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Thursday, May 23, 2024 at 8:58 AM


Navigating Through Southwest Florida’s Seven Distinctive Enclaves
Riverside Park on the Imperial River, Bonita Springs  COURTESY PHOTO

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. 

Ave Maria 

Dive into the vibrant community of Ave Maria, one of Southwest Florida’s fastest-growing areas, just a half-hour east of Naples. Founded in 2007, Ave Maria offers a rich tapestry of residential life, commercial enterprises, and academic institutions like Ave Maria University. At its heart lies the Ave Maria Catholic Church, a focal point of the town center. 

Every Tuesday through April 23, enjoy guided trolley tours, free church tours, and musical performances in the Town Center from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Don’t miss the Taste of Ave on February 3, featuring live music, culinary delights, and family-friendly fun. 

On Saturdays through April 27, the Ave Maria Farmers Market boasts over 60 vendors, live music, and a vibrant community atmosphere from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

Celebrate the Tex-Mex vibe at the Margarita & Taco Festival on March 16, offering country music, Latin-infused cuisine, and lively entertainment from noon to 5 p.m. 

Babcock Ranch 

Discover the allure of Babcock Ranch, a solar-powered city nestled in the heart of nature. With walking trails, cycling paths and bass-filled lakes, this regional outdoor haven invites everyone to explore a mosaic of oak hammocks and prairies. Uncover the community’s essence at Woodlea Hall in Founder’s Square—a central hub offering insights into Babcock’s unique blend of sustainability and lifestyle. 

Join the lively atmosphere during Food Truck Weekends, where diverse culinary delights and live music grace Founder’s Square every Friday and Saturday from 5-9 p.m. Immerse yourself in the Babcock Bandstand Concert Series, featuring upcoming live performances from Unfinished Business to The LineUp, promising delightful evenings of entertainment on Fridays from 6-8 p.m. 

Embrace cultural richness at the Sixth Annual Babcock Ranch Art Show on March 9-10. Founder’s Square transforms into an art haven with 65 artists, food trucks and live entertainment, showcasing a diverse array of artistic expressions. Whether cheering at Trailblazers Home Games, indulging in Square Scoops ice cream treats, or unwinding at Slater’s happy hours, Babcock Ranch offers a tapestry of experiences in a sustainable and vibrant community. Don’t miss out on these public events that bring the community together in shared enjoyment. 

Downtown Bonita 

Explore the revitalized charm of historic Downtown Bonita Springs along Old 41, a route that unfolds the town’s 1920s roots. Shangri-La Hotel, since 1921, embodies this history, now a healthful sanctuary and spa with the Harvest & Wisdom restaurant. 

Farther north, Wonder Gardens, born in 1936, offers Victorian elegance alongside animal encounters. Riverside Park, the community center, hosts gatherings amid historic structures. Adding excitement is the Rooftop at Riverside food truck park, fulfilling the Magnus family’s dream for Bonita Springs. 

Amid this history, modern venues like Chartreuse Craft Cocktail Lounge and Ceremony Brewing thrive. The Causeway Bonita opened in October as Southwest Florida’s first food hall. Downtown Bonita Springs merges history and vibrancy—a living testament to community spirit. 

Downtown Punta Gorda 

Navigate along the Peace River, where historic Punta Gorda reflects on its 19th-century origins through vibrant murals depicting its rich history. Marion Avenue, the quaint main street, hosts eclectic shops and eateries like The Perfect Caper and Celtic Ray Public House, each with its unique charm. 

Stroll through streets like Sullivan, Taylor, and Olympia, uncovering hidden gems. Along the river-front, Wyvern Hotel’s rooftop bar and Four Points by Sheraton with TT’s Tiki Bar maintain the lively atmosphere. Laishley Park and its crab house cater to both sea enthusiasts and families, complementing the extensive bike trails along the river.

Continue west to Charlotte Harbor, encountering the transformed Fishermen’s Village—a hub of entertainment, lodging, and shopping, nestled on old city docks. Experience Punta Gorda’s roots with stately historic homes, Gilchrist Park on Retta Esplanade, and the new Military Heritage Museum and its Gulf Theater, offering live performances and cultural experiences. Cap off your journey at Sunseeker Resort Charlotte Harbor, a waterfront haven for relaxation and entertainment.

Fort Myers HistoricRiver 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., Wiser heads prevailed, however, to save the Historic River District with all its historic gems from falling victim to trends and “out with the old” attitudes.

Thanks largely to the vigor of the Edison & Ford Winter Estates at its fringes, historic downtown renewed. An old, 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 draw a young crowd to frenzied hangouts such as the Sky Bar and Cowboy Up. 

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. 

Naples 5th Avenue

Indulge in the unique blend of glamour and laid-back charm at 5th Avenue South, Old Naples’ exclusive destination. This iconic address seamlessly merges historic and modern architecture, offering upscale fashion, jewelry, spas, art galleries, fine dining, and more.

Adjacent to it, the Naples Design District, recently rejuvenated after Hurricane Ian, is a dynamic retail hub featuring art galleries, architect offices, trendy food-and-drink venues, and notable establishments like The Collective and Warren American Whiskey Kitchen. Anticipate the new attractions, including Gulfshore Playhouse’s facility and the AC Hotel by Marriott Naples 5th Avenue, now open and ready for you to immerse yourself in this renewed energy, complementing the timeless allure of 5th Avenue South. 

 SE 47th Terrace, South Cape

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 Roadhouse —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, 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. 


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