Florida’s Paradise Coast: A Tale of Two Sisters by Terry Zinn

Florida calls it the Paradise Coast. It’s the area inclusive of the West Coast Florida Cities of Mediterranean style Naples, and the tropical Marco Island. I think of them as sisters: both likeable, but both very different in feel and attractions. Naples offers upscale and funky shopping at their Fifth Avenue South: Florida’s own version of Rodeo Drive. Shopping in the historic Third Street South area, one might find the perfect piece of art in one of kind shops. In the Tommy Bahama store a restaurant and bar separates the men’s from the women’s clothing sections. That’s the way to shop! Tommy Bahama is famous for their drink of the day, often in martini format, with names like Frost Bite, Kiwi-Tini, Cayman Cooler and Watermelon Splash. I was tempted to sample one, but dining at the award winning Sea Salt was waiting.

Sea Salt is an upscale restaurant known for fine beverages and a sophisticated culinary experience. After tasting a selection from the extensive menu it’s easy to see why Sea Salt received Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for 2009 and 2010, and named one of the Top 20 Best New Restaurants of 2009 by Esquire. Chef Fabrizio Aielli offers a Chef’s table dining experience near the open kitchen where 8 to10 guests may experience a variety of culinary treasures with special wine pairings. Any time dining is always a gourmet delight at Sea Salt.


I could have spent the evening at Sea Salt, but then I would have missed a charming musical production by the Naples Players of “I Do, I Do” at the Sugden Community Theatre in the Fifth Avenue South district. Another pleasurable diversion is the Naples Zoo, where they are proud of the Black Bear Hammock, Tiger, Lion and Giraffe exhibits, along with their Alligator Bay.


For a real break from reality an airboat ride on Lake Trafford gets you up close and vegetation slapping personal, with the folks at Airboats and Alligators. The extended drive north east to Lake Trafford is worth the effort for the natural vegetation and creature viewing on this west coast head water of the Florida Everglades, known as Corkscrew Swamp.


For your oasis The Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club offers a family owned yet expansive hotel complex right on the beach; a Naples novelty. Owned and operated by the Watkins family since 1946, the comfy rooms have an historic old Florida feel about them. With plantation shuttered windows overlooking several pools and ocean views, you feel relaxed and right at home. And as the name describes a fine golf course is adjacent. Also unique to Naples, is the hotel’s HB’s, which is the only beach front dining restaurant in the City of Naples, and has been awarded a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence 2005-2010.


If your wanderlust takes hold you can dine at Naples’s unprepossessing, Naples Tomato, where I had an extensive tasting of many of its delectable creations. They are rightly proud of their popular Classic Lasagna with its sauce of 20 slow cooked ingredients, served at 170 degrees – hot but not too hot. It was only surpassed by the first course of Naples Tomato Bisque with a delightful texture accented by fresh soffritto.


Naples Tomato, passed the martini test with healthy undertones, when I had the Antioxidant Martini, created with VeeV Acai Spirit, Pomegranate Liqueur, fresh lemon and simple syrup, prepared tableside. Besides this exquisite martini, Tomato offers exceptional wine pairings. My favorite was the 2009 Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis, followed by the 2007 Grgich Hills Fume Blanc and the 2007 Two Hands “Belle’s Garden” Shiraz. And I can’t rave enough about their Tiramisu. Naples Tomato, is the place to start or end your Naples visit.


If Naples’ activity is too much for your getaway, the other sister of the Paradise Coast awaits. Traveling south to the sister City of Marco Island, you will want to stay at the Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa. The Hilton is right on the expansive beach and offers access to beach side amusements, like parasailing, jet skis, and even an excursion to an island where you can shell to your hearts delight…time and tide permitting. Or for more activity they have tennis courts, a fitness center and an elegant complete Spa facility. Hilton’s poolside bar and grill, is perfect for just being with a cold beverage and casual meal. They offer daily drink specials, which are worth sampling while leisurely watching the sun slide into the tranquil sea.


It is so important at a “resort” to have the availability of prime dining. On an island your other options are slim, so a well equipped home base hotel is imperative to your happiness. Once ensconced at a resort I like to leave the car parked and do nothing on a schedule, and know that my needs are met at the hotel, whether it is finding snacks and forgotten sundries from the gift shop, dining options, or the comfort of viewing a lazy sunset, or a favorite movie on the flat screen.


If you couldn’t tell, a Paradise Coast getaway is a bit of everything: Shopping and activities in Naples, and doing little but relaxing on Marco Island: Two charming sisters I hope to visit again.