Beaches, Cul­ture and Base­ball

2017 Travel Guide to Florida - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - BY CHELLE KOSTER WAL­TON

With more than 250 species of birds, over 100 miles of beaches and five ma­jor league base­ball teams that spend their spring train­ing days here ev­ery March, South­west Florida spans a di­verse range of at­trac­tions for visi­tors. That’s not to men­tion su­perb fish­ing, boat­ing, golf, shop­ping, mu­se­ums, theater and arts. Stretch­ing from the Ever­glades in the south to the shores of Lake Okee­chobee in the east, the Gulf of Mex­ico to the west and Sara­so­taBraden­ton in the north, the re­gion re­tains a rep­u­ta­tion for ad­ven­ture and priv­i­lege.

ARTS AND CUL­TURE

Think of South­west Florida and images of splen­did beaches im­me­di­ately come to mind. How­ever, the re­gion has a strong tra­di­tion of arts and cul­ture told in its ar­chi­tec­ture, gal­leries, mu­se­ums and the­aters.

In Naples, art gal­leries line down­town streets, where you will also find free ex­hi­bi­tions at the von Liebig Art Cen­ter and lively per­for­mances at Sug­den Com­mu­nity Theatre and Gulf­shore Play­house. Ar­tis– Naples brings still more per­for­mance arts and is home to the Mi­ami City Bal­let and the world-class Baker Mu­seum of Art. Year­round, the re­gion hosts art shows in­clud­ing down­town’s pres­ti­gious Naples Na­tional Art Fes­ti­val in Fe­bru­ary and the Stay in May Fes­ti­val in April/May.

In the past cou­ple of years, neigh­bor­ing Bonita Springs has leaped onto the arts band­wagon with the ex­pan­sion of the Cen­ter for the Arts to a sec­ond cam­pus with per­form­ing arts and a new film cen­ter, which hosts an an­nual in­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­val. In sum­mer 2016, the South­west Florida Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter opened with a celebrity-chef restau­rant and a slate of na­tion­ally known comedians, bands, mu­si­cals and dance groups.

The art scene in Fort My­ers cen­ters around its his­toric down­town River Dis­trict, where Art Walk takes place the first Friday of the month and Mu­sic Walk the third Friday. The Sid­ney & Berne Davis Art Cen­ter and Ar­cade Theatre, home to the na­tion­ally ac­claimed Florida Rep, oc­cupy sep­a­rate his­toric build­ings with dis­tinc­tive pe­riod ar­chi­tec­ture. A hand­ful of art gal­leries com­pletes down­town’s artis­tic land­scape. Watch as Al­liance for the Arts turns Fort My­ers’ royal palm-lined Mc­Gre­gor Boule­vard into a pedes­trian-friendly art dis­trict of its own.

Down­town Punta Gorda’s river­front ar­chi­tec­ture re­calls the boom years of the late 19th cen­tury with Vic­to­rian man­sions, handsome govern­ment build­ings and col­or­ful ver­nac­u­lar homes. Browse the

gal­leries of the Vis­ual Arts Cen­ter (VAC), which hosts the Peace River Na­tional Art Fes­ti­val in March.

Sara­sota ar­guably holds the lofti­est rep­u­ta­tion for the arts in these parts, stem­ming from the in­flu­ence of the Rin­gling fam­ily, whose cir­cus win­tered here. The Rin­glings ex­erted an Ital­ianate in­flu­ence on lo­cal ar­chi­tec­ture and the arts, cul­mi­nat­ing in the Ca’ d’Zan man­sion on The Rin­gling grounds. Seeded with John Rin­gling’s own col­lec­tion of Rubens and baroque art, The Rin­gling’s art mu­seum col­lec­tion cov­ers 500 years of Euro­pean art and spe­cial­izes in late-me­dieval and Re­nais­sance Ital­ian works. In 2016, it de­buted the Cen­ter for Asian Art to show­case re­volv­ing ex­hibits of its Asian col­lec­tion.

The com­plex’s Asolo Reper­tory Theatre con­trib­utes to Sara­sota’s rich the­atri­cal tra­di­tion, which ranges from new plays at the Florida Stu­dio Theatre to Broad­way shows at the Van Wezel Per­form­ing Arts Hall, de­signed by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foun­da­tion to re­sem­ble a scal­lop shell.

