SOUTHEAST FLORIDA:
A RECIPE FOR Excitement

BY JEFF OSTROWSKI

South East Florida Tourism Guide - Free Magazine Subscriptions & Download

Whether you’re seeking bustling cities or peaceful beaches, Southeast Florida has something for everyone. Shopping is top-notch, restaurants are world-class and the cultural amenities are high quality. 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 offers a stunning variety of experiences.

WHAT’S NEW

The South Florida Science Center and Aquarium in West Palm Beach unveiled a $5-million renovation in 2013. Upgrades include an 8,000-gallon aquarium and expanded exhibition space.

A couple of the region’s beaches have been upgraded, too. In Sunny Isles Beach, just north of Miami Beach, the Newport Fishing Pier was rebuilt in 2013. Farther north, Lake Worth’s rebuilt pier and refurbished beachfront were also completed in 2013.

Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins play in a striking indoor-outdoor stadium, Marlins Park, which has won rave reviews since it opened in April 2012. The new baseball-only venue is air-conditioned (no more sweating) and has a retractable roof (no more rainouts), as well as The Clevelander, an exciting nightspot where you can watch the game from the poolside bars and take a dip.

Barbie fans have a new must-see destination: Barbie The Dreamhouse Experience at Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise. This 10,000-square-foot facility aims to bring the doll to life.

A more somber venue awaits visitors at the Florida Holocaust Museum, scheduled to open in Dania Beach by spring 2014.

HERITAGE AND CULTURE

Visual arts are 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 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 features a noteworthy collection of works from Europe’s CoBrA movement while the Museum of Discovery and Science promises a fascinating day of exploration on two floors of 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 showcases exhibitions by local artists at its gallery at 601 Lake Avenue. Also in West Palm Beach, the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts is home to the Miami City Ballet, the Palm Beach Opera and the Palm Beach Pops and presents more than 350 performances featuring acclaimed artists every year.

The award-winning Delray Beach Center for the Arts at Old School Square successfully combines historic preservation and the arts. The campus includes the Cornell Museum of Art and American Culture, the Crest Theatre, the Vintage Gymnasium, The Pavilion and the School of Creative Arts.

In Homestead, Schnebly Redlands Winery & Brewery makes wines from exotic fruits. Nearby, Miami Tropical Bonsai boasts a collection of 10,000 miniature bonsai trees, and R.F. Orchids ships a wide selection of orchids nearly anywhere in the world. 

If you find yourself in Key West, drop in to view exhibits at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum and learn about pirates and the Fisher family’s unwavering quest for lost sunken treasures.

MUST SEE, MUST DO

South Beach is perhaps Southeast Florida’s most iconic destination. 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 to enjoy a café con leche or vaca frita at landmark restaurants Versailles and La Carreta.

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 tour the rooms where the author wrote and drank. Also on display are dozens of cats, descendants of Hemingway’s six-toed white feline, Snowball. While here, be sure to visit Truman’s Little White House where US presidents have stayed on visits to Key West.

Extra points for anyone who’s ambitious enough to ascend all three of Southeast Florida’s lighthouses. They are the Key West Lighthouse near the Hemingway Home, Cape Florida Light on Key Biscayne near Miami and Jupiter Lighthouse at the northern end of the region.

TOWN AND COUNTRY

Southeast Florida has more than its fair share of suburban sprawl, however the region offers spots for city lovers, as well as for those who want to get away from it all.

Downtown Miami and the Brickell neighborhood just to the south are bustling urban areas. In Brickell, the Conrad Miami places you in the heart of Miami’s financial district and within easy walking distance of the area’s trendy dining and nightlife venues. Another happening neighborhood is the Coconut Grove district, where the Mayfair Hotel & Spa offers accommodation, amenities and dining facilities that are second to none. The region’s most eye-catching urban environments are in South Beach, with its art deco architecture, restaurants and clubs, and in the conch buildings of Key West, some of which now serve as bed and breakfasts and inns, such as the historic Cypress House on Caroline Street.

If you’d rather avoid the hustle and bustle, there are plenty of opportunities. On Marathon Key, check out Captain Pip’s Marina & Hideaway for a real laid-back atmosphere. While the Keys can make you feel like you’re stepping back in time, so can a trip to the Lake Okeechobee region.

