FL: The Gulf Coast of Florida

If you are looking to take a beach vacation without leaving the country, consider Naples, Florida.  Every time I visit Naples, it seems to grow tremendously with new condos, major retail chains and restaurants.  While this makes a vacation comfortable because you know you can always run out and get anything from beach chairs to a new suitcase should you need one, it is not what makes the town attractive.  Naples and neighboring Bonita Beach and Fort Meyers have charming beaches.  Being on the Gulf coast, these beaches and waters are very different than those on the Ocean side.  The Gulf beaches have a different sand and a different vibe.  The waters are warmer and much calmer.  The surf is rarely too rough to swim in and the water is so clear, you can see your feet just as if you were looking at them through glass.  It feels almost like you are swimming in a pond. My two small children and I swam all of the beaches in and around Naples in a recent visit there (our fourth year in a row)-our favorites being Clam Pass Beach and in Bonita, Barefoot Beach.  In February, the water was not quite as warm as bath water, but warm enough to swim in comfortably.  We spent all day on the beach collecting shells, building sand castles, taking long walks and of course, swimming.  We would stand on shore and let the waves run over our feet, leaving hundreds of tiny clams of all different colors to wiggle their way into the wet sand. 

One morning, soon after the sun rose, we walked out on Naples Pier near Old Naples.  The pier was loaded with fishermen pulling their rods back and dropping mackeral onto the dock if they were one of the lucky ones.  While we might have had to dodge buckets of squid bait and extra fishing rods, it happened to be a great time to visit the pier because where there are fish, there are pelicans and dolphins.  We stood on the pier and watched the doplhins jumping into the air in pairs and threes, putting on a show just for us.

As far as the dining goes, our favorite places were the small, family run businesses.  Instead of the chains, where there is often a wait, especially during the busy season, try a place like The Greek Gourmet, on Tamiani Trail North (Route 41).  It has declicious, authentic Greek food at reasonable prices.  Plus it’s next to Dairy Queen and you really can’t ignore how just one cone of soft white peaks will take you right back to childhood. 

We had occassion to stay at the Naples Grande Resort and Spa due to a blizzard in our home town and canceled flights home.  Thanks to the generosity of the airlines, we were able to indulge in a luxury resort for a few nights.  If you ever have the means to try this place, don’t think twice: go.  It’s half the price of the Ritz Carlton or the Pink Shell in Ft Meyers, but it is just as nice.  There are three pools, one with a hundred foot curly slide that sounds intimidating but even a five year old could go down it alone.  The hotel is smack in the middle of Naples, but you rarely need to leave.  There are great restaurants inside, including a Strip House, where we ate one night.  Go for the lamb chops and the creamed spinach-those were the best but every single thing we ordered was amazing. 

The resort is kid friendly and has amenities that truly help parents who are attempting to relax despite the fact that they are always chasing children around.  The big pool, the one with the slide, also has a large shallow section that is only 1 1/2 feet deep.  There is a golf course and tennis courts, a tram that will take you to the beach if you don’t feel like walking the half mile, and of course, a full fledged spa on the premises.  If you have any energy left at all, the fitness center is first rate.  Apparently the resort was just completely renovated two years ago and it shows.

For those who want to get in touch with nature, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuaryprovides a tranquil environment to stroll along a 2.2 mile boardwalk that cuts right through four distinct environments including a cyprus forest and a marsh.  Along the walk you will see different wildlife depending on the time of year but expect to see loads of beautiful and rare birds, turtles, alligators and more. 

There really is no shortage of things to do in Naples and the surrounding area, did you know there is an Opera and a Philharmonic there?  It’s an easy and accessible town that may give you the break you deserve!

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