SOUTHEAST FLORIDA:
A Diverse LANDSCAPE

BY JEFF OSTROWSKI

South East Florida - Free Magazine Subscriptions & Download

From the quaint streets of Key West and the nightclubs of South Beach, to the restaurants and shops of downtown Fort Lauderdale and the mansions of Palm Beach, Southeast Florida serves up a stunning variety of culture, entertainment and recreation. The warm, blue waters of the Atlantic form the eastern boundary of Southeast Florida, the swampy Everglades and Lake Okeechobee the western boundary. In between, you'll find top-notch art museums, world-class restaurants, plenty of shopping and hundreds of golf courses.

WHAT'S NEW

The newest addition to the Miami skyline is a ballpark. Major League Baseball's Miami Marlins play in a striking indoor-outdoor stadium, Marlins Park, which has been winning rave reviews since it opened in April 2012. The Marlins long shared a home with football's Miami Dolphins, but the new baseball-only venue is air-conditioned (no more sweating) and has a retractable roof (no more rainouts). Continuing the sports theme, Florida Atlantic University completed construction of its new football stadium in Boca Raton in late 2011.

Farther north, the Lake Worth Casino (there's no gambling, that's just the name for the beachfront complex of eateries and shops) finished a major overhaul in late 2012.

If you're an auto buff, check out developer Michael Dezer's new auto museum in North Miami. The Dezer Collection Museum & Pavilion boasts a stash of 600 cars divided into sections such as Hollywood Cars of the Stars, European Classics and American Classics. The James Bond exhibit includes a Soviet tank, snowmobiles and, of course, Aston Martins. Viewing the vehicles isn't cheap. Dezer's collection is divided into two buildings, which cost $25 each to tour. On Fridays, $5 tickets to the entire museum are available to anyone under 18 using a promotion code on its website.

HERITAGE AND CULTURE

The visual arts have become an integral part of the scene here.

To see the most post-modern artwork, hit the galleries and warehouses in Miami's Design District and Wynwood Arts District. If you'd rather look than buy, head to the museums, including the Miami Art Museum, the Bass Museum in Miami Beach, the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, or the Boca Raton Museum of Art. In Fort Lauderdale, the Museum of Art hosts traveling exhibits and has a noteworthy collection of works from Europe's CoBrA movement while the Museum of Discovery and Science promises a day of exploration on two floors of fascinating interactive exhibits. The Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach owns paintings by some noteworthy Impressionists and the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County features exhibitions by local artists at their gallery located at 601 Lake Avenue.

Florida isn't known as a wine-producing region, but here's something different: Schnebly Redlands Winery & Brewery in Homestead makes wines from exotic fruits such as mango, lychee, guava, passion fruit and Carambola. Schnebly Redlands is just one of the intriguing spots in the area between Miami and the Keys. Miami Tropical Bonsai boasts a collection of 10,000 miniature bonsai trees collected from around the world. R.F. Orchids offers a wide selection of orchids that can be shipped nearly anywhere in the world.

MUST SEE, MUST DO

South Beach is perhaps the most iconic destination in Southeast Florida. The art deco architecture, wide beach and vibrant nightlife draw pleasure seekers from everywhere. Take a walking tour of the historic district, people-watch from the News Café on Ocean Drive or hit the clubs. Across Biscayne Bay lies Miami, an international city that can feel like it's more part of Latin America than the United States. To get a taste of the Cuban culture that helped transform Miami, head to Calle Ocho and enjoy a café con leche or vaca frita at landmark restaurants Versailles and La Carreta. A more somber venue awaits visitors at the Holocaust Memorial of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation in Miami Beach.

A few hours south is Key West, which boasts fishing, snorkeling and diving, not to mention the bars of Duval Street and the home of writer Ernest Hemingway. Visitors can see the rooms where the author of The Old Man and the Sea wrote and drank. Also on display are dozens of cats, descendants of Hemingway's six-toed white feline, Snowball.

