In this land of plenty, gulfshore life wants to help you make the best choices possible.
Our editors, with the help of a panel of blue-ribbon experts, got the scoop on the crème de la crème of the Gulfshore’s restaurants, shops, spas, attractions, entertainment and more. The result: a list of 34 must-haves, must-sees and must-dos that will benefit brand-new visitors as well as longtime residents who are always seeking to rediscover the paradise that is Southwest Florida.
After you check out our picks, turn to p. 56 for the results of the Readers’ Choices poll and p. 22 for our editors’ personal favorites.
Best Overall Restaurant
Chef Fabrizio Aielli marries tradition with innovation at Sea Salt in Naples, where wild-caught seafood dishes are the mainstay, the produce is local and organic, and the poultry and beef are naturally raised. Sea Salt earned a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence in 2009 and was named one of Esquire’s 23 Best New Restaurants.
Finalists: Veranda (Fort Myers), Truluck’s (Naples)
Best New Restaurant Accolades for KC American Bistro in Naples from our experts: “Wonderful, small, delicious, cozy.” Chef and owner Keith Casey developed a cuisine based on five American regions, using indigenous ingredients and ethnic cooking techniques. Think smoked pepper and molasses-lacquered duck with heirloom bean picadillo, fried plantains and julienned jicama salad.
Finalists: Bravo! Cucina Italiana (Naples), AZN Azian Cuizine (Naples)
Best Wine List
Not sure which wine would be the perfect match for your aged steak or to sip by the fireplace at The Grill at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples? Three trained sommeliers will help you choose from a wine list of unsurpassed variety and quality to make the night a hit. The Grill earned Wine Spectator magazine’s Best Award of Excellence from
Finalists: Bleu Provence (Naples), The Capital Grille (Naples)
Maria’s in Naples has character to spare. This restaurant is authentic, not Americanized. The food is reasonable, the salsas fresh and homemade. Tacos al pastor (pork soft tacos) and queso fundido (a bowl of melted cheese with Mexican sausage) are highly recommended.
Finalists: Cantina Laredo (Fort Myers), Flaco’s (Naples)
Ah, delicious, classical French cuisine with a wonderful atmosphere and great service can be found at Bleu Provence in Naples. The hosts, Jacques and Lysielle Cariot, pair an incomparable ambiance with a list of more than 1,700 different wines—and escargot to die for. Did we mention crispy duck leg confit with potato gratin and mango fries?
Finalists: Escargot 41 (Naples), Bamboo Café (Naples)
Reap the benefits of authentic, Tuscan-style cooking perfected over several generations at Bice Ristorante in Naples. The first Bice was opened in Milan in 1926 by Beatrice Mungai Ruggeri, known as “BiCE” to family and friends. Now the rest of the world knows Bice for homemade specialties like ravioli stuffed with braised beef, veal and spinach in a sauce of mushrooms and marsala wine.
Finalists: Ristorante Farfalla (Estero), Il Tesoro (Sanibel)
Elegant and fresh. Florida stone crabs come from Truluck’s fisheries on the Isle of Capri near Naples. Try grilled Scottish salmon or miso-glazed sea bass. The chef updates the fresh-catch seafood menu daily, so there’s always a scrumptious surprise.
Finalists: USS Nemo (Naples), Swan River Seafood Restaurant and Fish Market (Naples)
Blu Sushi in Fort Myers offers up a hip setting, fantastic martinis, fresh sushi, and interesting and delicious rolls, including “Bahama,” featuring conch finely chopped with spicy mayo, cucumber and lemon, topped with a touch of smelt roe. Or try “Find What Baby” and “Lava Drops.”
Finalists: Sushi Thai (Naples), Origami (Fort Myers)
A favorite at Sushi Thai in Naples is tom yum soup, full of veggies and spice, with choice of shrimp or seafood. Red curry chicken or duck gets lots of kudos. Top it off with Thai iced tea and Thai donuts.
Finalists: Thai Gardens (Fort Myers), Asia (Fort Myers)
Crunch your way to heaven at Cosmos Café & Pizzeria in Naples. The crust is thin and crispy, the flavor outstanding. Build your own calzone or sample the specialty pizza margherita with fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and “special grandma sauce.”
