25 Great Surprises

Go beyond the ordinary to find your bliss.

BY June 24, 2014


So you’ve stood up on a paddleboard, kayaked a picturesque creek, done some shelling and strolled the historic districts. But have you done yoga on said paddleboard, used that kayak to creep beneath a thousand bats hunting by the light of the moon, gone shelling on a remote barrier island or discovered the secrets that lie deep beneath the sidewalks? We thought not. How many of the following things have you seen and done? Take our challenge and score yourself:

1-5: Ooh, get ready! You’re in for the time of your life.

6-12: You’re certainly no couch potato, but get going. There’s still so much to do!

13-20: Wow! You’re an adventurer and most likely the life of the party.

21-25: Frankly, we don’t believe you.

1. Yoga on a Paddleboard

So you’re trending with the other thousand or two stand-up paddlers (SUPers) gliding along our beaches, rivers and backwaters. But how’s your sun salutation, your tree stand and your downward dog, balanced on a paddleboard? It’s the latest and most picturesque way to take a break from the gym and get out on the water—and it’s surprisingly easy, says Taylor Masiero, owner of Sweetwater Paddlesports. Sweetwater is one

of several outfitters pairing up with YogaFit certified instructors all along the Gulfshore to host yoga classes and board rentals for SUPers seeking the next great thing. Get a lesson at sweetwaterpaddlesports.com (405-7155), then find the next free yoga paddle meet-up near you at meetup.com/sup-yogafit.

2. Go Batty

Do you yearn for the exquisite silence of night paddling through a mysterious mangrove-fringed creek? Would you thrill to the sight of a thousand flying night mammals with 12-inch wingspans emerging from their hiding places before your very eyes? Then, for the experience of a lifetime, join up with a Florida master naturalist at Gaea Guides for one of their monthly two-hour bat tours on beautiful Judd Creek in North Fort Myers. The intimate tour (maximum 10 guests) also is available on the Imperial River in Bonita Springs. (694-5513)

3. Take Your Dog to Church

The Shell Factory is the place to get all spiritual with your pampered pooch and his/her friends. Doggy church is held every Sunday at the North Fort Myers attraction at 12:30 p.m. in the dog park. After the service, your dog can take a splash in the doggy fountain, run the agility course or snack with you at the Dog Bone Café. Except for the Nature Park, with its free-roaming critters, and the Fishbone Café, the entire historic and quirky Old Florida attraction is dog-friendly. shellfactory.com, (995-2141)

4. Drum at the Full Moon

“Be graced with the energies of the full moon … we hope you will know Spirit in a way you haven’t before.” That’s the compelling invitation to the monthly full moon drumming circles at Shangri- La Springs, the historic healing resort in the center of old Bonita Springs. You can bring your drum and join the circle, led by holistic practitioners Jeanie Williamson and Sayer Ji, or relax and listen beneath the great Mysore fig trees. It’s free, every full moon from 6-9 p.m. shangrilaretreat.com, (949-0749)

5. Sail with Pegasus and Friends

Many secrets, myths and mysteries of the night sky are revealed on Captiva Cruises’ Night Sky Astronomy Cruise. Your astronomer guide onboard the 24-passenger sailing catamaran Adventure uses his strong-beamed pointer to identify the stars and planets and tells captivating ancient stories of the constellations. By reservation, 90-minute cruises depart from South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island. captivacruises.com, (472-5300)

6. Mind the Meteors

Prefer to commune with the planets from solid ground? Check out Linda’s Star Gazing Adventures. Naturalist, hiking guide, astronomer and storyteller Linda Jacobson provides the telescopes and all the necessities for an exciting night of stargazing in a choice of wilderness locations from Fort Myers to the Everglades. Join Linda and Captain Steve’s Swamp Buggy Adventures for an unforgettable Dark of the Moon or Meteor Observation experience in Big Cypress National Preserve, complete with campfire and s’mores. She also customizes trips for families, couples and groups. astronomygal.com, (851-7827)