Extra points for a visitor who's ambitious enough to ascend all three of Southeast Florida's lighthouses. There's Key West Lighthouse near the Hemingway house, Cape Florida Light on Key Biscayne near Miami and Jupiter Lighthouse at the northern end of the region.

DINING AND NIGHTLIFE

Nothing says Florida like Joe's Stone Crab, the Miami Beach eatery that's famous for its succulent crustaceans. However Southeast Florida's dining options encompass much more than just seafood. Whether you crave fare from Asia or Brazil, Europe or Cuba, you'll find an abundance of excellent choices.

For the best selection in eating and nightlife options, head to one of Southeast Florida's many vibrant town centers. The region's downtowns, once neglected, have come back strong in recent years, with areas such as Hollywood's Broadwalk, Fort Lauderdale's Las Olas Boulevard and Delray Beach's Atlantic Avenue. Hollywood's Broadwalk (no, that's not a typo) stretches for more than two miles, with the beach on one side and cafes, restaurants and boutique hotels on the other. Las Olas Boulevard is another hotspot for dining and partying. So is Atlantic Avenue, Delray Beach's main drag, which starts near the lively Boston's on the Beach bar and heads west with restaurants, bars and cafes along the way.

Boca Raton's Mizner Park is a hub for eating and drinking, and if your budget is as expansive as the blue Florida sky, Palm Beach's high-end restaurants are reliably excellent.

THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Southeast Florida is famous for its water sports. The warm, clear waters of the Atlantic offer some of the best ocean swimming anywhere. The fishing, diving and snorkeling also are world-class. Among the easily accessible snorkeling destinations are John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo and John MacArthur State Park in Palm Beach Gardens.

Speaking of state parks, Oleta River State Park in North Miami Beach is an oasis of calm in the midst of the bustling city. You can canoe and kayak in a natural preserve and watch dolphins and manatees. If you want to break a sweat, try hiking, mountain biking or trail running on the park's twisting single-track trails.

If you prefer a leisurely stroll, visit one of the region's piers—the list includes Dania Beach Pier, Commercial Pier in Fort Lauderdale, Deerfield Beach Pier, Lake Worth Pier and Juno Beach Pier.

BEST PLACES TO SHOP

The epicenter of South Florida shopping lies in Sunrise, home of Sawgrass Mills, a huge outlet mall said to be the No. 2 tourist attraction in Florida, after only Walt Disney World. Legend has it that airlines have been forced to send extra planes back to Latin America to accommodate all the purchases made at Sawgrass Mills. It might be an outlet mall, but there's no shortage of luxe retailers. Burberry, Brooks Brothers, Calvin Klein, Nordstrom, Nieman Marcus and Saks are represented here. Sawgrass Mills was so successful that it inspired a competitor, Dolphin Mall, to open west of Miami. Dolphin Mall boasts restaurants and some 240 stores.

Sawgrass Mills and Dolphin Mall aren't the only shopping venues in Southeast Florida, of course. Just north of Miami is Aventura Mall, home to six department store anchors, including Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's and Macy's, more than 300 specialty stores and restaurants and a 24-screen AMC movie theater. Galleria Mall in Fort Lauderdale is anchored by Dillard's, Macy's and Neiman Marcus and offers an array of shops, including Apple, Sephora and Williams-Sonoma. Town Center Mall in Boca Raton is another high-end shopping destination anchored by Nordstrom, Nieman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale's. And Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens is home to just about every retailer you can think of, from A (for Apple and Abercrombie & Fitch) to Z (for Zales).

If malls aren't your style, Southeast Florida offers plenty of shopping in more authentic environments. Lincoln Road in Miami Beach is an outdoor strip of galleries and boutiques where the street is closed to traffic.

Fort Lauderdale's Las Olas Boulevard also offers stores and art galleries. Vying for the title of ritziest shopping area in Southeast Florida is Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. Socialites check out the wares at such retailers as Tiffany, Gucci, Cartier and Chanel.

