Thursday, July 26, 2018

July Beach of the Month: Naples, Florida

July's Beach of the Month is a unique one for me. Not only have I been there before, I used to live there. I'm the youngest in my family, and my dad decided to retire to his paradise - Naples, Florida - while I was still in my teens. The retirement didn't stick - he enjoyed working way too much - but I did spend a year living and attending school in southwest Florida.

I still have family who live there - and Mr. UR's parents lived in that area for years. For most, it's a tropical paradise to visit for vacation. Especially when the snow is flying up north. But for me it's a place I visit family. Which is what I was doing this month - and I managed to visit Naples Beach and put my toes in the sand, too.

When people ask me where Naples is, I usually respond with "last city on the Gulf Coast of Florida's mainland"( Marco Island  actually sits offshore and Everglades City and Goodland are more of a small town than cities) It's known for it's white sand beaches, the Naples Pier and the overall affluence of it's residents. That's not true for all obviously but there are some mighty wealthy people living here. (If you like to drive past large mansions and ogle at how the other half live, then Port Royal is your neighborhood to visit)

What started out as a private winter retreat for some wealthy Kentucky and Ohio businessmen drastically changed when the railroad reached Naples in 1927. Years of isolation drew to a close as people started making their way that far south and the paradise had been found. Growing from 390 residents back then, the Greater Naples area now has 300,000 residents - not including the tourists who come for the beach, the food, the glamorous resorts and the art scene.

What to do
Naples Downtown
Downtown Naples includes 3rd Street South, 5th Avenue and Tin City. The most historical part of the city includes shopping, dining, art galleries and the Historical Palm Cottage - built in 1895 it's the oldest house in Naples and is constructed of tabby mortar, a mixture of sand, shells and water.
Tin City is a group of shops and restaurants located on Naples Bay.
Historical Palm Cottage

The Naples Pier
Located at the end of 12th Avenue South, the historic Naples Pier features restrooms, showers and a concession stand. It's a favorite amongst fishermen and sunset watchers every night.

The Naples Zoo
The Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens was once the gardens of a local doctor but has since become a zoo for the whole family to visit and includes giraffe feedings and a Florida Panther exhibit.

There are some 70 golf courses in and around Naples including the Jack Nicklaus designed Bears Paw, the elite Grey Oaks Country Club along with Hibiscus Golf Club, one of the rare public courses.

And of course, you can visit all the Gulf Coast beaches from Marco Island to Ft. Myers - especially to check out the fantastic Gulf Coast sunsets.

Where to Stay
The Ritz Carlton, Naples
A luxury beach resort on the Gulf of Mexico which includes a spa, fine dining and 36 holes of championship golf

Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club
Located on a 7 mile stretch of beach, with a spa, tennis center, golf course and a beach bar

The Inn on Fifth
A boutique hotel located on Fifth Avenue in the heart of Olde Naples (Forbes 4-star and AAA Four Diamond Inn)

Where to Eat
Kelly's Fish House Dining Room
A Naples staple serving seafood on the water since 1952

Shula's Steak House
Steakhouse owned by former Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula

The Dock at Crayton Cove
An open air restaurant on Naples Bay serving seafood

Brio Tuscan Grille
Located in the upscale Waterside Shops, Brio is a chain of Italian bistro's here in the US. The menu includes flatbread pizza's, seafood and steaks

So if you'd like a tiny bit of Europe thrown in with some magical sunsets, beautiful white sand beaches and upscale restaurants and hotels then Naples might just be the place for you. If my dad thought it was paradise, then you just might too!

How about you? Have you visited Naples or the Southwestern Coast of Florida?

Me and my 90 year old mom at the beach. I made her go watch the sunset with me - she hates the beach!

Catch up with other Beach of the Month posts:
JanuaryFebruary,MarchAprilMay and June

Linking up with: Women Around the World at Communal Global, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond, The Weekend Wanderlust Weekend Travel Blog Party and Sharon's Souvenirs!

Friday, July 20, 2018

A Gulf Coast Road Trip

One of the places I hadn't been here in the US was the stretch of the Gulf Coast between the Panhandle of Florida to New Orleans. On our spring beach trip to Pensacola Beach, we made it a point to drive this part of the coast on our way back to the airport. 

Pensacola Beach We began our day in Pensacola Beach looking at the emerald water from our hotel balcony. Once we got in the car, we drove north across Pensacola Bay to the city of Pensacola which looked to be a smaller city with some fun downtown options for eating and drinking along with some places on the water.

Points of Interest along the drive:
1. Perdido Key State Park
2. Gulf State Park

Perdido Key - Next we started our drive south on Florida 292 which hit the coast at Perdido Key and passing Perdido Key State Park. There are some high rises along the coast here but they're not so close together  - I never got a closed in feeling like you can sometimes get at the beach with high rise upon high rise. We thought about visiting Gulf State Park and enjoying some more beach time but the weather wasn't cooperating so off we went.

The Florabama

Our first stop of the trip was at the Florida-Alabama line - at the infamous Florabama! I had heard all kinds of hype about this watering hole that straddles the state line - bras hanging up at the bar, live music, bushwhacker drinks and of course, the notorious Mullet Toss - where contestants throw a dead mullet (fish, not the haircut) over the state line. (The winner is the one who throws it the furthest) We were there the weekend before the Mullet Toss. And just as we arrived it started raining. And it was a Sunday at lunchtime. I expected the Florabama to be open but what I didn't expect was a church service being held at the bar. A real live church service with gospel music in a tent - at a bar. So we did a quick walk-around and then decided to leave - it was all a bit strange and definitely not what I expected of the venue for the Gulf Coast's legendary Greatest Beach Party. I think I just might have to return on a Friday or Saturday night to get a proper view of the Florabama.

Fort Morgan

We passed by Orange Beach and Gulf Shores before reaching the end of the road at Fort Morgan. Built for the War of 1812, Fort Morgan is a pentagon shaped fort that sits at the mouth of Mobile Bay. We were there to board a ferry across Mobile Bay to Dauphin Island, a barrier island in Alabama just south of the Mississippi Sound and Mobile Bay. 

Crossing Mobile Bay

Our forty minute ferry crossing was a bit windy, and foggy - with limited views but we still enjoyed it.( We could see several off-shore oil rigs) Right on schedule we pulled into Dauphin Island, a town of about 1200, that is known as the Sunset Capital of Alabama. But no sunsets for us that day. So we kept moving on.


We headed north on Alabama 193 until we hit the coastal road of 90. Our goal was to find somewhere for a seafood dinner with water views. We passed by Pascagoula and Ocean Springs and the grand casinos in Biloxi,along with the famous Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art (no time for it this day but I would love to go back!) Interestingly, at least to me, is that the beaches along the coast here are narrow with very little hotel or restaurant development. I was expecting big, wide beaches like Florida or California but that's not so here - it was such a different coastal environment than I've seen before. We settled on eating at The Reef and were hoping for a table on the patio but the wind was so strong that the patio was closed. So a water view would do - and we learned that they are building a boardwalk here along this stretch of the coast. 

Long Beach, Pass Christian and Bay ST. Louis

Onward we pushed, passing the genteel Southern towns of Long Beach, Pass Christian and Bay St. Louis where the road would veer away from the coast and take us to our final destination of New Orleans.

Another part of the United States that I'm happy that I was able to see!

How about you? Have you driven this part of the Gulf Coast?

Linking up with: WATW at Communal Global, The Weekend Wanderlust Weekend Travel Blog Party and The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond!