There’s a slew of reasons to visit Southwest Florida’s most elegant town, but our favorite ways to experience Naples include a game of golf, shopping Fifth Avenue South, dining under the stars, a rendezvous with the arts and always a trip to the beach where the sun, surf and sunsets never disappoint. This town set on the Gulf of Mexico seamlessly blends its 10-mile beach with a stylish urban setting that like a magnet attracts more millionaires than almost any other city in the country. Year-round residents, seasonal homeowners and snowbirds alike find Naples to be irresistible, especially during the winter months known as high season. The result is a meticulously kept town with some of the most expensive real estate, classiest golf clubs and wealthiest individuals.
1 Exquisite Golf Courses
Greg Norman designed the courses at the Tiburón Golf Club, part of Naples’ Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, and to this day the Australian pro golfer still considers it home. PGA TOUR events like the Franklin Templeton Shootout have been held here, and President H.W. Bush even played a round at Tiburón. Simply put, it’s where the powerful and wealthy come to play. But that’s only one of the fine courses you’ll find in Naples. This corner of Southwest Florida has boasting rights to some 90 courses, so naturally it likes to claim the title: Golf Capital of the World.
2 Fifth Avenue South
For a fresh take on shopping and eating, visit the indie boutiques and restaurants in downtown Naples. No chain stores here. A gathering spot of sorts, this five-block stretch of Fifth Avenue South dazzles with one sidewalk café after another, and if you come on the right night, street musicians add rhythm to your walk. Besides clothing shops, this pedestrian-friendly street has art galleries, an antique shop or two, and public squares with gardens and local art displays.
3 Third Street South
One of the coolest neighborhoods, Third Street South, named so after the main street that runs through it, is where you’ll find a mix of historic cottages and sophisticated manses, high-style designer boutiques and a municipal fishing pier. You can walk to it all, and while you’re at it peek into the courtyards where European-style fountains and meticulous landscaping create pretty vignettes. Sip cocktails at an open bar or dine at a white table-cloth restaurant. Day or night, this neighborhood is buzzing.
4 Beach Time
Find Naples’ Municipal Pier and you find the beach. A hot spot on weekends, the pier draws fishermen of all sorts who wheel their gear down the 1,000-foot-long pier to cast a line. Just below on the shore, kids play volleyball and families lounge about on the soft sands and wade in the warm water. Nobody leaves before dusk because the Gulf has a reputation of presenting spectacular sunsets.
5 Resorts that Spoil
You know that if a town can support two, not one, but two Ritz-Carlton properties, its roster of guests includes the rich and famous. And Naples no doubt attracts the stars in search of R&R, especially in high season (November to April). So here’s the lowdown on the biggies, starting with the Ritz-Carlton Naples and Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, followed by LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort, Waldorf Astoria Naples and Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club. If you haven’t made your millions yet, visit during summer when rates are reduced or pop in for a cocktail or dinner at these resorts.
6 Gateway to Nature
Sitting just north of the Everglades region, Naples is a great home-base for day trips into Florida’s more wild terrain. Hike the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, 26,000 acres with a cypress forest where panthers, bobcats, black bears and other wildlife roam. Or explore the trail into the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Kayakers can paddle deep into the Ten Thousand Islands on overnight camping excursions.
Cultural finds are plentiful in this Gulf city, starting with a visit to the Artis-Naples complex. This is the home of the Naples Philharmonic, so performances of classical music top the list, but Broadway shows, jazz quartets and so much more can be enjoyed here. It’s also the home of the Baker Museum, where the contemporary artwork, including the Persian Ceiling by glass artist Dale Chihuly, dominates the collection.
8 Boat to Your Island
Imagine finding your own private island if only for a couple of hours. Renting a boat and plying the waters from Naples down to the Ten Thousand Islands is one of the best ways to soak in Southwest Florida’s natural beauty. In this undeveloped region, that perfect white beach could be just around the next mangrove islet.
9 Flora and Fauna
Not one to trek the forest trails in search of wildlife and exotic species? No sweat. Naples brings the flora and fauna to you. At the Naples Botanical Garden you can walk through a tropical paradise and learn about the plants of Florida, Asia, Brazil and the Caribbean. Stop at the Naples Zoo, known for its family of cats—cheetahs, leopards, tigers and lions—plus the intriguing fossa, a rare catlike carnivorous mammal from Madagascar.
10 Architecture Row
Whether it’s the architecture or the lure of what millions can buy, a drive south on Gordon Drive to ogle Naples’ magnificent estates is a fun outing. Peek between the perfectly groomed sea grape trees and tall billowy oleanders for a glimpse of the turrets, columns and wrought-iron details that give these homes their regal appearance.