An affluent seaside community, Naples is an under-the-radar beach town with a wealth of restaurants, shopping, great hotels, and excursions, all adjacent to the sparkling turquoise Gulf—and front row for sunsets.

By Kara Franker
Updated: April 29, 2019
Courtesy of Visit Florida

They don’t call it the Paradise Coast for nothing. Located on the southwest edge of the Florida peninsula, Naples is a charming coastal town known for a unique combination of luxe living and laid-back vibes. Think pure white sand beaches, lots of opportunities to get out on the water, and a community that’s dedicated to local conservation efforts. And the islands. Oh, the islands. There are so many unspoiled beaches to explore in the aptly named Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, 40 minutes southeast of downtown Naples.

You’ll also find a variety of picturesque shopping and dining districts where both the well-heeled and flip-flop-clad come to mix and mingle over common obsessions: happy hour and sunset. And not to be overshadowed by all the outdoorsy diversions, art and culture abound in this upscale beach town. Let’s take a dive into all the great places to explore.     

Naples Pier
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The Best Beaches in Naples

The Naples area is famous for having some of the most picture-perfect stretches of sand in the country. Pearly white beaches are decked out with plenty of vibrant seashells (the shelling here is spectacular), a plethora of watersports, and that placid aquamarine body of water known as the Gulf of Mexico.

The beach surrounding the Naples Pier is a popular place to park your umbrella. It’s walking distance from all the great local shopping and restaurants in downtown Naples, and the pier provides the perfect backdrop for killer sunset photos.

Lowdermilk Park is another stellar public beach with a couple of sand volleyball courts, two playgrounds, and twin gazebos. Or check out Vanderbilt Beach where you can grab a strawberry ice cream cone at Beach Box Café across the street.

Just north of the Vanderbilt Beach entrance, you’ll find Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, one of the most gorgeous beach parks in the region. Climb up the observation tower to view rolling sand dunes, natural mangroves, and panoramic vistas of the Cocohatchee River. Explore the park via kayak or stand-up paddle board, or head out on one of the guided ranger tours.

For more of an off-the-beaten-path experience, head to Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park, an undeveloped barrier island. It’s a natural upland that’s home to native gopher tortoises, named such because they create burrows from three to 52 feet long and nine to 23 feet deep for protection.

Keewaydin Island and the In the Pink food boat
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Keewaydin Island, an eight-mile barrier island that’s only accessible by boat or the Hemmingway Water Shuttle, is a must-visit, and it’s the only dog-friendly public beach in the region. No worries if you forget to pack a picnic lunch, because food boats like the flamingo-adorned In the Pink and Just Beachy Burgers & More often show up with plenty of crave-worthy eats and sweets.

Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge
courtesy of Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB

The Naples Boating Culture and Ten Thousand Islands

There’s just no getting around it—water is a way of life in Naples, so make sure you take advantage of those balmy days on the Gulf with plenty of time at sea.

Located south of Naples and Marco Island, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge is a collection of serene deserted islands and secret beaches. An oasis of wildlife, look out for dolphins, manatees, sting rays, turtles, and more. You could spend years combing these waters and still not see all of the incredible hidden gems.

Hop aboard the 105-foot Naples Princess, fresh off a million-dollar renovation. The family-owned cruise company offers daily public yachting excursions. Book a sunset dinner cruise or an afternoon sightseeing adventure. There are special live music nights, wine tasting cruises, and themed parties. You can also reserve the entire yacht for a wedding or special event.

Dolphin Explorer
courtesy of Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB

Or become a citizen scientist for the day and help expert naturalists identify and collect data aboard the Dolphin Explorer. Proceeds from the twice-daily boating excursions help fund the ongoing research of the 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project and includes a trip out to Keewaydin Island’s beautiful uninhabited beach.

Fun Things To Do in Naples

The Naples Pier is one of the most iconic hotspots on the southwest coast where crowds gather nightly to watch spectacular sunsets. The concession stand serves beer and wine, so you can toast to another day well-spent on the beach as the sun dips below the Gulf. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, access to the pier is free and visitors don’t have to have a special fishing license if you want to try your luck with a rod and reel.

Related: The 15 Best Places to Visit in Florida

To experience a taste of the creative art scene, check out Artis—Naples and their unique range of programs including music, film, dance, comedy, lectures, and exhibitions featuring internationally acclaimed artists. Highlights include comedy legends, Broadway stars, and world-renowned musicians performing with the Naples Philharmonic. Check out the reopening of The Baker Museum, a fine-art institution that houses traveling exhibitions as well as a permanent collection of modern and contemporary works.

There are plenty of opportunities to get outside and learn about the environment and wildlife in Naples. Take a walk through a tropical wonderland at the 170-acre Naples Botanical Garden and learn about the local flora and exotic plants from around the world. You’ll see coral limestone water features, fragrant orchids, and a myriad of bromeliads growing in a lush canopy of trees—it’s truly a serene paradise for the senses.

Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Dennis Goodman Photography/courtesy of Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB

Visit the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, an active nature center working to preserve the heritage of the area’s land and water. They have a wildlife hospital that treats injured, sick, and orphaned native animals like turtles, pelicans, and bobcats. Head out on a guided nature walk or eco-cruise and learn more about how to protect the local environment.

Northeast of downtown Naples, Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary provides a 2.25-mile-long boardwalk through the country’s last old growth bald cypress forest, where you can spot hundreds of birds and animals like the American Alligator and the brightly arrayed Painted Bunting. If you’re lucky, you might even see the infamous and extremely rare Super Ghost Orchid.

