Caribbean Paradise in the USA

Caribbean paradise in the USA 2

Sunsets…

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Sandcastles…

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Palm trees…

What kind of feelings do these photos evoke in you?

For most of us at Daily Mom, it’s a bittersweet feeling. Recently we have had a chance to gather in Naples, Florida for a Daily Mom meeting and these were the sights that we were surrounded by. We had a wonderful time in a wonderful place and we would like to share this little piece of paradise with you.

As many of you know, Daily Mom editors and writers are spread all over the United States. That helps us get different perspectives on the posts that we are writing, as well as cover a wider variety of subjects. Our locations differ from each other greatly, from rural Iowa to outdoorsy Colorado to lush and tropical Naples to urban Atlanta and more. As a part of our TRAVEL category, we would like to bring to you a guide to some of the more interesting travel destinations within the continental United States as seen by our editors and writers.
Whether you’re looking to lounge on the beach, party with rockstars, bike in the mountains, or shop in the city, you will discover familiar and obscure destinations throughout this series, as well as things to do, places to visit and hotels to stay in.

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There is no better place to start off our Destination Guide than warm, sandy and sunny Naples, Florida. If you are looking for Caribbean-esque lush and tropical beaches with a small town feel, but big city shopping, dining and amenities, Naples is the destination for you. It’s been long known as the town of the rich older snowbirds and European tourists. However, what is one of the best kept secrets of Naples is that it is a paradise for younger families with kids.

LOCATION AND CLIMATE

Situated in the southwest corner of Florida by the Gulf of Mexico, Naples and its adjoining Marco Island are the southernmost areas of Florida without going into the Keys. What that means is mild temperatures all throughout the year, warm Gulf waters, tall swaying palm trees, the likes of which can only be seen this close to the equator, fine sand and almost eternal sunshine.
Depending on the season, one can experience gorgeous blooming trees and bushes everywhere, Gulf waters so warm that they can be compared to walking into a warm bath, dazzling sunsets, fresh morning air, afternoon storms, mirages, and warm evenings all year round.

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Best time to visit

It’s hard to decide when to visit because each season has something beautiful to offer, so base your visit on what you’re looking for and are comfortable with.

Winter season (November-May) boasts blue skies all day long, with virtually no rain or clouds and pleasant temperatures of around 85 degrees, with a possible cold spell with temperatures going into the 60s occasionally. It’s the time when flowers and trees are in bloom with a variety of tropical colors, making Naples look like a jungle of palm trees and colors, the ocean is teal blue like on a post card.

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The gulf water is chilly mid-winter, but it hasn’t deterred tourists from swimming even in the dead of the season. Come closer to the beginning or end of the season and you might be lucky enough with mild warm temperatures AND ocean temperatures warm enough to dip in comfortably. Rates for hotel stays and rentals are the highest during this season, so is the traffic and population which grows by 2/3rds in winter alone. But if you like the hustle and bustle of a busy beach town, that should go right along with your kids squealing and chasing each other and you sipping beach side cocktails while chatting with a fellow tourist.

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Summertime (June-October) is a typical tropical rain season, with temperatures in mid 90s and refreshing summer thunderstorms every afternoon. If you love warmth, summer rains and sun, this is the season for you. The town clears out by June, so you will have gorgeous beaches all to yourself. Restaurants suddenly need no reservation and hotels offer ridiculously low rates. It’s the season for true relaxation and reflection, unencumbered by long lines or outside noises. Despite popular belief, summers in Southern Florida aren’t unbearably hot. Temperatures often stay below what other parts of the country experience due to the refreshing gulf breeze. The already lush landscape fills up with that jungle green color you see in movies, grass turns jade green, the air feels moist and tropical and just when you start to think that the sun is getting a little too hot, a summer thunderstorm arrives (daily). It’s a monsoon-like storm that leaves as fast as it comes in, and 30 minutes later, you’re playing outside enjoying that moisture charged air. Some weeks can get very hot and humid, while others will surprise you with relatively mild temperatures.

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APPEAL

What makes Naples different from other Florida destinations?

Warm gulf waters – unlike the Atlantic side of Florida, the gulf water is much warmer which means being able to enjoy the beaches virtually all year round.
Manicured Landscaping – Naples takes pride in its lush manicured streets, lined with palm trees. There is a strict code policy when it comes to signage or colors, and all streets have medians with gorgeous flowers and plants. Subdivisions are hidden from sight by lush landscaping. It’s eye candy to just take a drive down the main streets of Naples.

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Colorful Tuscan theme – there’s something to be said about beautiful architecture in Naples. North of Naples has a younger, more modern feel with fountains, steel and glass everywhere surrounded by blooms. As you go further south, you’re greeted by exceedingly Tuscan themed architecture, full of warm colors and Italian inspired design aesthetic. You can even experience a little Venice in the Venetian Village with houses set on stilts in the Naples waterways.

