Florida means the “House of Mouse” to lots of folks, but I’ve actually spent more time on the west coast of Florida--the Gulf side for those of you directionally impaired--in Naples, to be exact. Dally for a few days from November to May, and you’ll wonder why anyone bothers to live where snow shovels are needed. (August might leave you pining for Michigan, though, so it evens out.) Ordinary people might not think knitting and beaches go together, but those of us with fiber fever know knitting goes with everything. In fact, if I’m sitting on a beach, odds are pretty good I’m knitting. Then again, if I’m sitting anywhere, odds are pretty good I’m knitting. But I digress.
We’ll look a three perfect days--well, two and a half--in pursuit of Florida fiber fabulousness. You can find some more conventional shops with a quick Google search, but I’m delighted to introduce you to a new, charming shop as well as some great local places your average travel magazine may not point out.
3745 Tamiami Trail North
Naples, FL 34103
“Job One” down here--or perhaps for us yarn lovers “job two”--is seafood. It’d be just plain irresponsible to spend more than thirty minutes in this zip code without eating something that used to swim. So check in to your lodgings and plan on an early dinner as you wander your way up Naples’ main North-South thoroughfare, Tamiami Trail. Our first stop is a stylish and sophisticated spot, only you’d never guess it from the unassuming outside (except for maybe the packed parking lot). I admit, I misjudged it as a family-friendly theme-ish restaurant based on the name, and my tween/teens did enjoy their meals (they do actually boast a kids menu), but this is really more of an adult place. The fusion of asian and seafood--along with the theatrical submarine decor--is unique and clever. While their miso broiled fish is their hallmark, I had a fabulous salad and a primo fish taco.
5295 Tamiami Trail N
Naples, FL 34103
Hate your swimsuit? Forgot your flip-flops? Need a hermit crab in a painted shell to keep you company? Head a little on farther up the road to Alvin’s Island. If you’re traveling north from Naples proper, each of our stops tonight will be a mini-lesson in the challenge of left-hand turns in Florida. They take some planning. And some courage. Persevere, though, because this is the massive hundreds-of-beach-towels-lining-the-walls kind of place you just don’t find inland. If you can’t score a souvenir t-shirt for your nephew here, you’ve got issues. Stock up on anything you need--or just something you’d never dare at home because after all, no one knows you here--and you’re outfitted for your adventures.
8803 Tamiami Trail N
Naples, FL 34108
Wander up a little more. Tucked inside a strip mall is a cozy coffee joint that hosts live music on Friday nights. How can you not love a coffeebar with a piano in one corner and local artwork on the walls? Grab your drink of choice and perhaps get a few rows done on whatever project you brought for your plane/car ride while you listen to a local artist. It’s the perfect post-travel decompression activity, if you ask me.
Food, coffee, floppy hat, loud shirt, hermit crab, check. Head back to your lodgings, get in a couple of more rows, and then turn in for the night.
Eat a good breakfast, today is chock full of adventures!
The Best of Everything
28194 S Tamiami Trl,
Bonita Springs, FL
We’re not done yet with our friend Tamiami. The Trail has a few more goodies in store. Our first stop today is the most excessive store you’ll ever see, the Florida phenom known as The Best of Everything. The website lists another location at 3754 Tamiami Trail (just south of USS Nemo), but I’ve only been to this location, so I can’t vouch for the closer shop. You know a store is good when they have to put up a waiting area for men and the parking rivals a city street. I guarantee you’ve never seen more accessories in your life, or more rhinestones outside of Vegas. One local review called it “like a candy store for grown up girls.” The prices vary from “give me one in every color” inexpensive to “what?!?” posh, with everything in between. Everything. Seriously, give yourself at least an hour to wander the aisles with the little black velvet tray they give you when you arrive. I’ve never seen anything like this place, and I visit every single year.
Next Stop--Our Fiber Fix:
Gabriella’s Yarn Shop
14950 Old 41 N
Naples, FL 34110 US
Now that you’re accessorized within an inch of your life, shoot west over “Old 41” to the most charming yarn shop in the most unlikely place. I guarantee you’ll drive past this place--maybe even twice--if you’re not looking, but tucked into an industrial-looking block on the south side of Old 41 is Gabriella’s Yarn Shop. Opened just last December, Gabriella has set up a thoughtful shop with an impressive selection of quality yarns. If you like to felt, this store will make your mouth water. You won’t find much in the way of flavor-of-the-month novelty yarns, but this shop features a well-focused selection of outstanding basics. In short, you won’t end up wondering how you walked out of there with orange eyelash--Gabriella’s made sure you can’t go wrong.
I’m of the personal opinion that the very best yarn shops have mascots. Adorable, friendly Casey, a small white dog, is likely to meet you at the door and escort you throughout the shop. If he could, Casey would remind you to get here well before 2pm, when they close on Summer Saturdays.
Owner Gabriella Bittner, whose husband runs boutique wine importers Bittner America Inc., has gone out of her way to make a friendly shop where all kinds of good things await. Here are the projects she recommends when you visit
This kit from yarn faves The Twisted Sisters is one of those great projects that takes a simple idea and turns it into a dramatic showpiece. It’d be hard to pull together more pizzaz for the $55 kit price, and you get everything in one package. The Twisted Sisters call this “the Femme Fatale of scarves,” and the description is right on the money. If your date isn’t impressed by the beading and design of this scarf, he’s not worth another shot.
