A trip down to warm, sunny Florida can be about much more than theme parks. Three closely knit communities on the coast – Naples, Marco Island, and Everglades City – provide tons of unique family fun that you won't find anywhere else. These friendly towns are definitely worth a weekend trip (but, trust us – you'll want to spend more time). An added bonus? It's rarely under 65 degrees.
Sample Crispy Pig Ears (and Top-Tier Tiramisu) at Osteria Tulia
Imagine a gourmet, chewy pork rind that's thin, crispy, buttery, and better than a French fry. Crispy pig ears are only one of the phenomenal dishes you'll find at Osteria Tulia. Chef Vincenzo Betulia is one of the South's most passionate Italian chefs, and he brings his whole family into a dining experience that will honestly be one of the best meals you've ever eaten. He's generous, he's creative, and his menu reflects his strong Italian roots and exemplary chef training. In his words, he wants "Naples to be the next Charleston." Not many places will you find a chef who will personally apologize if you've had a bad experience, but, as Chef Vincenzo said, "I will handwrite a note to someone who doesn't like my food begging for them to come back because I want to keep their business." You will not regret a meal of fresh pasta, Italian wine, and incredible tiramisu at Osteria Tulia.
Try Stone Crabs in Everglades City
Hidden off the typical tourist track of sunny beaches is the tiny, 500-person town of Everglades City. Although small, this vibrant community is full of rich history and even fuller of stone crabs. This fascinating harvest process keeps the valuable crustaceans alive; fisherman simply harvest the claws and return the black-and-red crabs to their environment. The meat of stone crabs is a local delicacy – buttery and sweet – and is served with a honey mustard sauce. A great spot to pull up a chair with a towering mound of fresh crab is local favorite City Seafood (they've got a killer frozen cream cheese-key lime pie that you'll also want to polish off).
Take an Airboat Tour of the Everglades
If you're in the area, it's an absolute must to visit the alligators, birds, and mix of ecletic animals at Wooten's Everglades Airboat Tours. Hop on a propellor-powered boat with an awesome tour guide as you cruise around the swamp, cypress forest, and grasslands of this beauitful area. Following your boat trip, visitors can stop in at the animal sanctuary and see animals like North American crocodiles, a white tiger, Florida panthers, otters, and, of course, more alligators. Be sure to check out the schedule so you won't miss the live alligator demonstration.
Watch a Snow-Free Snow Shower
As with many Southern towns, the winter weather doesn't often provide blustery Christmas experiences. On Naples' Third Street South, families can watch "snow" blow through the palm trees every night during the week of Thanksgiving except Thanksgiving Day and the prior and following Sundays, and every Thursday in December. The bubble-like "snow" even causes drifts on the sidewalk. Visitors can also enjoy live music as they catch snowflakes.
Eat Cotton Candy at Sea Salt
Known for their exceptional wine cellar, fresh seafood, and wide selection of exquisite sea salts, this high-end restaurant in downtown Naples is an experience that foodies will definitely enjoy. Following a meal of lobster donuts, tender steak, parrotfish, or hogfish, guests at Sea Salt will enjoy a towering plate of fluffy cotton candy – it comes to the table after dinner.
Join the Dolphin Survey Team (and get a chance to name the babies!)
Take a short drive from Naples over to Marco Island, a family friendly spot with bright, colorful homes and pristine white beaches. When you arrive, you'll want to catch a ride on the Dolphin Explorer, a dolphin survey boat that observes and records the local mammals in the area. The captains will tell you all about the dolphins you see, and even have records of each dolphin (identified by their distinct fin markings) on hand for kids to flip through. If you get lucky enough to see a dolphin calf that's just been born, the crew will let the youngest on board pick the name. Some favorites include Ripple, Rangle, and Seymour.
Visit an Artisan Rum Bar
Is there anything better than sipping rum on the beach with the sun setting over a still ocean? At the Marco Island Marriott, you'll be able to experience rum from all around the world at a Balinese-inspired tiki bar. Kane, located right on the beach, has gourmet rum offerings from countries like Nicaragua, Trinidad, Panama, Guatemala, Barbados, Haiti, Brazil served with Indonesian-style street food. If you're not up for a flight of rum, you'll also find fantastic cocktail options, like the Blue Curaçao and coconut rum-based "Turtle Season Lights Out."
Find the Area's Freshest Food at the Third Street South Farmers' Market
Whether you're looking for a moist loaf of gluten-free Almond Poppyseed Bread from Epiphany Bakery or a steaming mug of organic, locally roasted coffee from Black Tulip, this hub of local flavor is open year-round on Saturday mornings from 7:30AM-11:30AM. You'll find over 50 vendors from the area sharing everything from simmering paella to Belgian waffles-on-a-stick to bright, sweet produce. It's worth a trip to the Third Street South Farmers' Market to see the community in action – and, we guarantee that you won't leave empty-handed.
Crunch On The Community's Best Fresh Vegetables At The Local
Hidden in a shopping center is one of the best farm-to-fork restaurants in the community. The Local, run by Chef Jeff Mitchell, has a menu that changes almost daily depending on the local farms' crops and offerings. Jeff started the spot four years ago, and his whole family is involved in the operation. The menu has lots of vegan and gluten-free options as well, and almost everything (including the weekly butchering of a whole hog) is done in-house. If you stop for lunch, be sure to try the Mushroom Lovers Pizza – a mouth-watering offering of Lucques olives, arugula-ricotta pesto, house-made ricotta, white truffle oil, Parmesan, and Mushroom Conserva.
Take In World-Class Art and Performances at Artis–Naples
Artis-Naples is a hidden gem in south Florida. Unlike your typical art museum, this sculpture-filled campus is an experience for art lovers of all ages. The campus hosts two performance halls, a pavilion, The Baker Museum, and an adult education center. The Baker Museum in itself is a three-story, 30,000-square-foot facility that has 15 galleries of phenomenal collections, including permanent installations by Dale Chihuly and Albert Paley. From children's workshops to film screenings and art lectures, this museum works to encourage the community in lifelong learning. You'll find the Naples Philharmonic just a stone's throw away, where internationally recognized musicians and dancers, like violinist Joshua Bell and the Miami City Ballet, come to perform.
Where's your favorite spot on Florida's Paradise Coast?