Inspire Your Inner Artist on Florida’s Paradise Coast

With 30 miles of white sand shoreline and a wealth of natural diversions by land and by sea, Florida’s Paradise Coast consistently ranks among the world’s best beach destinations. Visitors flock year-round to these parts—spanning Naples, Marco Island and Everglades City along Florida’s Gulf, just a two-hour drive west from Miami—thanks to perennially mild temperatures, a variety of fresh coastal cuisine, and unrivaled stretches of sand and sea. It’s easy to see at a glance how Florida’s Paradise Coast earned its name, but there’s more to this beachside beauty beyond the more obvious trappings, and those in the know take full advantage of the area’s vibrant arts scene. From galleries and cultural centers to festivals and performing arts events, this region of Southwest Florida is a haven for the arts.

Orientation to the Arts Scene

On first arrival, the sheer number of art and cultural diversions packed within these parts may seem overwhelming. Get your bearings with a quick stop at Naples Art, widely regarded as the epicenter of the arts in downtown Naples. For the last 65 years, the non-profit organization has focused on community enrichment through exhibitions and instructional programs designed to empower the artist within each of us. Browse the latest works on display (there’s no charge for admission) or, if your schedule allows, attend a class or workshop to bring back a one-of-a-kind memento from your visit.

A bit farther south, the Marco Island Center for the Arts boasts over 180 classes in just about any medium imaginable, as well as a range of free-admission galleries and a full calendar of live musical performances, including jazz, acoustic guitar and a variety of vocalists. Depending on your travel plans, you may be able to catch a 2nd Tuesday event—essentially, the official opening night for each month’s featured exhibition, taking place on the second Tuesday of each month beginning at 5:30 pm. There, you’ll have the chance to rub elbows with local artists, graze on hors d'oeuvres and wine and catch a sneak peek at upcoming works on display. There’s no charge to attend, but donations are encouraged and support the center’s initiatives.

Local Flavor

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Over the years, Florida’s Paradise Coast has drawn artists of every ilk with its boundless natural beauty. Here, inspiration truly lies around every corner, and today the Naples Art District has evolved to house the largest concentration of professional working artists, galleries and private studios in all of Southwest Florida. Primarily concentrated along Shirley Street, J and C Boulevard and smaller streets within their confines, you’ll find dozens of galleries and studios to browse on foot. Many offer classes in ceramics, painting, even creating batik wearable art.

Even more fine art galleries span the popular Third Street South district, as well as along Fifth Avenue South. Whether you prefer realist depictions of the natural landscape or your tastes lean more toward the abstract, you’re sure to find something that speaks to you in this region.

Back on Marco Island, don’t miss the Shops of Olde Marco; the colorful, Caribbean-inspired shopping street is home to a variety of contemporary art attractions like the Betty Newman Art Gallery, where you can browse vibrant original works that frequently adorn the walls of local hotels and businesses in these parts.

And while the Everglades is certainly more widely known for untouched landscapes and untamed wildlife, the region still beckons to the inner artist within each of us. Tucked within Big Cypress National Preserve just outside of Everglades City, the Big Cypress Gallery offers an exquisite collection of large-format, black and white photography by resident artist Clyde Butcher—often regarded as the Ansel Adams of the Everglades—as well as a smattering of other local artists featuring throughout the year, perfectly encapsulating the wild beauty of the Everglades. The gallery offers a lovely and haunting portrait of area wildlife—and even offers the chance to experience it for yourself on a guided swamp walk.

Back to the Roots

The state of Florida has a rich history that predates its earliest settlers, and Florida’s Paradise Coast region is no exception. Of particular note, the Collier County Museums offer five locations from Immokalee to Naples, to Marco Island and Everglades City, each dedicated to preserving and sharing the region’s heritage, from prehistory to the early Calusa and Seminole tribes who settled here. Whatever location you choose, you can browse permanent collections and featured exhibits on your own, or take a guided tour to help unlock the secrets within the art and artifacts on display.

Near Naples Pier, you’ll also find the Historic Palm Cottage, a petite home on the corner of Gulfshore Boulevard and 12th Avenue South that was constructed in 1895 and is now the oldest house in Naples. Browse art and antiques from the region’s history, and take a guided tour by the Naples Historical Society—the current occupants of the home today.

Natural Influence

While Naples and its surrounding coastal cities suffer no shortage of galleries and artistic attractions, the inspiration behind so many of these works is often just outside—and it’s on full display year-round. The raw, natural beauty of these parts has beckoned to artists and appreciators from around the globe for generations, and its siren song just might call to you, too.

From Naples Pier to the historic cottages that line the residential streets nearby, you’ll see elements of the neighborhood and surrounding landscape in many of the works on display at the Arsenault Studio & Banyan Gallery on Third Street South. Nearby, the Naples Botanical Garden boasts a mural by renowned landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx—the only one on public display in the United States. There are also specially curated gardens inspired by the natural flora of the Caribbean and Asia, among a swath of more locally inspired gardens and walking paths. Bring a sketch pad or camera and see what inspires you.

A roseate spoonbill. (Credit: Bruce Hitchcock)

Farther south, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge covers 35,000 acres of unbridled natural beauty that’s yours to discover. And from Marco Island, you can even experience the Ten Thousand Islands preserve up close on a sightseeing boat tour, which includes a stop at a deserted island to comb the beach for colorful shells. You might even spot a manatee or a pod of dolphins along the way. With so much to see and do in this region, you’re sure to spot your own muse here.

Arts Come Alive

With its enviable climate, the art scene in Florida’s Paradise Coast isn’t confined to the indoors. Celebrate the Arts Month runs through November 30. Throughout the month brick-and-mortar galleries open their doors and free concerts spill onto the streets. Events take place in Naples, Marco Island and Everglades City, and you won’t have trouble finding the party.

In the new year, take advantage of all that Florida sunshine at the Naples New Year’s Art Show—a two-day event kicking off on January 4 along Fifth Avenue South and Park Street. Hosted by Naples Art, this show features over 250 artists from around the country, as well as a variety of local food and beverages, live music and even a few performances. With so many diversions packed into a few sun-soaked blocks, it’s no wonder this event consistently ranks among the top Fine Art shows around the country.

Later in the spring, don’t miss the Naples Downtown Art Show on Fifth Avenue South, kicking off March 21, 2020. This juried art show is a consistent favorite among local and traveling artists, as well as visitors who return year after year to browse a wide array of artwork, pottery, textiles and other artistic goods—all while soaking up that famous Florida sunshine as temperatures are still cool and breezy.

After the shows, wander into one of the many top-rated restaurants that line the gallery blocks and order your choice of fresh seafood and local fare. While you sample some of the state’s best cuisine, reflect on the stunning natural beauty of the region and all that you’ve explored—and toast to the art inspiration you’ve soaked up along the way. Florida’s Paradise Coast has truly earned its name.

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