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Sunday, April 14, 2024 at 12:29 PM

Explore these Five Southwest Florida Enclaves for Unique Adventure

Explore these Five Southwest Florida Enclaves for Unique Adventure
South Cape

Talk about character! Southwest Florida brims with neighborhoods and communities that defy pigeon-holing. From historic riverfront downtowns to up-and-coming shopping districts, you’ve got a lot of exploring to do.

¦ South Cape 

Three parallel roads — Cape Coral Parkway, SE 47th Terrace and Lafayette Street — define Cape Coral’s downtown area, which has evolved over the past decade into a dining and entertainment mecca. Cape Coral Parkway, the main thoroughfare, takes motorists from the Caloosahatchee River waterfront to the heart of the city, lined with fun and quirky dining establishments with names like Nevermind Awesome Bar & Eatery and Nice Guys Pizza. 

Slip off the parkway in either direction to find more fun spots. To the west on Lafayette Street, you’ll find Jungle Bird Authentic Tiki and the Monkey Bar Steak & Seafood. Head east to SE 47th Terrace and you’ll land at a streetscaped pedestrian mall, where deciding on a place to eat and drink requires serious research (or determined barhopping). There’s Cork Soakers Deck & Wine Bar, Front Porch Social, Sage on 47th, Fish Tale Grill, Dixie Live —the list goes on and on. Many establishments on Cape Coral Parkway are also accessible from the pedestrian walkway through their backdoors, giving them a speakeasy feel. 

Downtown Cape Coral takes advantage of its abundant eat-and-sip options with trolley-hop events to celebrate everything from New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day to bacon and martinis. Other downtown events include arts festivals, gay pride parades, farmers markets, bike nights, symphonies in the park and pub crawls. 

South Cape’s renewal got its jump start in 2019 with a $13 million beautification project that added brick-paved pathways and pedestrian crossings, decorative streetlamps, a traffic roundabout and public Wi-fi. Today, the SE 47th Terrace promenade continues to buzz day and night with diners and clubbers looking for the heart of Cape Coral’s social scene. 

¦ Downtown Bonita

Old 41 Road takes you to the historic heart of Bonita Springs. Dating back to the 1920s, downtown backslid for many decades as the action moved out to the new U.S. 41, or Tamiami Trail. 

In the past handful of years, however, downtown Bonita has slowly but surely reverted to its glory days. Three historic hubs reflect the community’s roots and glow today with restoration and preservation efforts. 

Since 1921, Shangri-La Hotel has graced the banks of the springs that gave the town its name. Since then, it has undergone several reincarnations, eventually as today’s healthful asylum and spa with the organic garden-fed Harvest & Wisdom restaurant. 

To the north, Wonder Gardens surfaced as a roadside wildlife attraction in 1936. Today’s version keeps the gator appeal and adds sophistication with Victorian structures, a tearoom and animal encounters. 

Riverside Park has returned as downtown’s community center, where festivals, movie nights and other family-friendly gatherings happen among the amphitheater, mid-20th century Liles Hotel and fish houses turned retail shops and galleries. Rooftop at Riverside food truck park was scheduled to add to the excitement in October. 

Interspersed between the relics of yesteryear, entertainment venues such as Chartreuse Craft Cocktail Lounge, Downtown Coffee and Wine, Ceremony Brewing and The Bohemian restaurant have blossomed among longtime favorites like Grandpa’s Pizza and Mexican-steeped Maria’s Restaurant. Also in October, The Causeway Bonita was set to open on the fringes of downtown- Southwest Florida’s first food hall with craft beers, three restaurants, and a bakery-ice creamery. 

¦ Fort Myers Historic River District 

Fort Myers Historic River District

Like many downtowns of a certain age, there came a time for Fort Myers when urban sprawl left its core looking a little abandoned and forlorn. With all its historic gems, however, wiser heads prevailed to save the Historic River District from falling victim to trends and “out with the old” attitudes.

