IN FOCUS – Florida Feature Story
by Lucy Beebe Tobias
Susan Becker is a Street Concierge in Naples, Florida. Say what? Naples may be the only place in the country to have Street Concierges, located at the Third Street Concierge, an outdoor kiosk on Third Street South – part of an historic area also called the birthplace of Old Naples.
The concierge service is open seven days a week from 10-6 and Thursday and Fridays hours are extended from 10-9 p.m. Thursday is Becker’s day to work. She answers question, hands out maps, brochures and restaurant menus and loves every minute of her 12-hour shift.
Naples street concierge helps visitors
“I came from a helping profession, a college professor, I was used to helping several hundred people a day, this continues that,” said Becker.
With the holidays coming on Becker grandparents who have family coming want to know what there is to do with children of all ages.
“The best thing is free – the beach!” Becker laughed. “They can run, play, build sandcastles, swim, ride boogie boards.”
The beaches, and the historic Naples Pier, are just a few blocks from Third Street South. Walk or ride a bike to any free access point to the beach. Within the city limits every avenue (streets that go east and west) ends in a public beach walkover access. Arriving by car to the beach means feeding parking meters or having an annual beach-parking sticker.
One access point to the beach is the historic Naples Pier. There is no admission fee to the Pier. I found free parking lots just off Third Street South then took an easy walk for two blocks down tree-lined streets past old homes to the Historic Pier, a delightful walk with a great sunset view.
Open 24 hours a day, no fishing license is required. Fishermen come equipped
with food and chairs for a long stay on the long pier.
On the beach, stretching left and right of the pier, a parade of umbrellas in bright colors testify to beach popularity. Other signs of sun and fun: blankets, outdoor chairs, sunbathers, Frisbee throwers, surf swimmers and sand castle builders.
Who could have imagined all this back in the 1800s? Back then General John S. Williams and Water N. Halderman sailed into the bay. Williams thought it looked like the Bay of Naples in Italy and thus Naples was named. The two men brought families from Ohio and Kentucky. The first two homes were built in 1887 and the first pier, a freight pier with railroad ties, was built in 1889.
Walking tours of Naples Historic District are popular. Design your own with help from the Third Street Concierge or visit Palm Cottage, built by Halderman, and take one of their walking tours, $16 for non-members, on Wednesdays at 10 a.m. from November through April. Reservations required.
For ardent fans of GPS, Out’nBack Nature Tours has a walking tour of Naples using hand-help GPS and clues along the way. They also offer bicycle tours.
Bicycling is another popular way to see Old Naples.
“I am a citizen of Old Naples, live just a few blocks from Third Street South and I ride my bike to and from work,” said Becker. “Bicycling is very popular. The roads are all flat.”
For strolling along, and thinking of food, Third Street South has small, unique boutiques and off-the-usual-beaten path restaurants including Jane’s Café with organic and natural food and Sea Salt where Chef Fabrizio Aielli uses organic and local produce along with wild caught seafood.
Being addicted to coffee, I soon found Bad Ass Coffee, a shop whose name raises eyebr
ows. But it is all good – Bad Ass was founded in Hawaii and serves Hawaiian coffees. Really super coffee.
Get maps, what’s happening and brochures from Naples street concierge
Live entertainment throbs on Thursday evenings at Third Street South from January through May. Called Thursday on Third, stores stay open, you can dance in the street, have dinner, enjoy all kinds of music. During the summer, June through December, the music happens every third Thursday.
Along Fifth Avenue South enjoy Evenings on Fifth the second Thursday of each month. And in November Fifth Avenue South has added a special Evening on Nov. 25 during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
On Saturdays check out the Third Street Farmers Market from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Grownups, children and well-behaved dogs are all welcome. The market happens all year long.
Shop-till-you-droppers will appreciate that you are not done yet. Tin City in the Naples Waterfront district has shopping and entertainment. And right across the street is Bayfront with shops that take the word “upscale” to a whole new level.
If you can extract yourself from Old Naples, nearby attractions have plenty of outdoor appeal.
Here are a few: Naples Botanical Garden is breathtaking, with gardens devoted to different areas of the world.
The Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens has a boat ride through primate islands on a large lake. Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary features a 2.25-mile long boardwalk through the county’s last old growth bald cypress forest.
Whew! Time to head back to the beach and relax. Need a bathing suit? I’m sure the Third Street Concierge can help with that too.
In my Florida travels I meet fantastic people who are travel writers, residents, newcomers, guides and entrepreneurs, all are digging into the Florida places they love and finding diamonds. Here is Brian E. Holley, Executive Director of the Naples Botanical Garden telling in his own words how this amazing garden came into bloom:
Creating a new botanical garden requires a remarkable alignment to take place – you need dreamers to create a vision; pragmatists to assemble a viable plan from the vision; artists to create a design that sings to the soul; philanthropists to share and support the vision; land, lots of land; and worker bees – staff, board, volunteers, ecologists, engineers, contractors, plant nerds (I take pride in being one), artisans, educators, gardeners – who can merge their skills and energy into the team that makes it happen.
This amazing alignment has taken place in Naples, Florida and the result is the 170 acre, Naples Botanical Garden. The Garden started as a dream in Naples’ downtown library in 1993 when a group of a dozen or so plant people got together and agreed that it was important for the community to have a botanical garden.
In the ensuing years the group expanded and turned the dream into a plan for a major new garden that would combine urban renewal of Naples’ poorest neighborhood, a dynamic visitor attraction, great design, a venue for the arts, education, extensive documented collections of plants, research and restored natural areas.
The plan was compelling and attracted the attention of philanthropist Harvey Kapnick. Harvey agreed to purchase 170 acres of land in East Naples for $5 million in 2000. The Garden started slowly but with great innovation – they hired a very talented designer Gary Smith to turn a parking lot into a one acre garden so the community could see the potential of this endeavor.
In 2005, what the Miami Herald called “The Dream Team” – noted landscape architects Raymond Jungles, Robert Truskowski, Herb Schaal, Ellin Goetz and Balinese landscape designer Made Wijaya -agreed to join the project and create a new master plan for the Garden. There was a huge risk for the Garden in having five firms work on the plan but the mutual respect and excitement about the opportunity to work on a once in a lifetime project brought these brilliant minds together to work as one cohesive team. Shortly thereafter, Ted Flato of Lake/Flato Architects in San Antonio, Texas brought his sense of place and passion for sustainable design to the project.
By 2008, the Garden had raised $30 million toward building the project, led by a $10 million gift from Harvey’s son and daughter-in-law, Scott and Kathleen Kapnick, and in June of that year construction began.
In November 2009 Naples Botanical Garden opened its first new gardens – The Vicky C. and David Byron Smith Children’s Garden, The Brazilian Garden, The Kapnick Caribbean Garden and the Mary and Stephen B. Smith Family, River of Grass. In January 2010 another dream of Harvey’s became a reality, The Kapnick Education and Research Center, in partnership with Florida Gulf Coast University, opened and gave the Garden excellent facilities for education. The expansion continued with the opening of the Marcia and L. Bates Lea Asian Garden, the Karen and Robert Scott Florida Garden and the Water Garden in November 2010.
Today the Garden welcomes over 100,000 people a year and hosts an extensive array of classes and events. Check us out at www.naplesgarden.org and watch for our free mobile app for iPhones and Androids in January, 2012.
GET OUT AND PLAY
November – Celebrate the Arts month presented by the United Arts Council of Collier County (where Naples is located) see their Celebrate Calendar for events.
Nov. 11-13 – St. Johns River Blues Festival in Palatka with 16 regional blues bands.
Nov. 12 – Second Saturdays at ArtSouth in Homestead. Browse four galleries and open artist studios. Children welcome. Hours: 3-7 p.m.
Nov. 21 – Annual Celebration of Festival of Lights happens from 6-9 p.m. on Third Street South, Naples. Santa arrives, lots of entertainment, and promptly at 7:30 p.m. snow will fall. I am not making this up. Lampposts have snowmaking machines; they all turn on at the same time.
Snow falls at 7:30 p.m. every night that week (except Thanksgiving) and continues on Thursday nights during December.