Tak­ing up res­i­dence in a re­stored his­toric high school, the Rin­gling Col­lege of Art + De­sign’s Sara­sota Mu­seum of Art is ex­pected to open in mid-2018. For a driv­ing tour of other ar­chi­tec­tural gems, in­clud­ing ex­am­ples of the vaunted Sara­sota School of Ar­chi­tec­ture, pick up a copy of the Tour Sara­sota Ar­chi­tec­ture Guide at visi­tors’ cen­ters. Gal­leries fill the Sara­sota– Braden­ton area, which boasts two artists’ colonies—Towles Court near down­town Sara­sota and Vil­lage of the Arts in Braden­ton. The colonies and down­town Sara­sota sched­ule monthly gallery walks where you can meet the artists.

AT­TRAC­TIONS

Most of the at­trac­tions in South­west Florida are out­door venues or learn­ing cen­ters, which ed­u­cate and in­form visi­tors about the re­gion’s boun­ti­ful na­ture and wildlife.

Take Naples, for in­stance, where the most vis­ited at­trac­tions in­clude the Naples Botan­i­cal Gar­den and Naples Zoo. The gar­den, which opened a new visi­tors’ com­po­nent with a café in 2014, show­cases sub­trop­i­cal veg­e­ta­tion in set­tings that re­flect the cul­ture of Brazil, the Caribbean, Asia and Florida. The zoo be­gan as botan­i­cal gar­dens in 1919 and to­day is home to wild an­i­mals from around the world. In 2016 it de­buted a spe­cial Florida panther ex­hibit to house a lo­cal cat blinded by a shot­gun blast.

The Col­lier County sys­tem of mu­se­ums oc­cu­pies five unique venues in Marco Is­land, Naples, Ever­glades City and Immokalee—all of them fam­ily-friendly. The Naples De­pot Mu­seum un­veils a restora­tion of its 1947 tav­ern car in Fe­bru­ary 2017. The town’s most fam­ily-friendly mu­seum, Golisano Chil­dren’s Mu­seum of Naples, sits next to ev­ery kid’s fa­vorite, the Sun-n-Fun La­goon water park in North Naples.

Naples is known, too, for its super­la­tive golf­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. Be­sides play­ing lush, nat­u­ral golf cour­ses, adults and kids alike can get their game on at var­i­ous golf schools and pro­grams in the area.

In Fort My­ers, the South­west Florida Mu­seum of His­tory dwells in a for­mer-life train de­pot. The Edi­son & Ford Win­ter Es­tates, one of South­west Florida’s finest his­toric trea­sures, of­fers guided and self­guided tours and re­cently de­buted a spe­cial fam­ily au­dio tour and pet­ting zoo events. Fam­i­lies should not miss the nearby hand­son Imag­i­nar­ium Sci­ence Cen­ter.

New on Fort My­ers Beach, the Mound House, un­der de­vel­op­ment for sev­eral years and the town’s old­est stand­ing struc­ture, opened a cul­tural mu­seum in late 2015 ex­am­in­ing the Calusa, who built a shell mound on the prop­erty. Go in­side and take a peek.

For fam­i­lies in Sara­sota, the canopy board­walk in the new Chil­dren’s Rain­for­est Gar­den at Marie Selby Gar­dens is a don’tmiss. Other fam­ily musts in­clude the cir­cus mu­se­ums at The Rin­gling, Mote Ma­rine Lab­o­ra­tory & Aquar­ium and Sara­sota Jungle Gar­dens.

Braden­ton’s his­tory dates back to Her­nando de Soto, and a na­tional his­toric site re­calls his first land­fall. The South Florida Mu­seum and Parker Man­a­tee Aquar­ium nicely dis­plays de Soto-re­lated ex­hibits, plus pre­his­toric an­i­mal recre­ations and an aquar­ium star­ring Snooty the man­a­tee. Man­a­tee Vil­lage His­toric Park gath­ers the town’s his­tory in an oak-framed park set­ting.

Braden­ton’s Cortez com­mu­nity re­tains its feel of an Old Florida fish­ing vil­lage with a work­ing waterfront and mar­itime mu­seum. A num­ber of char­ter boats de­part from the docks to take you deep-sea or back-bay fish­ing.