Another great kit--and our Knit-Along from this store, is the Peony Scarf. Dripping in luscious springtime colors, this wispy scarf is soft as a cloud, and the perfect accessory for a city like Chicago, where Easter as often be snowy as it is sunny. $45 buys you a whole lot of glamor and touchability. Patience is a virtue here--the scarf is done on size 4 needles with a single row coming in at over 400 stitches, but there’s a worthy pay-off indeed. Well, so far. You’ll read more about my impatient nature in the forthcoming Knit-Along.
Gabriella’s has developed somewhat of a specialty in Noni bags, where you pick you own feltable wool and lining materials to create a one-of-a-kind donations. A slam-dunk “gotta have it” anytime I see one (and I don’t even like to felt!), these are w-a-a-a-y cool. The store sells a dizzying collection of snazzy handles to give your bag a finishing touch, and offers many classes to help you along the way. Flowers are what make Noni bags the crave they are, and Gabriella stands ready to help you through the patterns and choices. You’ll be the envy of all your friends, whether they knit or not.
Lunch at Naples Tomato
4700 Tamiami Trail N
Naples, FL 34110
Not far away is an amazing restaurant and foodie store, Naples Tomato. Known as a wine restaurant, most people think of Naples Tomato for dinner, but it’s a great--and less busy--choice for lunch as well. You could spend the entire afternoon tasting their impressive selection of wines (and no one would blame you if you did, especially with their cool wine dispensing system), or stock up on a variety of Italian specialties to nosh on the beach in what might constitute the spiffiest picnic ever. If the wine importer recommends the wine restaurant, you know it’s got to be worth a visit! Have a leisurely lunch while you decide which of your projects is best suited to cast on for beach knitting because...
Head to the beach at Delnor Wiggins Pass State Recreation Area
11100 Gulfshore Drive
Naples, Florida 34108
You’d be foolish not to get in a little shore-leave while here on the Gulf coast. Locals prefer Delnor Wiggins to some of the other beaches, and you’ll get just a touch less of the touristy feel on this quiet but popular beach. May to August constitutes sea turtle season, but you’ll have to stay up late at night to catch that natural wonder. For now, kick back in your beach chair and take up my all-time favorite Naples pass-time, knitting on the beach. If you get antsy, an observation tower, nature center, and a connecting trail of boardwalks provides a bit of a diversion. If you go late in the day now, after lunch, not only will you avoid the Saturday crowds (and a nasty sunburn), but you can nosh on your goodies while you watch the sun go down and the pelicans fly in formation--one of the best shows south of Broadway. If you’re stressed out after this day of bling, yarn, vino, and sand, you’re beyond my help, sister.
Randy’s Fish Market for Brunch
10395 Tamiami Trail N.
Naples, FL 34108
Seafoods spots abound in this neck of the woods, but my personal fave has always been Randy’s Fish Market. If you didn’t even know groupers had cheeks, this is the place to round out your culinary education. Order just about anything--it’s all good here--but make sure you finish your meal with Key Lime Pie. And don’t dwaddle: this place is popular and doesn’t take reservations, so get here at the crack of 11am or you might be waiting a good long time. If you want to do dinner here one of your nights instead, same goes--only be here by 5pm.
U.S. 41 East at Goodlette Rd.
Okay, I’ve sent you up Tamiami long enough--time to explore Naples proper, especially if you haven’t had the chance to do it already. And for me, first stop is always Tin City. It’s ubiquitous, cheesy, touristy, and I love it anyway. Tin City looks like someone strung tin shacks together in a Lego set, and you find yourself wandering from tiny shop to tiny shop like an explorer in a foreign bazaar. Even if you only come out of there with one of the half-pound chocolate chip cookies from the Serious Cookie Company, you’ll have had a ball looking at clothes, gifts, t-shirts, and collectibles until your eyes glaze over.
If that doesn’t float your retail boat high enough, go upscale and wander down posh 3rd and 5th Avenues, where you’ll get a real “Old Naples” feel. Banyan trees, fountains, benches, outdoor dining, art galleries and jewelry stores give this area a unique costal flavor. Where there are loads to choose from, I always seem to end up eating at Meson Ole Jr. (770 5th Ave), probably because they have a good gelato place practically built in next door. Another favorite stop is 5th Avenue Coffee Co (559 5th Ave). The website explorenaples.com will give you a good overview if you want to do more than just wandering the streets, but why plan when you can wander in the sunshine?
12th Avenue on the water
Every good DestiKNITion must have a really cool place to knit in public. Now, be warned; wind may be an issue, but one of the most amazing places to park it and stitch must be the the Fishing Pier in Naples on 12th Avenue. A mid-sized walk from the shopping (but a walk that showcases some really wonderful beach homes), this is coastal in the extreme. The sheer people-watching--or is that fisher-people watching?--on this pier is fascinating. I think I heard six languages and a dozen accents on my last trip alone. Even if you don’t stop to stitch among the fishermen, or even if a breathtaking sunset doesn’t leave you enough light to see your size 2 needles, go anyway. The thing has been rebuilt through a fire and a handful or hurricanes--it deserves a little respect.
And there you have it. A perfect weekend discovering some out of the way joys in Naples Florida. I hope you go home with a good memories, some cool yarn, a few baubles to go along with it, and a decent tan.
As always, I recommend a bed-and-breakfast guest house. More details to come o this one:
A Dream Come True Guest House
4641 5th Avenue N.W.
Naples, Florida 34119