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Top notch dining and shopping – For a small town, the shopping and dining can be easily compared to big cities like LA and NYC.
Beautiful intimate beaches – Aside from a whole stretch of beaches down the coast, you can find many deserted and private beaches on numerous islands down south.

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First class resorts – With 2 Ritz Carltons, 2 Waldorfs and an array of smaller more locally known hotels at reasonable rates, you will never be without a place to stay. We loved La Playa Resort in North Naples, which offers a more intimate setting and personal service while standing toe to toe with big hotels.
Variety of family friendly places – A large chunk of Naples’ non-transient population are families with kids who enjoy various activities in all parts of Naples. Kids of all ages will find fun things to do for a few weeks.

BEACHES

Some of the best beaches can be found in Naples. With warm Gulf water, fine white sand, tall palm trees throwing shadows on the water, seagulls, pelicans and an obligatory iced drink, one can’t find a better place to relax.
Beaches are a public property, so there are beach entrances all throughout the southwest coast for a more intimate experience without a crowd. If you prefer facilities and fellow volleyball players, you can visit one of many public beach parks with parking garages, bathrooms, beachside bars, showers and water rentals.

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If you go south, you get to dig your feet in pristine fine white sands. For shelling, drive 10-20 minutes north and have fun gathering shells and sand dollars with you kids.
Staying at a beachfront hotel will ensure you have chairs and umbrellas with a waiter by your side. There are numerous beachfront bars all over the coast, so if you decided to stay inland, you could always rent a cabana or a chair and make runs to the bar for some refreshments as an alternative.

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ADULT ENTERTAINMENT

CLUBS/BARS/LOUNGES – The younger North Naples has stylish lounges and clubs that are full of singles and couples out having fun. If you manage to secure a babysitter, Blue Martini and Vision Nightclub are the two places to stop by. Cigar bars, wine bars and bistros line up one after another on 5th ave.

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LIVE MUSIC – On any given day one can find more than one place with live bands. If live entertainment is your style, check out Mercato Shops, Fifth Ave South, and Third Street South for listings of events. Every Summer Naples hosts a Summer Jazz on the Gulf concert series hosted beachside by a local hotel.

MOVIES – One of the best movie theaters in the United States can be found in Naples, FL. Silverspot theater will wow you with french leather oversized armchairs with tray and restaurant serving wine, desserts and appetizers that can be brought inside the theater.

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SHOPPING – From traditional mall stores to exclusive designers to beautiful outlets malls – shopping here is another attraction. Most malls are outdoor and span for miles. The Waterside shops with its modern architecture and beautiful water features is the mall for upscale shopping. 5th Ave stores are your local boutique style shops. Coconut Point in Estero is a traditional mall in a non-traditional setting. Coastland Center is an indoor mall if you’re looking for a familiar shopping experience. Mercato is a shopping center complete with a Whole Foods and a handful of upscale restaurants and affordable gourmet bistros. Venetian Village will remind you of Venice with houses on stilts and waterways. Miromar outlets will make your wallet happy with designer deals.

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DINING – When it comes to dining, you’ll rarely see so many world class restaurants located in such a small area. Naples has become very progressive when it comes to dining, offering many vegan and organic options. You can find any cuisine you wish, from popular French restaurants to Hungarian food and upscale American.
ART AND ANTIQUES – If you’re an art buff, you will delight in numerous art galleries located throughout downtown Naples, as well as an impressive Museum of Art featuring 15 galleries. Antique shops are like little museums, full of treasures from all over the world.

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GOLF – One cannot visit Naples without playing a game of golf on its 1530 holes, which officially makes it a “Golf Capital of the World.” It was ranked No. 1 nationally for its abundance of golf holes. From resort-side golf to public course, if golf is your family’s pastime, there’s no better place for it.

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FAMILY FRIENDLY ACTIVITIES

WATER SPORTS – With winding waterways and glass-like water of the Gulf, water sports are a must. From jetski rentals, to  more relaxed paddleboards or catamarans, you will find something to do for every member of your family.

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EVERGLADES – The Everglades, the largest subtropical wilderness is a popular attraction for families and couples. You can take one of the guided excursions in airboats and watch a variety of birds and animals come to life before your eyes, or do it on your own and visit the Everglades National park for biking, boat tours, canoe trails, camping, hiking and tram tours.
SHELLING –  The north of Naples boasts some of the best shelling in Florida. For low key shelling, visit any of the north beaches or drive up to Captiva Island. If you or your kids want to go on a shelling adventure and see if you can find “treasures”, some of the shelling tours will take you to the deserted islands on a boat, as well as give you a dolphin watching opportunity.

