naples are easily accessible from many east-west avenues, with metered parking. The major beachfront hotels of Naples and Marco Island offer an array of beach rentals, activities and live music as people gather for the daily sunset ritual.
Several state and county parks offer ample parking with beach access. Here's just a sampling:
- Lowdermilk Park: An active family beach with lush lawns, picnic tables, a gazebo and snack pavilion.
- Clam Pass Park: A complimentary tram ride through the mangroves gets you there. Rentals, snack bar, boardwalks and stunning views.
- Vanderbilt Beach: Adjacent to the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort. A favorite gathering place for young people.
- Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park: Located in northern Naples, the park has grills and picnic areas, rich fishing waters, a boat launch and kayaking.
- Barefoot Beach Preserve: On Little Hickory Island at Naples' northern tip. Picnic area, concessions, nature trail, showers and rentals.
- Naples Municipal Pier: Concessions and bait shop, showers and restrooms. Superb fishing.
- Tigertail Beach on Marco Island, the largest of the Ten Thousand Islands. With the widest beach on the Paradise Coast, it has a snack bar, playground, kayak and paddleboat rentals and 32 acres of parkland.
- The Other 9,999 Islands: Start with a shelling trip to Cape Romano, a visit to the sandy tip of unspoiled Keewaydin Island and a walk on the white sands of Pavilion Key in Everglades National Park. The only footprints in the sand may be your own.
Beyond the Beach
Plan your day around the sun and sea, but don't miss the charm of Old Naples. Here, sidewalk bistros, museums, theaters, art galleries, upscale boutiques, fine restaurants and day spas share space along palm-lined avenues. At night, indulge in the pastime of "strolling the avenues" (Third Street South and Fifth Avenue South) beneath white-lighted trees.
At the eastern end of Fifth Avenue South are two must-see destinations. Come by car or boat to Bayfront, a Mediterranean-style village on Naples Bay that houses some of Naples' finest restaurants and galleries, and a lively bar built over the water. Find the opposite of polished Bayfront just over the bridge at quaint, colorful Tin City, where an eclectic collection of shops and eateries are connected by waterfront boardwalks. (From here you can book your fishing charters and sightseeing cruises.)
Continue shopping on Marco Island, where a nostalgic Italian flavor pervades The Esplanade Shoppes on North Collier Boulevard at Smokehouse Bay. Take time to explore the boutiques, galleries and top-tier restaurants. Just steps from the sand, some of Southwest Florida's most celebrated chefs work their magic at fine hotels along the beach. If you ever wanted a taste of true paradise, this is it.
For more information on planning your beach getaway to Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades, call 800-688-3600 or visit www.paradisecoast.com.