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Gulfshore Life at 50

Local leaders share what they love about life on the Gulfshore.

BY January 14, 2020
Naples Pier photo by Blaine Johnathan
Photo by Blaine Johnathan

Bill Barnett- Naples Mayor

“It was late in the evening of April 1972 when my wife and I first drove into Naples and checked in to a motel. The next day we had our first glimpse of the city and immediately fell in love with the pristine streets, gorgeous beaches—and every person we talked to was friendly! After a day of exploring, we decided right then and there that Naples was going to be our forever home. When you think about places that still retain that old Naples charm, you have to talk about our pier, the beach, and of course, the Naples Beach Hotel, which has one of the city’s first golf courses, and it’s still open to the public.” —Naples Mayor Bill Barnett


Tony Ridgway- Naples Restauranteur (Ridgway Bar & Grill)

“My parents made a full-time move to Naples from Pennsylvania around 1961 or so. Before I relocated to Naples in 1971, I would visit them and I was always struck by the soft warmth of the air and breezes that come off the Gulf. It’s such a welcoming sensations and a feeling I still love.” —Tony Ridgway, Naples restaurateur


Simone Jardim- Co-founder of Peak Performance Pickleball Academy

“My favorite place to go on a day off is Doc’s Beach House in Bonita Springs. They have great fish tacos, you can park right by the restaurant and the kids get to play on the beach while we enjoy some food looking over the gulf. Overall it has the best relaxed atmosphere.” —Simone Jardim, co-founder of Peak Performance Pickleball Academy


Ray Carroll- Naples Native and Real Estate Appraiser

“My favorite places usually evoke specific memories of people, time and activities. Some of my favorite places still exist, like Fourstake Prairie, Henderson Creek, the top of Sand Hill, the 10,000 Islands and Keewaydin Island Beach at sunrise. The 10,000 islands, for example, is a state of mind. Everything there might look the same, and yet it’s totally unique. There is more below the surface of the water, and beyond the edge of the mangrove shore than the mind can imagine: Calusa midden mounds, pioneer homesteads, hidden creeks, beaches, oyster bars and grass beds. The ‘treasure’ is always around the next bend.” — Ray Carroll, Naples native and real estate appraiser


Vicenzo Betulia- Owner and Chef of The French, Osteria Tulia and Bar Tulia

“Southwest Florida is such a great place—it’s hard to pinpoint one particular place or thing. We’re surrounded by beautiful palm trees, beaches, farms and amazing weather. The community is what best represents the heart of SWFL. Naples in particular is such a tight knit community, and I love seeing (and being a part of) its growth. Im proud to be one stitch in this fabric we all love and call home. Fifth Avenue is really a hub for socializing—it has a European feel with the lights the sights the smells, and it’s a great place for people watching.” — Vicenzo Betulia, owner and chef of The French, Osteria Tulia and Bar Tulia


Tim Wynn- Second-Generation Owner of Wynn’s Market

“Ever since I can remember, some of my favorite days were spent on the water. I am so grateful and blessed to have been born with one of the most unique ecosystems in my backyard. Fishing in the rivers of the Everglades and watching the array of birds in their natural habit in the Naples Bay as a child are just a few activities I truly treasure.” —Tim Wynn, second-generation owner of Wynn’s Market


Kristen Coury- Founder, Producing director and CEO of the Gulfshore Playhouse

“My absolute favorite place to go on a day off, or after work, or on a break, or really anytime I can, is the Naples Greenway. This peaceful, verdant, lush boardwalk skirts and crosses the Gordon River providing a tranquil walk and a great way to clear your head. The latest extension connects it to Baker Park. This shows we have a city dedicated to free opportunities for enjoying nature and beautiful weather, while offering a bit of reflection and relaxation along the way.” — Kristen Coury, founder, producing director and CEO of the Gulfshore Playhouse


