How to Eat Your Way Through Florida's Coastal Paradise

The must-visit seafood shacks, high-end restaurants, bars and more of Naples and Marco Island

Bar Tulia
The spread at Bar TuliaZach Stovall

Sugar-fine white sand beaches along the sparkling Gulf of Mexico? Check. Shopping and charming pedestrian thoroughfares? Double check. A bumping restaurant and bar scene that hits every pleasure point, from down-home barbecue to high-end Persian? Triple check; over and out: Naples and Marco Island, Florida, have it all.

Neatly situated along the Gulf Coast in southwestern Florida, these sister towns have all the beachy charm you want on vacation, but more of the real-world amenities and activities that keep them from feeling too small. It's true that Naples and Marco Island have a reputation for a bit of glitz (high-end shopping and finer-dining options abound), but there's plenty of off-the-beaten-track local favorites to explore, too. Take New Smyrna Beach for example. Here's a look at what to do, where to stay, and, of course, what to eat and drink when you visit.

Where to Eat

Grouper and Chips

This family-run, two-decades-running seafood spot in a strip mall just outside of downtown Naples specializes in its namesake: battered and expertly fried local red grouper and chips (a.k.a. french fries). Owners source fresh catches daily from fishers in nearby Cape Coral, and while there are only a handful of tables, the restaurant buys the second-highest amount of grouper in all of Collier County (behind only the Ritz-Carlton). Expect a line out the door in season for fried baskets, plus seafood pastas, fish tacos and housemade key lime pie.

Grouper and Chips
338 9th St N, Naples

Bill's Café

Bill's Cafe Sandwich
Sandwich at Bill's CafeZach Stovall

With vintage rock and roll albums and Harley-Davidson paraphernalia lining the walls, Bill’s Café is a change of pace from the glitzier side of downtown Naples. Open only for breakfast and lunch, Bill’s makes a rich, peppery corned beef hash, and thin, oversized “European” pancakes with beautifully lacy edges and a healthy dose of cinnamon in the batter. Mutton-chopped, leather-clad owner Bill Calley cooks it all to order, and if you miss breakfast, his BLT (with extra B) is worth traveling for.

Bill's Cafe
947 3rd Ave N, Naples

Fernandez the Bull

The Fernandez family, first-generation immigrants from Cuba, opened the first of their Cuban restaurants in Naples in 1985 to great success, and recently expanded to a second location across town. Family recipes provide the backbone for their large menu, and standouts include their "Cuban nachos" (tostones topped with meat and molten cheese sauce), the grilled "El Torito" rib steak with chimichurri, and a half-dozen variations on the Cuban sandwich. Take a moment to digest with a freshly-pulled colada (Cuban espresso brewed with sugar) in the airy space, adorned with oversized vintage "Varadero Cuba!" posters.

Fernandez the Bull
1201 Piper Blvd #10, Naples
3375 Pine Ridge Rd, Naples

7th Avenue Social

7th Avenue Social
7th Avenue SocialZach Stovall

This newly-opened hotspot has live music in a cozy space decorated with bits of vintage Americana and nautical knickknacks, and a menu that fuses South American with Southern American to success. Try the ceviche featuring local rock shrimp and fried-to-order malanga chips, churrasco-style grilled beef shoulder with yucca hash and sour orange chimichurri, and shrimp and Anson Mills grits with housemade chorizo, guava moonshine barbecue sauce and roasted red pepper jam. It’s one of relatively few late-night options in town, and after-hours, dancing very well might accompany the band.

7th Avenue Social
849 7th Ave S #101, Naples

Cracklin' Jacks

Don’t be alarmed when Google Maps sends you down a quiet-looking residential road: here lies Cracklin’ Jacks, purveyor of rib-sticking Southern cooking with a dash of Everglades. That translates to excellent cornmeal-crusted fried catfish, hickory-smoked baby back ribs, and fried frog legs with classic sides like mashed potatoes with peppery white gravy and braised collards with bacon. The exposed-beam interior and checkerboard tablecloths enhance the down-home vibe.

Cracklin' Jacks
2560 39th St SW, Naples

Bha! Bha! Persian Bistro

Situated at the beginning of the 5th Avenue South main drag in Naples, this chic Persian spot is decorated in turquoise and maroon hues that lend the space a sultry, lounge-y feel. Ingredients like pomegranate, dates, and wild barberries make frequent appearances in dishes such as the kashke bademjune (fried eggplant) topped with caramelized onions and feta, braised lamb khoresh with plums, butternut squash and tomato-pomegranate sauce, and adas polo rice with lentils, apricots and raisins. Don’t skip dessert—the housemade baklava is delicate and delicious, while the upside-down squash cake with cardamom ice cream was the sleeper hit of the night.