Head east of town for a lit­tle ex­treme ad­ven­ture at TreeUmph!, an aerial ob­sta­cle course with zip lines.

BEACHES & OUT­DOOR GEMS

You will find no na­ture-deficit dis­or­der in South­west Florida, where the great out­doors ranges from gorgeous, award-win­ning beaches to the raw wilder­ness of the Ever­glades ecosys­tem. Around Naples and Ever­glades City, a num­ber of state and fed­eral parks and pre­serves safe­guard frag­ile Ever­glade habi­tats—home to myr­iad birds and fish, deer, Florida pan­thers, bob­cats, man­a­tees, al­li­ga­tors, crocodiles, tur­tles and river ot­ters. Big Cy­press Na­tional Pre­serve, the most mas­sive of the pub­lic lands, pro­vides inim­itable op­por­tu­ni­ties for re­cre­ation among wildlife. Ever­glades Na­tional Park and Ten Thou­sand Is­lands Na­tional Wildlife Refuge pro­tect the seas and wet­lands of the so-called River of Grass.

Beach glam­our be­gins in Marco Is­land and Naples with award-win­ning strands that cover the gamut from the mu­nic­i­pal beach and its his­toric fish­ing pier to the wild Del­nor-Wig­gins Pass State Park.

What do trav­el­ers, and par­tic­u­larly fam­i­lies, find so en­dear­ing about lo­cal beaches? The soft, white sand, gen­tly slop­ing sea bot­tom and tot-friendly waves win raves. Cer­tain beach des­ti­na­tions, fur­ther­more, have rep­u­ta­tions for dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics, such as the seashell over­load on Sani­bel and Cap­tiva is­lands and sharks’ teeth find­ings in Venice. The best shelling beaches around Sani­bel in­clude Bow­man’s Beach and off­shore Cayo Costa, which is ac­ces­si­ble only by boat. A num­ber of char­ters will take you there to col­lect shells. In Venice, head to the fish­ing pier at Bro­hard Beach or to Caspersen Beach to sift for sharks’ teeth in the sand.

Other super­la­tive beach qual­i­ties: Cap­tiva Is­land and Lovers Key State Park are of­ten listed in the most ro­man­tic cat­e­gory; in Sara­sota, Si­esta Key’s sand is fa­mously soft and blind­ingly white, so don’t for­get to pack the shades.

EN­TER­TAIN­MENT

The nightlife scene in Naples—par­tic­u­larly down­town and in North Naples—gets con­tin­u­ally live­lier these days as young cou­ples and fam­i­lies move in. Hit the live the­aters around Fifth Av­enue South, then stay to party at late-night clubs down­town. Or take in a show at Ar­tis–Naples in North Naples and later head to the clubs and pubs in the Mer­cato shop­ping and en­ter­tain­ment dis­trict. You can do both din­ner and a movie at its Sil­verspot Cinema or at the Paragon The­aters at The Pavil­ion across the street. North Naples also has its own comedy clu­brestau­rant com­plex.

For quirky spec­ta­tor sport en­ter­tain­ment, you can’t beat the Swamp Buggy Races held three times each win­ter. It in­volves big-tired Ever­glade ve­hi­cles, lots of mud, and a fes­ti­val queen who ends up in the deep­est mud hole.

East of town in Immokalee, the Semi­nole Casino Ho­tel hosts gam­ing and big-name en­ter­tain­ment. To the north, Bonita Springs is build­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for comedy, live mu­sic din­ing, per­form­ing arts and in­die films. It is also home to a grey­hound race­track.

Down­town Fort My­ers has the hottest nightlife and spe­cial events scene in town. Fort My­ers is also home to two Ma­jor League Base­ball sta­di­ums that host the Min­nesota Twins and Bos­ton Red Sox dur­ing spring train­ing. Come sum­mer, the

Fort My­ers Mir­a­cle take to the field. The Tampa Bay Rays train in Port Char­lotte to the north, and off-sea­son, the Char­lotte Stone Crabs bat the ball around.

