October 23, 2014

Welcome to our many worlds.

"The old Captain, he pretty much runs this place," the bartender said, depositing an enormous macaw with brilliant blue feathers and beady, knowing eyes on my shoulder. Captain squawked and extended a scaly claw toward the peanut in my hand. The construction worker on my right, looking like a pirate with his long black hair and sea-blue eyes, grinned at my discomfiture, but the pretty blond girl with the pit bull reassured me, "Honey, he's just lookin' for some lovin'."

I relaxed and took another sip from my Corona, which was topped with a slice of key lime fresh from the big tree behind the rundown little chickee bar. We were in Goodland, a quirky little corner of old Florida that somehow coexists with the high rises and half-million-dollar homes that make up the rest of Marco Island. We were a day early for the Sunday afternoon band, but the slapping of waves against the boats rocking at their moorings and the rat-a-tat-tat call of a kingfisher buzzing over the mangroves made a kind of music of their own.

A Corona or so later, another pair of tourists walked up the twisting, tree-shaded path to the bar and took in the scene with delight. "This looks just like Key West must have 50 years ago," declared the man, picking up a handful of peanuts and cracking open a shell. "That's just what I said!" I exclaimed. "Everybody says that," the bartender informed me. "Mister, I'd appreciate it if you'd throw those shells on the floor-makes it easier to clean up."

It was hard to believe that just an hour earlier, we had been driving along Naples' Third Street South, admiring the gallery and boutique windows and stylish parade of shoppers.

We'd started our day with tennis and brunch with friends in one of Naples' Gulf-front communities, walking from their doorway to tennis courts cooled by Gulf breezes and bordered with palms, tangles of scarlet bougainvillea and neat rows of red begonias. And we intended to finish it in yet another setting-a Cuban restaurant in Fort Myers, where the music and mojitos draw a crowd that ranges from longtime local professionals to handsome young newcomers from Latin America.

Welcome to the Gulfshore! You'll discover a world of scenes and diversions in this sun-washed stretch of Southwest Florida, bordered by beautiful waters and frequented by visitors from all over the world. We have secluded coves, gorgeous golf courses, five-star resorts, Broadway spectacles, sophisticated shops and restaurants, and vast stretches of woods and waterways, where wild orchids unfurl on moss-draped oaks and the only sound is the splash of your paddle and the hoot of an owl in a majestic cypress tree. This Visitor's Annual is your guide to it all.

If you're a visitor, our maps and listings will help you find the perfect beach, tourist attraction, gallery, tarpon-fishing guide and much more. And if, like so many before you, you're thinking you might like to live here, turn to our Home & Condo section for a tour of great neighborhoods and a look at some of the features that make Southwest Florida homes among the most spectacular in the nation.

We've also included some fresh local perspectives for regular subscribers. Comic novelist Tim Dorsey (Florida Roadkill) shows off his collection of funky Florida souvenirs; and Bob Morris, who covers luxury travel and the Caribbean for a number of national publications (we call it the "good life" beat), offers a lively guide to everything you need to know once you've finally sprung for the Seriously Big Boat. And on the hotel front: Concierges are famous for providing every sort of personal service with total tact and discretion, but reporter Susan Burns gets some of the best to confess just what they've done-from the sublime to the ridiculous-to pamper Gulfshore guests.

And speaking of being pleased: We're thrilled that as we enter our 33rd year, we've once again been honored by the Florida Magazine Association with a first-place Charlie award for Best Overall Magazine. This is the second consecutive year we've taken home the trophy for consumer magazines with circulation of 50,000 or less, and proud as we are, we know that much of the credit belongs to the region we cover.

Welcome to that region, and to our Visitor's Annual. 

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