The Paradise Coast, Florida, is located in Southwest Florida. The waters that lap at its beaches are from the Gulf of Mexico. There’s white sands, southern cooking and a whole lot to do. And that’s exactly why I was so excited to visit. Florida has this smell that I love. I know that sounds weird, but some of you will know what I’m talking about. It’s like a mix of sunscreen, Dr.Pepper, tropical plants and humidity in the air. It reminds me of Disneyworld and Chili’s restaurants. So when I stepped off the plane at Fort Myers airport I took a deep inhale and watched my childhood memories come running across the inside of my eyelids. But this time I was in Florida as an adult and it was going to be a completely different experience. Here’s what I got up to on Florida’s Paradise Coast.
Exploring Florida’s Paradise Coast
The City of Naples Florida
When my taxi arrived in the city of Naples and pulled up at the Lemon Tree Inn it was everything I was expecting it to be. The quintessential Florida hotel with the self-catering units and a pool in the middle. There was something so sweet about it though. When I checked in there was a cooler full of free homemade lemonade by the desk. As I was about to head to my room a woman in the car park stopped me and asked me if I’d like some shells. She had collected too many at the beach earlier and had a bag full of them that she didn’t think she could bring home. I was so taken aback by the strange and highly adorable encounter that I froze for a moment before plunging my hand into the bag and coming up with two shiny, purple beauties. She asked if I’d just arrived, I confirmed this was the case and she told me with great fervour that I was “super lucky” to be staying in this hotel because she was leaving that day and was in love with the place. I thanked her and headed off to my room thinking that I probably had never had a hotel welcome quite like it. My room was such a gorgeous surprise. It was huge, the TV had about a million channels, and the little self-catering kitchen has everything I needed in it. There was even a giant can of beer from the local brewery in the fridge.
I had arrived late so I needed to go in search of late night snacks. The woman at the desk directed me to the CVS next door that was open late. Little did I know the wonderland that I was about to stumble into. SO MANY PRODUCTS. There’s cold Starbucks coffee in cans, a million different brands of dry shampoo, Cheetos galore and all those other things that you don’t get at home. By the time I left I was the proud owner of several different beverages, a face mask, some Cheetos and far too many Burt’s Bees products. The next morning, after a great sleep, I strolled down town along the palm tree-lined avenues of downtown Naples to the 5th Avenue Coffee Co & 6th Street Diner to find myself some breakfast. I ordered an iced mocha and the scrambled egg stuffed tomato with avocado and feta. I decided to sit outside because, well, it’s the Paradise Coast and the weather was stunning. When the food came it was like a delicious food mountain. The iced coffee was really good, and I’m a harsh critic. After breakfast it was time to grab my things and head towards the Everglades.
There is so much more to see in Naples but unfortunately I was on a bit of a whirlwind tour. However, I do have a few suggestions for you. Brooks Gourmet Burgers and Dogs is a burger place (and hot dog place I’m guessing) just down the road from the Lemon Tree Inn. It comes HIGHLY recommended by locals. Plus, they do veggie burgers and fried pickles *drool*. If you want something active then make sure you go kayaking. All Water Excursions offer all sorts of water activities from Naples. My friends went kayaking with AWE and had an incredible time. Their photos were perfection. If you’re planning on chilling out then the beach is the place to be. The sand is white and the water is clear. Not to mention the highly photogenic pier. If you’re still craving thrills then Pure Florida offer a jet boat thrill ride that I have only heard great things about. Coast at Edge Water Beach Hotel Naples is great for dinner, especially if you’re into seafood. There’s a lot more to Naples, Florida for all the info make sure to check out the official site here.
OK, so on to the Everglades National Park. I hadn’t been there since I was a kid. I just remember eating alligator nuggets and seeing ‘gators everywhere. But I wasn’t here to eat alligators, I was here to tour an Airboat tour! The sun was absolutely beaming down when I arrived at Wooten’s in the Everglades. Wooten’s is the only company licensed to operate an airboat within the park itself. There were these giant grasshopper/locust/cricket type things just lounging around on the ground, taking in the sun, with absolutely no fear of people. I posed for photos with a giant alligator while my group waited to board our airboat. There was much excited chattering about the very handsome guide who would be leading our tour while we all reapplied our sunscreen. Then it was time to board the boat. Those of us sitting in the front row were warned that we may get a little wet.
The airboat itself was fascinating. There was only 4 inches of water in some places when we were there, yet we were still speeding along. It boggled my mind. Something to do with the giant fan at the back and Newton’s Law. Either way, it was thrilling. We spun in circles as we went flying through the mangroves. Our guide had no hopes for seeing alligators due to the low water level and the high salinity of the water, but we were lucky enough to spot a few. But it’s not just about the alligators, there were quite a variety of birds there too. After all the adrenaline was over and we were safely back on land it was time to check out the small animal park that Wooten’s is also home to. My sister is a zoologist and my family is obsessed with animals so I kind of held my breath going in there. I know the difference between a good zoo and a bad one. I would say that the Wooten’s animal park is somewhere in the middle. The animals had room and the keepers definitely care but I don’t know if there was much “enrichment” going on. Having said that, the alligator show, starring Charlie the ‘gator, was very impressive.
After all our thrills it was time to head to the Triad Seafood Market for lunch. I was a bit worried about the vegetarian options in this place considering the name. However, I was pleasantly surprised. From the minute I walked in I was in love with the place. There was a table full of local fire fighters having lunch before heading back to work. There were families celebrating special occasions. Everything about it felt very local. The market is right over the water so you can sit and watch the fish while you wait. I ordered a sweet mango iced tea (about a litre of it apparently), fried green tomatoes and a grilled cheese. The rest of my group tried the various seafood offering and assured me that they were delicious. Guys, honestly, if you have never had fried green tomatoes then you are missing OUT! They are absolutely delicious.
How do I get to the Paradise Coast, Florida
Getting to the Paradise Coast is easy. You can fly into Fort Myers airport. I flew from Dublin to JFK and then to Fort Myers with Aer Lingus and Jet Blue. I was actually so impressed with Jet Blue. No one was bribed to leave the plane due to overbooking and the leg room was actually breathtaking. Seriously, I had to take a minute when I realised I had at least 8 inches of space between my knees and the seat in front. From Fort Myers airport I took at taxi to Naples for about $70. There are definitely other transport options but I just wanted to get there quickly and in comfort.
You can read more about the Paradise Coast here.
Have you ever been to the Paradise Coast?
What’s your favourite part of Florida?
**I was a guest of Visit Florida on this trip. However, as always, all opinions and views expressed in this post are completely my own. **
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