Bha! Bha! Bistro
865 5th Ave S, Naples

Hobnob

Hob Nob
Southern atmosphere at Hob NobZach Stovall

One of the newer restaurants in Naples and the brainchild of noted local restaurateur Michael Hernandez (Handsome Harry’s), Hobnob has a warm Southern vibe with reclaimed wood tables and rustic detailing plus a bumping bar adjacent to the main dining room. The New American menu includes updated takes on comfort-food classics, like deviled eggs with sugar-cured bacon and sweet tomato jam; snapper poached in “crazy water” (tomato broth and fish sock) and served over luxuriously creamy polenta with roasted fennel and tomatoes; and rich braised Meyer lemon short ribs with lemon risotto, roasted escarole and zippy pine nut gremolata. The services is friendly and fast, though lingering at the table is encouraged.

Hob Nob
720 5th Ave S #101, Naples

All American Shake Shop

In a retro-looking A-Frame on Route 41 that once housed a Dairy Queen, this zero-frills roadside stops serves up soft serve, sundaes, and a ‘Tornado” (their take on DQ’s famed Blizzards); along with a surprisingly broad menu of regional American fast food favorites, including Chicago, Atlanta, and New York-style hotdogs, Iowa-style breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches, fried chicken, pulled barbecued pork and more. Your seating options consist of entirely of picnic tables outside.

All American Shake Shop
410 Tamiami Trail N, Naples

Where to Drink

The Continental
Drinks poured at D'Amico's The ContinentalZach Stovall

D'Amicos Continental

Located in quaint Old Naples, the lush outdoor patio space at Continental (which is also a steakhouse) makes it a popular place for after-dinner drinking and dancing, courtesy the live band that sets up shop on weekends. Craft cocktails are organized by spirit and given cheeky names (the “PS, It’s a Champagne Cocktail” features Bloom gin, Maraschino, and sparkling rose); or you can order “Out of the Orb”—the giant glass orbs dangling behind the bar that contain the bar’s most popular spirits. Try the tropically-inclined Blind Tiger from that section of the menu, with tequila, Carpano Bianco, lime, Angostura, and peach bitters for a kick.

D’Amicos Continental
1205 3rd St S, Naples

Bar Tulia

Bar Tulia
Signature cocktails at Bar TuliaZach Stovall

Adjacent to Osteria Tulia, chef Vincenzo Betulia’s buzzy Italian restaurant, Bar Tulia offers a sprawling cocktail menu (plus Italian wine, beer, and a full menu). Divided into “Craft,” “Classic” and “All Spirit,” thoughtfully-developed cocktails incorporate housemade tinctures, bitters and liqueurs, put to good use in drinks like The Last Dragon in St. George, with Terroir Gin, St. George Bruto, passion fruit, lime, and sage; or the Bitter Mai Tai with Smith & Cross rum, orgeat, lime and Campari poured over a mountain of crushed ice. The space has an inviting, Old World feel, complete with wood-burning oven and exposed brick walls.

Bar Tulia
466 5th Ave S, Naples

The Parrot Bar & Grill

Located just outside of the Tin City marina and boardwalk, this Key West-themed bar is a laid-back locals hang, open until 2 a.m. nightly. It’s about as close to a dive as downtown Naples gets, so expect the game on the TV, a jukebox full of classic rock, and cheap drinks served in plastic cups, all in an indoor-outdoor space on the marina with a lovely cross-breeze from the harbor blowing through. It’s not fancy, but the bartenders are friendly, the drinks are strong, and the price is right.

The Parrot Bar & Grill
1100 6th Ave S # 6, Naples

Quinn's on the Beach

One of relatively few casual bars/restaurants with beachfront access in Marco Island, Quinn's has been open for nearly 40 years, making it a favorite among hotel guests (it’s technically a part of the Marriott) and locals alike. Grab a patio seat to catch the sunset nightly (and the shirtless fire breathers that accompany it) while sipping on classic tiki cocktails and a surprisingly robust list of local beers, like the Orange Blossom Pilsner from Orange Blossom Co. in Lakeland, Florida.

