road-tripping around South Florida
Load the playlist with Rat Pack classics when jetting off to Miami Beach. After all, it’s where Sinatra and co used to hang out. Plus, it’ll be the perfect soundtrack for road trips around the ‘Sunshine State’. Leave the Spring Breakers behind by staying at the boutique hotels of Miami Beach before travelling south to Key West or tracking the coast north. With eclectic culture, natural wonders and beaches rivalling the Caribbean, who needs theme parks?
Make for Miami
Ditch the diner and begin Miami days with brunch in Little Havana. You’ll know it by the bright murals and buzzing music. Do as the locals do and order café con leche with crisp Cuban sandwiches stuffed with everything under the sun.
Rather than hit the beach, walk off brunch through Miami’s enigmatic avenues. You don’t need a DeLorean to travel back in time here – there are restored and mid-revival art deco delights on almost every street off Ocean Drive.
Some of the colourful examples of this architecture that you simply cannot miss include the turquoise exterior of Senõr Frogs – formerly Jerry’s Famous Deli – on Collins and the neon glow of Colony Theatre and Tower Theatre. Even the US Post Office is a work of art!
By night, Bleau Bar and SoBe’s other iconic cocktail haunts draw visitors. However, try and cross to Downtown at least once. The neighbourhoods might be less glamorous, but this is where you’ll catch a Miami Heat game. Just be sure to hail a taxi after dark.
Top Tip: The Betsy South Beach and its outdoor spa puts you right on the shore.
Unlock the Keys
(Very) early birds find the Florida Keys are doable in a day from Miami. But having a long weekend to play with is ideal, and not just for trying every take on key lime pie. Driving this character-crammed string of islands is better than any Orlando rollercoaster – a single road on stilts runs from Key Largo to Key West.
If Miami belongs to the Rat Pack, Key West is Hemingway’s. At his house-turned-museum, look for the penny he pressed into the pool cement as a tongue-in-cheek nod to its cost. Today’s creatives showcase work in the Studios of Key West and Morada Way Arts and Cultural District on Islamorada – best on the third Thursday of every month.
Top Tip: at sunset, gasp-inducing stunt performers – including a troupe of cats – come out to play at Key West’s Mallory Square.
At the opposite end, Key Largo is the poster boy for natural beauty. Hike or bike the Dagny Johnson State Park trails for ‘Instagrammable’ scenery – including the largest patch of West Indian hardwood hammock.
Speaking of bicycles, Old Seven Mile Bridge is a pleasant ride. Look over the rusty train tracks acting as rails and you could catch a glimpse of sea turtles or rays.
You’ll need a ferry or seaplane ride to reach the wild and wonderful Dry Tortugas. This remote island national park off the Key West coast has swoon-inducing scenery, a fort and enough buried treasure tales to have you turning pirate.
Bask in a bit of bling
Florida’s east coast is more built up and down with billionaires, but you don’t have to own a Porsche and gold card to appreciate it. Worth Avenue window-shop and marvel at the mega-mansions in Palm Beach. Then trade designer boutiques for the Swap Shop flea market in Fort Lauderdale. Mall brands like Macy’s are here too, but stall shopping is ideal for one-off souvenirs.
Top Tip: break up journeys between Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach at out-of-town Pompano, Delray or Boynton Beach.
Go into outer space
Many think of eastern Florida as a NASA hub, thanks to the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. Few venture beyond the intergalactic museums to explore the ‘Space Coast’ though. Here, you’re unlikely to be crammed towel to towel on a busy beach thanks to miles of icing sugar shores. Merritt Island brings visitors up close and personal to manatees, alligators and dolphins. Anglers and surfers rub shoulders at Sebastian Inlet State Park. And little ones who love American pancakes can pick their own blueberries inland at farms around Titusville.
And the Everglades are another story…