Got a week or two to kill in southern Florida? Don’t limit yourself to one place – there is so much to see by simply jumping in a car and exploring!
Back in my backpacking days, and when I worked for Virgin Atlantic, one of my favourite spots to hang out was South Beach, Miami. I did it on the cheap – staying in hostels and blagging my way into clubs, wearing the highest heels my ankles would allow.
These days, I’d like to think I’m a little more grown up, and now I’m planning my honeymoon there are so many places that I’m being drawn back to, including my beloved Miami. It got me thinking. How would I do it, now that I’m a little older, and perhaps a little classier?
Well, the first thing I would do is rent a car in Miami, drive to South Beach and spend a couple of days never really getting over the jetlag by going out until the small hours. Collins Ave is a great place to start, and this beautiful beachside hotel is located perfectly. Walking distance to nightlife, but not right in the noise.
Miami: 1 Hotel South Beach
Spend a couple of nights at the 1 Hotel South Beach, and explore some of the famous shopping of Lincoln Road mall, dance the night away at some of the Cuban bars on 15th street, and watch the preening people run the length of the sandy beach in the daytime.
Once you’ve had your fill of this frenetic city, it’s time to jump in the car and head south to Key West. Take your time… Without photo stops this should take about 4-5 hours (depending on traffic out of the city), but allow another hour for stopping and enjoying the views of the long bridges connecting the islands.
Kay West is the last island in the chain, but is one of my favourites, as there is a decidedly Caribbean vibe here. Plenty of bars play live music, or you can just grab a cold drink and head to Front Street to watch the sun go down.
Where to stay? The classiest place around is Santa Maria Suites Resort, which has a great location around a 10 minute walk from Duval Street, for a host of restaurants. Make sure you take a stroll to the southernmost point of the continental USA whilst you’re here!
Key West: Santa Maria Suites Resort
After a few days of soaking up the laid-back vibe of Key West, it’s time to take a drive back north. But not too far today. A couple of hours will bring you to one of the northern islands of the Keys: Key Largo.
Rent a snorkel and spend time exploring the coral reefs in the shallows, or head deeper with a scuba lesson. Prefer to be out of the water? Rent a boat and float on the crystal clear waters, topping up that tan.
Where to stay? The Dolphin Point Villas are superbly located, and just so pretty I could just squish them. Pastel-painted buildings are a mainstay in the keys, but I just can’t get enough.
Key Largo: Dolphin Point Villas
Leave early in the morning for your next destination, as you’ll want plenty of time to stop en route in the Everglades National Park, home of the Floridian Alligator! Take loads of high-DEET insect repellant as the mosquitos can be pretty relentless otherwise.
If you want to get up close, take an airboat ride along the wetlands. Or, if you want to have less of an environmental impact,check out the Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm, just a short drive from the Ernest Coe Visitor Center.
Tonight, head for Naples on Florida’s West Coast. Famous for its high-end shopping and golf courses, this city also has beautiful white sand beaches that crunch underfoot like sugar.
Take a trip out onto the water to spot dolphins or the ‘sea cow’ (the manatee), and by night go to Third Street South for a great selection of restaurants, bars and some cool galleries.
The Inn on Fifth is a characterful hotel, smack bang in the middle of the action but with an away-from-it-all feel. Take advantage of the full service spa to relax those muscles before you jump back in your rental car end your tour of southern Florida.
Naples: The Inn on Fifth
So… who’s with me on this classy, sunny road trip?