“I could never stay long enough on the shore; the tang of the untainted, fresh, and free sea air was like a cool, quieting thought.”– Helen Keller
This past weekend, a much needed getaway with friends was spent in Naples, Florida. Not to be confused with Naples, Italy where we will be visiting this November (cue the confetti)! We took the short two hour scenic drive through the very Floridian landscape of the Florida Everglades and Big Cypress National Preserve. I have made this drive from the East to West Coast several times, each trip has brought different memories, pit stops, and adventures. This route takes Highway 75, and is aptly nicknamed, Alligator Alley. Along this route, depending on the time of day and year, you are likely to see alligators on the side of the road. The last trip we took to Naples Andrew and I saw hundreds of alligators, of all sizes, sun bathing along the roadside- so Florida, right? Depending on the length of your trip through South Florida there are several stops you can make before reaching your west coast destination: Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Everglades National Park, scenic lookouts, and boat launches. At some point in your life a visit to the Florida Everglades is a must; I have been to the everglades on at least three different occasions and each visit was as interesting as the last. You will pass by billboards, and the exit, for Billie Swamp Safari which a great option for you if you would like to spend a half day. Another option is the Everglades Day Safari, which is a full day and absolutely a day to remember. My best friend and I did this tour last year and it was amazing. The day adventure comes with van transportation and a guide that takes you to several locations for a nature walk, airboat ride, lunch on the water, and a boat ride through a mangrove estuary (a more lengthy post on the Everglades to come). Either of these excursions are along your route to Naples from the Fort Lauderdale area.
As you make your way through the Big Cypress National Preserve you also have the option to make a stop at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, we haven’t visited here yet- but it looks really neat! We have stopped at other walking trails along the way, all have been nice walks with a lot of bird watching- so bring your binoculars and bird watching checklist! Once you arrive in Naples there are endless of shopping, eating, and lodging options. This weekend we stayed in the Hilton Naples (thanks family and friends discount!) which had great amenities, and was a walkable distance to several restaurants, a shopping mall, as well as included a shuttle to the local beach, Clam Pass Park. The shuttle from the hotel runs only once per hour, so we decided to Uber to the beach so we had more time to soak up the sun. The boardwalk down to the beach was a bit longer than we expected- I guess that is why they had those convenient little golf carts toting people down the boardwalk that we somehow missed on our arrival! Well, by walking down the boardwalk we were able to see all of the native mangroves and read about the differences which was cool, especially for my Canadian friend who is not yet used to the flora and fauna of Florida. Once we finally reached the beach, soaked in sweat and ready to hit the water, we set up our umbrellas (a necessity for July beach days) and blankets and spent a glorious few hours in the sun and sand enjoying the salty air and warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. This location has a nice setup with a little beachside bar and restaurant, and umbrella and chair rentals. Once satisfyingly sun-kissed we were ready to go. The moment we packed up and arrived at the shuttle stop (we learned from our earlier mistake and hopped on a golf cart) to make our way back to the hotel, a massive thunderstorm hit- impeccable timing. We spent the rest of the rainy day playing games in the hotel room and later took a short walk to dinner.
Things to do…
One of my all time favorite stores to visit is Cost Plus World Market, the Naples store is the closest location to my house, so this is typically the reason we visit Naples! This store has everything from furniture, mirrors, soaps and bathroom decor, to food and wine from all over the world. I first visited this store when I was probably 14 or 15 when one opened up about 30 minutes from my family home. I was in love as soon as I walked in the door, I was able to see merchandise, crafts, and eat food from all over the world- my dream. If you ever come across a World Market, take some time to stroll through the aisles, you are sure to find something amazing.
A short drive from the hotel to Old Naples is where you can find the Fifth Ave Shops and Third Street South, these streets are lined with beachy shops, high-end fashion stores, bars and restaurants. This is also where the Naples Pier is located. You can choose to walk the pier and spend as much time as you would like, or spend the entire day at the beach. From the pier you can see people fishing, the beach-goers enjoying the beach, and the beautiful homes along the shoreline. It was a special treat to have been there (unintentionally) near sunset, and to see dolphins playing in the water. On a previous visit to Naples we had spent a day at the Naples Zoo, which is a reasonably sized and priced zoo, with a great primate exhibit and giraffe feeding experience. There are several other things to do in Naples that I have not yet personally done, but would be great additions to your itinerary:
- Manatee Tours
- Various Boat Tours
- Bicycle Rentals
- Fishing Tours
Stuff to Eat…
With the hotel offering complimentary breakfast and hors d’oeuvres (we got upgraded- thanks again family and friends discount!), and the fact that we brought enough snacks to feed an army for a week, we really didn’t eat out that much on this trip. After our beach day, we needed a little snack so we walked a couple blocks to Casamigos for some nachos and margaritas. The restaurant had a live band that was playing great music and many of the customers were up on the floor dancing: definitely a fun way to end the day. The next morning we took a short walk to the Kunjani Craft Coffee & Gallery. This coffee shop serves organic coffees and teas, pastries and breakfast items with a variety of dietary restrictions in mind, as well as sells hand-crafted items for a non-profit for a variety of causes in Africa. I had a Masala Chai tea and Apple Strudel- both were delish.
While in Old Naples, make sure to stop at Tony’s off Third, a cute little cafe and boutique that sells pastries, coffee, and specialty wines. The night we stopped in for a late coffee and dessert, we were pleasantly surprised with the live music by the music duo BELLCurve. The patio was almost empty, except for a few people at the bar in the back and our table of 6 right next to the musicians who had not yet started performing. When we sat down at our table, they greeted us and asked us what kind of music we liked. We all rambled off a ton of different artists, songs, and genres. They started with The Beatles, so that made us very happy. We sipped our coffee, shared the numerous sweets we bought, and sang along with the duo for several songs. A few songs in, the lead singer asked if someone wanted to sing a song, and one of our friends joined them on stage and sang “Sweet Caroline” while Andrew played Tambourine- our own little Karaoke night.
The highlight of this little getaway was the time spent with friends, relaxing on the beach, playing games, and enjoying each other’s company. Now we have to start planning where we will getaway to next summer; what do you think? Where is your favorite place to getaway with friends?