By Kathy Barnett/Senior Editor
Time seems to stand still for me when I’m looking out over the beach in Naples. Feeling the wind gently blowing across my face, breathing in the fresh salty air, feeling the warmth of the sun beating down on the white sand. I can’t think of a place I’d rather be. When I am stressed or upset, I direct my thoughts to my happy place – Naples. My best girlfriend lived there for several years, so I had the pleasure of visiting often. I was even there during Hurricane Irma and while areas are still recouperating and rebuilding, most of the city is welcoming visitors back to their attractions. Below are some of my favorites:
Visitors to Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens are welcomed by the pitter-patter of tiny webbed feet with the debut of Penguins in Paradise featuring four African penguins. Penguins in Paradise is a seasonal traveling exhibit on display through April 15, 2018. This will be the first time that penguins will have ever been on exhibit at Naples Zoo. Unlike their cousins in Antarctica, this African species thrives in a subtropical climate like that of sunny Naples, Florida. The special exhibit is included in regular zoo admission. It features naturalistic rock work, ledges and irregular surfaces, and a pool for swimming. Guests will be able to learn about penguins in the wild and conservation efforts underway to help them.
Naples Botanical Garden
A 170-acre world-class garden paradise minutes from downtown Naples, bringing a world of tropical plants and cultures of the tropics and subtropics to more than 220,000 visitors per year. Themed gardens represent the culture and flora of the tropics with seven distinct natural habitats and ecosystems, featuring over 1000 species, with special emphasis on the ecosystems between the 26th parallel north and the 26th parallel south.
Dinosaurs inhabit Naples Botanical Garden February 17-June 3, 2018. The Dinosaurs: Back With a Roar! multi-sensory exhibit features life-sized replicas that move and growl, including an 85-foot Brachiosaurus and a 40-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex. This dynamic and interactive dinosaur exhibit is both educational and entertaining for the entire family and is included with regular garden admission.
Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary invites visitors to experience the world-famous Corkscrew boardwalk in the evening light and participate in educational programs, interpretive exhibits, and enjoy live music in the Blair Visitor Center with several magical Corkscrew After Hours programs. Upcoming dates are February 2 with education centered on World Wetlands Day, and March 9 with education about Florida Native Plants.
Take time to rest a bit and enjoy the view during lunch at the Fogg Cafe. It is located in the visitor center right on the grounds. In addition to incorporating an exciting garden-to-table inspired menu, the cuisine represents Brazilian, Caribbean, Asian and Floridian themes from each garden. The menu changes seasonally, focusing on exceptional quality and moderate pricing in a fast casual service setting. Open for breakfast and lunch, Fogg Café also features a kids menu, snack options and refined selection of wine and beer. Plan a minimum of two hours to see all the gardens. Admision is only $14.95 each, ages 4-14 are $9.95. Open 9-5. >MORE
Conservancy of Southwest Florida
The newly renovated Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center, located just south of the Naples Zoo, is designed to raise awareness of the importance of protecting the water, land, and wildlife in the region.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida began in 1964 when community leaders came together to defeat a proposed “Road to Nowhere” and spearheaded the acquisition and protection of Rookery Bay. The Conservancy is a not-for-profit grassroots organization focused on the critical environmental issues of the Southwest Florida region with a mission to protect the region’s water, land and wildlife. This is accomplished through the combined efforts of environmental education, science, policy, and wildlife rehabilitation. The von Arx Wildlife Hospital treats in excess of 2,200 injured, sick and orphaned animals each year and releases about half of them back into their native habitats. 1450 Merrihue Dr., Naples, FL. Phone: 239-262-0304, Web:www.conservancy.org.
If you are in town the first week of Nov., join in the fun for the Redsnook Charity Fishing Tournament, Nov. 3-5. The event is a reminder of one of the treasures of our region – our waterways. Without clean and abundant supplies of water, recreational and sport fishing would be a thing of the past. The tournament supports the work of the Conservancy to keep our waters clean and to preserve and enhance our fisheries. For more information, call 239-403-4219.
A visit to the Paradise Coast means spending quality time submerged, floating or looking at the ocean. Be sure to explore the Everglades by airboat. There are several tour groups available. Paddle in the Ten Thousand Islands, fish in the Gulf and spend the day catching your own dinner. The Ten Thousand Islands section of the Everglades is known as an angler’s paradise, with tarpon, snook, redfish, permit, pompano and other species in abundance. Now you don’t need a drone to see what the beach looks like from up above. Instead, be adventurous and try a once-in-a-lifetime parasailing adventure. Starting from a sitting position on the back of the boats, you will be gently lifted into the air. It’s a smooth ascension and afterward, a smooth descend back to the boat. Fly solo, double or triple. Whatever your choice, as Naples Beach Water Sports says, “It’s for the Time of Your Life!”
Indulge by reserving a Beachfront Suite stay at Edgewater Beach Hotel. Having access to a private section of the beach and the breathtaking view is worth every penny. There are no beach closing hours here. Watch the gentle waves of the Gulf roll onto the shore from your private balcony. Unwind after a full day of water sports or sightseeing in your spacious living room, and enjoy the convenience of the suite’s modern kitchen, featuring a full-size refrigerator, microwave, and a granite counter breakfast bar or a separate dining area. With additional premium amenities including iPod docking stations, in-room safes and wireless Internet access, Edgewater’s Beachfront suites offer the ultimate Naples getaway. The last evening there, the grand finale was watching the sunset from our dinner table at the Coast Restaurant. We made reservations to assure a table by the spacious windows. With a luxureous atmosphere, live piano entertainment, attention to every detail, impecible service, perfectly prepared internationally-inspired cuisine, I can’t really say which was best: the view or the meal. Together, it was truly a memorable dining experience we won’t soon forget.
Editor’s Note: The Naples, Marco Island, Immokalee metropolitan area is ranked the #1 Happiest Healthiest City in the United States in 2017 for the second consecutive year by the Gallup-Healthways State of the American Well-Being Community Rankings. Naples was recently named the Best Beach Town to Live In by WalletHub.com. Naples and the surrounding metropolitan area is ranked in the “Top Ten Best Adventure Destinations in the United States” by the U.S. Tourism Quality Index. Naples is ranked the #1 Least Polluted City in the United States by Realtor.com.