Miami is a paradise of oceanfront cities with diverse neighborhoods. One such place I feel where you can personalize your travel experience. It can be a perfect romantic getaway, or for hanging with a group of friends. The first thing that comes to anybody’s mind is that every day is a beach day in Miami, but not quite! You can explore art and culture; do some pulse-pounding activities if you are an adrenaline junkie. Explore various cuisines if you are culinary daring; have some adventure in the woods; party all night or relax by the beach, toes in the sand, or find your serenity at the spa. Miami offers all that and more.
Initially, we had planned to explore only Key West and Miami during our visit to the Sunshine State. It turned out to be more of a South Florida trip as we discovered various things to do every passing day, which I will be sharing in this post. You may read about Key West here.
Palm-lined shores of white sand beaches – a subtropical paradise stretching from South Pointe Park at the tip of the man-made island running up to North beach is the most touristy place of Miami.
We drove to each of these beaches on different days. My favorite of them all was South Pointe Park with panoramic views of South Beach, Fisher Island, and Downtown Miami. The park features paved walking trails, beautifully landscaped green spaces with locals enjoying the late afternoon sun and surfers along the jetty.
We could see the famous Disney Cruise leaving the shores from here.
South Beach – Miami’s most famous beach with Ocean Drive lined with cafes and bars with live music and overall party atmosphere. You can also be interested in beach activities such as Jet-ski, banana boat rides, parasailing, and paddleboard rentals. The most popular is beach chairs and umbrella rentals if all you want to do is sunbathe.
Key Biscayne – Located off the coast of mainland Miami with idyllic views of the Downtown skyline, Key Biscayne is an oasis of affluent neighborhoods, with a low-key vibe and quite beaches ideal for relaxation.
Hollywood Beach – Nestled between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, Hollywood Beach is known for its Broadwalk – a 2.5 mile long palm-lined brick promenade with tiki-bars, restaurants, hotels, seafood eateries, etc. This thoroughfare hosts joggers, cyclists, pedestrians, and rollerbladers. The Broadwalk was at a stone’s throw from where we stayed. Every evening we took a stroll to experience some fantastic views of the setting sun. The full moon night by the beach was a sight to behold. The beachfront restaurants and bars around the Broadwalk have yearlong activities and live music, which goes on until midnight.
Bayside Marketplace – an open-air shopping center located in downtown Miami, in the banks of Biscayne Bay with the City of Miami marina at its side. It has a great mix of shops and restaurants. Sunset cruises touring Biscayne Bay’s islands set off from here. Shopping in Florida is an opportunity to find souvenirs as diverse as seashells, paintings, and posters, beyond keepsakes such as magnets and mugs.
Hard Rock Cafe, Seminole – It was serendipity to find this place while driving around Hollywood. The blue-colored guitar-shaped hotel houses luxury suites across 34 floors, restaurants, bars, spa, and nightclubs alongside its themed restaurants where artists from across the world perform. The lower level of the hotel has a sprawling casino; I tried my luck betting a dollar on one of the slot machines and won $5! That’s a 500% profit, which I was wise enough to encash and not further gamble! 😁
Hard Rock’s signature memorabilia includes Elvis Presley’s motorcycle, Neil Diamond’s car, outfits worn by Rihanna and Madonna, Jimmy Page’s guitars, etc. Swimming areas surround the guitar structure. South Florida’s new entertainment venue was recently inaugurated in 2019.
Florida rainfall averages in December. We had one such downtime during our visit, but all is not lost. There are more indoor activities than we could expect, and we zeroed in on ‘Attempting to escape’! If you are into solving puzzles like us, pull together a team and hit up an Escape Room. Two’s a team in our case; we picked a theme that best interested us called ‘Timeline – You must change the past to save the future’ with Lockbox Escape Room in Plantation, Florida. It was an 80’s themed room with VCR players, tape recorders, Nintendo, Vinyl player, comics, posters, etc. where you stumble upon cryptic messages, solve the puzzle, find the key to escape out of the room, all in 60-minutes. This experience is all about communication and teamwork. This was the best way to stay dry and stimulate our gray matter. An experience we will cherish forever and explore more Escape Rooms in the future. The Timeline room was very well designed, that it brought back good old childhood memories.
Aventura Mall – I am not a mall-person. Shopping is one of the favorite pass time for most, and if you are around the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area, it does not hurt to pay a visit to Miami’s biggest place to shop. A mix of luxe boutiques highlights the mall with over 50 eateries, a 24-screen movie theatre, and art showcases.
An Art patron’s vision for an open-air art gallery, and turning a failing neighborhood of aging warehouses into a cultural oasis gave birth to Wynwood Walls – a pedestrian-friendly area with murals and graffiti everywhere you turn.
Everglades National Park
On a day’s excursion, we drove to Everglades National Park, an uncharted wilderness with swamps, sub-tropical jungles, and prairies where tropical and temperate species flourish. Ragged edges of sawgrass blades, with alligators deep below and wading birds in mangroves. Whenever you are in a National Park, ensure to go to the visiting center, talk to rangers for instruction, and do not forget to get a map. Most parts of the National Park will not have internet coverage; if your rental car is not equipped with GPS, you could get lost! We drove past Long Pine Key, Pa-hay-okee Overlook, and Flamingo for Wildlife viewing. American Alligators, crocodiles, manatees were found around Flamingo Marina. Bird viewing such
African Darter, Cocoi Heron, Black Vultures around eco ponds.
Peninsula Cooter we found basking in the sun. Everglades is not just a National Park but also the largest subtropical wilderness in the US, an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of international importance. Canoeing, Drive-in camping, boat group tours, and houseboats are some of the activities in the National Park.
Our next nature respite was to Sanibel Island located southwest of Fort Myers on the west coast of Florida. It lies between the Intracoastal waterway and the Gulf of Mexico and connected by a causeway. Driving past the highway was one of a kind experience.
Sanibel is a popular tourist destination for its shell beaches. The curved shaped island acts like a shovel scooping up shells from the Gulf of Mexico. I was ‘shellshocked’ to see the abundance of shells. You can barely walk a step on the beach without indulging in searching for shells. What’s all the more surprising is, there’s a term for this activity called ‘Sanibel Stoop,’ where you are in the bent-at-the-waist posture, collecting seashells!
The last leg of our vacation was a visit to Fort Lauderdale. The strip is a brick-paved beachfront promenade, with eclectic shopping and dining places across the boulevard and mansions and yachts dotting Millionaire Rows. Fort Lauderdale is nicknamed as the Venice of America for its extensive canals and waterways within the city limits. V and I rented bicycles and rode across the quaint Las Olas and the beach boulevard. Other means of getting around is hopping on to a tram or hail a rickshaw. Buskers and live music add life to the riverwalk district. The promenade lights after sundown are impressive.
With that, our 8-day long visit to the South of Florida comes to an end. The Sunshine State has more to offer, and one visit is never enough. Maybe, a future visit for many winters to come.