The Sara­sota-Braden­ton area is home to two spring train­ing teams as well—the Pitts­burgh Pi­rates and Bal­ti­more Ori­oles, plus sum­mer’s Braden­ton Ma­raud­ers.

Much of Sara­sota’s en­ter­tain­ment and nightlife is of a higher brow ilk, with a rep­u­ta­tion for fine theater, sym­phony and opera. Down­town Sara­sota sparks at night with so­phis­ti­cated clubs, and Si­esta Key has a beachy party at­mos­phere in the vil­lage.

Don’t miss the beach clubs of Braden­ton Beach for more laid-back en­ter­tain­ment op­tions. Braden­ton’s Man­a­tee Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter in­fuses en­ergy into down­town, as does its dy­namic River­walk, the venue for De­cem­ber’s long-run­ning blues fes­ti­val.

LGBT SCENE

Al­though the South­west Florida re­gion does not ag­gres­sively pro­mote it­self as an LGBT des­ti­na­tion, it is over­all gay-friendly given its arts scenes and chic beaches. In Fort My­ers, rel­a­tively se­cluded Bunche Beach is a fa­vorite for the gay com­mu­nity as well as bird-lovers. The city has its share of bars fre­quented by the LGBT crowd.

Sara­sota per­haps has the most to of­fer LGBT visi­tors in this re­gion, start­ing with its ro­bust theater, opera, bal­let, film, and even cir­cus cal­en­dar. For al­ter­na­tive en­ter­tain­ment, there are drag and cabaret-style bur­lesque shows, plus a gay and gay-friendly choral group called Di­ver­sity: The Voices of Sara­sota. The se­ries OUT@AsoloRep part­ners with LGBT or­ga­ni­za­tions for award-win­ning theater and ed­u­ca­tion.

Sara­sota’s Har­vey Milk Fes­ti­val fea­tures live mu­sic, per­for­mance arts, con­tem­po­rary theater, film, and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism for three days in mid-May. In its eighth year in 2017, it is host­ing 10 bands down­town at Five Points Park. The an­nual Sara­sota Pride fes­ti­val takes place in Oc­to­ber, also down­town, with LGBT or­ga­ni­za­tions’ ex­hibits, live mu­sic, food and arts.

Sara­sota also boasts a num­ber of gayfriendly bars. Plus, on the first Thurs­day of ev­ery month, dif­fer­ent bars and restau­rants through­out Sara­sota host G2H2: Gay Guy Happy Hour; L2H2: Les­bian Lady Happy Hour takes place ev­ery third Thurs­day.

ROAD TRIPS

Head east of Naples along Tami­ami Trail (High­way 41) to im­merse your­self in the re­gion’s wild side and Old Florida cul­ture. For glimpses of wildlife, try W.J. Janes Memo­rial Scenic Drive in Faka­hatchee Strand Pre­serve State Park or Loop Road in Big Cy­press Na­tional Pre­serve. Back­road Route 92 takes you from 41 to the ti­mestilled fish­ing com­mu­nity and seafood restau­rants of Good­land.

Views along the Sani­bel Cause­way and Cap­tiva Drive star in many com­mer­cials, but all of the coast’s is­lands prom­ise glimpses of sea and lo­cal color. The drive through Bonita Beach, Lovers Key and Fort My­ers Beach and an­other from Lido Key through Anna Maria Is­land in Sara­sota and Braden­ton are par­tic­u­larly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of is­land life.

From Fort My­ers, head east along Route 80 to visit the his­toric small towns of river­side Alva and La­belle, and lake­side Clewis­ton. Glimpse the re­gion’s ru­ral, agri­cul­tural per­son­al­ity along the way. Or plan a trip to Pine Is­land to the northwest. Its four com­mu­ni­ties are known for ex­otic fruit farm­ing, an­cient Calusa shell mounds, an artists’ vil­lage and fish­ing.

In the Port Char­lotte area, a road trip to Boca Grande on Gas­par­illa Is­land scores for his­toric in­trigue and lovely beaches. To its north, Sara­sota lays claim to a num­ber of small or­ganic and other farms you can visit. Look for the 2016 Agri­cul­ture Guide of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Cross the Man­a­tee River from Braden­ton to reach the his­toric at­trac­tions of Pal­metto, a river­side beauty also known for its agri­cul­tural her­itage.