Finalists: Pizza Fusion (Fort Myers), Aurelio’s Is Pizza (Fort Myers, Naples)
“Kobe beef burger cooked to order in the middle of a butcher shop; top that!” crows one expert about Jimmy P’s Butcher Shop & Deli in Naples. The burgers come in a just-right size for your appetite: One pound, a half-pound, a third-pound. Or try Kobe beef sliders, the Kobe Cajun bleu cheese burger or Kobe patty melt, with sautéed onions and Swiss
Finalists: Cheeseburger in Paradise (Fort Myers), Five Guys Burger and Fries (Naples)
The Capital Grille in Naples features great food, great ambiance, a great wine list and superb steak quality. The dark mahogany paneling and one-of-a-kind Art Deco chandeliers are reminiscent of a private club, yet warm and welcoming. The bone-in, Kona-crusted, dry-aged sirloin with caramelized shallot butter is the stuff legends are made of.
Finalists: Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar (Naples), Preston’s Steakhouse (Naples)
Charlie Chiang’s Modern Asian Kitchen & Sushi Lounge in Naples has authentic great taste, perfect Peking duck carved tableside and the only spot with dim sum, says one expert. The restaurant employs only qualified master chefs from Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand. The far-from-typical fare includes creamy sesame jumbo shrimp and garlic purple eggplant and tofu.
Finalists: AZN Azian Cuizine (Naples), PF Chang’s China Bistro (Naples)
Any chocolate lover’s palate deserves this sweet ending to a fine dining experience with Truluck’s chocolate malt cake. Generous both in size and flavor, this fudgy, melt-in-your-mouth cake is topped with chocolate malt cream cheese icing.
Finalists: The Bubble Room’s red velvet cake (Captiva), Sea Salt’s raspberry sorbet (Naples)
Matzo ball soup and potato latkes, oh my! Stage 62 Delicatessen & Restaurant, a Detroit-style Jewish deli in Naples, is drawing raves with its menu of “Broadway Favorites” and “Hollywood Hits,” plus smoked fish plates and a mouth-watering Russian Rueben. Yum!
Finalists: Mario’s Meat Market and Deli (Fort Myers), Jason’s Deli (Fort Myers, Naples)
Best Birthday Cake
The crème de la crème of cakes have been created at Mason’s Bakery in Fort Myers from scratch for nearly 60 years. The types are novel—from photograph cakes and character cakes to key lime cakes and custom cakes—and the taste is nonpareil. A signature specialty: the fruit basket cake.
Finalists: Mikkelsen’s Pastry Shop (Naples), Ella’s Cakes (Naples)
The variety and selection of delicatessen meats at Jimmy P’s Butcher Shop & Deli in Naples is amazing. Of course, there’s great Kobe beef, but there’s also pork, poultry, lamb and veal. They even have British sausages. Take home some homemade beefy jerky or smoked pork chops—there’s a smokehouse on premises.
Finalists: Mario’s Meat Market and Deli (Fort Myers), Paesano’s Italian Market (Cape Coral)
Best Consignment Shop
Cocktail dresses, golf ensembles, fur coats … you’ll find it all at Rodéo Consignment in Naples. Perfect for the bargain hunter in all of us, there are major deals to be had on names such as Burberry, Chanel, Prada and Gucci, and the stock is ever-changing, making it the modern-day equivalent of a treasure hunt.
Finalists: Wear in the World (Naples), Cecilia’s Elite Repeat (Fort Myers)
If it’s accessories you seek, get thee to Marissa Collections, the unmistakable pink building on the corner of Third Street South and Broad Avenue in Naples. If you time it right, you may be able to meet one of several frequently visiting jewelry designers, including one of our faves, Tamara Comolli. And the shoe boutique at Saks Fifth Avenue at Waterside Shops is a footwear lover’s heaven, with an expansive selection from designers such as Miu Miu, Christian Louboutin, Tory Burch and many more.
Finalists: Mallie Montgomery Boutique (Fort Myers), Nordstrom (Naples)
Club Nothing beats the range of fitness classes members get at Naples’ two NCH Wellness Centers.Ease your body and mind with classes like candlelit yoga and “Stretch Because,” or step up the cardio with a spinning session. If time on the equipment is more your thing, you’ll be glad to know that there’s hardly ever a wait—even during season.
