By Mick Elliott
With sun-soaked beaches, a kaleidoscope of golf resorts, upscale shopping, culture, nature excursions and a wealth of history, all served in a laid-back setting, Naples is a treasure. This sparkling city on Florida’s southwest coast has been busy shaking off its one-time image as a retirement enclave and is moving up travel hot lists with a bullet.
Greater Naples boasts 90-plus 18-hole layouts. “Must-plays” include Tiburon Golf Club, Greg Norman’s 36-hole design that hosts the Merrill Lynch Shootout, and LaPlaya Golf Course, a Bob Cupp design that is also home to the David Leadbetter Golf Academy. The Naples Beach Golf Club boasts the area’s oldest course, built in 1930. Naples Grande Golf Club is a Rees Jones design with varied elevation and lots of aqua.
No area hotel has a richer history than Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club. Originally constructed in the 1880s, the property has newly decorated rooms with a casual, Old Florida comfort. To play Tiburon, you must stay at the Ritz-Carlton. LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort is an elegant yet relaxed boutique hotel. To play Naples Grande, book a room at Naples Grande Resort & Club or Edgewater Beach Hotel.
Creative sushi, nightly seafood specials and dry-aged steak are the stars at Chops City Grill on trendy Fifth Avenue South. Just a short walk away, Cafe and Bar Lurcat serves up mini-burgers and fries so good they are served with Bearnaise sauce. A casual waterfront favorite is Riverwalk, where the Sunday brunch Bloody Mary bar features an array of mixes, spices and condiments.
The Naples Historical Society offers walking tours of the historic district; the more adventurous can opt for Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, where the boardwalk stretches into a cypress forest. Everglades Angler offers fishing charters in mangrove estuaries. Shoppers will love Fifth Avenue South or nearby Third Street South for boutiques and galleries offering unique items.