Quinn's on the Beach
400 S Collier Blvd, Marco Island (inside of the Marriott Beach Resort)

Where to Stay

The Inn on 5th

The Inn on 5th.
The Inn on 5thZach Stovall

There is arguably no more centrally located option than this stylish midsized hotel, renovated in 2012. Located in the heart of downtown Naples, the Inn on 5th provides incredibly easy access to the myriad shopping, eating, and strolling along 5th Avenue South and the surrounding areas, including public-access beaches. The 80-odd spacious rooms are done up in a contemporary black, white, gray, and red color scheme; and the property has a spa, rooftop pool (currently under renovation), and fitness center on-site.

The Inn on 5th
699 5th Ave S, Naples

Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort

This sprawling (726 rooms!) Marriott Resort in prime Marco Island beachfront territory is done up in a festive Polynesian style, complete with four lavish pools, a tropical spa, indoor-outdoor dining and tiki bars, two Championship golf courses, and balcony suites facing the pristine white-sand beach just steps away. In 2017 the hotel will complete its $320 million renovation to transform into a JW Marriott property (making it the only JW beachfront resort in the continental U.S.), which will include another 94 rooms, oceanfront pool, and high-tech indoor entertainment center.

Marco Island Marriot Beach Resort
400 S Collier Blvd, Marco Island

The Ritz-Carlton Naples

Situated a few miles outside of the hustle of downtown Naples and directly on the Gulf of Mexico, this AAA Five Diamond resort helped usher in a new level of luxury when it opened in 1985 (it was renovated in 2013). The 450 rooms have a warm blue-green-gray palette inspired by the Gulf, and the property has eight on-site restaurants, two pools, a snazzy spa, pools, tennis, golf, and three miles of private beachfront to meander and collect seashells upon.

The Ritz-Carlton Naples
280 Vanderbilt Beach Rd, Naples

Hyatt House Naples

One of the newest hotels in Naples, this hotel is designed as an extended-stay hotel with resort-like amenities in the Gordon River section of Naples Bay. Within walking distance to 5th Avenue South, the hotel has 183 rooms and suites with fully-equipped kitchens, some with lanais and river views. There’s also a pool, fire pit, grilling area, and on-site boat and paddleboard rentals, and their Latitude 26 Bar & Grill is a popular happy-hour hangout for downtown types.

Hyatt House Naples
1345 5th Ave S

What to Do

Resort
Stay at a resort in NaplesZach Stovall

Palm Cottage

For a break from shopping and sunning, head to historic Palm Cottage in charming Old Naples, the city’s oldest house, for an hourlong tour of the property. Built in 1895 out of a local cement called tabby (crushed seashells and sand), the charming grounds have been preserved with many original features intact, including pinewood floors, a kitchen outfitted with retro appliances, and a sprawling oval garden out back. The docents from the Naples Historical Society are sweet and knowledgable about every last nook and cranny of the house.

Palm Cottage
137 12th Avenue South, Naples
Tours run Tuesday-Saturday 1-4pm, $13/pp

Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

About half an hour east of Naples, this Audobon Society-run swamp sanctuary is home to the largest remaining old growth Bald Cypress forest in North America, and teeming with wildlife (including alligators, otters, turtles, and dozens of birds). The leisurely 2.25-mile trail (on an easy-to-navigate boardwalk) passes through six habitats, including marshes, cypress, wet prairie, and pine flatwood; helpful signs dot the path to point out plant and animal species (keep an eye out for the ultra-rare ghost orchid), and massive cypress trees are named after prominent historical figures in the fight to preserve south Florida’s wetlands.

Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
375 Sanctuary Rd West
Open 7am-5:30pm daily, $14/pp

Marco Island Beaches

Marco Island and Naples are beachside towns, and the sprawling white-sand beaches on Marco Island are particularly lovely. South Beach and Tigertail offer public access and easy parking, and many of the hotels and resorts in the area have private beachfront property as well. Beachy activities abound--local shops and hotels offer rentals on everything from sailboats to stand-up paddleboards to jetskis, or you can engage in a more low-key local favorite: shelling, aka combing the beach during low tide to collect seashells from the crystal-clear Gulf of Mexico waters.

Down South Airboat Tours

For a day trip outside of Naples/Marco Island, head about an hour southeast to the heart of the Everglades for a private airboat tour from the sixth-generation Everglades family behind this relatively new operation. There are several airboat operators to choose from in Everglades City, but Down South offers a personalized experience, and is the only company with access to the privately-owned freshwater areas, nicknamed “The River of Grass.” The friendly, knowledgeable captains chat history and ecology over two-way headsets while deftly whizzing across the surface of the wetlands at speeds up to 35 mph, slowing to point out wild attractions (yes, there are gators) along the way.

Down South Airboat Tours
tours from $200; location determined upon booking