7. Be an Astronomer

Whether you want to keep up with the space program or learn what’s happening at the frontiers of astronomical research, or you simply appreciate the beauty of the night sky, why not join the Everglades Astronomical Society? This best-kept Gulfshore secret has been around for more than three decades. The club hosts scheduled stargazing sessions on moonless nights at a designated dark-sky site in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve, but you can find club members setting up just before sunset almost every Saturday night, weather permitting. You don’t have to own a telescope or even binoculars. The club is happy to share. The society meets every second Tuesday at the Norris Center in Naples. naples.net/clubs/eas

8. Improvise!

In the true theatrical sense of the word, that is. Southwest Florida is blessed with several outstanding opportunities to try your hand at theater. Local thespians can take improv classes or serious acting intensives or audition for a part in a play. If you want to be part of the team, but not on stage, consider volunteering backstage, becoming an usher or helping with theatrical fundraising events for one of the amazing nonprofit theater companies in our area. To get you started:

  • Grab tickets to an improv performance. stage2improv.net
  • Take an improv class, learn how to audition, or study anything from TV/film acting to delivering a monologue in The Naples Players’ comprehensive Adult Education program. naplesplayers.org
  • Audition for an upcoming season show. laboratorytheaterflorida.com, Fort Myers; theateronmarco.com, Marco Island; theatrezone-florida.com, Naples
  • Become a Scene Stealer, which includes volunteer ushering, parking, box office and other duties, at the nationally acclaimed Florida Repertory Theatre in Downtown Fort Myers. floridarep.org, (332-4665)

9. Smolder on the Dance Floor

Do you fantasize about dancing that passionate, once-banned-in-polite-society, rose-between-the-teeth, smoldering-eyed Argentine tango with a sensuous and mysterious stranger? Your go-to guy is Pablo Repun, a native Argentinean and extraordinary tango teacher. Pablo studied at the National School of Dance in Buenos Aires, worked with the great masters of tango and performed professionally before coming to Florida two decades ago. Pablo gives private and group lessons, from beginner to competition level, in his Naples studio. Bring your own partner or, perhaps, meet a mysterious stranger there. pablorepuntango.com, (738-4184)

10. Be Cool. Literally.

The coolest spots on the Gulfshore, literally, are the recreational ice skating rinks at Germain Arena, home of the Florida Everblades. There are Sunday family skates, Friday late-night skates and daily skate times at the 17,000-square-foot rink.

11. Or Join a Hockey Team

If you prefer ice hockey to figure skating, Germain has you covered on that, too. Join an existing team or start your own, and play in the league year-round. Hockey- and figure-skate rentals are available for children and adults. skateeverblades.com, (948-7825)

12. Channel Agatha Christie

You board the Seminole Gulf Railway train expecting a three-and-a-half-hour scenic ride and a five-course dinner, but as (bad) luck will have it, a murder takes place while you dine. The clues are all around, and the doer of the dastardly deed lurks among you. It’s corny but great interactive theater fun. semgulf.com, (275-8487)

13. Take a Nordic Walk

Who knew that beach-walking with a pair of ski poles uses 95 percent of your body’s muscles? Do it Nordic-style and you’ve got a low-impact cardio workout that burns about 46 percent more calories than ordinary walking. So says local Realtor Heidemarie Klimt-Grampp, who also happens to be a certified nordic pole walking master instructor. She leads early Saturday morning and Wednesday evening walks from 14th Avenue South to Gordon Pass, and Wednesday mornings from Lowdermilk Park to the Pier. Morning walks are followed by coffee/breakfast. Get your ski poles out of storage or rent authentic Nordic poles for $5. meetup.com/naplesnordicpolewalking, (784-5086)

14. Bask in a Summer Supermoon

A supermoon is a new moon or full moon that comes within 224,851 miles of our planet. There’s hardly anything more spectacular in the sky than a super full moon rising, and this year we have three of them: July 12, Aug. 10 and Sept. 8. Choose a spot far from the lights of civilization, such as on a boat, a beach or an island or in an open area in Big Cypress Preserve. The luminous light from a super full moon on a clear night is the stuff of dreams.

