The Best Things to Do in Naples, Florida

It’s no surprise when my hometown of Naples, Florida was voted number one in the nation for health and happiness. year after year after year after year. The town of Gulfside offers everything you could want in a bustling beach community: over 300 days of sunshine a year, boats next to dolphins, tropical citrus seafood, hotels filled with palm trees and seashells, castle-like malls and turquoise water that rivals many spots in the Caribbean.

A significant percentage of savvy travelers who end up in Naples end up going from tourist to local within a year or two, making my little secret Florida look more and more like the new mobile “it†destination. While you can follow in their sandy footsteps, if you fancy a quick dip south, you’ll want a crash course in local knowledge.

So mix some mint leaves and make yourself a mojito. If you’re lucky enough to escape the winter snow and plan a trip to the southwest Sunshine State, you’ll want to check out these coveted spots in Naples.

Who’s ready to go shopping? | Mint Images/RF Mint Images/Getty Images

Treat yourself to luxury

Most of us plebs will fly straight to Fort Myers Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW), but if you’re flying private (and a lot of Naples locals do), you’ll land at Naples Airport where a chauffeured Bentley will likely take you to a Port Royal mansion while you eat caviar, count your diamonds and do whatever ridiculously rich people supposedly do.

All kidding aside, Port Royal is the city’s most famous district, located in the historic district of downtown Naples. Its streets are lined with extravagant mansions and nestled among winding mangroves and manicured palms. Looking at these homes, which are well worth tens of millions, is an absolute must, especially if you have an interest in real estate (or unrealistic expectations).

Looking to emulate her designer handbag, dazzling sunglasses, and dazzlingly jeweled inhabitants? Be sure to press the Waterside shops—an open-air mall where you have to cross real moats to get from Louis Vuitton to Prada.

Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
So peaceful. I could take a nap here. | Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Chat with parrots and stroll the boardwalk

Naples’ many beaches are its obvious draw, but there’s so much more to the city than surf and sand.

If the weather isn’t cooperating or you’re hoping to escape Florida’s notorious humidity, take refuge in a variety of museums, including the Revs Institutewith over 100 classic and rare cars, and the Naples Holocaust Museumwhose artifacts have been donated or loaned on a permanent basis by local survivors and liberators.

If the weather is glorious as usual, but getting oiled up and sunbathing just isn’t in the plan, there are plenty of other ways to take full advantage of the sun and the wildlife that thrives there. Explore the lily pond and active butterfly garden in the beautifully maintained Naples Botanical Gardenor head to the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuarya 2.25 mile walk through the marsh that is a bird watcher’s dream.

To get even closer to the animals, be sure to also stop at the Naples Bird Gardens (corner of Corkscrew) to interact with the parrots and hear about their conservation. Most talkative birds have unique names and personalities, and you can feed them almonds in their cages.

I’ll order the whole menu. | Del Mar Napoli

When you eat seafood, as much as you can

The aforementioned Fifth Avenue offers an abundance of specific dishes to crave, although the newcomer Del Mar has received most of the recent attention. The stunning two-story space with wood-beamed ceilings, industrial light fixtures, and lavish interior trees specializes in Mediterranean-style seafood. You would be wrong not to order the fillet of sea bass, served with a sweet broth of heirloom tomatoes, candied fennel and citrus labneh which is currently, in my humble opinion, the best fish dish in town.

Just around the corner is another seafood institution, USS Nemo, where you can get yellowtail snapper with aioli, grilled branzino with sautéed artichokes, and a bowl of fried grouper served with crunchy pineapple salad, candied walnuts, and a velvety mango sauce. But the spicy lamb stew on tagliatelle is my favorite dish in Naples, found at Campiello—a rustic contemporary Italian restaurant with handmade pastas and wood-fired pizzas.

You’ll also want to take full advantage of Naples’ famous brunches: Stoves for rich cheesy potatoes topped with eggs and Jane’s Cafe on 3rd for healthier options like smashed avocado toast with julienned fresh herbs.

If you’re looking to satisfy a sweet tooth, be sure to hit Cupcakes for lemon-filled cupcakes and frosted almond cookies. Norman love has also developed a cult following with hand-painted chocolates that look like gemstones and colorful fruit pastries that are almost too pretty to eat.

And finally, for those who like a little adventure with their meals, board the Princess of Naples for a sunset dinner cruise, where not only will you sample delicacies like clams, oysters and the chef’s famous crispy and refreshing Caesar salad, but you’ll dance the night away as the sky turns amber and the dolphins overlap along the ship’s hull.

The Ritz-Carlton hotels in Naples
Wake up and see this? Count on me. | The Ritz-Carlton hotels in Naples

Sleep in a house suite at home

Despite very expensive beachfront options, there are plenty of hotels to suit every budget. For the money-conscious, eco-certified and family-friendly Hilton Napoli offers an oversized outdoor pool with a convenient shuttle to the beach, while the Hostel in Pelican Bay pays homage to cute yet kitschy Florida style with Tommy Bahama-inspired rooms decorated with seashell and palm leaf designs.

If you have money to deposit, look no further than the Ritz-Carlton Hotela tropical getaway with stunning beach views, vibrant gardens and a world-class spa with over 30 (!) treatment rooms. LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resortjust down the street, is another luxurious alternative, having undergone $8 million renovations to update its balcony-adorned suites with bold flora and fauna decor that celebrates the area’s ever-blooming landscape. .

For a more metropolitan vibe, head downtown Fifth Inn, which rises above the city’s most popular shops and restaurants on a strip called Fifth Avenue. It’s also a stone’s throw from the pier, a 300-meter Brazilian hardwood pathway leading to the ocean, which is arguably Naples’ most iconic landmark, especially at sunset.

Want more Thrillist? follow us on instagram, Twitter, pinterest, Youtube, ICT Tacand Snapchat.

Joey Skladany is a contributor for Thrillist.