Your Vacation Guide to Southeast Florida and the Florida Keys
Southeast Florida radiates balmy temperatures, luxury, and Latin and Caribbean flavors. Whether you’re dreaming of a big-city getaway in Miami Beach, a laid-back fishing trip in the Florida Keys, or an indulgent splurge in the Palm Beaches, you’re sure to find your perfect vacation here.
The outdoors are key here – at Bahia Honda State Park, a nature trail climbs the Old Bahia Honda Bridge to present an island panorama and crystalline view of the fish that snorkelers and anglers seek. Inside the National Key Deer Refuge, an endangered species of miniature white-tailed deer roams freely.
Thanks to the early 20th-century influence of architect Addison Mizner, a walk through Boca Raton mimics a walk through the Mediterranean, with a namesake lake, Lake Boca, and the Atlantic Ocean providing the water views. The luxurious Boca Raton Resort & Club reinvigorates Mizner’s 1926 Cloister Inn and the Old Floresta district stuns with his showcase homes. Fulfill the city’s upscale wish by touring the Boca Raton Museum of Art, shopping in malls both open-air and mega and feasting in a number of fine restaurants.
To the west, Boynton Beach goes green with golf; to the east, it sparkles Atlantic Ocean blue. In between, discover public arts programs and a 1913 schoolhouse re-purposed as the Schoolhouse Children’s Museum and Learning Center, presenting hands-on, interactive exhibits on Florida history..
Eats. Boutiques. Entertainment. Arts. They’re everywhere you look in Coconut Grove, south of downtown Miami. CocoWalk and Mayfair in the Grove are trendy complexes dedicated to these pursuits, but take to the streets to experience “the Grove” as it has always been. The entrance to The Barnacle Historic State Park, an 1891 estate on Biscayne Bay, hides amid shady trees. Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, a European-inspired manse with an orchidarium and 34 rooms embellished with five centuries of antiques and art, is also here.
We wouldn’t blame you if you classified Coral Gables as just another pretty place, though that is an understatement. Look closer to expose some interesting history; most of the tales star George Merrick, who founded and incorporated the city in 1925. See the grand Biltmore Hotel that he helped develop, and visual and performing arts events at the University of Miami (yes, Merrick helped get this going, too). Off campus, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden preserves plants beautiful enough to live in “the Gables.”
Surf, play volleyball or pier fish at this Blue Wave Beach. Quiet Waters Park offers a playground of another kind, including a children’s splash zone. The Deerfield Beach Arboretum sits in quiet contrast, with a butterfly garden amid trees from five continents.
When locals saved two aging schools from demolition in the 1980s, Old School Square resurrected the buildings as the Cornell Art Museum and the Crest Theatre. Delray’s patronage of the arts, and preservation, lives on in the galleries of Pineapple Grove Arts District, cultural centers including the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, and events like Art and Jazz on the Avenue (the avenue is Atlantic, and its shopping and dining possibilities don’t stop ’til you reach the ocean).
Fort Lauderdale has become synonymous with luxury – resorts, yachts and dream homes could be considered staples of the community. But let’s not forget what drew the luxe in: the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway, respectively responsible for Fort Lauderdale’s beachfront promenade (loll at a sidewalk café or walk along the Wave Wall) and a Venetian-like canal system where water taxis and, yes, gondolas run. Offshore from this Blue Wave Beach, fishing, diving and water sports dominate. For shopping, dining, nightlife and people-watching, Las Olas Boulevard, The Colonnade Outlets at Sawgrass Mills and The Village at Gulfstream Park are musts.
The water tower here is painted to look like a beach ball. Enough said. Try your hand at horses and Vegas-style slots at Gulfstream Racing & Casino and shopping and dining at The Village of Gulfstream Park.
Most beaches boast boardwalks. This one boasts a Broadwalk, two and a half pedestrian-friendly miles fronting Hollywood’s Blue Wave Beach. In the historic downtown, visitors find sidewalk cafes, galleries and ArtsPark at Young Circle, where a visual arts pavilion hosts artisan demos and even the children’s playground equipment is artful. Just a half-mile from the Broadwalk, wind through the mangroves in a canoe or kayak at Anne Kolb Nature Center at West Lake Park.
Homestead still works an agricultural angle, and any of its roadside stands offer sweet produce in season. The National Register recognizes a downtown school, residences and the town hall while crowds have made its eccentric Coral Castle a popular roadside attraction since 1953.
Islamorada, called the sport fishing capital of the world, rates among anglers of all ages and skill levels. Theater of the Sea has been hosting marine shows since 1946, though today you can actually swim with the dolphins, sea lions and stingrays.