Jennifer Williams- Owner of Jennifer’s Boutique

“I most love being on the water. Southwest Florida has some of the most beautiful beaches and waterways and being boaters, we take every chance we can to get on the water. I feel blessed to LIVE in an area so many people vacation. Some of my favorite places include Boca Grande, the Sanibel Causeway, Sanibel Lighthouse, Lovers Key with its manatees. I also love what’s called “Miserable Mile,” just outside the Caloosahatchee River toward Pine Island. There are always dolphins swimming in the channel—I never get tired of seeing them. I’m like a tourist.” — Jennifer Williams, owner of Jennifer’s Boutique


Jim Griffith- Naples Philharmonic violist and Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center artistic director and CEO

“To me, what best represents the heart of Southwest Florida is our beautiful historic downtown Fort Myers. My wife, Kara, and I were fresh out of college and moving back to Florida in 1988. We took a wrong turn, got lost, and accidentally fell into downtown. We stopped our car on First Street, got out, looked around, and noticed all the empty storefronts. But, we immediately fell in love with the spectacular historic architecture. I remember there being no cars or people as far as you could see. We looked at each other and said this is our blank canvas to build something spectacular. We happened upon a sweet little bungalow house in Dean Park just next to downtown that was for rent and grabbed it. Here we are 30 years later, and after a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, downtown is a thriving cultural destination thanks to the help of so many generous supporters, partners, donors and of course, Berne Davis.” — Jim Griffith, Naples Philharmonic violist and Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center artistic director and CEO


Jay Hartington- Co-owner of Marissa’s Collections

“I love the kung pao calamari at Veranda E—it’s easily one of the best dishes in Naples. The restaurant has very delicious and interesting fusion food and a unique garden setting, but I would go there for the kung pao calamari alone (it’s easily one of the best dishes in Naples)—everything else is gravy!” —Jay Hartington, co-owner of Marissa’s Collections


Clyde Butcher- Photographer

“Big Cypress National Preserve is the first place I fell in love with in Florida. When Oscar Thompson, a fifth generation Floridian, took me out into the interior of Florida, it was the first time I had ever seen anything so beautiful and unusual. A true gem—the majority of people in our country had no idea that kind of environment existed in the USA. My wife always tells the story this way, ‘When I first saw the REAL Florida I wanted to plant the USA flag into the ground and claim it for the USA!” Since that initial encounter many years ago, I have only fallen in love with it more.’” —Clyde Butcher, photographer


Janet Evanovich- Author

“I loved Fifth Avenue decorated with twinkle lights on the palm trees and the sidewalks filled with people going to restaurants (or Kilwin’s for ice cream). It felt extraordinarily happy back then …and it still feels exactly like that now!” —Janet Evanovich, author


Chad Jansen- Method & Concept, Founding Director

“Delnor-Wiggins State Park is an absolute escape just minutes from civilization. From kayaking the back waters to grilling on the beach with your feet in the sand, under the shade of a beautiful tree…what could be better?” —Chad Jansen, Method & Concept, founding director


Shirlene Elkins- Member of the Gulfshore Life Community Advisory Board

“One of Naples’ best-kept secrets for live music in a chic, intimate setting is the new London Club. It’s located on the second floor of the Bellasera Resort and reminds me of an old-time supper club with its Manhattans, sidecars and old-fashioneds, to name a few. Plus, it has yummy, tapas-style plates to shape. Oh by the way, this is owned by the same people behind the Claw Bar, Turtle Club and Bay House. Needless to say, the food is delicious. Get there early, like at 3:45 p.m., to snag a table and to enjoy the live performances. Dinner is also available downstairs. I love this fun and unique spot.” —Shirlene Elkins, member of the Gulfshore Life Community Advisory Board

“Of course Celebration Park is not to me missed either. Rent the Tikki bar with friends and have a great time laughing in the sun.” —Shirlene Elkins, member of the Gulfshore Life Community Advisory Board

Paul Arsenault- Artist

“On my first day in Southwest Florida, I was guided to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. I had a primal connection; the place spoke to me in the deepest way. That visit compelled me to move to Naples. Corkscrew still captures the essence of Florida to me.” —Paul Arsenault, artist