The Naples Zoo is another great place to get up-close-and-personal with a variety of animals and learn about conservation efforts.

The palm-graced streetscape of 5th Avenue South
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Where to Shop & Dine in Naples

The heart of the shopping and dining scene in Naples is the Fifth Avenue South area in downtown Naples with its combination of historic-meets-modern shop facades and pedestrian-friendly promenades lined with royal palms. Find everything from casual beachwear to high-end designers, home furnishings, and more. Enjoy the al fresco ambiance and sip on a cup of jo at the local 5th Avenue Coffee Company. Head out on a food tour with Naples Culinary Walks where you’ll sample small plates from five local restaurants and a charming gelato parlor.

Just a few blocks away from downtown, stroll past the colorful cottages and mansions in the fancy Third Street South neighborhood and shopping district. There you’ll find a fine collection of art galleries, fashion boutiques, jewelers, and antique shops nestled among the beckoning plazas and courtyards. Instantly amp up your island style at stores like the Old Naples Surf Shop and C. Orrico, a Lilly Pulitzer signature boutique. For delectable Italian eats, dine at Sea Salt, Campiello Ristorante & Bar, or Barbatella. The Old Naples Pub is a neighborhood bistro where you can nosh on American favorites and listen to live music.

Just east of downtown Naples is Celebration Park, a waterfront venue designed specifically for food trucks, with a permanent outdoor dining verandah and a craft beer and wine bar. Take your pick from seafood, pizza, curry, gyros, and bbq. A few blocks away you’ll find new microbrewery Ankrolab Brewing Co., serving up a great selection of local beers on tap.

historic Tin City
courtesy of Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB

In the heart of the Old Naples waterfront district is the historic Tin City, an eclectic tin-roofed shopping and entertainment area with nautical and nature-themed gift shops featuring rustic marine souvenirs and casual seafood eateries like Pinchers. The old Florida vibe of Tin City is a throwback to the 1920s when clam, shelling, oyster, and fishing industries were headquartered here. As you explore, sample tropical fruit wines from all over Florida at The Naples Winery.

At the luxurious Waterside Shops, you’ll find an open-air mall with lush landscaping, bubbling fountains, and covered walkways where you can shop in style at numerous high-end retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue, and dine at a variety of restaurants like the health-conscious True Food Kitchen.

In north Naples, the Mercato entertainment plaza is home to a movie theater, retail shops, and a variety of restaurants ranging from grab-and-go burritos to high-end steaks. The shopping center hosts a popular happy hour with more than a dozen restaurants participating, and there are plenty of weekly events and live music performances. Nearby, check out Bone Hook Brewing Company, southwest Florida’s largest brewpub with more than 20 original craft beers on tap and live music every weekend.

Gulf views from La Playa Beach & Golf Resort
Courtesy of La Playa Beach & Golf Resort

Where to Stay in Naples

Whether you want to be waterfront or in the heart of elegant downtown, there are plenty of great hotels to choose from.

Front row to the Gulf is La Playa Beach & Golf Resort, which features beach butler service—just raise your flag to request a fresh cocktail, multiple pools with private cabanas, and a nightly sunset celebration—complete with fire pits on the beach in front of the veranda of BALEEN, the hotel’s award-winning restaurant, and the ringing of a captain’s bell when the sun takes its final bow below the horizon. 

If you’re looking to stay in style, The Ritz-Carlton, Naples is everything you’d expect from a luxury resort, complete with a pristine beachfront location, lavish spa, and delectable dining options. Check out the casual Gumbo Limbo restaurant with its beautiful sunset and water views.

Naples Bay Resort & Marina
courtesy of Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB:

Here’s a major perk for boating enthusiasts: Naples Bay Resort & Marina has daily boat rentals available for both day-trip visitors and guests staying at the on-site hotel. Yes, you can roll out of bed and right onto a boat in the marina that’s gassed up and ready to go. It’s the launch pad for exploring Keewaydin Island and other hidden gems in Ten Thousands Islands.

Directly on the Gulf of Mexico, you’ll find The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, a 125-acre tropical paradise that’s home to HB’s on the Gulf, an upscale seafood restaurant with a romantic ambiance. Or check into the newly renovated Naples Grande Beach Resort. It’s connected to the beach via a boardwalk over picturesque Clam Pass.

For a high-end experience in the heart of downtown Naples, check out the ritzy Inn on Fifth and their lavish club level suites that overlook the posh Fifth Avenue South entertainment district.

Summer Jazz on the Gulf
courtesy of Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB

When To Go To Naples

Naples is a favorite destination for snow birds, so winter is high-season, but summer is when you can usually score great deals on hotels and restaurants.

Summer visitors can take part in a popular tradition hosted by The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club for more than 30 years: Summer Jazz on the Gulf concert series, where you can sway to the sounds of live jazz on the resort’s scenic waterfront lawn.

Foodies love to head south during the 14-day semi-annual Sizzle SWFL Restaurant Week, when you can taste your way through some of the most popular restaurants in the region. The dining promotion features multi-course meals at pre-fixed prices and takes place in June and December.

Stone crab claws from Pinchers
courtesy of Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB

Or check out the annual Stone Crab Festival at Tin City each October. Celebrate the kick off of the season with fresh Florida stone crab claws and live music on the waterfront. Can it get any better than that?

From fancy shopping and dining to discovering deserted islands via boat, Naples is a coastal paradise that should have a spot on your Sunshine State bucket list.

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