For a more relaxed vibe, try Atlantic Avenue in downtown Delray Beach. A variety of specialty shops sell antiques, books, clothing, artwork, jewelry and more. The area is also known for its numerous fine-dining establishments, cafes and bakeries. Another outdoor shopping complex is Mizner Park in Boca Raton, a mix of upscale boutiques and bistros.

Bal Harbour Shops, located in a trendy enclave north of Miami, is one of the region's ritziest shopping areas. The outdoor mall counts Chanel, Hermes, Gucci, Thomas Pink and Jimmy Choo among its tenants.

SCENIC DRIVES

For a stunning short drive, head east from downtown Miami. If you choose the Rickenbacker Causeway, you'll see the ships at the Port of Miami and the downtown skyline, and you'll quickly be transported to the old-Florida feel of Key Biscayne. Take the MacArthur Causeway to Miami Beach to see the ships from a different angle, and you'll be headed straight for the new Florida vibe in South Beach.

For another classic drive, cruise along any stretch of State Road A1A from Deerfield Beach north to Palm Beach. You'll pass some of the world's priciest oceanfront mansions, and you'll be treated to views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway.

If a short jaunt isn't enough, drive from Miami to Key West on the single-lane Overseas Highway, which crosses the Seven Mile Bridge. Surrounded as you are by water on both sides, you might imagine you're floating through Islamorada, Key Largo, Marathon Key and Big Pine Key. Dawn and dusk are prime times for birdwatching. If you're lucky, you'll spot great blue herons, white cranes and bald eagles. Check FloridaRambler.com's Mile-Marker Guide to know where to stop and when.

For more wildlife viewing, head west on Tamiami Trail, where you'll spot alligators and turtles. To see more gators, head to Shark Valley, a paved trail off Tamiami Trail that's perfect for biking and walking.

If bass fishing is your thing, take State Road 80 west from West Palm Beach. Once you leave the urban area, you'll be surrounded by sugarcane fields all the way to the small town of Belle Glade, which borders Lake Okeechobee.

FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT

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, boasts more than 2,000 animals available for viewing in a cage-free setting.

Another family favorite is Miami Seaquarium on Key Biscayne. Home to dolphins, manatees, crocodiles and a 7,000-pound killer whale, Miami Seaquarium offers exhibits and performances. If you really want to get close to the animals, visit its Dolphin Encounter, where you can pay extra to swim with dolphins.

Jungle Island is another 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.

Boasting some 150 species and more than 20,000 butterflies in its aviaries and gardens, Butterfly World in Coconut Creek advertises itself as the largest butterfly facility on the planet. The place abounds with passionflowers and other nectar-rich plants. Butterfly World is also home to hummingbirds and The Bug Zoo with scorpions, spiders and, if you're not feeling too squeamish, giant Asian cockroaches.

There's nothing cuter than baby turtles and the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach has them by the tankful. The Marinelife Center serves as both animal hospital and tourist attraction. Injured and sick turtles wind up here, where they're nursed back to health by marine biologists. Once the turtles are healthy, workers and volunteers cart them by stretcher to the beach, where they're returned to the ocean. While the turtles recover, you and the kids can get a close look at them—babies, juveniles and adults are divided among half a dozen or so waist-high tanks.

If your kids are more interested in primates, Monkey Jungle offers jungle safaris, orangutans, a western lowland gorilla and an Amazonian rainforest with hundreds of exotic monkeys.

In December, kick off the Holiday Season at the Winterfest Boat Parade, a spectacular sight where more than 400 lighted boats promenade along the Intracoastal Waterway through Ft. Lauderdale to Lake Santa Barbara in Pompano Beach. Another is the Boca Raton Holiday Boat Parade.

INSIDER'S TIP

Water Taxi Miami, the newest transportation mode in the Miami area, offers hop-on/hop-off service between Miami and Miami Beach/South Beach downtown Miami and the new Marlins Stadium. Passengers can buy single, round-trip or all-day passes. Check them out at watertaximiami.com.

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