SHOP­PING

If you’re look­ing for unique buys, there’s plenty of that in South­west Florida.

In the Ever­glades ter­ri­tory, visit the Big Cy­press Gallery in Ochopee, home to Clyde Butcher, whose large-for­mat art pho­tog­ra­phy cap­tures the Ever­glades and other nat­u­ral trea­sures. (He also has a gallery and stu­dio in Venice.)

In Naples, art gal­leries fill the down­town Fifth Av­enue South and Third Street South dis­tricts. At the lat­ter, buy your de­signer la­bels at Marissa Col­lec­tions. Other pop­u­lar out­door shop­ping venues in­clude The Vil­lage Shops of Vene­tian Bay, Water­side Shops and Mer­cato. On a bud­get? Look for like-new castoffs in the area’s con­sign­ment shops.

To the north in Bonita Springs, The Prom­e­nade at Bonita Bay made a re­mark­able come­back re­cently with an­chor foodie mar­ket DeRomo’s. Co­conut Point lays out a huge spread of big box stores and fash­ion bou­tiques.

Sani­bel Is­land is known for its shell shops, na­ture art gal­leries and re­sort wear bou­tiques. For some­thing en­tirely dif­fer­ent, hit the Shell Fac­tory & Na­ture Park in North Fort My­ers, where an an­i­mal fea­ture and fam­ily amuse­ments en­hance shop­ping for shells, jew­elry and other Florida trin­kets. In the past few years, the com­plex de­buted a new zip line, play­ground and climb­ing wall.

In Punta Gorda, down­town and Fish­er­men’s Vil­lage present small, in­ti­mate shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ences. Hit Boca Grande on Gas­par­illa Is­land for a charm­ing his­toric twist to your shop­ping.

St. Ar­mands Cir­cle is Sara­sota’s most well-known ad­dress for up­scale shop­ping in a land­scaped out­door set­ting. The new Mall at Uni­ver­sity Town Cen­ter has shifted fo­cus to Sara­sota’s eastern ex­trem­i­ties. Far­ther yet to the east, the com­mu­nity of Lake­wood Ranch is known for its de­light­ful shops and restau­rants on and around Main Street.

For gen­uine lo­cal sou­venirs, head to the re­gion’s artist vil­lages—Mat­lacha on Pine Is­land off of Fort My­ers, Towles Court in Sara­sota, and Vil­lage of the Arts in Braden­ton. Watch for news of art walk events in down­town Fort My­ers, Punta Gorda and Sara­sota.

Bar­gain-seek­ers head to the fac­tory out­let malls: Naples Out­let Cen­ter, Miro­mar Out­lets in Es­tero, Sani­bel Out­lets in Fort My­ers and El­len­ton Pre­mium Out­lets near Braden­ton. Or check out the flea mar­kets: Flamingo Is­land Flea Mar­ket in Bonita Springs, Flea­mas­ters Flea­mar­ket in Fort My­ers, Sun Flea Mar­ket (with its own mini­a­muse­ment park) in Port Char­lotte, the Dome Flea & Farm­ers’ Mar­ket in Venice and Red Barn Flea Mar­ket in Braden­ton.

SPAS

Most of the fine re­sorts in South­west Florida boast full-ser­vice spas for re­sort and day guests. Through­out the re­gion, you will also find a num­ber of ex­cel­lent stand-alone spas of­fer­ing a va­ri­ety of ser­vices from hair and nails to massage and even salt caves.

One of the re­gion’s first, the Salt Cave in Naples spe­cial­izes in treat­ments that take ad­van­tage of the healing pow­ers of Himalayan pink salt, but also of­fers other New Age ther­a­pies such as elec­trother­apy, halother­apy and honey detox.

Off Fifth Av­enue South, diVINE Spa gets highly rated by clients, who en­joy classic fa­cials and mas­sages plus more un­usual ser­vices such as Pinot Noir Awak­en­ing, Wine Glow Re­ju­ve­na­tion and Cou­ples Vino Oa­sis. The use of wine­mak­ing byprod­ucts—skins, seeds and stems—makes the dif­fer­ence in such treat­ments and gives the spa its name.