15. Stay Up Late

No more rolling up the Southwest Florida sidewalks at 9 p.m. Night owls have quite a variety of options, from sophisticated jazz clubs and posh late-night terrace dining to upscale cigar bars and boot-scootin’ dance halls still going strong at 1 a.m. and beyond. Check out the brand-new Alto Live Jazz Kitchen at Bayfront Place, Naples (altonaples.com), or the iconic City Tavern in the Historic Fort Myers River District (mycitytavern.com). To see and be seen, it’s Burn by Rocky Patel at Mercato in Naples (burnbyrockypatel.com). And it’s strictly denim and cowboy hats at the Dixie Roadhouse in Cape Coral (thedixie.com).

16. Go Shelling on a Deserted Island 

In the 10,000 Islands: Board Marco Island Watersports’ 45-foot catamaran Calusa Spirit right on the beach for a two-and-a-half-hour shelling trip to the remote northern tip of Cape Romano. Departures from three Marco locations and The Ritz-Carlton, Naples. marcoislandwatersports.com, (572-2953)

Off Sanibel and Captiva islands: Join a marine biologist-led shelling cruise aboard the Sun Princess to the remote outer islands off Sanibel and Captiva. Pack a picnic or have lunch at Barnacle’s on North Captiva Island. adventureinparadiseinc.com, (472-8443)

17. Play like a Kid

The best reason in the world to have young children and grandkids is so you can play at the two most awesome kids’ museums in all of Florida. At the Imaginarium (Fort Myers), I recommend you skip the Madagascar hissing cockroaches and go straight for the Hurricane Experience, the Mind Magic brain teasers and the Dino Dig. At C’mon, the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, you can channel your (much) earlier self and build things with KEVA planks. Trust me: They’re not your father’s Lincoln Logs. imaginariumfortmyers.com, (321-7420); cmon.org, (514-0084)

18. Get Twisted

Organically Twisted, that is. It’s the most gourmet-licious food truck you’ve ever seen, and it’s not in trendy New York, Seattle or Austin. It’s right here on the Gulfshore, and it’s pure gastronomical art, inside and out. The truck is the brainchild of John Hart, who grew up serving, prepping and literally feeding his passion for fresh organic food. His farm-to-truck-to-culinary art concept has inspired a following of foodie fans from Marco Island to Bonita Springs. Try the Guammus Cone, a blend of guacamole and hummus served in a salted pretzel cone garnished with fresh veggies. I like the Blue Pincher: sweet blue crab, organic tomatoes, fresh herbs, wild capers and crispy uncured bacon tossed in some Boom Boom sauce, served with greens. Like most of its entrees, you can have it in a wrap or a bowl. Get the Organically Twisted’s market schedule at facebook.com/organicallytwisted. foodtruck.

19. Go International

Somehow, when we weren’t paying attention, the Gulfshore became a hotbed of sensational world cuisines. Often, these little jewels are tucked into unlikely storefronts or off the beaten track. It takes a keen eye and a foodie’s sense of adventure to sniff them out, but, oh, it’s so worth it.

