Happy Monday my lovelies! We made it back in one piece last night with our little guy on the plane (in what was his 10th plane ride since birth. Whew! Stay tuned – I plan to put together a post on “Flying with Babies”).
In the meantime, I am very excited to share with you all a recent virtual interview I’ve done with proud Naples resident and fabulous mom-about-town, Jennifer Breen (we met via Family Tunes/Music Together at Sugden Theater in downtown Naples, see feature here). Since this is our second year spending time in Gulfcoast Florida, I feel very much compelled to put together a local’s favorite list – aka a “My Gulfshore” series. As much as I love putting together my own bespoke guides (see the Naples Weekender) – at the end of the day – you really just can’t beat the recommendations and perspective that a local has to offer.
So read on and enjoy! Believe me when I say, Jen is one informed local!
- Are you a native Floridian? Nope! Born and raised 10 miles north of Boston, in a perfect little suburb called Reading (Red-ing).
- Home is… I live in Autumn Woods, a medium sized gated community in north Naples, about 10 minutes north of downtown Naples.
- What do you love most about Naples and Southwest Florida? The weather, and of course, the beaches! You can find a beach easily around Naples, and they are all gorgeous. Though, I really love Lowdermilk…getting there really early, setting my stuff under one of the straw huts, and just having a quiet, warm, peaceful morning.
- Favorite time of the year to visit? I think anytime is a great time, but for me, I love off-season. May-October. I find it much less crowded, and you can find yourself alone at the beach on many occasions. I’m not a fan of huge lines and planning ahead for reservations…off-season may be a bit warmer, but it never really gets out of the low 90’s, so it’s not too bad.
- Best brunch spots in town? I really love the Bonefish Grill for Sunday Brunch, they have a bit of everything. If you want healthy options, they have it, if you want something greasy and filling, they have it. You can sit out by the water and the staff is always friendly and accommodating. Also, a casual spot not on the water, Poached (changed from Toast), has great food. I love to sit outside by the fountain. Everything they make is delicious.
- Best outdoor locations for families? Lowdermilk Park, again, my favorite family beach. They have a playground, volleyball, a better than decent “snack shack” that also rents out beach equipment such as loungers or kayaks/paddleboards. The bathrooms are clean, they even have outdoor showers. We also love Fleischmann Park for the kids. They have two covered playgrounds, one for toddlers, and one for big kids, a rock wall, swings, plenty of shaded picnic areas, and a cool little splash pad for the kids to cool off in.
- Favorite dining spots with kids? This is not so easy. I don’t love dining out with my kids since they are very young, and many places in Naples do not cater to children. My son, who is 4, loves the pizza at Cosmos. It’s a small place, and we sit outside. Jason’s Deli, great place for kids! They have a huge salad bar, free ice cream for dessert, and very healthy options for those looking for them. Café Luna on 5th is really good with children. They have a pretty good sized children’s menu, and it can be loud outdoors, so it’s not embarrassing if you have children that get a bit loud. The food is pretty good too.
- Favorite dining spots for date night? I really enjoy the Turtle Club. You can get a table outdoors, by the beach, in the sand. The food is amazing. Service is excellent. Can’t go wrong there. For a casual date night with a great view, Gumbo Limbo is perfect. Waterfront dining boasts amazing views. The drinks are fun and the food is delicious. Bonus, you can walk the beach after, or go sit out by the beautiful pool under the lit palms and just relax.
- Any hidden discoveries in the area? The Conservancy! It’s the best place for adults and children! For the littles, they have a play area, a large pool with all types of birds that are there to mend, all kinds of interesting little creatures to see and learn about, and way more. You can also take a guided boat ride down the Gordon River. The conservancy does a lot of work for the local environment and the creatures that live here. I was super impressed with the knowledge of all the volunteers, as well as the enrichment programs they offer to educate on the environment. They also hold summer camp for kids interested in the outdoors! The new Greenway is also really fun! It’s a new, very wide nature trail that winds around a scenic area. There is also access to the Gordon River. We like to go walking there, but the kids can bike on the trail, you can kayak, and see tons of birds and other wildlife. It’s pretty cool.