Finalists: The Omni Club (Fort Myers), LA Fitness (Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Fort Myers)
The Ritz-Carlton Spa in Naples is Gulfshore Life’s tried-and-true winner for several years running, thanks to its never-ending menu of sumptuous spa choices, refreshing aqua lounges, steam rooms, saunas and an outdoor mineral pool. Whichever treatment you choose, we recommend adding the hot stone option for that extra dose of “ahhh.”
Finalists: The Golden Door Spa at Naples Grande Beach Resort, The Spa at Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa (Fort Myers)
Best Hair Salon
Some of Southwest Florida’s finest coifs are no doubt the work of Dariel Saiz, who owns Dariel’s Hair Salon in downtown Naples. We hear his cuts are so coveted that there’s a one- to two-month waiting list for an appointment (and it gets even longer during season).
Finalists: Robert of Philadelphia Hair Design (Bonita Springs, Naples), La Te Da Salon & Spa (Fort Myers)
From bouquets to arrangements to event planning, The Garden District is your best bet for a do-it-all florist in Naples. And we mean it—their two locations also offer a selection of unique décor and tasteful garden furnishings.
Finalists: 50Fifty Creative Services (Naples), Planned Perfection (Fort Myers)
There’s a reason Lovers Key in Bonita Springs was voted one of the Travel Channel’s Top 10 Best Beaches in Florida. The barrier island and its surroundings are teeming with wildlife—including bald eagles, manatees and bottlenose dolphins—and are also popular spots for shelling and picnicking. Finalists: Bowman’s Beach (Sanibel), Barefoot Beach (Collier County)
Best Golf Course
Tiburón Golf Club at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort is carved from 800 acres of native Florida foliage and is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. Designed by Greg Norman, it plays like a classic links course. Tiburón features two championship, 18-hole courses—Black and Gold—and is home to the annual Merrill Lynch Shark Shootout, which brings the top names in golf to Naples.
Finalists: Old Corkscrew Golf Club (Estero), The Club at Grey Oaks (Naples)
Best Nature Preserve
Take a stroll down a 2.25-mile raised boardwalk (or the 1-mile shortcut) to explore a pine upland, a wet prairie, a cypress forest and a marsh in the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples. The preserve’s wildlife checklist tells you the best time of year to catch a glimpse of native inhabitants such as white-tailed deer, alligators, turkey vultures, great egrets and red-bellied woodpeckers.
Finalists: J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge (Sanibel), Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve (Fort Myers)
Best Local Theater
Led by Producing Artistic Director Robert Cacioppo, the Florida Repertory Theatre is in its 12th season in downtown Fort Myers’ The Arcade Theatre. The Rep is gaining a national rep from rave reviews in The Wall Street Journal, which put Dancing at Lughnasa on its “The Best of 2009” list and called You Can’t Take It With You “as light and sweet as fresh-spun cotton candy.”
Finalists: Gulfshore Playhouse (Naples), The Naples Players (Naples)
Best Live Music
Ellington’s Jazz Club & Restaurant on Sanibel Island regularly features The Danny Sinoff Trio/Quartet, plus “Blues Mondays” featuring Rick Howard.
The club’s white grand piano is a testament to the big names that have performed at the club—it is adorned with the autographs of musicians including Dave Brubeck, Sweet Georgia Brown, David “Fathead” Newman, Jon Weber, Davell Crawford and Jimmy Norman.
Finalists: Yabo (Fort Myers), Naples Beach Hotel’s Sunday night poolside concert
Best Arts Experience
The Philharmonic Center for the Arts calls itself “your cultural destination in Naples,” and with a performing arts hall that hosts national touring productions as well as its own orchestra, a museum of art and a plethora of arts classes for all ages—plus a new partnership with the Sarasota Opera and a new speaker series—the Phil is definitely living up to that expectation.