On Marco Is­land, Rick’s Is­land Salon & Day Spa counts among the el­e­gant es­tab­lish­ments at The Es­planade. Its full range of ser­vices in­cludes per­ma­nent makeup and ther­a­peu­tic body massage.

Spada in Fort My­ers lists a var­ied menu of ser­vices in­clud­ing mi­cro­der­mabra­sion. Sani­bel Day Spa has long been in the busi­ness of beau­ti­fy­ing and re­lax­ing is­landers and visi­tors with full beauty ser­vices, well­ness treat­ments, scrubs and mas­sages. It spe­cial­izes in ser­vices for bri­dal par­ties. On Fort My­ers Beach, Esterra Spa & Salon is tops for ev­ery­thing from pedi­cures to hot bam­boo massage.

Punta Gorda boasts a cou­ple of fine spas. Serendip­ity Salon & Spa down­town spe­cial­izes in skin and body treat­ments with peels, skin tight­en­ing, scrubs, cel­lulite treat­ments and fa­cials plus salon ser­vices. One of the town’s old­est, Charles of the Vil­lage Salon & Spa at Fish­er­men’s Vil­lage re­stricts its ser­vices to fa­cials, nails and hair.

A charm­ing cot­tage set­ting makes the ex­pe­ri­ence at Sirena Is­land Day Spa in Venice ex­tra in­ti­mate. Man­dala Medi Spa & Yoga Shala in south Sara­sota of­fers In­done­sian body treat­ments, massage and salon ser­vices, plus med­i­cal aes­thetic ser­vices and yoga classes.

Down­town’s Pixie Dust adds a meta­phys­i­cal twist with psy­chic read­ings, New Age gifts, massage, hot Himalayan salt stone massage, en­ergy crys­tal massage and sound baths. At St. Ar­mands Cir­cle, The Met takes pa­trons up a dra­mat­i­cally sweep­ing stair­case from a posh cloth­ing store into a luxury set­ting. It of­fers full spa and beauty fa­cil­i­ties and treat­ments, in­clud­ing wraps, mas­sages, fa­cials and spa lunch pack­ages. The Pink Himalayan Sea Salt Body Pol­ish with Hy­drat­ing Co­coon is sig­na­ture.

TOP LEFT: The Baker Mu­seum, Naples. OP­PO­SITE CEN­TER LEFT: The Ca’ d’Zan on the Rin­gling grounds in Sara­sota. OP­PO­SITE CEN­TER RIGHT: Theater on the River­walk in Braden­ton. OP­PO­SITE BOT­TOM: Art Walk in the his­toric down­town River Dis­trict in Fort My­ers. SIDE­BAR: Sand­sculpt­ing com­pe­ti­tion in Fort My­ers Beach.

OP­PO­SITE TOP RIGHT: Tour­ing the Naples Botan­i­cal Gar­den by boat. OP­PO­SITE CEN­TER LEFT: Dis­play of Henry Ford's model cars at his win­ter es­tate in Fort My­ers. OP­PO­SITE BOT­TOM: Snooty, the man­a­tee, at the South Florida Mu­seum and Parker Man­a­tee Aquar­ium in Braden­ton. TOP: Ma­caw at Sara­sota Jungle Gar­dens.

TOP: Water fun in the Fort My­ers and Sani­bel area. OP­PO­SITE CEN­TER RIGHT: Pitts­burgh Pi­rates mas­cot dur­ing spring train­ing in Braden­ton. OP­PO­SITE BOT­TOM: Nightlife in down­town Sara­sota.

OP­PO­SITE TOP: The Sara­sota Bal­let. OP­PO­SITE BOT­TOM: An opera per­for­mance in Sara­sota.

LEFT: Driv­ing on the Sun­shine Sky­way Bridge to Braden­ton. BE­LOW: Stand-up pad­dle­board­ing off Lovers Key. BOT­TOM: W.J. Janes Memo­rial Scenic Drive in Faka­hatchee Strand Pre­serve State Park.

OP­PO­SITE CEN­TER LEFT: Shop­ping on Fifth Av­enue, Naples. OP­PO­SITE BOT­TOM: Shop­pers in trendy St. Ar­mands Cir­cle in Sara­sota. TOP: Spa time in Naples. RIGHT: Girls’ day at a spa.

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