Exploring the Other Coast – Naples, Florida Is Open For Travelers

With Fort Lauderdale, Florida as my personal hub, I have many wonderful destinations within 10, 30, 60, 90 minutes and some just a little more. Up and down the east coast is my usual route, and I’ve not branched out to the west coast that much. Having zero plans for Thanksgiving this year and not wanting to fight the prices of flights anywhere, I set my eyes west and to the city of Naples and its surrounding areas.

The Drive To The West Coast –

Roughly 1.5 hours from Fort Lauderdale, 2 hours from Miami, and a little over 2 hours from Tampa, the drive to Naples is easy, simple, safe, and had not one worry. It sometimes takes me longer to drive the 27 miles from Fort Lauderdale to Miami (who we kidding, most times). Could this be considered a gay staycation?

Crossing the Everglades was a beautiful and serene journey that has me thinking I could do this commute every weekend. Knowing that drive was easy peasy, I’ll consider escaping west more often. I’ll just remember to gas up before the 115+ mile journey so tank fullness is not a concern in the middle of the uninhabited Everglades.


Where to Stay –

Choosing the right place to stay is always integral for a successful vacation and the Naples Grande Beach Resort was that right place. With no plans to go anywhere special for Thanksgiving, I wanted to go … somewhere special ad new to me. Pulling up to the Naples Grand Beach Resort, positioned high on a hill overlooking the beach, I knew I had chosen correctly. You know its special in southern Florida if it’s lucky enough to be on one of the few hills here. After leaving my car with the valet, I entered the impressively massive lobby and was welcomed by a very accommodating staff team. All of this helped kick off the weekend of relaxation and stress-free vacationing in such a positive way.

My room on the 16th floor had a panoramic view which included the beach, mangroves, tennis courts, golf course, and more. The best practices of the hotel shows that they were very generous with the bottled water in the rooms, an area which many hotels skimp on or charge. The bathroom was expansive and the shower was party-sized. I was going to say I found myself relaxing on the bed and the balcony too much, but is there such a thing during a 4-day holiday gay staycation weekend?


Relaxation and Thanks –

Besides being a great place to take in the views from high above, the Naples Grand provided me with two pools, one for the kids and one for adults only.  The Gulfcoast Oasis Pool Bar was a great place to eat, drink, meet new people, and take in some of the sports on the many televisions. The entire pool area held my attention and much time was spent there.

There is no “and Spa” in the name of the resort, but there will be an “and Spa” in my memory of my visit. It’s actually called The Spa at Naples Grande.  I doubled down on two of the spa offerings.

My masseur did a unique mix of the two treatments I chose, a Deep Tissue Massage and a Hydrating Body Wrap that lasted just the right amount of time for me to forget many things. The spa has a variety special treatments (spa menu) that are unique, like their cryotherapy offerings that I may check out next time. Since the drive is not that far from my home on the other side of the state, visiting the spa on a whim is a doable activity even for people on the east coast of Florida.

The other major aspect of Naples Grande that I enjoyed was its dining. Besides the pool bar, I ate at The Catch of the Pelican, my dining spot for Thanksgiving dinner. The nautical-themed dining room was tastefully decorated and the lighting treatments made it look like we were enjoying a never ending sunset. The staff worked effortlessly in unison as I had a free-flowing team of 5 people meeting all my needs, bringing me my food, drinks, courses, and casually chatting throughout the special dining experience. I was saddened that my eating there caused them to be working, but they were energetic, positive, and made my meal even more special, a cherished supplement to the food. 


Where Else to Eat –

Yes, I just did mention a great eating experience at the resort, but there were more meals to eat and more places to try.

Food trucks! They’re always interesting and a labor of love for their owners, so when I get a chance to support a food truck and try out what they are trying to bring to the world, I’m there. Celebration Park is an LGBTQ owned venue that provides a space for hungry peeps to sample 8 or more trucks.  It was hard to choose which option to order at the food truck park as I kept pacing back and forth and I scolded myself for not coming while more hungry so I could order more. There’s a waterside bar at the end of the park where you can order beverages and sit along the inlet.  Across from Celebration Park, there is another eatery that I did not have the chance to check out but comes highly recommended and is another on-the-water option – Three60 Market.

Another eatery I had the pleasure of consuming was Bistro 821, located on the very trendy 5th Avenue South. Naples is full of wide streets, shopping plazas, parking lots, car dealerships, just a great deal of places to spend money and lots of it. But 5th Avenue South is a break from that as it is a simple two-lane street with shops, restaurants, a theater and more. It’s set up to be a more relaxed and walkable offering in town, a little trendy, slower, and a more semi-secluded option than driving from shopping plaza to shopping plaza. Bistro 821 is a grand part of this part of Naples as it’s the oldest restaurant on the avenue. After parking for free in the garage around the corner, I was treated to a great meal and service.  

With distinctive style we create a wide array of innovative entrees fusing Asian, European, and domestic flavors.

That was the phrase that I took to heart when looking at the menu for Bistro 821. And when I tasted my appetizer/bowl of the hot and sour soup that seemed to have a beef stew base, I knew exactly what they were trying to accomplish, and they accomplished it perfectly. 

Eating at Bistro821, I was happy to give my business to a restaurant that provides a space for a monthly drag brunch, right in the heart of the city.