The best way to see the spectacular reefs here is to dive right in (snorkeling and paddling are also acceptable). John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park runs glass-bottom boat tours in the shallow waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary just outside the park's borders, and divers delight upon reaching the sunken “Christ of the Abyss,” cast from a mold of a statue that rests in the Mediterranean Sea.
At the bottom of the U.S. and the top of many travelers’ life lists, Key West is colorful and free. Delight in innocent debauchery along Duval Street and celebrate the sunset at Mallory Square; then hop between historic digs along the Pelican Path (the sites are plenty, including the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, Audubon House and Tropical Gardens and Harry S. Truman Little White House). Take off in a seaplane (or boat) to reach one of the country’s most remote recreational areas, Dry Tortugas National Park. The ultra-clear, jewel-blue water makes for unmatched fishing, diving and snorkeling.
A mainland gateway to Palm Beach, Lake Worth boasts a shore of its own, with a newly renovated pier, surf-able waves and unique restaurants. Away from the sand, Art Link International holds Highwaymen paintings among its collection.
Marathon is a jumping-off point for sport fishing and the Seven Mile Bridge, one of America’s iconic drives. Charters and tournaments evidence the area’s angling meddle while an annual seafood festival proves that conch fritters taste best with a side of live music. Both point to Marathon’s fishing village foundation – learn more about the Middle Key history at Crane Point Museum and Nature Center.
Ever the melting pot, Miami mixes ethnic neighborhoods with avant garde art, resulting in a big city made accessible by defined urban enclaves. Gentrifying Wynwood locates galleries and museums near the markets of Little San Juan. The Design District packs furniture, antiques and art within Little Haiti. And along Little Havana’s Calle Ocho (Eighth Street), the cigars are still hand-rolled, the café con leche steaming. The Biscayne Bay backdrop makes national-scale shopping, dining and nightlife memorable at downtown’s Bayside Marketplace, particularly at night when the water reflects city lights. Beyond the skyline and the bay, the Miami Seaquarium and the palm-and-sand paradise of Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park occupy Key Biscayne.
Here, the playground is as pretty as the players. Palms and the Atlantic Ocean landscape Art Deco, Mediterranean Revival and Miami Modern structures (the Miami Design Preservation League conducts tours), and art is all around in galleries, museums and events like Art Basel in Miami Beach, the most influential art show in the Americas. Shopping, too, goes world-class inside lush Bal Harbour – dress for an excursion here, then take a casual approach along Collins Avenue and Lincoln Road (also suitable for dining and keeping an eye on the scene). One block from Collins, legendary Ocean Drive unfurls shopping, noshing, beach going and partying, with lounges that come alive late into the night.
In 1896, Henry Flagler built a grand home-away-from-home for visitors here, the Palm Beach Inn. In 1902, he built a home for his bride, Whitehall. He doubled the size of the Palm Beach Inn and renamed it The Breakers. After twice burning down, the inn has been reconstructed. It still stands today, luxurious as ever, and Whitehall persists as the Flagler Museum (Flagler’s collections as well as the tea partie hosted at the museum’s café from Thanksgiving to Easter conjure up America’s Gilded Age). Palm Beach’s reputation as a playground for the wealthy persists too. The affluence is palpable along Worth Avenue, where fine art, labels like Cartier and Chanel and established restaurants grace Mediterranean storefronts and courtyards. Take the seasonal, historic walking tour of this Addison Mizner-designed district that begins at the Atlantic and leads you up Worth Avenue. Stay and shop!
Just east of Fort Lauderdale, Plantation maintains a lush, inland oasis of golf greens and parks. Plantation Preserve offers the best of both, its course an Audubon-certified par 72; its park a walk through wetlands to a Tequesta Indian burial mound.
As its name suggests, the heart of this city north of Fort Lauderdale belongs to fishing. Tours are offered periodically of the 1907 Hillsboro Lighthouse, its black and white hull and skeletal construction as striking as the golden sand below.
West Palm Beach sits inland from Palm Beach, but echoes some of the same flavors in museums (notably, the Norton Museum of Art) and an attractive open-air collection of shops and restaurants along Clematis Street. By day, discover the district’s historic appeal; by night, love it for its lounges and live music. For younger visitors, the South Florida Science Museum, Palm Beach Zoo and nearby Lion Country Safari present adventuresome options – Lion Country encourages visitors to drive through African-inspired forests and plains for glimpses of giraffes, zebras, rhinos and wildebeests.