- Favorite activities with young kiddos? Definitely C’MoN, the Children’s museum. They frequently update exhibits, and it’s very clean and the kids just love it! My son loves to climb the giant “tree” in the middle of the museum, and pretend to fish in the moving “fishing pond”. My daughter loves to play in the café, and cook me up some food. For young ones, Whiz Kids Play Zone is a lot of fun when you need to be indoors and get the kids active. They move their equipment constantly so it’s different each time you go. They have an arts and crafts area, lot’s of things to jump in and on, musical toys, building toys, balls, a huge bouncy slide, and even a puppet theatre. My kids just love it.
- How would you spend an idyllic, spare afternoon? (Recognizing that you probably don’t get any!) I would grab an organic smoothie and an organic lunch from Food and Thought, head over to Lowdermilk, sit by the beach with a good book (which I never get to do anymore), and then maybe head to Adelheidi’s on 5th for an organic ice cream. Then I’d hit the Naples Pier and stroll while looking for dolphins. I almost always see a couple. Maybe I’d stop in for Happy Hour quickly at Tommy Bahamas on 3rd since its right by the pier. They have THE best sangria’s ever.
- Favorite shops in Naples (this is a religious pastime for yours truly). I don’t know many women who wouldn’t love to spend a day at the Waterside Shops. Even if you’re just there to browse, it can easily be an all day adventure. Venetian Village also has something for everyone. My favorite store there for kids is All About April…they have just such pretty pieces that are really hard to find. Men can find a silk Hawaiian shirt at Tommy Bahamas to fit in, and Lux Boutique has beach casual or dressy clothes for younger girls or women.
- Best place to get a bargain? (Who doesn’t love a great deal!!) Easy! There are so many consignment shops in town. Ranging in furniture, to household items, to accessories, clothing, sporting equipment and books, you can find it all! Many are upscale. For teen girls, Plato’s Closet has a lot of designer wear. For women, my favorite is True Fashionistas in the Vanderbilt Shops. They have a great selection of Chanel bags!
- What inspires you the most about living in Florida? The culture. There are people from all over the world here, from all walks of life, and it shows. It shows in the art, in the food, in the music, in the local farmers markets. There is always some kind of festival or concert. The local theatre is even pretty impressive. I love that the city is willing to close down the busiest streets so that vendors can showcase their wares. It’s unlike any other place I’ve lived. It just makes me smile to be here.
- If you could plan a dream “staycation” with the hubby right here in SWFL, what would it be? I have a soft spot for the Naples Beach and Golf Hotel. I got married there in 2007. Its family run and operated, and the service is genuine. A lot of times, you can go to a gorgeous hotel, but it’s stuffy and upscale in a way I don’t appreciate. This hotel, while still upscale, is humble and has a relaxed atmosphere. They are one of just a few large hotels right on the Gulf in Naples. They have a large spa, where one could get just about any service. They, so I hear, have a fantastic golf course. You can play tennis, or just relax on the beach while someone brings you a beach chair and umbrella. On Sunday evenings, they have a live band play out on their newly renovated bar and patio area. HB’s on the Gulf is my favorite dining option at the hotel as the views of the ocean and sunset are just to die for. I personally would book a suite at the edge of the sand and be perfectly content to never leave.
- A word of advice for tourists… Don’t just stick to downtown Naples! There is so much more to Naples than 5th Ave and 3rd Street. There are loads of consignment shops all over town, there are tons of art galleries, restaurants, concerts, theatre, museums. There is certainly no lack of entertainment in Naples. You can fish, go sightseeing on a trolley or a boat, and even charter a sailboat. The possibilities are endless. The touristy spots are fun, but go to www.naples-florida.com to check out some other spots in town.
- Any future trips planned with the clan? Not in the foreseeable future! My husband just opened the SWFL Player Development Center in Naples, along with retired MLB player Sterling Hitchcock. It’s an 11,000sq ft baseball/softball indoor facility. They are the only indoor facility in the area, and it’s a pretty large undertaking, so that will keep us busy and in Naples for quite a while.