Thanks largely to the vigor of the Edison & Ford Winter Estates at is fringes, historic downtown renewed. An old, achingly handsome federal building became an art center; a circa-1915 vaudeville house, a theater. Stores and restaurants moved into buildings dating back to the late 18th century, as was the case with The Veranda, a gracious restaurant that lives in two pioneer homes. 

Ambitious undertakings like the Franklin Shops turned one vintage structure into a crafty mall of sorts. Bars and lounges drew a young crowd to frenzied hangouts such as the Sky Bar and Cowboy Up. 

Fort Myers Historic River District

The riverfront spruced up with the remastering of Centennial Park and the appearance of Luminary Hotel & Co. with its modern good looks rooted in local history (named for Thomas Edison’s glowing claim-to-fame). With it came another rooftop bar, a sports bar with a golf simulator and a smattering of other food and beverage hotspots. 

The Historic River District continues to take full advantage of its waterfront beauty and bygones intrigue as more hotels move in and people of all ages come out for its monthly street parties and annual festivals. 

¦ Downtown Punta Gorda 

Downtown Punta Gorda

Another downtown, a different river running through it, old Punta Gorda turns its face toward the Peace River, as it has since the late 19th century. It remembers the past in a series of larger-than-life murals throughout its streets. They recall railroad days, the area’s fishing heritage, conquistadors, cattle drives and other highlights of the small town’s heyday. 

Marion Avenue constitutes the main drag for shoppers and diners, who find anything but cookie-cutter in art galleries, gift boutiques and restaurants like The Perfect Caper at the high end and Celtic Ray Public House, a long-enduring Irish pub filled with character and, typically, characters. 

Streets and avenues such as Sullivan, Taylor, and Olympia hold more gems begging to be explored. On the riverfront, Wyvern Hotel and its rooftop bar and Four Points by Sheraton and its TT’s Tiki Bar keep the party going day long. 

Laishley Park and its namesake crab house serve the salty crowd and families along the town’s extensive system of bike trails skirting the river. Stately historic homes and Gilchrist Park on Retta Esplanade keep Punta Gorda rooted to its past. 

Follow the river west to Charlotte Harbor and you reach another relic of the past: the old city docks remade into the entertainment, lodging and shopping center known as Fishermen’s Village. 

The new Military Heritage Museum next door is worth a visit. Its Gulf Theater hosts tribute bands and other live performances, while downtown’s Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center books acts from concerts to expos.

Downtown Punta Gorda

¦ Naples Design District

Naples Design District
Caronchi Photography

One of the most burgeoning retail neighborhoods of Southwest Florida has been around for decades, but only in the past few years has hit its stride. Just in time for Hurricane Ian to hit below the proverbial belt, but it has completely recovered.

Defined as a 12-block area northeast of famed Fifth Avenue South’s tony eat-and-shop strip, the Naples Design District at the intersection of Central Avenue and Tamiami Trail started out as a shopping destination for working decorators and DIY home improvers. 

More recently, art galleries, architect offices and food-and-drink venues joined antique shops and second-hand stores. The vibe turned youthful and lively, with a brand of chic between shabby and snobby. The future brightened with the recent opening of The Collective, a hub of design businesses. Warren American Whiskey Kitchen will be opening its doors in November at the complex, joining other restaurants within the District, including Bodega Ole and Grappino. Riptide Brewing Company pours craft beers. A community sculpture park, in partnership with Naples Botanical Garden, opened in March to celebrate the District’s comeback from Hurricane Ian destruction and Naples’ centennial. 

On the horizon, Gulfshore Playhouse’s new and state-of-the-art facility plans to open in 2024 and boutique AC Hotel by Marriott Naples 5th Avenue by December 2023. 


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Laura Hill 02/20/2024 04:52 PM
All of these areas have become top destinations in the 20 years we have lived in Fort Meyers. Each area has its unique appeal. I consider myself lucky to live here and have experienced it all. People visit us from worldwide 🌐

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