SOUTHEAST FLORIDA:
A Diverse LANDSCAPE

BY CHELLE KOSTER WALTON

South East Florida Visitors Guide - Free Magazine Subscriptions & Download

Comprising four counties—Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe—Southeast Florida is a diverse landscape. Crisscrossed with the wild, swampy Everglades and dotted with some of the best beaches and offshore islands (called keys) in mainland America, Southeast Florida also features the truly exciting urban venues of Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Key West.

MUST SEE, MUST DO

 

From socio-political terrain such as the Kennedy Bunker at the Palm Beach Maritime Museum to the more relaxed, literary—and feline—take on life at the Hemingway Home & Museum, the cultural artifacts left behind by Florida's most famous residents are irresistible. First, take a boat to get a close-up look at the John F. Kennedy Command Post and Bomb Shelter on Peanut Island State Park. A permanent exhibit that is now open for guided tours and situated near the Kennedy Compound in Palm Beach, the Bunker was built during the height of the Cold War in order to safeguard the President's family in case of nuclear attack.

The house of another famous war figure, Ernest Hemingway, who authored such tomes as For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Moveable Feast, beckons at the opposite end of the region. Not only can visitors peruse the rooms that witnessed the writer's toils, they can commune with the six-toed cats that bear his name. At least some of the 40 to 50 polydactyl felines that live on the property are descendants of Hemingway's original six-toed white cat, Snowball.

 

BEST DRIVES

Driving from Miami to Key West on the single-lane Overseas Highway, which crosses the Seven Mile Bridge, is considered among the most scenic drives in Florida. With water often nearly at door-level on both sides, it sometimes feels as if you are floating through Islamorada, Key Largo, Marathon Key and Big Pine Key. In the early morning and at dusk, birdwatching for great blue herons, white cranes, anhingas and bald eagles is prime. Consult FloridaRambler.com's Mile-Marker Guide to know where to stop and when.

For more wildlife viewing, hit the Tamiami Trail, either on your way to the west coast (known as Alligator Alley) or to Shark Valley for biking, hiking and tram-touring on the 15-mile paved trail. Called "the beauty and the beast of Florida roads" by the St. Petersburg Times, it's best to keep your eyes peeled for turtles crossing the road or alligators in the canals.

HERITAGE AND CULTURE

In addition to the natural attractions, cultural ones are playing more and more of a role in Southeast Florida, particularly in Miami. The visual arts have become an integral part of society, with Latin American and Caribbean, especially Cuban and Haitian, painters and sculptors coming to the fore. For an immediate view of the most post-modern stuff, hit the galleries and warehouses in the Design District and Wynwood Arts District; for a more retrospective experience, head to the museums, including Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami; History Miami; and the Freedom Tower Miami.

Those seeking an international perspective should visit the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, or the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach.

In 2011, Delray Beach celebrated its 100th anniversary and, in 2012, the Delray Affair will mark the 50th year of the most popular Arts and Crafts Street Festival in Palm Beach County. Stretching along Atlantic Avenue over 10 city blocks in scenic downtown Delray Beach, this annual event draws accolades and crowds to one of Southeast Florida's oldest and largest outdoor arts, crafts and entertainment venues. And admission is free!

FAMILY ATTRACTIONS

While galleries and museums are wonderful for the mature mind, nothing beats family adventures like a day at the zoo. Zoo Miami, formerly called Metrozoo, is one of the most fantastic, cage-free enclosures in the world, with more than 2,000 animals available for viewing.

Likewise, Jungle Island is a fascinating place to view tropical creatures up close. Just off the mainland, on the way to South Beach and conveniently across from the interactive Miami Children's Museum, where there's everything from a faux supermarket to a recording studio, Jungle Island is renowned for its wonderful bird and wildlife shows.

SPORTS AND OUTDOORS

Florida is famous for its water sports. If you want to experience anything on a board—windsurfing, kiteboarding, paddleboarding or just regular old-fashioned surfing—head to Key Biscayne or Miami Beach, where the pros gather to teach the amateurs or just show off their skills.

If all that wave-riding sounds too risky, seek out the calmness of Oleta River Park in North Miami Beach, Florida's largest urban park, to canoe and kayak in a natural preserve and observe dolphins and manatees. Or, the more adventurous can mountain-bike on the park's off-road trails.

For super-charged visitors who really like to make tracks, the Mario Andretti Racing Experience in Homestead might be their style. Serious fans can purchase a training session that includes either a ride-along or a solo drive for five racing minutes in an open-cockpit, full-size Indy car on a real track. Now that's driving with the top down!

Tennis buffs might want to check out the annual Delray Beach International Tennis Championships, which take place in February and March.

SHOP 'TIL YOU DROP

Like its sports complexes, many of Florida's shopping malls are also outdoor venues, each with its own virtues. In Miami's exclusive Bal Harbour community, Bal Harbour Shops offer premium goods and restaurants in a palm-tree-enhanced setting. Nearby, Lincoln Road in Miami's South Beach is an enclosed walking mall where the only wheels allowed are those on baby strollers. Here, galleries rub shoulders with outdoor café after café. In between are iconic originals, such as Books & Books, Van Dyke Café and the art-deco masterpiece, the Colony Theater.

Fort Lauderdale brings Las Olas Boulevard to the table, a glam thoroughfare stuffed with design stores, art galleries and restaurants including the venerable Mangos Restaurant and Lounge. Likewise, Worth Avenue in Palm Beach features star-studded complexes where socialites gather to dress up their exterior personas at the likes of Gucci, Cartier and Chanel and to fortify their interiors at the Taboo Restaurant.

In Downtown Delray Beach Village by the Sea, bordered by Atlantic Avenue, Swinton Avenue, N.E. 4th Street and Railroad Avenue, a wide variety of specialty shops sell antiques, books, clothing, artwork, jewelry and much more. The area is also known for its numerous fine-dining establishments, cafés and bakeries.

Mizner Park is a beautifully structured mall in Boca Raton, which not only supplies upscale boutique and bistro options, but also houses the Schmidt Family Centre for the Arts. Comprising a concert hall, museum and an amphitheater, Mizner is a grand place to take the family for a day of shopping, then set up a few beach chairs to enjoy a concert under the stars.

RESORTS

 

Where to stay in South Florida depends on who's traveling with you and what you plan on doing.

If you're traveling with a partner and are looking for some rest and relaxation, head to Little Palm Island Resort & Spa on Little Torch Key, where there are neither televisions nor telephones in the rooms and no one under the age of 16 is allowed on the island.

Families seeking something tropical and upscale should try Singer Island, just barely located off the coast of Palm Beach. Here, guests can set up for a long stay in condo-style suites, complete with kitchens and washers/dryers, at the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa.

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