Olde Naples

Its history may go back only to 1886, but the beach skirting Olde Naples still has the charm of that Victorian era. The heart of the district lies south of 5th Avenue South (where U.S. 41 takes a 45-degree turn). The town docks are on the bay side, the stunning Naples Beach along the Gulf. Laid out on a grid, the tree-lined streets run between many houses, some dating from the town's beginning, and along Millionaires' Row between Gulf Shore Boulevard and the beach. With these gorgeous homes virtually hidden in the palms and casuarinas, Naples Beach seems a century removed from the high-rise condominiums farther north.

The Naples Pier, at the Gulf end of 12th Avenue South, is a focal point of the neighborhood. Built in 1888 to let steamers land real estate customers, the original 600-foot-long, T-shape structure was destroyed by hurricanes and damaged by fire. Local residents have rebuilt it because they like strolling its length to catch fantastic Gulf sunsets -- and to get a glimpse of Millionaires' Row from the Gulf side. The pier is now a state historic site. It's open 24 hours a day, but parking in the nearby lots is restricted between 11pm and 7am.

Nearby Palm Cottage, 137 12th Ave. S., between 1st Street and Gordon Drive (tel. 239/261-8164; www.napleshistoricalsociety.org), was built in 1885 by one of Naples's founders, Louisville Courier-Journal publisher Walter Haldeman, as a winter retreat for his chief editorial writer. After World War II, its socialite owners hosted many galas attended by Hollywood stars such as Hedy Lamarr, Gary Cooper, and Robert Montgomery. One of the few remaining Southwest Florida houses built of tabby mortar (made by burning shells), Palm Cottage today is the home of the Naples Historical Society, which maintains it as a museum filled with authentic furniture, paintings, photographs, and other memorabilia. Tours are given in winter Monday through Friday from 1 to 3:30pm. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for children 12 and under.

Near the Gordon River Bridge on 5th Avenue South, the old corrugated waterfront warehouses are now a shopping-and-dining complex known as the Old Marine Marketplace at Tin City, to which tourists throng and which local residents assiduously avoid. It does, however, look cool from the outside.

For a historic look at Naples, hop on the Historic Naples Trolley Tour (tel. 239/825-8251; www.dolphinnaples.com/naples-tour.html), on a turn-of-the-19th-century trolley (albeit, with A/C), led by witty conductor Gene Ratcliff, who proves that Naples's history is a lot richer than some of its residents. Tours go Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

A Nature Preserve

Experience Southwest Florida's abundant natural life without leaving town at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida's Naples Nature Center, 14th Avenue North, east of Goodlette-Frank Road (tel. 239/262-0304; www.conservancy.org), one of two preserves operated by the Conservancy. Here, you'll find nature trails and an aviary (with bald eagles and other birds). You can take guided boat rides on the hour, between 10am and 3pm, weather permitting. The Conservancy was working with Collier County to secure the proper legal permitting and is cooperating with the County to clear the area as safely and quickly as possible, so call ahead to see if boat tours are available. The wildlife is interesting -- including an occasional monkey escapee from the Naples Zoo next door. You can also rent a kayak and see the area by yourself. An excellent nature store carries gift items. There's also a multimedia exhibit dedicated to the imperiled Florida panther, showcasing it in its natural environment, and a "touch tank" with plants, animals, and marine life on display. Construction on a $17-million sustainable, eco-friendly new Nature Center began in 2010 with completion expected in 2012 to include new trails, gardens, and walkways. New additions in 2010 included more programming, such as animal encounters and electric boat cruises. Admission fees of $9 for adults and $4 for children 3 to 12 include the boat rides. Single kayaks cost $20 for 2 hours, and tandems are $35. The center is open year-round Monday through Saturday from 10:30am to 4:30pm; February through April, it's also open Sunday from 1 to 5pm. Closed July 4, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.