Where the Boys Are –

Besides a once-a-month drag brunch at Bistro821, where else are the boys in town? The name that kept coming up in searches and conversations was Bambusa Bar & Grill. Saturday night is the busiest night at the bar and grill as the Bambusa Babes (drag) Show brings in the crowd and Bitchy Bingo on Sunday and Thursday entertains the clientele, but I only had free time to pop in on Friday for Karaoke with Tommy T. Sitting at the bar, having dinner (and an amazing dessert), I enjoyed meeting new people from all over the country as well as Mel, one of the owners. We talked about his history in the restaurant business, politics, his partner, Colorado, and the current status of many things. We also talked about the gay culture in Naples. Oh, and I also ate. The food was great! Mel offers a “welcome to all” establishment and that is needed as Naples may not have the large gay crowd that other very liberal cities do so offering a space for all to enjoy is not only what we all should be doing, but great business sense.

Mixing in what Mel and I discussed with what I’ve felt, pulled in from other conversations and knowing southern Florida, Naples is a more conservative and republican part of the state. That is a given, a known, and just what it is. People can be openly gay here, but don’t expect a rainbows and unicorn environment like Wilton Manors or Provincetown. The crowd at Bambusa is much more mixed gay/straight than what I am used to in the full-on gay bars I’m used to here in Fort Lauderdale. But that is how a business needs to be in a more conservative setting, invite in everyone, make all feel welcome.

The apps – Shopping on the “dating apps” was not as populous as the east coast of Florida. Many of the boys were up in Fort Myers and Tampa/St Pete. Some on the apps were closeted or even straight-married men, but we find those everywhere. It was actually refreshing to meet people in a gay environment like Bambusa where conversation was key and not headless torsos.

A gay return? I know I am going to go back to Naples and do more. As this trip was more resort, spa, relaxation and Thanksgiving focused, I did not really do a ton of digging as to what was out there for me to explore or enjoy, gay or not. But before I do return, I’m going to do a little more research about offerings and up my Naples rainbow game. Some sites for me and you to review are:

Paradise Coast LGBTQ information page –  https://www.paradisecoast.com/were-proud-to-welcome-you-to-paradise

Paradise Coast LGBTQ Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/paradisecoastlgbtq/

Paradise Coast YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLbg6pKeZkFKlLnACUIW0yk0kP6Mq7HtI_

 Naples Pride – https://www.naplespride.org/ 

Beauty Is Here –

Besides a good museum (I’ll be checking out the Baker Museum next visit), I always like to spend some time in a botanical garden if present.  The Naples Botanical Gardens was just what I needed as it offered me great insight into the plants I might have in my own garden at home. Listening to people reading, learning, and enjoying was great, too. I was also entertained by hearing non-Floridian kids and adults alike get excited about the different plants and all of the lizards running around.

La Calavera Catrina features eight larger-than-life skeleton sculptures of La Catrina, one of the most recognizable figures of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). An elegant female skeleton and an icon of Mexican heritage, La Catrina approaches death not through sadness, but as a colorful celebration of life. (more info)


When to Return – 

Well, yes, I will return. I found Naples to be a great spot to experience a part of Florida I have not seen before. The people were welcoming, food options wonderful, relaxation occurred in abundance. I’ll keep an eye on some of the great sites/links mentioned above as the drive is not that bad at all! The LGBTQ+ Community is working and thriving to have a presence in a conservative setting.

Who is returning? When there I did chat it up with many people Some have been coming to the Naples Grande Beach Resort for 40+ years. In one family I talked to, there were three generations present for the holidays. There were some international guests, too, but many noted that they were not seeing as many from Europe as the Euro currency is not as good against the dollar right now. 

But also might be thinking that it is not okay to return. Many kept asking me about the hurricane, what did Ian affect, and is it all back open. Let me address that in my next and final section.


The Hurricane And Its Aftermath –

I’ve lived in Florida for almost 10 years and have seen some hurricanes and their aftermath. I’ve seen Route 1 in Fort Lauderdale covered in 18 inches of sand, I’ve seen all the greenery plucked from the Keys. Knowing that Hurricane Ian did slam into the west coast of Florida, I and others were a little concerned if all was to be open and ready for business when I arrived. The most I saw while there were some recovering trees and some debris in less used waters, but all in all, everything was operating normally in Naples. The only thing I did not visit was the beach, but I had known that the beaches were closed in the Naples area and north and beach-going was not my main focus. I would like to return and see the beaches there in the future. I’ll keep checking the Pelican Bay webpage for updates, but one exciting update is that the Clam Pass Beach, which is located at Naples Grande Beach Resort will reopen post Hurricane starting this Friday, December 23, perfect for the busy holiday season. After reading this Must Do page, I think Clam Pass Beach will be on my list of activities when I return to the Greater Naples area.


https://www.naplesgrande.com/

https://www.naplesgrande.com/resort/spa-wellness

2 thoughts on “Exploring the Other Coast – Naples, Florida Is Open For Travelers”

  1. I know these are essentially sponsored posts; this guy was offered some financial inducements like discounted or even free accommodations, etc. But there’s no reason to focus on Florida and commit to trying to sell gays on the idea of traveling there while the political situation is such as it is – and more importantly, such as it has been for the past few years.

    Sure, Colorado is no idea of anyone’s winter vacation, or even say any number of more liberal states. But I would rather suggest people go to Puerto Rico if they want domestic winter warm weather than the hell-scape that is even the so-called ‘gay friendly’ parts of Florida.

    Reply
    • No problem. I as a gay man living in Florida, I should pack up and move out and take my vote with me. We should not be seen and stay indoors while living in Florida. We should be unheard in our way of life and roll over and let all of your ancient Republican grandparents that you send down here to live and die run this state. We should cancel all gay pride events, ask all the people to close down their gay bars and restaurants as you have stated Florida is no longer good for us or for gay business. Sound good? Great. Where were you during all the years of Prop 8 when we should not have mentioned anything about California.

      As for the hell-scape you mentioned. I guess you speak from experience? Please let us know as we did not have the same hell-scape experience.

      Reply

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