The Gulf Coast of Florida is a surprise. The state’s interior of flat, brown landscape crosses the west coast canals into areas such as Vanderbilt Beach on the north side of Naples. There, it’s as if the painter remembered his colors: vivid red bougainvillea and startlingly orange birds of paradise bloom along the winding roadway and the water is cerulean blue.
Naples—so named because early settlers believed the bay to be more beautiful than the waters in Naples, Italy—is one of the wealthiest cities in America. In 1923 the Tamiami Trail, which links Naples and Miami on the east coast, was opened and the Collier family established lush residences and a healthy tourism economy here as early as the 1930s.
The downtown Naples shopping district at Third Street and Fifth Avenue South has bustling, eclectic, tantalizing stores and restaurants—find anything here from the most expensive to the ridiculous, from beachy kitsch to urbane artwork, and food from gelato to oysters. It’s all very chic and beautiful; the streets are lined with palm trees and park benches beckon off charming side streets.
Naples has 80 golf courses so those not inclined to relax on the beach or shop are easily occupied. But resisting the sugary white sand and calm, clear water of the Gulf of Mexico is impossible. If you choose to simply sit on the beach, you’ll be entertained by nature at its best: dolphins cavort in the gentle waves, turtles meander across the sand, pelicans swoop into the water for breakfast. Man will entertain, too: skimming jet skis, reckless stand-up paddleboarders, courageous parasailers. And shells! From conch to periwinkle, sand dollars to starfish, the abundance of collectible sea life will fascinate even the most jaded.
Everywhere are walkers—morning strolls along the beach, evening exercisers along Vanderbilt Beach Road, all working up an appetite for restaurants along the beach such as Buzz’s, Turtle Club, or La Playa. Don’t miss Naples City Dock and Tin City, an eclectic shopping area.
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