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FISHING – The temperate waters of the Gulf  provide a good year-round environment for a large number of fish species. Fishing is a big pastime in Naples and there are plenty of fishing charters available, as well as marinas and tackle shops. Backwater fishing and offshore fishing are popular options here.

SUNSET CRUISE – One of the most beautiful sights in Naples is the sunset. The sun setting over the calm water can only be seen on the Gulf side of Florida and it creates amazing light shows that make “sunset crowds” (people who gather on the beach at each sunset to say goodbye to the sun by clapping when it sets) pull out their cameras each time. To truly experience a Naples sunset, try one of the inexpensive and numerous sunset cruises. Not only will you get to see dolphins playing in the wake, but you’ll  witness the sun from far offshore while bopping on the waves. We recommend opting for a catamaran cruise if you have older children or no kids at all, as it offers a much more intimate experience with wine and a handful of passengers. If your kids are younger and need more “safety”, a comfortable, big, two level boat is the best option for you.

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ZOO –  A small but meticulously maintained zoo will surely delight little kids without exhausting the parents. 2 lion exhibits, zebras, panthers, camels, a whole monkey island which can be seen by ferry boat, and an opportunity to feed a giraffe are some of the fun attractions at the zoo.

BOATING – If one of you knows how to captain a boat, renting one for a day is going to give you an experience of a lifetime. Whether you decide to visit one of the party beaches, or stop by a boat-accessible restaurant and taste a fresh catch or go cruising in the open water, or maybe dock by the deserted islands and go swimming with your family, watch birds, chase dolphins, weave through waterways – there are so many options that will leave you wishing for more days at sea.

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NATURE WALKS – Plenty of boardwalks have been built through nature preserves, but our favorite is the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Located almost 50 miles inland, it is a 13,000 acre 2.25 mile preserve and is home to  the largest remaining stand of old growth bald cypress in North America.

BOTANICAL GARDEN – If you’re looking for a gorgeous backdrop for a wedding, an event or just a simple family photoshoot, Botanical Gardens will be the perfect place to visit. With gorgeous garden exhibits like Asian, Brazilian, Caribbean and Florida gardens, as well as fun Children’s garden, water garden and the preserve, even the smallest kids will enjoy discovering new varieties of plants and blossoms.

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KAYAKING – One of our favorite activities, kayaking, is a big pastime in Naples and surrounding areas. Going up to Ft. Myers would give you 150 miles of waterways to explore. Naples will offer open waters and wide waterways to kayak with your families. Rentals are available everywhere. We’d recommend visiting Lover’s Key Park for a very quiet, shorter kayaking adventure, where you might even get a chance to pet a manatee as they often swim up to kayakers.

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WATERPARK – While it is no Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon, Sun-N-Fun lagoon is a good place to spice things up and cool down during the day. Various slides, a lazy river, diving boards and 3 splash areas will ensure enough water fun for everyone.

CHILDREN’S MUSEUM – If you have a little one who loves to be hands on and explore, C’MON is a place for you.  A 2 story, 30,000 square foot museum includes 10 permanent and temporary exhibits that will delight your little ones’ senses and minds.

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WILDLIFE – While Naples is considered a very civilized place full of shops, dining and activities, it is still Florida and Florida is home to many species of animals and birds that Naples residents have worked hard to preserve. As you do the above mentioned activities, you will be sure to see numerous inhabitants of this subtropical area: dolphins while boating, manatees while kayaking, birds of various sizes, pelicans, alligators, even panthers if you’re lucky.

WEDDINGS, EVENTS, FAMILY PHOTO SHOOTS– Naples has long been a popular destination for tropical themed weddings without having to leave the US. Most hotels provide wedding services and there are plenty of local venues. Tropical settings and backdrops make for some beautiful photos. If you’re in the area and are interested in capturing memories, contact Leeka from MM Works Photography at 513-766-2613.

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 PLACES TO STAY

Our next post in this series will feature a handful of family friendly resorts in Naples that go out of their way to ensure the absolute best experience for visitors of all ages.

Two of our favorite resorts, La Playa Resort and Waldorf Astoria Naples, that we will be showing you in the days to come, are excellent options for beachside luxury accommodations and affordable quality stay. Please stay tuned for a low down on these great hotels.

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Photo Credit: The Art of Making a Baby, Teagan Nicole Photography and MM Works Photography

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Elena

Elena is the managing editor for Daily Mom. She enjoys traveling, spending time with her daughter, running several businesses, working on Daily Mom, playing volleyball, going to the gym, photographing and reading. You can contact her via email.

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