Sandy Stillwell Youngquist- Gulfshore Life Community Advisory Board member

On a day off, I love to go boating along the coastline. We work our way up to Captiva Island, Useppa Island, Cabbage Key or Boca Grande. We enjoy some of the most beautiful islands with their unique characteristics and great places to dine while there.” —Sandy Stillwell Youngquist, Gulfshore Life Community Advisory Board member


Richard Geary- Interior Designer and Owner of Geary Designs

“Southwest Florida has changed since I first got here, but there is one place I go at least once a year that reminds me of those earlier times: Corkscrew Swamp—it recharges my batteries. I usually leave the house at 6:30 a.m., so I can arrive the moment they open the gates at 7. At that time, dawn is just a glow on the horizon, and most of the animals and birds are still asleep. I pad down the boardwalk alone in soft-soled shoes. No camera. About a quarter mile in, dawn errupts through the trees and I remember why I live here.” —Richard Geary, interior designer and owner of Geary Designs


Ingrid Aielli- Restaurateur and Co-owner of Aielli Group

“In my opinion, our nature represents Southwest Florida best. No matter if you visit the Naples Botanical Garden, Rookery Bay, Corkscrew Sanctuary or you go boating in the backwaters, it is unique. For me, personally, these are great places to recharge. Nothing gives you more piece of mind than sitting on the beach and enjoying our sunsets.” — Ingrid Aielli, restaurateur and co-owner of Aielli Group


Adria Starkey- Member of the Gulfshore Life Community Advisory Board

“I have had the pleasure of living in Naples for more than 30 years. Over the years, my husband and I have developed a ritual of getting coffee at Food & Thought and heading to the beach whenever possible. An early morning walk on the beach is right at the top of my list of things to do here—it is never the same walk twice.” —Adria Starkey, member of the Gulfshore Life Community Advisory Board


Lydia Antunes Black- Executive Director of the Alliance for the Arts

“When I steal a day away from the busyness of everyday life, I head to Bunch Beach Preserve on San Carlos Bay with a stand-up board. Paddling through the mangroves during low tide, heading West through the canals and then paddling North along the beach is a sure way to unwind the mind, body and spirit. It’s rare not to spy eagles, hawks, dolphins, rays, mangrove crabs, egrets and other wildlife.” —Lydia Antunes Black, executive director of the Alliance for the Arts


Scott Burgess- Member of the Gulfshore Life Community Advisory Board

“On the day of my last interview in the CEO search process for David Lawrence Center, my wife and I walked along the Naples Pier. It was a beautiful afternoon, people were smiling and having fun. We looked down and saw dolphins swimming right next to the pier, and we said to each other, ‘This just feels right.’ We still love to go to the beach on a day off. They’re all terrific, but Lowdermilk is our favorite.” —Scott Burgess, member of the Gulfshore Life Community Advisory Board


Shelly Stayer- Member of the Gulfshore Life Community Advisory Board

“Bha Bha is the best Middle Eastern food—possibly in the country. It’s the very first place we go upon arrival back from summer. The Hummus tastes like it’s straight from Beirut, and the apricot chicken entree leaves me longing to be back in Riyadh.” —Shelly Stayer, member of the Gulfshore Life Community Advisory Board


Denise Cobb- President of the Gulfshore Life Community Advisory Board

“There is no better example of what best represents the heart of Southwest Florida than the Naples Winter Wine Festival. The generosity of time, talent and treasure exhibited by everyone involved could not happen anywhere else in the country, which is why the NWWF is the most successful charity wine event in the world and has set mind-boggling philanthropic records.” —Denise Cobb, Chair of the Gulfshore Life Community Advisory Board


Gail Markham- Member of the Gulfshore Life Community Advisory Board

“I LOVE our beaches and sunsets. I am a Florida native, and have lived most of my life on the west coast of Florida, as far north as St. Petersburg, and as far south as Bonita. As a result, I have spent many days at the beach and watched many beautiful sunsets. I never get tired of either.” —Gail Markham, member of the Gulfshore Life Community Advisory Board


