Perhaps you just need a change of scenery.
Once you emerge on the other side of Alligator Alley after a two-hour drive, the west coast of South Florida unfurls against the powder white sands of the Gulf of Mexico where Naples is nestled into a corner of the Everglades. Here, youâ€™re never far from a mangrove estuary as herons and brown pelicans swoop peacefully through the sky and you can consistently rely upon dolphin sightings just offshore.
Itâ€™s a favored destination of wealthy snowbirds and retireesâ€”their stucco and limestone manses are built waterfront along the gulf and its canals. But thereâ€™s also a more down to earth year round locals scene to be discovered.
After a long weekend there, I decided Naples has a touch of sophistication with its neatly landscaped Mediterranean Revival downtown district, and a touch of the rough-and-tumble as locals stream down the avenue on longboards, barefoot in cutoff jeans on their way to the beach.
Where to Beach
For Miamians accustomed to the Atlantic Ocean, a trip to Naples should involve the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico if only to be reminded of their difference and, more importantly, to relax. For an experience that feels like youâ€™ve stumbled upon a secret stretch of beach, head to Clam Pass Park, a mangrove estuary at the foot of theÂ Naples GrandeÂ hotel. After a 15-minute walk through a hardwood hammock along a boardwalk made of recycled milk cartons, I reached the sparkling aquamarine gulf and spotted a gopher tortoise and dune rabbit as soon as I reached the sand. Thereâ€™s an open air Greek restaurant with shaded patio seating on a wooden deck, adding to the â€śparadise foundâ€ť charm.
A popular beach for locals is accessed at the end of Vanderbilt Beach Road near the rowdyÂ Beach Box Cafe. To the north, youâ€™ll findÂ The Turtle ClubÂ where you can enjoy dinner or drinks with your toes in the sand and front row views of the sunset and to the south, the Ritz-Carltonâ€™sÂ Gumbo LimboÂ tiki bar offers a casual, yet chic setting for oceanfront cocktails.
Dining & Nightlife Downtown
The thrust of Naples dining and nightlife scene is found downtown along Fifth Avenue South, along with its boutiques and galleries. I met friends atÂ Bistro 821Â for pre-dinner cocktails and appetizers where their espresso martini is extremely popular amongst locals. Already starving, I ordered their chili relleno stuffed with garlic shrimp, spicy beef and mozzarella smothered in a refined roasted tomato-chipotle sauce that perfectly hit the spot.
We moved ontoÂ TuliaÂ for dinner, with its shabby chic dĂ©cor, earnest cocktail program and sophisticated menu of sumptuous Italian small plates. Itâ€™s as close to hipster as it gets in Naples and would easily be at home amongst Miamiâ€™s hot spots with dishes ranging from house-made ricotta with artichokes and Meyer lemon to a simple cacio e pepe bucatini with sheepâ€™s cheese and wood-roasted salmon. Across the street is Paddy Murphyâ€™s Irish Pub, if youâ€™d like your night to devolve into a drunken spiral in a strange, dimly lit pub-meets-club atmosphere.
Otherwise,Â The ContinentalÂ is a short Uber away on Third Street where a chic patio lined in white umbrellas hosts live music on Friday and Saturday nights and a sophisticated cocktail menu is organized by the spirit. This stretch of Third Street is worth exploring during the day for its chic shops (ranging from Oscar de la Renta to local boutiques) in a village-like setting. Youâ€™ll also findÂ Sea SaltÂ here, one of Naplesâ€™ hottest restaurants of the moment, specializing in sophisticated Italian by Venetian chef-owner Fabrizio Aielli.
Avenue FiveÂ at the Inn on Fifth offers an exceptionally sophisticated place to sip champagne in a champagne-colored dining room with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the street. Opt for their Lobster Cobb or duck confit flatbread. A more casual option isÂ Sheaâ€™s at Landsdowne Street, tucked away in a plaza across the street from Avenue Five. This newly opened spot serves up a wide variety of sandwiches, salads and burgers alongside an extensive beer selection in a sports bar setting.
Where to Stay
Naples Grand Beach ResortÂ –Â With chic poolside landscaping that includes three pools and a water slide, Naples Grande also boasts a spa, golf course and beach access. Rooms are spacious and chic with balconies and a cool palette of blues, silvers and creams. Donâ€™t miss a meal atÂ The Catch of the PelicanÂ with their decadent and perfectly chilled raw bar, farm fresh salads and prime cuts of steak paired with fine wines and peaceful views.Â From $246.
Inn on FifthÂ –Â For a sophisticated stay in downtown Naples, the Inn on Fifth is decked out in a sophisticated Art Deco motif in black, white and red. Rooms and suites are spacious and stylish with large marble bathrooms.Â From $169.
EdgewaterÂ –This all-suite hotel is situated directly on the gulf for stunning sunset views. Take a paddleboard for a spin from their beach hut where youâ€™ll spot dolphins along the nearby jetty.Â From $215.
For Miamians, a weekend in Naples offers a relaxed pace, the nature and tranquility of the Gulf of Mexico and some pretty hotels to hide away for a getaway thatâ€™s easy to pull off.
The Logistics:Â Two-hour drive from Miami across I-75 Alligator Alley.
A version of this story originally appeared on Miami.com.