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Story by Alexa Proctor

We at Jamie Oliver have teamed up with Naples, Marco Island, Everglades – Paradise Coast and Funway Holidays to give two lucky people the chance to win the holiday of a lifetime but we thought it would also be great to share what are some of the “not-to-be-missed” dining experiences and activities that locals recommend should you ever visit this beautiful destination.

They call it the Paradise Coast. It’s the Southwest Gulf Coast area of Florida that includes the resort cities of Naples and Marco Island, along with Everglades City and several national, state, local and private parks and nature preserves. So with everything from white sand beaches to the Everglades, it is the largest and one of the most diverse counties in Florida.

Dining
Naples has a strong local independent dining scene, with a variety of excellent restaurants unique to the area. There is even a group called Naples Originals, which promotes the concept of high quality dining at independent restaurants. Many area restaurants feature the bounty of fresh Gulf seafood and fresh Southwest Florida produce. There are several excellent restaurants located right on the beach in Naples and on Marco Island for romantic sunset dining.

Stone crabs

Florida stone crab claws are available each year in season from October 15 to May 15. Everglades City, which calls itself the Stone Crab Capital of the World, has several stone crab processing facilities with restaurants alongside, so you can enjoy fresh crab claws that are just hours old.

Naples beach and pier

The white sands of Naples Beach hold obvious appeal, and the historic Naples Pier, open 24/7 for fishing as well as people-, bird- and dolphin-watching, is a popular gathering spot for visitors and locals alike to watch the sun set into the Gulf of Mexico. The beach near the pier is in a high-end residential area with lush tropical landscaping and private homes, with no high rise buildings to block the view.

Shopping

Downtown Naples features two pedestrian-friendly shopping districts, Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South and the Avenues. Both streets are lined with boutiques, art galleries and restaurants with sidewalk seating. Find everything from high fashion to one-of-a-kind gifts and enjoy great dining. The Waterside Shops are the spot for all the world’s leading high end retailers, from Saks Fifth Avenue to Tiffany & Co., Gucci, Hermes, Cartier and more. Nordstrom’s is also at the Waterside Shops.

Golf
With around 90 golf courses in the greater Naples area, it’s obvious that golf is a major focus for residents and visitors. Although many of these are considered private, some turn “semi-private” in the off-season, meaning that they will allow non-members to play between May and December, since there are so many winter residents that are only here in the peak months of January through April. All of the resorts in the area have courses or can recommend area courses, so a good bet for visitors is to pick a resort with a course that appeals to their level of play. For more information, please see our golf listings.

Canoeing and kayaking
Southwest Florida is a paddler’s paradise. There are a few great paddling routes right in Naples, such as the Cocohatchee and Gordon Rivers. Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve holds many thousands of acres of pristine mangrove estuary halfway between Naples and Marco Island. Excellent paddling is available within Everglades National Park. The Paradise Coast Blueway is a system of GPS-marked paddling trails from Everglades City to Marco Island, with six shorter day trip routes and one long route for the more adventurous wilderness paddler. The Everglades Wilderness Waterway attracts visitors who are interested in an epic paddling journey.

The arts

Naples Museum of Art is a world-class facility with 15 galleries. Known as the #1 Small Art Town in America, Naples is also home to approximately 100 area art galleries featuring local artists as well as museum quality collections available at the retail level. One street downtown, Broad Street at Third Street South, is nicknamed Gallery Row. There is even a famous gallery in the Everglades. Photographer Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery, located just past the Oasis Visitor Center in Big Cypress National Preserve, displays his signature large-format black and white nature photographs. There are vibrant art festivals throughout the year in downtown Naples as well as excellent live performance art.

Everglades national park – the Gulf Coast

Many people don’t realize the Gulf Coast entrance to Everglades National Park, located in Everglades City, is the gateway to the saltwater portion of this expansive national park. Many say this is the most beautiful section of the park, and it is a favourite with sport fishermen and paddlers for its natural wilderness and quiet beauty.

Florida panther national wildlife refuge
The purpose of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge is primarily to preserve habitat for the severely endangered Florida panther, but there are now two publicly accessible hiking trails. Take a hike and tread on the same turf as this rare, beautiful and elusive Florida predator.

Big cypress reserve national park

The enormous Big Cypress National Preserve offers a wide variety of recreational opportunities, from wildlife drives to the Florida Scenic Trail for experienced hikers, along with a public boardwalk leading into a pristine cypress dome.

About the author: Alexa Proctor is the Marketing Manager for JamieOliver.com

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