Get a Literal Taste of Paradise on Earth

Aug 14, 2019

Sparkling aquamarine water? Check. Soft white sands? Check. Untamed natural beauty? Check. By all the standard criteria, Florida's Paradise Coast comes by its name honestly.

But this stretch of the state's Southwest Gulf Coast happens to be a paradise for the palate, too—with countless dishes and drinks worth the trip in and of themselves. (Of course, the fact that many of them are served up by the water, often with a side of stunning sunset, doesn’t hurt either.)

To help you navigate the bounty, we’ve broken it down by category, with our top picks for each—some icons, some newcomers, all amazing.

Best breakfasts and brunches

For the ultimate comfort food—and friendly vibes—head to Doreen’s Cup of Joe on Marco Island. The outdoor patio and cheery modern farmhouse dining room fill with locals and tourists alike, all there for the locally sourced dairy, sausage, eggs and produce. Can’t pick a dish? You can never go wrong with the omelets here.

One of the area's best Sunday brunches gets the live jazz treatment at The French Brasserie Rustique, a little slice of la Belle France along Fifth Avenue South in Naples. Offerings include Pain Perdu—a term typically translated as “French toast,” but that doesn’t do justice to this blend of walnut-raisin bread, creme fraiche mascarpone, berry compote, orange honey and house-made sage sausage. 

Nearby, on Third Street South, beloved breakfasts are served all day at Jane’s Cafe, where you can order your eggs British style (with baked beans and mushrooms)—though the crab and shrimp scramblers are tough to pass up.

But when you just need a plate of amazing pancakes in a throwback diner setting—as one does—join the crowds of regulars at The Coffee Shoppe just outside the lobby of The Cove Inn on Naples Bay.

Best beachside sundowners

Once late afternoon rolls around, everyone starts trading one favorite local pastime—the beach—for another: cocktails somewhere with great sunset views. You’ll likely hear stories about the elusive green flash, an optical phenomenon said to occur at the precise moment that the sun sinks under the horizon, if conditions are favorable. And yes, conditions are inherently more favorable when you’re a cocktail or two into your evening.  

One of the best places to test that theory is Quinn’s on the Beach, the casual beachfront bar and restaurant at the new JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort, where one particular cocktail is basically a sunset unto itself: the Miami Vice, which alternates layers of piña colada and strawberry daiquiri. Note that a nightly Balinese-inspired fire dancer show draws crowds onto the beach here, so you can count on things staying lit even if you miss that tricky green flash.

Another excellent gulf-front bar beckons at The Ritz-Carlton Naples, where the Gumbo Limbo restaurant and adjoining Sand Bar have an enviable position above the dunes that’s perfectly angled for sunset. Per nightly tradition, a bell on the bar’s boardwalk is rung at the exact moment of sunset. Toast the moment with the signature cocktail, a Gulf Coast Sunset—noticing a theme?—a blend of fresh pineapple, peach and orange juices, rose grenadine and a splash of rum.

Just a few blocks north, inside another iconic Naples hotel, The Turtle Club fronts Vanderbilt Beach and packs ‘em in for a more casual vibe. The most coveted seats for scoping sunset are the restaurant’s lounge chairs, on the sand just in front of the outdoor patio, where you can kick back with a dark ’n stormy and a shrimp cocktail while you await nature’s nightly show.

Most romantic dinner spots

As you might expect from the intersection of Paradise and foodie culture, romantic dining options abound here, but there are some decided favorites.

For a seductive setting on Naples’ Cocohatchee River, head to The Bay House, where you can cozy up in a high-backed booth inside or opt for an outdoor table under starry skies. Try the seasonal stone crabs, chilled lobster or baked oysters bienville.

There’s an old-world romance to Sails Restaurant in the heart of downtown Naples’ Fifth Avenue district, where you’ll find elegant seafood towers of oysters, lobster and shrimp atop piles of ice, in the style of a French Riviera feast. In fact, many of the fish and meat specialties take inspiration from the Mediterranean—and are finished on the custom wood-burning grill.

Another cozy, romantic spot in downtown Naples? The sustainable and seafood-centric Sea Salt, where you shouldn’t miss the Key West pink shrimp ceviche.

Best local flavor  

Getting a sense of a place from the people who live there can be half the fun of travel—even more so when the experience involves stellar food. So make a point of eating at least a few meals where the Paradise Coasters do.

How do we not start with The Local? It’s one of the best places to taste the bounty of southwest Florida and the state’s particularly long growing season. Try the house-made ricotta with honey drizzle, local fruit and fresh pita to see what we mean.

HobNob Kitchen and Bar is the Downtown Naples spot to, well, hobnob with a crowd of mostly 30-something to 50-something locals. Encouraging the whole mix-and-mingle vibe is the wealth of sharable tapas-style plates on the menu (try the scallop ceviche, shrimp and grits or wild mushroom pizza).

For peak local authenticity, head to a beloved hangout in working crabbing village: Everglades City’s City Seafood. You might spot pelicans and manatees from tables right on the docks while you feast on sustainably harvested stone crab claws and grouper sandwiches.

You'll find another fabulous take on Gulf-to-table local dining at Marco Island's Fin Bistro, but not on Sundays—because the owners can't have fresh fish brought in then. Any other day of the week, scan the Fresh Caught section of the menu to see what appeals, whether seared grouper, almond-crusted flounder, shellfish Meyer lemon brodetto—or some other just-reeled-in deliciousness. 

Favorite imports

For all the local deliciousness on offer along the Paradise Coast, this part of the state plays out like a culinary passport, too.

If—as a city—you’re going to be called Naples, you’d better have wood-fired pizza that rivals any you’d find in…Naples (make that Napoli). Good thing Barbatella delivers on that front—and on the focaccia, antipasti and salumi fronts, too.

For appetites that range farther east, Naples’ Bha! Bha! Persian Bistro brings Silk Road specialties (try the pistachio lamb meatballs) to a sumptuous, candlelit setting, while AZN Asian Cuizine serves up pan-Asian goodness, from satay to sushi to sake. For a variation on the pan-Asian theme, head over to Kane at the JW Marriott Marco Island, where you should try the hoisin pork belly bao or shishito peppers with peanut and chili sauce.

Best live music 

You’d be forgiven for thinking that anyplace called the Paradise Coast was heavy on steel drum ditties—and not a lot else. But you’d be wrong.

On Mondays and Saturdays, have your mussels or milanese with a side of Motown at Marco Island favorite La Tavola, where—between the crooning and the candlelight—couples inevitably wind up on the dance floor.

For a more eclectic mix—think jazz that leads into alt rock and reggae (because why not?)—head to downtown Naples Friday and Saturday nights for the live music lineup at the The Continental, a New York-style steakhouse with an outdoor courtyard dance floor.

Letters from Jett at South Street - Photo Credit: Brian Kreuser

For pure island-style reggae vibes, it’s Sunday night at South Street—a favorite Naples grub pub where you can groove to the one love rhythms between sips of craft beer and bites of chargrilled wings. Later in the week, the lineup switches to live country, soul and blues. So whatever your own personal idea of paradise, you’ll find it here.

Ready to go? Find your piece of paradise and start planning your trip to Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades.

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