Finalists: The Alliance for the Arts (Lee County), Naples International Film Festival
Best Black-Tie Event
Four hundred people attended The Community School of Naples’ 25th annual Angel Ball last year. Naples Mayor Bill Barnett served as celebrity auctioneer, raising nearly $500,000 for the school’s financial aid program with items including a trip to Jackson Hole, Wyo., and a private jet ride to a Miley Cyrus concert. We can’t wait to see how they top it this year.
Finalists: Arts for Act Auction (Fort Myers), Heart Ball (Lee & Collier)
Nothing compares to the Naples Winter Wine Festival, an exclusive event that has garnered international renown for bringing the best vintners and chefs together to share their creations during a weekend of culinary delights and astronomical auction lots—the festival has raised more than $82 million in 10 years—to benefit underprivileged and at-risk children in Collier County.
Finalists: Edison Festival of Light (Fort Myers), Naples International Film Festival
Best Place for a First Date
Dinner and a movie has never been so carefree and luxurious as at Silverspot Cinema in Naples, where you and your sweetie can enjoy dinner in the theater’s own restaurant before slipping into comfy leather seats with some wine to enjoy a romantic flick.
Finalists: ’Tween Waters pool bar (Captiva), Naples Princess boat cruise (Naples)
Best Place to Dance
The clock doesn’t have to strike midnight for Yabba Island Grill in Naples to transform from restaurant to island dance party. Every Friday and Saturday night at 10:30, resident D.J. UNéK takes over, spinning the tunes that will get you up and movin’.
Finalists: Dance Life (Bonita Springs), The Sandy Parrot (Fort Myers)
Best Place to Meet Other Singles
The hot place for singles to mingle these days is The Edison off McGregor Boulevard in Fort Myers. The restaurant features a large oval bar inside and a covered porch outside, with gorgeous views of the Fort Myers Country Club, nightly live entertainment and themed nights such as “Famous Ladies’ Night” Wednesdays, “The Blues and Ladies Dine Free” Thursdays and “Red Hot Friday Cocktail Party.”
Finalists: Café Lurcat (Naples), Crü (Fort Myers)
In addition to the collective wisdom of our editors and experts, readers expressed their preferences. This list is the result of our Readers’ Choices ballots, which were mailed in or submitted at our Web site,
Food & Drink
Best Overall Restaurant Angelina’s Ristorante (Bonita Springs)
Finalists: Campiello (Naples), Truluck’s (Naples)
Best New Restaurant: Bravo! Cucina Italiana (Naples)
Finalists: The Jolly Cricket (Naples), Marker 92
P.F. Chang’s China Bistro (Fort Myers, Naples)
Finalists: Charlie Chiang’s (Naples), AZN Azian Cuizine (Naples)
Bleu Provence (Naples)
Finalists: Bamboo Café (Naples), Cote d’Azur (Naples)
Carrabba’s Italian Grill (Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Naples)
Finalists: Campiello (Naples), Angelina’s Ristorante (Bonita Springs)
Flaco’s Mexican Specialties & Steakhouse (Naples)
Finalists: Iguana Mia (Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Fort Myers),
La Bamba Mexican Restaurant (Estero, Naples)
Sushi Thai (Naples)
Finalists: Pad Thai (Naples), Thai Basil (Naples)
Finalists: Bonefish Grill (Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Naples), USS Nemo (Naples)
Sushi Thai (Naples)
Finalists: Blu Sushi (Fort Myers), AZN Azian Cuizine (Naples)
The Capital Grille (Naples)
Finalists: Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar (Naples), Ruth’s Chris Steak House (Estero)
Best Non-Chain Pizza Cosmos Café & Pizzeria (Naples)
Finalists: Joey D’s Italian Restaurant (Naples), Peppi’s Pizzeria (Naples)
Five Guys Burgers and Fries (Cape Coral, Estero, Fort Myers, Naples)
Finalists: Cheeburger Cheeburger (Naples, Sanibel), Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
Rib City (Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Naples)
