NAPLES—No one is wearing Mickey Mouse ears. No girls are going wild.
On the beach, in the heat of the day, parents walk patiently with intrigued children who carefully collect the shells that heavily salt the white sand. Other beachgoers snooze in the sun or read under an umbrella. A few head into the warm Gulf of Mexico water, carefully keeping their distance from other swimmers.
No one plays music from a boom box. No one drinks tropical cocktails from a 28-ounce glass. No one is cruising the beach armed with arrogant attitudes and lame pickup lines. People in Naples mind their own business, keep quiet and hope you do the same.
In the serenity of the Naples Pier, a wooden platform stretching about a block into the gulf, muffled sounds of English, French, German, Italian and Spanish mix as people fish or perhaps catch another stunning sunset.
This is the town for families not wanting to stand in line at Space Mountain. This is the place for couples looking for a quiet weekend—not for clubgoers hoping for a late night of dancing and drinking.
Hunkered down on its little piece of Florida's southwest coast, Naples lacks the busy-ness of the big resort cities, even making Ft. Myers, 40 miles to the north, seem more like a metropolis by comparison.
Incorporated in 1925, Naples never grew to big-city proportions. Most of the year, the community has just 22,000 residents, though that swells to a still-manageable 33,000 in winter when part-timers flee cold climates.
And though there are comparably quiet places to be found in Florida, few are as far south and thus as warm as this one is in winter.
Carly Madison, 23, of Red Wing, Minn., first visited last January and returned in August. "I would say it is pretty much a ghost town in January," Madison said. "It was almost like we were the only people on the beach."
Locals say the busiest season is spring, when families on spring break crowd the beaches, restaurants and hotel pools. But the rest of the year is filled with quiet moments that provide a break from city life.
Carol Flanigan lives in Naples full time, managing 5th Avenue Coffee Co., a coffee shop she recently sold. During the busy season, her customers may have to wait a few minutes to order a coffee or breakfast sandwich.
"It's pleasantly busy, [but] it's not terribly packed," Flanigan said. "It's still quaint."
Pleasantly busy means Naples has less traffic, noise and stress. Naples is 14 square miles and longer than it is wide. The western border is the gulf, and almost one-eighth of Naples is water, with inland waterways winding down from the northern border and snaking up from the south, coiling into canals and quiet coves.
The result is a community that revolves around water.
Jet-skiers are about as racy as it gets. Otherwise, visitors might grab a deep-sea fishing charter, relax on the pier or snore up some sand on the beach to make sure they're rested for dinner along the town's version of restaurant row: 5th Avenue.
Even with the slow daily pace, longtime residents say Naples has changed in the last few decades. Condos and multimillion-dollar homes have popped up along the inland waterways, but it's not necessarily a problem.
Development means Naples has become a bit more cosmopolitan—quiet and quaint but rich, with international restaurants and upscale shopping. These are not shops you'd find in a mall. Sure, there are the comfortable walking shoes and sunscreen, but there also are bronze statues and fine jewelry, foreshadowing, perhaps, an upscale vision of Naples as a playground for the rich.
The upscale shops are primarily downtown, housed in a row of colorful buildings in gold, pink and yellow that hint at Spanish Colonial and Mediterranean architecture.
And a mile stretch of 5th Avenue, the artery running through downtown Naples and ending at the gulf, hosts dozens of restaurants ranging from casual coffee to upscale Italian.
Tables are parked outdoors at almost every restaurant, creating a surprising cafe culture that starts in the morning—but not too early. Customers trickle into cafes, reading the paper under umbrellas while dogs snooze below.
By evening, the cafe tables have new life as couples dine alfresco at sophisticated restaurants and families sit on benches enjoying ice cream.
But nights don't reach the wee hours. "It's not the big party strip," Flanigan said. "It's not crazy like that. It's more laid back and comfortable."
The climate of quiet and comfort is actually the law: Any restaurant within 300 feet of residences needs to wrap up the music before 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends. And dance clubs? None downtown. By midnight, the crowds have retreated, and the sensible option is to go home and go to bed.
Hey, tomorrow's another, big, slow day.