Sometimes, when the traffic and noise of Miami get to be overwhelming, we feel the need to get away. We could drive north to Orlando or try to find some peace south of town in the keys, but the place where we usually find ourselves is on the west coast, in Naples. Just a two-hour drive west of town, Naples stands in stark contrast to the chaos of Miami. Its wide streets and well-manicured landscaping are a pleasant relief from the overcrowded hustle of southeast Florida. It’s no wonder U.S. News and World Report named it as America’s top ranked community in terms of well being for each of the past three years.
When planning a trip to Naples it’s easy to forget everything and just spend the day lounging on the beach. That’s a great option if you want to just tune out the world and relax, but there is plenty more to do in Naples that makes it worth the extra effort to plan ahead. For this adventure, we spend two days in Naples sampling the food, exploring the beaches, and searching out those attractions that make it such a great place to visit.
We begin our trip to Naples early on Saturday morning. After a quick breakfast in Miami, we head west on Highway 41 past the last vestiges of the city and into the wide-open spaces of the everglades. Elevated bridges provide a beautiful vista as tall grass stretches out to the horizon. Soon the bridges end and we travel alongside a wide canal replete with alligators and the occasional early-morning fisherman. If you are feeling adventurous you can stop off at one of the many roadside attractions offering airboat rides, alligator shows, and Indian villages. We decide to drive on opting instead to make a brief stop at the Big Cypress Oasis Visitor Center.
Here, a short boardwalk offers a close-up view of alligators (but not too close) and a small indoor interpretive center. Be sure to check out the center’s board of recent animal sightings and talk to the ranger about animals you might pass by on your drive.
Once we say goodbye to the alligators we drive seven miles down the road and stop at the Kirby Storter Roadside Park for a short walk. In addition to a half-mile boardwalk through a hammock of large cypress trees, the park offers unforgettable views of the Milky Way at night. With no artificial light for miles around, the stars shine like nowhere else. We recommend stopping to see the stars during your trip back to Miami, but you might want to stop by during the day to get an idea of where you will be going at night.
Back on the road it is only another hour to Naples. When we arrive we head straight to the beach. Our beach of choice in Naples is the Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park. The beach itself is quiet with soft white sand. It also has some nice facilities for changing and showering off after your time in the water. We spend the morning swimming and lounging on the beach until we get hungry and head over to Mino on 6th.
Located next to Tin City, which we will talk about later, Mino makes some of the best Neapolitan-style pizza we’ve had in Florida. We start with the Arancini and order Margherita and Diavola pizzas. If you are in the mood for something else though, try their pastas, which are made in-house.
After lunch, we decide to take a walk and head over to the Gordon River Greenway Park. The park has accessible parking next to the Naples Zoo and offers miles of wide paved walking trails and elevated walkways. While the kids burn off some energy, we enjoy the scenery, scoping out birds and lizards along the way. As we are leaving, we let the kids play in the playground adjacent to the parking lot before heading to the hotel to rest.
On this trip we chose to stay at the Bellasera Resort, a nice condo-style hotel offering 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom units. The hotel is well appointed and is close to just about everything. When booking a room, however, be sure to note the resort and parking fees. For a cheaper option, try the Staybridge Suites at 4805 Tamiami Trail North. Like the Bellasera, it offers suites and multiple bedroom units, with a little less of the luxury.
After relaxing at the hotel, we get dressed and head to dinner. When in Naples, we like to eat at The Dock. Situated in Crayton Cove near the city dock, this open-air jewel offers nice views of the water and seafood right out of the Gulf. A staple of the Naples food scene, residents have been coming here for generations (I remember nice breezy days here with my grandparents).
We start our dinner with the shellfish tower – a combination of oysters, muscles, clams, shrimp, and crab. For our entrees, we chose the Key Lime Black Grouper, the Banana Macadamia Nut Snapper, the Ahi Tuna Nicoise Salad, and the kids Fish and Chips. Before long we are comfortably happy sitting outside and watching the boats pass by. After dinner, we decide to take a short stroll on the dock to look at the boats and talk about sailing off to the Caribbean.
Once we get back to the car we decide to take a short drive over to Tin City before heading back to the hotel. Built in the 1920s to house the Naples’ economic and transportation center, the buildings of Tin City were transformed into a collection of over 20 waterfront boutiques and restaurants.
Whether you are looking for something sweet to eat after dinner, or just a nice walk through the shops, it’s a great place to stop. Day or night, you will always find something interesting there.
Sunday morning starts with croissants and coffee at La Colmar on Tamiami Trail. While you might be tempted by their more hearty breakfast options (try their Jambon & Cheese Croissant Benedict), we opted to stick with a light meal and quickly head to the beach.
Today we decided to drive north of town to Lovers Key State Park. This 712-acre park includes four barrier islands, which were once only accessible by boat. While the park can now be reached via a series of bridges, it has not lost its natural serenity. For those up for a nice walk, try the Black Island Trail, a 2.5-mile adventure across the island. A shorter walk is also available in the 1.1-mile Eagle Trail. In each of these walks there are opportunities to see manatees and dolphins in the water, raccoons and rabbits along the path, or eagles soaring above.
The beach at Lovers Key State Park is a 2.5-mile stretch of white sand accessible via wooden boardwalk or tram (to the southern end of the beach). During our visit, the beaches were fairly deserted leaving us to walk along the shore pretending that we were stranded on the island all alone – a nice change from the crowded beaches of Miami. After a few hours at the beach, we decided to drive into Bonita Springs and treat the kids to ice cream. We stopped at the Royal Scoop on 8th Street where the kids waded through dozens of possible choices before finally selecting their flavors. After sneaking a few bites I can tell you that the ice cream was delicious.
Once the kids finished their ice cream we drove back to Naples for a more healthy lunch. One of our favorite Thai restaurants in Florida is the Thai Thai Noodle Bar on Naples Boulevard. They make a wonderful Pad Se-Ew and the kids love their lunch bento boxes. I’m often tempted by their sushi, but their best dishes are their classic Thai and Japanese soups, which for some reason do not appear on their internet menu. If you happen to come during the week, there will be people stopping by to pick up soup and take it back to their office. It really is that good.
We finish our lunch and decide to drive over to the Naples Zoo for a nice walk and look at the animals.
The zoo is not as large as the Miami or Tampa Zoos, but it does offer some great exhibits and the ability to see some of the more interesting animals up close. Be sure to see the primate exhibit, the panthers, and fossa (which you might remember from the movie Madagascar!) Having visited all of the animals we notice the time and head to the exit.
For our last meal in Naples we decide to eat at Alberto’s on Fifth. Alberto’s is arguably the best Italian restaurant in this town of Italian restaurants. Be sure to plan ahead and make a reservation as it tends to gets busy on the weekends. We started our meal with the prosciutto di parma with pear and pecorino. For entrees we chose the pappardelle with veal ragu, the taglierini with pesto and jumbo lump crab, and the blackened red snapper. We enjoyed each and every bite before making our way back to the car for the drive home to Miami.
On the way back, we stopped by the Kirby Storter Roadside Park off Highway 41 for a view of the stars. The place was deserted and with no artificial light for miles we took in the brilliance of the Milky Way. Everything was quiet but for the chirp of crickets and the croaking of frogs. As we watched the night sky we soon realized that we needed to get back to Miami. We took one last look at the stars above and stepped back into the car before driving off.