Finalists: Michelbob’s (Marco Island, Naples), Famous Dave’s (Fort Myers)
Jason’s Deli (Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Naples)
Finalists: Publix (throughout Southwest Florida), Wynn’s Market (Naples)
Crispers (Bonita Springs, Fort Myers, Naples)
Finalists: Sweet Tomatoes (Fort Myers, Naples), California Pizza Kitchen (Estero, Naples)
First Watch (Fort Myers, Naples, Bonita Springs)
Finalists: Skillets (Bonita Springs, Naples), Mel’s Diner (Fort Myers, Naples, Cape Coral, Bonita Springs)
The Ritz-Carlton (Naples)
Finalists: First Watch (Bonita Springs, Fort Myers, Naples), Skillets (Bonita Springs, Naples)
The Cheesecake Factory (Naples)
Finalists: Roy’s (Bonita Springs, Naples), The Bubble Room (Sanibel)
Best Romantic Dining
The Ritz-Carlton (Naples)
Finalists: The Turtle Club (Naples), Angelina’s Ristorante (Bonita Springs)
Best Business Lunch: Shula’s Steak House (Naples)
Finalists: Brio Tuscan Grille (Naples), The Capital Grille (Naples)
Best Waterfront Dining The Turtle Club (Naples)
Finalists: M Waterfront Grille (Naples), Gumbo Limbo (Naples)
Best Family-Friendly Restaurant
Mel’s Diner (Bonita Springs, Fort Myers, Naples,
Finalists: Perkins (Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Estero, Fort Myers, Naples), Carrabba’s Italian Grill, (Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Naples)
Best Hotel Restaurant
The Grill at The Ritz-Carlton (Naples)
Finalists: Shula’s Steakhouse at the Hilton Naples, BALEENnaples at LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort (Naples)
Best Special Occasion Restaurant
The Ritz-Carlton (Naples)
Finalists: The Capital Grille (Naples), Roy’s (Bonita Springs, Naples)
Olio on Naples Bay (Naples)
Finalists: Cosmos Café & Pizzeria (Naples),
The Turtle Club (Naples)
Best Ice Cream Store
Royal Scoop (Bonita Springs)
Finalists: Cold Stone Creamery (Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Naples, Marco Island), Regina’s Ice Cream (Naples)
Blue Martini (Naples)
Finalists: Campiello (Naples), Bar Louie
Best Restaurant Wine List
Naples Tomato (Naples, Estero)
Finalists: Angelina’s Ristorante, (Bonita Springs), The Ritz-Carlton (Naples)
Best Wine Shop
Total Wine (Fort Myers, Naples)
Finalists: Haskell’s (Naples), ABC Liquor (Cape Coral, Estero, Fort Myers, Naples)
Best Gourmet Grocery/Market
Fresh Market (Bonita Springs)
Finalists: Whole Foods (Naples),Paesano’s
Goods & Services
Best Hair Salon:
allure et beauté salon and day spa (Naples)
Finalists: ncolor salon & boutique (Naples), Robert of Philadelphia (Bonita Springs, Naples)
Best Health Club
NCH Wellness Center (Naples)
Finalists: LA Fitness (Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Cape Coral), Omni Club Fitness Center (Fort Myers)
The Ritz-Carlton Spa (Naples)
Finalists: Golden Door Spa (Naples), Stillwater Spa at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point (Estero)
Gene’s 5th Ave Florist (Naples)
Finalists: Garden District (Naples), In Bloom
Best Garden Center Driftwood (Naples)
Finalists: Home Depot (Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Naples), Scrivner’s (Fort Myers)
Best Pet Pampering Wigglebutt Inn (Naples)
Finalists: All Dogs Hair Haven (Naples), Naples Safari Animal Hospital & Pet Resort
Hotspots & Highlights
Best Place to Take the Kids
Naples Zoo (Naples)
Finalists: Naples Botanical Garden (Naples), Imaginarium (Fort Myers)
Best Place to Take Visitors
Naples Pier (Naples)
Finalists: The Beach (Naples, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, Captiva), Fifth Avenue South (Naples)
Finalists: Naples Pier (Naples), Clam Pass (Naples)
Best Golf Course
Finalists: Naples Beach Club (Naples), Naples Grande (Naples)
Best Black-Tie Event
Angel Ball (Naples)
Finalists: Heart Ball
(Collier/Lee), NCH Hospital Ball (Naples)
Best Reason to
Finalists: Traffic, Hurricanes
Best Reason to Stay Weather
Finalists: Beaches, People