They say all dogs go to heaven, but if I were a Yorkshire terrier or a golden retriever or even a toy poodle, I'd want to spend my time on Earth on the Paradise Coast in southwest Florida.
Though I wouldn't exactly say that Naples, Fla., is going to the dogs, this breathtakingly beautiful Gulf coast city has put out the welcome mat for man's best friend in a wide variety of venues. And not just a basic welcome mat, either - many hotels supply four-legged "fur kids" with pet beds, pillows, monogrammed food and water dishes, bandannas and designer toys.
The Hilton Naples is not only pet-friendly, but its employees are some of the most human-friendly hotel staff I've ever met. No matter what your request, the receptionists at the front desk will meet it with a smile. And they're never too busy to "ooh" and "aah" over your precious little Bitsy when she's out in the lobby strutting her stuff or lying curled up in your purse. Shula's Steak House, located at the hotel, has hosted many special dog-friendly events in that lobby.
Dogs up to 75 pounds will have a good time at the Hilton Naples, getting their own beds and bowls and enjoying the special pet-walking area. Their humans will love the upscale yet relaxing ambiance and the refreshing waterfall swimming pool.
Naples Bay Resort, a Tuscan-styled luxury facility, also caters to canines with its "U Nauti Dog" Escape Package. The package includes a large, fluffy bed for Fido's use during his stay; Wagatha organic treats; pet scoop mitts; and a sporty pet bandanna. Fergie's Closet Doggie Boutique is among the resort shops, in case Fido is craving a gourmet bedtime snack. And guests can rent a boat from the marina and take their dog to Keeywadin Island, an 8-mile-long barrier island that's a sanctuary for wildlife and recreation. Dogs on leashes are allowed to frolic on this gorgeous, pristine beach with their owners. Southern Living magazine named Keeywadin Island one of the Top Ten Secret Beaches of the South in its April 2010 issue.
The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples was named to the 2010 "Gold List" by Conde Nast Traveler magazine and voted (by its readers) the No. 1 golf resort in Florida. Human guests can enjoy two championship golf courses, world-class dining and a luxurious spa while their canine companions can order their favorite delicacies from a Doggie Menu in the pet-friendly courtyard near the pool. Kids can enjoy the educational (and fun) "Eye Wonders" activities program or hang out in ICE, an interactive gaming and 3-D entertainment lounge.
When it's time to eat, guests can expect more than puppy chow at Bamboo Cafe French Home Cooking. Co-owner Lisa Boet (who's from Peoria) is known locally as the godmother of dog-friendly dining in Naples, and her own pooch, Minute, presides over dinners on the pet-friendly terrace. The food for humans at Bamboo is exquisite (try the chocolate and cheese fondue), and home-baked dog treats (which sent my own two pups into ecstasy) are served to well-behaved doggy customers.
Sea Salt, named Gulfshore Life Magazine's Best VIP Dining Service for 2011 and one of the nation's Top 20 Restaurants of 2009 by Esquire magazine, also caters to Very Important Pets on their beautifully landscaped patio overlooking Third Street South in the Naples Historic District. Chef Fabrizio Aielli prepares Italian-inspired cuisine using fresh wild-caught seafood, organic and local produce and naturally raised meats and poultry. Chef Aielli incorporates a variety of specialty salts - more than 130 different kinds - in his dishes. Some are flavor-infused, but many are natural, gathered from all over the world.
Your canine companion can accompany you to breakfast or lunch on the patio at Tony's Off Third wine and pastry shop, where delectable breakfast pastries, sandwiches and salads are served. Drool over all the tasty tidbits in the display case before making your selection. Stop at Sassy Cakes to pick up a couple of (pre-ordered) "pupcakes" - in Monkey Buddy or Carrot Top Buddy flavors - for your best friend along the way, so you don't have to share your sticky buns from Tony's.
Fred's Food, Fun and Spirits is a dog-friendly restaurant that's named after the owners' Chihuahua, who recently died. This family-owned restaurant offers an extensive tapas menu and entertainment (including a bluegrass band called "Frontline") nearly every night. The Honey Stung Chicken (made from a secret honey recipe) is fried to perfection.
Out and about
All that gourmet canine cuisine can lead to a porky Yorkie unless your dog gets some exercise. The new City of Naples Dog Park, which includes two separate off-leash areas and a shade structure with benches, drinking fountains (for man and pup) and a picnic area, fits the bill nicely. The park is open daily from dawn until dusk to city residents and visitors alike. However, you will need to register your dog by filling out the form at the park's website and have veterinary proof of current vaccinations.
Discriminating doggy divas will want to head to Pucci & Catana, a luxury pet boutique that carries an impeccable selection of designer pet clothing, accessories and organic spa products. Dogs and their humans love the wine "Pawties" hosted by this pet shop every Friday.
Twice weekly (every Sunday from 9 to 11 a.m. and every Thursday from 3 to 5 p.m.) Naples Botanical Garden hosts a "Dogs in the Garden" walk. Humans and their canine companions can enjoy the 170-acre, world-class garden paradise featuring the plants and cultures of the tropics and subtropics. The special hands-on, interactive children's garden area (off-limits to dogs) contains a butterfly house. Bowls filled with water are strategically placed along the garden paths to quench Fido's thirst as he tours the garden with his people.
Moose the Museum Maltese is the mascot of the Naples Backyard History Museum. Moose, owned by Dr. Lois Bolin, also is the museum's ambassador during school visits. The museum (436 Bayfront Place) showcases the cultural and historical areas of the city.
Shopping and more
Shopping in Naples with your canine companion is fun, and many shopkeepers offer dog treats or put out water bowls for doggy refreshments. The sidewalks at Mercato are great for dog walking amid the upscale restaurants and chic boutiques. And the dog-friendly Third Street South Farmer's Market (every Saturday from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m.) offers fresh treats for pooches as well as people.
Except for Keeywadin Island, dogs are not allowed on the gorgeous beaches in Naples. Indulge your best friend with a visit to The Wigglebutt Inn while you hit the beach. The Wigglebutt innkeepers wouldn't dream of putting your best friend in a cage. Instead, they offer "cageless boarding and day care," because "dogs need vacations, too." Three extra-large, ultra-luxurious suites allow your dog to lounge comfortably while watching TV. Daily naptime at the day care includes calming music, aromatherapy and snacks.
But what if you left your best friend at home and you need a "doggy fix" while visiting Naples? Stop by the Humane Society Naples to look at their impressive new facility, considered Southwest Florida's premier no-kill pet shelter, adoption center, veterinary clinic, and professional dog-training center. Snowbirds from Illinois often volunteer at the Humane Society while wintering in Naples. And don't be too surprised if you fall in love with a furry face while you're there. You just may leave with your new best friend.
Story published Friday, September 2, 2011 ( Volume 6, Number 5 )