The Best Times for Your Greatest Pleasures in Southwest Florida
A smart person’s guide on when to go Sanibel shelling, see a movie, play tennis and more
In the immortal words of Chicago: Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care? Well, if you are looking to find a parking spot at Whole Foods or a good table at Campiello or a shot at the best shells on Sanibel, the answer to that second question is, “Yes. Yes, I do care.”
Let’s face it: In the middle of “season,” things can be a bit of a pain around here. The restaurants are packed. The golf courses are crowded. The beaches are filled with people you don’t know bent over like a Weather Channel intern during Irma. If you’re driving during rush hour, whether it be on the Cape Coral Bridge or on Pine Ridge Road in Naples, you’re basically just crawling between accidents. And there’s virtually no good time to be on Tamiami Trail between the hours of November and May.
So timing does matter. And to that end, I’ve checked around to find out when is the best time for you to do whatever it is you need to do: whether it be hitting the links, the grocery store, the movie theater. But, as a caveat, it should be noted that there are exceptions to every rule, and some people actually prefer crowds. So FYI, most of tips herein are about avoiding the crowds, but sometimes the best time to do something is the same time everyone else wants to do it, too.
Case in point: sunset. Every expert I reached out to implied that sunset comes when it comes and no concierge on the planet is going to pull some strings and get you better timing. If you want a good seat for it, come early, bring wine and hope for the best.
And keeping with the beach theme, one of the prime traditions of Southwest Florida is visiting Sanibel and doing some shelling. Experts offer two prime times to give yourself the best shot of walking away with whelks of conchs: dawn, and immediately before and after low tide. If you want to give yourself an even better chance at grabbing a showstopper, hit the beach right after a storm or high-wind event. You’ll be a shelling hero. localtides.net
However, let’s say you want to go to the movies but prefer to enjoy it in peace and quiet. Mondays through Wednesdays are your friend. And the earlier the better, as you’ll not only find fewer people; you’ll get some matinee pricing to boot. In addition, I highly recommend you download the app RunPee, which tells you at what point in that movie you can get up and run to the bathroom or the concession stand and not miss much of the plot. But I suggest you arm yourself with that information prior to the movie starting, lest you be that super annoying person the rest of us are trying to avoid by arriving on a Tuesday morning. runpee.com
But what if you want to play a round of golf without the hassle of someone either slowing you up in front or riding you from the rear? Get used to the heat. There’s a reason early tee times disappear like a Clinton email (or a Trump bone spur—pick your favorite based on your political bent). Mid- to late afternoon is the best time to hit the links because the scorching sun is a hazard all unto itself. So bring your SPF, stay hydrated and enjoy a round of golf the way God intended: leisurely. Best of all, most semi-public courses drop their rates as the day progresses. For example, in December, a 7:30 a.m. tee time at Tiburón Golf Club’s Black Course cost $230, but by 3:20 p.m. it was reduced to $125. At Old Corkscrew Golf Club, the reductions are even more dramatic. They don’t do that because they’re overrun with golfers. So you not only get a discount, you also get a little breathing room. tiburonnaples.com, oldcorkscrew.com
Sticking with sports, I can tell you from experience that the best time to play tennis is when your opponent is recovering from a serious injury. But unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an app for hobbled tennis players looking for trouble. So, if you’re willing to play fair and square but still looking to actually get a court, the best time to head out is between 12:30 and 3:30 p.m., according to the folks at the Arthur L. Allen Tennis Center in Naples. Even more so than golf, tennis courts can get brutally hot in the afternoon, giving you the opportunity to backhand with impunity. And if your opponent has to withdraw due to heatstroke, that still counts as a win. allentenniscenter.net
But let’s say you’ve actually hurt yourself during one of our marathon tennis matches and you need to see a doctor. (My drop shot does that to people.) Well, guess what? Doctors are terrible at keeping a schedule. And because of that, the best time to book your appointment for is right when the office opens. That way, they haven’t had a chance to let other appointments throw them off schedule. YOU can be the person that messes up the rest of the day’s schedule. You’re welcome.
And what about grocery shopping? People gotta eat. And some of those people want to make that food themselves. And so grocery stores exist. Plenty of people will tell you to get there first thing in the morning, and they’re not wrong, but if you want to freewheel your grocery cart through Whole Foods without having to wait for crowds of people backed up thanks to someone reading the ingredients in a Newman’s Own Creamy Ranch, your best bet is between the hours of 8 and 10—both a.m. and p.m. The same holds true for Publix (though starting earlier at 7 a.m. for the morning window). wholefoodsmarket.com, publix.com
Not to sound completely antisocial, but I also like to eat dinner without a crowd. But in this area, at this time of year, that’s nearly impossible at a restaurant that doesn’t serve Key lime pie in a Styrofoam cup. You can try early—many restaurants don’t reopen for dinner service until 5 p.m., though if they also have a bar area they often have a happy hour that adds to the mix. The best bet is to pretend you’re European and choose a late seating. If you’re willing to wait until 8 p.m. or later, you can often get a table at some of the more popular area offerings such as Truluck’s, The French or Bha! Bha! Persian Bistro. Of course, if you really want to eat whenever you want to eat and still avoid the crowds, do what I do and check into a Gulf front room at LaPlaya or The Ritz-Carlton, Naples and order room service during sunset. opentable.com