The Paradise Coast, Where Luxury Meets Laidback

Sugar sand beaches and slow sunsets melting into the horizon are just a few offerings that are unique to the Gulf Coast of Florida. I was blessed with a four-day hosted trip to the Paradise Coast, the stretch of Southwest Florida inclusive of Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades. This area offers both diverse landscapes and a variety of cultural settings. Within a 45-minute drive, you can experience the opulence of 5th Avenue South in Naples to a southern swamp safari in Everglades City.

Since I have covered the swamp to a full extent in the Ultimate Guide to the Glades, I will share the highlights of the other parts of the Paradise Coast.

Marco Island

Marco Island is the largest of the Ten Thousand Islands barrier chain with prehistorical roots when it was settled by the Calusa in 500 BC. The Marco we know today has a twist of Tiki, with Polynesian inspired architecture authentic to its Midcentury development. The developers that molded modern Marco set out the mission to “Make everything look Hawaiian.” With the recruitment of architect Herb Savage, Polynesian A-Frame buildings and tiki huts popped up to give a faraway feeling in Florida. The pinnacle of Savage’s Paradise Coast creations was the Marco Beach Hotel and Villas that opened in 1971. It is now known as the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort.

My visit to the JW Marriott in Marco was part of an exclusive adult only experience, Paradise by Sirene. My suite was in one of the 94 guest rooms dedicated to guests over 21 years old. In addition to tranquility, this package included exclusive access to the adult-only pool, VIP beach access and a complimentary breakfast.

The resort has 11 dining options on site, ranging from Balinese street food at Kane, to Mediterranean bites at Tesoro. If you want to wander off the property, you can visit the Esplanade Shoppes overlooking the marina and find a local favorite, CJ’s on the Bay. Another shopping and dining district within walking distance of the resort is Marco Walk Plaza, where you can slip into the speakeasy vibe of the Oyster Society.

If you are seeking a romantic getaway, Marco Island is fit for sunset saturated honeymoon.

Naples

The sugar sand dusted coast of Naples is one of the wealthiest cities in the country. However, do not let that stat lead you to think that this spot is stuffy. My description of Naples would be Palm Beach posh with a shaker of salt. Local roots run deep in both the fishing industry and luxury real estate. In Naples, the rustic aesthetic of nautical structures mixes with multimillion-dollar Mediterranean mansions.

I stayed at the Caribbean-chic Edgewater Beach Hotel, part of the Opal Collection. The top floor suite boasts panoramic views of the turquoise Gulf of Mexico. Where the JW Marriott Marco Island has a luxury resort ambiance, the Edgewater is an upscale homestay with a full kitchen so you can settle in. Wake up to a balcony view of dolphins splashing as you enjoy a brunch picnic basket curated by the onsite culinary staff. The property has two gulfside pools and their waterfront restaurant Coast, perfect for sunset cocktails.

For the swanky side of town, saunter off to Fifth Avenue South. This five-mile Main Street district dates back to the 1920s when Naples became a destination with scenery “surpassing the bay in Naples, Italy.” Before the first traffic light was installed here at the Tamiami Trail intersection in 1948, the Orange Blossom Special made its whistle stop here for tourists in the roaring 20s. The Naples Seaboard Air Line Passenger Station is still intact, along with many Mediterranean Revival historical landmarks that rival Worth Avenue.

If you care to explore the salty side of Naples, turn off 5th Ave S to Tin City. This historic seaport on the Gordon River was once was the central hub of the fishing and clamming industry in the early 20th century. Today it hosts locally-owned waterfront shops and eateries. It is the ultimate stop for Florida souvenirs, and home to my favorite Sunshine State Sweet, Monkey Buntz. Tin City is also the meeting place for local tours.  I took the streets by Segway of Naples, and to the sea by way of Pure Florida’s sunset cruise.

With its proximity to the mangrove islets of Ten Thousand Islands and the Everglades, this subtropical paradise is optimal for the ecotourists. I coasted through the mangrove caverns with Naples Paddleboard on a morning rookery tour. This 9AM tour is exquisite to watch seabirds wake up for their first morning wing stretch. The location of the tour is in the same parking lot as the historic Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens. You can meet both exotic and local wildlife on exhibit, such as the Florida Panther.

To refuel after your adventures, opt for the casual food trucks at Celebration Park or waterfront dining on Crayton Cove. The Dock at Crayton Cove is a Florida original and Naples institution, established in 1976. Here you dine over the water while enjoying cocktails made with fresh fruit juices, no bottled mixers here! Be sure to crack into some stone crab claws if your visit is during season from October 15th through May 15th.

Another popular destination for nature lovers is Naples Botanical Garden. This attraction is a mix of natural preservation land and curated gardens that emphasize tropical ecosystems lying between the latitudes of 26 degrees north and south. The year-round warmth of the region makes it an optimal spot to propagate gargantuan ginger, plumeria, pandanus palms, and the cryptically beautiful strangler fig.

If you’re a foodie, Naples is home to renown restaurants and eateries that cater to all diets. The Local offers fresh sea-to-table fare, with a variety of gluten free and plant-based options. I highly suggest getting the Squash Blossom Pizza complete with almond cheese ricotta. If you have a taste for tapas, you will adore La Moraga with a contemporary Spanish menu and amazing locally caught fish.

Whether you arrive by Rolls Royce, barefoot or by sea, it is imperative that you spend every night of your Paradise Coast escape watching the sunset. You may see the flash of green, an optical illusion created as the sun dips past the horizon. Old Florida legend says that if you see the green flash then you will fall into fortune. If you’re lucky enough to see it, you may be able to invest in the high dollar real estate and stay in paradise forever.

Thank you to the Paradise Coast and aforementioned tourism partners for hosting me.

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