Todd Gates- Member of the Gulfshore Life Community Advisory Board

“My favorite place to visit on my day off would be the beach. Preferably a quiet peaceful setting enjoying the beautiful surroundings and feeling grateful for the opportunity to be able to live in such a special place. Interestingly enough, my first three nights in Naples many years ago, I ended up sleeping on the beach at Wiggins Pass. Now I live overlooking it from my condo :)” —Todd Gates, member of the Gulfshore Life Community Advisory Board


Harold Balink- Chef/Owner of Harold’s

“I fell in love my wife on Captiva Island, and specifically at the beach in front of ‘Tween Waters Island Resort & Spa. If I were to start selling someone new to the area, that’s the first (of many places) that I would mention.” —Harold Balink, chef/owner of Harold’s


Chef Brian Roland of Crave Culinaire

“I first started visiting Naples in 1990 to see my grandparents. We would go out on their boat that they had in a slip at the Naples City Docks. We would tow tubes and drop anchor at Keewaydin and spend the afternoon searching for shells, starfish and crabs. After I graduated from culinary school, I began to appreciate the food scene and what local restaurateurs were doing—dinner from the daily chalkboard at the old Sign of the Vine was a unique experience. But, the clean beaches are where I go to get an hour of serenity to break up the craziness between lunch and dinner service or to watch the beautiful sunset!” —Chef Brian Roland of Crave Culinaire


Ellin Goetz- Landscape Architect and Designer of Naples Botanical Garden

“Seeing families bonding in new ways with our environment throughout Naples Botanical Garden brings me great joy. The water, land and sky are all gifts and we just need ways to connect and rediscover that abundance to realize that our very existence depends on a healthy relationship with nature. It’s a place that was built using the patterns of water flowing through the Everglades, while displaying wonders of tropical landscapes from around the world. And it’s all right in our backyard!” —Ellin Goetz, landscape architect and designer of Naples Botanical Garden


Marilyn Hellman- Owner of Marilyn’s Luxury Fashion Boutique

“If you want to find peace in the world you will find it at the Naples Botanical Garden. I love how it is always changing and growing. It’s always a fun place to explore.” —Marilyn Hellman, owner of Marilyn’s Luxury Fashion Boutique


Kathleen van Bergen- CEO & President, Artis—Naples

“On a day off, I head to the beach. I cherish the walk, barefoot on the sand from Doctor’s Pass south toward 3rd Avenue. This is the perfect way to clear my mind, appreciate the beauty of our natural surroundings, marvel at the development of our community over the decades and smile at those visiting—all while being grateful to call Naples home.” – Kathleen van Bergen, CEO & President, Artis—Naples


Norman Love- Norman Love Confections

“On a day off, our family enjoys boating through the Caloosahatchee River and into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s especially exciting to see the marine life in action, like dolphins following a boat’s wake or majestic blue herons resting in the mangroves.” — Norman Love, Norman Love Confections


Hyla Crane- Executive Director for Marco Island Center for the Arts

“My move to SWFL took place in February of 2014. As someone who spent almost my entire life in New England, I marveled at a life in paradise—plotting my escape from the land of potholes, snow and taxes. The very first time I crossed the Jolley West Bridge to go to Marco Island I was struck by the charm and beauty. It was hard to believe that a four-by-six-mile island could be a place to see burrowing owls, sea turtles and such a beautiful abundance of nature’s treasures. Island life is where it is at: Once you come down you never turn back.” —Hyla Crane, executive director for Marco Island Center for the Arts


Doris Colgate- Co-owner and CEO of Offshore Sailing School

“In 1975, we drove up and down the coasts of Florida in search of the perfect destination resort. We found South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island and were captivated by the canopy of trees bordering quaint shops and restaurants on Periwinkle Way. We loved the softness of the air and the sense of relaxation among those who worked and lived on the islands.” —Doris Colgate, co-owner and CEO of Offshore Sailing School


