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Thursday, May 23, 2024 at 7:50 AM
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Back & Blossoming

Southwest Florida Rebuilds And Renews With Robust Vigor And Freshness
Back & Blossoming
Sunseeker Resort in Port Charlotte

Author: SUNSEEKER RESORT / COURTESY PHOTO

The coastline from Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda through Naples and Marco Island refuses to be defined by devastation. The region has thumbed its nose at Hurricane Ian as it not only recovers but reinvents and rejuvenates. Here we look at classic favorites that have bounced back and new silver linings cropping up as we move further from the eye of a villainous cat-4 storm. 

Dining icons & inventions 

Never in such a short time have so many new restaurants popped onto the scene, even as iconic spots pick themselves, dust themselves off and start all over again. Naples has seen a strong resurgence of its famed dining scene. Fifth Avenue South returns to its glitz, glamour and reputation for sidewalk cafes and gastronomy. Restaurateur-chef Vincenzo Betulia leads the pack with his Osteria Tulia, Bar Tulia and The French Brasserie Rustique. At The French, he has added a new layer of love with the opening of uber-elegant, speakeasy-style Rouge, tucked into the back. Seating only 16, the exclusive dinner-and-drinks experience opens only four nights a week and serves a menu as lavish as its plush surroundings. 

 Rouge is tucked into the back of The French Brasserie Rustique, Naples
COURTESY PHOTO


A new trend, perhaps more post-pandemic-related than hurricane-inspired, restaurants are embracing “social” into their nomenclature, implying gathering, musically orchestrated components. New in Cape Coral, High Tide Social House spins off the popular Lobster Lady Seafood with a thing for creative pizza and a marina setting, while popular Jungle Bird Tiki has created another downtown pleasure, Front Porch Social. In Fort Myers, BackYard Social combines the trend with another for venues that collect several food experiences in one location. 
The new Causeway Bonita food hall brings live music, three unique concept restaurants and a bakery-ice creamery to downtown Bonita Springs. Repurposed food containers serve as kitchens and a self-serve beer wall. Nearby Rooftop at Riverside adds still another popular local trend of late – a rooftop bar – to its six food trucks model. 
The hard-hit barrier islands welcome back old favorites like Dixie Fish Company on Fort Myers Beach, with its flip-flop, waterside vibe; Sanibel fine-dining icon Cielo; and, on Captiva Island, Keylime Bistro, which also cloned in Boca Grande. 
The newly revitalized ‘Tween Waters Island Resort on Captiva Island celebrated the debut of two innovative concepts: The Shipyard, providing a relaxed, nautical ambiance, and perched above it, commanding stunning views of the Gulf, the upscale Crow’s Nest Steakhouse, renowned for its elevated cuisine and ambiance. Besides fine steaks, the latter touts its bourbon stock as it joins still another trend for whiskey bars. Warren American Whiskey Kitchen opened recently in Naples, and Whiskey Joe’s Bar & Grill has broken ground in Port Charlotte. 

Lodging renewed & new 
 Balcony view at AC Hotel by Marriott Naples 5th Avenue  
MARRIOTT NAPLES / COURTESY PHOTO 

In addition to ‘Tween Waters, resorts like Fort Myers Beach’s Pink Shell Beach Resort, Boca Grande’s Gasparilla Inn, Sanibel Island Beach Resort and Edgewater Beach Hotel in Naples make their comebacks, better than ever. The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, has unveiled a totally updated, reimagined product that was underway before Ian hit. 
Also in the works pre-hurricane, a new crop of destination resorts and city hotels make the scene. Most notable are Sunseeker Resort in Port Charlotte and Margaritaville Fort Myers Beach. Both opened earlier this winter to resounding applause. Another Jimmy Buffett-inspired brand, Compass by Margaritaville opened in Naples, exuding the same tropical, party-time air. The town also celebrated the opening of AC Hotel by Marriott Naples 5th Avenue, with its own rooftop bar and a sleek, Euro, understated look and feel. 

Emerging neighborhoods, attractions redefined 

The AC Marriott is part of the excitement building at the latest neighborhood sensation, Naples Design District. Watch for the grand opening of Gulfshore Playhouse’s new Baker Theatre and cultural campus in the district for its first season later this year. 

 The Fins Up! Beach Club at Margaritaville Fort Myers Beach opened earlier this winter. 
COURTESY PHOTO


Downtown Bonita Springs continues its growth spurt with new restaurants, micro-breweries, a food truck complex and the metamorphosis of historic Shangri-La Springs hotel and its Harvest & Wisdom organic brunch spot. Riverside Park grounds downtown with its stories of days gone by and glories of festivities throughout the year. Iconic Wonder Gardens is back to full operation and adding new programs like Mindfulness Walk and Wild World of Wonders Family Club. 
On Sanibel Island, a fascination with nature and wildlife happily lives on. J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge has set the tone since 1945 and continues today as its trails and programs come back. The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum adds “& Aquarium” to its name as it reopens in stages and refocuses on living mollusks and conservation. 
In a historic vein, the Sanibel Historic Museum and Village has done a stellar job of putting back together the past. On Fort Myers Beach, Mound House restored its role as cultural and recreational hub for the community, focusing on the Calusa tribe, which came here first. 

 J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibe Island. 
 “DING” DARLING WILDLIFE SOCIETY-FRIENDS OF THE REFUGE / COURTESY PHOTO 
Still event-full 

The other big chunk in the Fort Myers Beach history puzzle dwells with the shrimp fleet at the San Carlos Island docks. The town again celebrates that heritage each March with the Lions Club Shrimp Festival on the beach. It is one of several seafood celebrations returning to recognize our briny bounty. 
Everglades Seafood Festival in Everglades City is one of the oldest around, held in February. In Naples, Stone Crab Festival coincides with the opening of season in October. Punta Gorda and Fort Myers Seafood & Music Festivals take place in January. 
Art festivals glorify local and national artists throughout the year, with the biggest in Naples, including March’s Downtown Art Fair, and Fort Myers, whose ArtFest happens in February. Bonita Springs National Art Festivals fill Riverside Park with excitement three weekends in January, February and March. 
One of the region’s oldest and flashiest local festivals in back, paying homage to Fort Myers former resident Thomas A. Edison. The Edison Festival of Light in February culminates in a lighted night parade. Other lighted night parades involve decorated boats around the holidays, and you can find them in Fort Myers Beach, Cape Coral, Punta Gorda and Naples. 

 The new Causeway Bonita food hall in downtown Bonita Springs. 
COURTESY PHOTO

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