  • El Acajutla Restaurant, named after the owners’ hometown in El Salvador, serves up delectable South American and Spanish dishes behind an unassuming façade on Fowler Street in Downtown Fort Myers. (277-0611)
  • Craving Polish comfort food? Head straight to Maria D’anna Café at U.S. 41 and Third Avenue North in Naples for periogis, stuffed cabbage and more, washed down with a cold Zywiec beer. (263-6892)
  • You simply must savor the lighter-than-air Asian cheesecake by Kuala Lumpur native Ling Lee. Try the mocha, Parmesan, chocolate, vanilla, blueberry or whatever the baker’s spirit moves him to on any particular day, at farm markets throughout the region. (877-4662)
  • For the real German deal, check out Black Forest Mill in the Greentree Shopping Center on Immokalee Road in Naples. (592-4784)

20. Grow Your Own Dinner

The ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) farm in North Fort Myers is designed to empower small farmers and help communities become sustainable with community gardens. It also has a huge selection of tropical fruit trees and edible plants for sale. You can take a fascinating 90-minute guided tour of the ECHO demonstration farm; buy from a vast selection of trees, herbs, vegetables and seeds; sign up for a workshop; or get personal assistance in creating your neighborhood or school. garden.echonet.org, (543-3246)

21. Party like a Billionaire

Even those of us who fit more into the thousandaire category seem like billionaires to the impoverished, sick or hurting people who need our generosity. Nearly every weekend throughout the year you can find a cool happening somewhere along the Gulfshore that will set you back very little and supports a worthy cause. Check your online Gulfshore Life events calendar (gulfshorelife.com), then hop on your bicycle, put on your running shoes, rev up your appetite, socialize and feel great because you’re somebody’s billionaire.

22. Saddle Up!

Prepare for some wild and beautiful scenery in the Picayune Strand State Forest and surrounding areas, on a horseback tour with M&H Stables of Naples. Keep an eye out for birds, deer, and the occasional coyote or bobcat. Besides group rides (five riders maximum), M&H offers specially tailored outings for experienced riders. mhstables.com, (455-8764)

For something really different, check out 5 Star Stables & Tack’s Moonlight Adventure ride, which takes place either Friday or Saturday night on the fullest moon each month. The four-hour adventure includes a campfire break for hot dogs and marshmallows. stableandtack.com, (337-7827)

23. Dig into the Past

Buried beneath centuries of soil, agriculture, asphalt and construction here on the Gulfshore are remnants of the elaborate canal systems dug by the prehistoric Calusa Indians.

On Pine Island, the Florida Museum of Natural History’s Randell Research Center encompasses 60-plus acres at the heart of the Pineland archaeological site. The massive shell-mound site extends across more than 100 acres from the mangrove coastline. Calusa shell mounds and remnants of their canal system are visible from the RCC’s Calusa Heritage Trail, which is open to the public for a small donation. Visitors to the archaeological center can learn about the Calusa culture or volunteer to participate in the ongoing research programs. flmnh.ufl.edu/rrc, (283-2157)

In downtown Naples, a team of archaeologists recently followed a backhoe as it dug trenches for a new water line on the site of an ancient Calusa canal. Taking wood and soil samples for radiocarbon dating, the archaeologists now believe that the canal is centuries older than previously believed. It may have been dug as early as AD 1200-1400. Plans are forming for an archaeological dig, followed by the placement of historic markers along the canal path. To follow the exciting events or get involved, visit naplesbackyardhistory.net (774-2978).

24. Become a Master Naturalist

Through a University of Florida education program, you can impress your friends and share your knowledge with visitors as a certified Florida Master Naturalist. Whether you wish to become an ecotourism guide, volunteer or work in a museum or nature center, or just learn more about our environment, you’re sure to have a great time in this combination classroom, field trip and practical experience program. The three core modules are Freshwater Wetlands, Coastal Systems and Upland Habitats. Each 40-hour module gets you a certificate suitable for framing and the right to wear a pin or patch denoting your area of expertise. Classes take place at a number of research facilities and nature reserves throughout Southwest Florida. masternaturalist.ifas.ufl.edu

25. Go to Sea School

Sanibel Sea School says its mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. You could be that next person, if you sign up for one of the exciting new adult education classes. You can opt for a six-week program such as Fishing from a Biological Perspective, or drop in on one of the evening lectures, which cover everything from red tide blooms to “feisty little fighting conchs” to the effect of Fukishima on our oceans. sanibelseaschool.org, (472-8585)


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