Greg Longenhagen- Artistic Director for Florida Repertory Theatre

“One of my favorite places and things to do is to spend time at Lighthouse Beach Park with my wife Liz and our children Liza and Jack. While my work schedule in season doesn’t allow for much beach time, I love to fit this in during the summer months when the island is less populated. I can’t think of anything more serene and satisfying than enjoying a beach day with my family.” —Greg Longenhagen, artistic director for Florida Repertory Theatre


Mary Susan Clinton- Community Advisory Member

“My husband J.D. and I moved to this beautiful and safe beach community to enjoy the weather and amenities. We had a family afterward and raised our two sons in a town of many opportunities. We became deeply immersed in philanthropic causes, helping to launch the Naples Winter Wine Festival to help families at risk. Our initial motive for living in SWFL was enriched more than we could ever have imagined.” —Mary Susan Clinton, community advisory member


Eric Raddatz- Founder of the Naples and Fort Myers Film Festivals

“My favorite place to be on a day off by myself is on the seat of my vintage Raleigh Grand Prix bicycle. Here’s why. The trails—and suburban roads—provide such scintillating and breathtaking views of the paradise that we call home. Usually the destination becomes Downtown Fort Myers, where opportunities for al fresco wining and dining, reading and resting, and intellectual conversations with modern philosophers are abundant—it’s my favorite.”
—Eric Raddatz, founder of the Naples and Fort Myers Film Festivals


Mark Loren, owner Mark Loren Designs

“Back in 1982, my employer from Chicago asked me if I wanted to move down for a year to assist in opening a Fort Myers location and invited me to stay in his beachfront condo on Sanibel Island. I couldn’t get back to Chicago fast enough to pack my belongings and motorcycle! I have never regretted my decision to relocate here and feel blessed to be a part of this community where I can ride my motorcycle down Middle Gulf Drive and spend time on the bordering Sanibel beaches.” —Mark Loren, owner Mark Loren Designs


Stephen Blancett- Artist

“My husband James and I enjoy driving across the Sanibel Causeway with the top down, so we can enjoy the panoramic views of San Carlos Bay. Over the years we have spotted a variety of wildlife including dolphins, manatees, and of course those comically elegant pelicans. Once over the bridge, we head north to the Captiva Island Inn where we often stay in one of the quaint, Old Florida style cottages for a weekend getaway. Sometimes, we just do a day trip to the Inn and have lunch while sipping on the Worlds Best Bloody Mary at the Keylime Bistro. Oh, life in Paradise in good.” —Stephen Blancett, artist


Jeff Mitchell, chef/owner The Local

“If there’s one place that best represents Southwest Florida to me, I’d have to say its Doctors Pass. I love sitting on the rocks with my sons—listening to the waves lap at the rocks and watching people fish.” —Jeff Mitchell, chef/owner The Local


Ben Hill Griffin III- Chairman of the board and CEO of Ben Hill Griffin, Inc.

“Florida Gulf Coast University is the most exciting thing to happen in the past 50 years. Located between Naples and Fort Myers, it brings local students an opportunity to build on their interest in the environment and agriculture, which is beneficial to all of Southwest Florida—and beyond.” —Ben Hill Griffin III, chairman of the board and CEO of Ben Hill Griffin, Inc.


Liz Abbott- Actress Florida Reperatory Theatre

“While I have so many places I could mention, the Sanibel Lighthouse takes top billing! I drive over the causeway at least 20 times a week and every single time I come around the bend, I say to myself, ‘There she is! There’s the lighthouse!’ I treasure its beauty towering in the daylight and lighting up the night sky—always telling me I’m home. It remains the first place we share with anyone that comes to visit and it has provided a backdrop for countless photos, including one with my father flying his vintage Ercoupe. I used to wave at him overhead and he would tip his wing back.” —Liz Abbott, actress Florida Reperatory Theatre

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