DINING AND NIGHTLIFE

In the Florida Keys, dining venues run the gamut from waterfront seafood shacks filled with barefoot patrons to sophisticated fine-dining establishments that rival New York’s finest.

Nothing says Florida like Joe’s Stone Crab, a 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, Brazil, Europe or Cuba, there’s an abundance of choices. Should you want to cover Little Havana or South Beach eateries, check out Miami Culinary Tours or Miami Open City Tour.

For the best selection in eating and nightlife options, head to one of Southeast Florida’s many vibrant town centers. For instance, Hollywood’s Broadwalk stretches more than two miles, with the beach on one side and cafés, restaurants and boutique hotels on the other. Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale is another hot spot for dining and parties as is Atlantic Avenue, Delray Beach’s main drag.

If your budget is as expansive as the blue Florida sky, the high-end restaurants in Palm Beach are reliably excellent.

Gamblers take delight in the number of venues available to them in Southeast Florida. Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino now features year-round thoroughbred racing as well as shops, dining establishments and a casino. Other popular options include the Seminole Mardi Gras Casino in Hallandale, the Isle Casino & Racing in Pompano Park and the Calder Casino and Race Course in Miami Gardens. Two casino boats have also begun operation. Every day and evening, Bimini SuperFast cruises depart from the Port of Miami while the new Island Breeze day-casino cruises depart from the Port of Palm Beach.

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, fishing, diving and snorkeling anywhere. Among the most accessible snorkeling destinations are John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo and John MacArthur State Park in Palm Beach Gardens.

Oleta River State Park in North Miami Beach is an oasis of calm in the midst of the bustling city where you can canoe and kayak in a natural preserve and watch dolphins and manatees. Try hiking, mountain biking or trail running on the park’s twisting single-track trails.

If you prefer leisurely strolls, visit one of the region’s many piers: Newport Fishing Pier in Sunny Isles Beach, Dania Beach Pier, Commercial Pier in Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach Pier, Deerfield Beach Pier, Lake Worth Pier and Juno Beach Pier.

BEST PLACES TO SHOP

Dadeland Mall, Miami’s original and most iconic shopping center, features more than 185 retail stores and restaurants while the Falls Mall, one of the largest open-air shopping, dining and entertainment centers in the US, showcases more than 100 stores, restaurants and cafés.

Bal Harbour Shops, in a ritzy enclave north of Miami, is one of the region’s trendy shopping areas, which counts Chanel, Hermes, Gucci, Thomas Pink and Jimmy Choo among its tenants.

About seven miles away on Biscayne Boulevard in North Miami, Aventura Mall is home to six department store anchors, including Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, more than 300 specialty stores such as Louis Vuitton and H&M, 10 full-service restaurants, and a 24-screen AMC movie theater. Available to domestic and international travelers, Aventura Mall Rewards provides access to fabulous savings and special offers at many of the mall’s premier stores. Cardholders also receive a free gift card with eligible purchases of $500 or more as well as special benefits with purchases from select retailers. Obtain a rewards card through your travel agent before leaving home or simply show a passport or driver’s license at the MasterCard Concierge Center at Aventura Mall.

Sawgrass Mills, a huge outlet mall in Sunrise, is said to be the No. 2 tourist attraction in Florida, after only Walt Disney World. There’s no shortage of luxe retailers such as Burberry, Brooks Brothers, Calvin Klein, Nordstrom, Nieman Marcus and Saks.

The success of Sawgrass Mills inspired a competitor, Dolphin Mall, to open west of Miami. Dolphin Mall boasts restaurants and some 240 stores.

Galleria Mall in Fort Lauderdale is anchored by Dillard’s, Macy’s and Neiman Marcus and offers an array of shops, including Apple, Sephora, Michael Kors and Williams-Sonoma.

The Town Center at Boca Raton is another high-end shopping destination anchored by Nordstrom, Nieman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s.

Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens lists just about every retailer you can think of, from A to Z. New on the retail scene is the Palm Beach Outlets mall, which is expected to open in February 2014.

If malls aren’t your style, consider Southeast Florida’s more authentic environments. Lincoln Road in Miami Beach is an outdoor strip of galleries and boutiques where the street is closed to traffic. In Fort Lauderdale, Las Olas Boulevard is lined with boutiques and art galleries and, on Sundays, check out the Outdoor Green Market for local and organic produce as well as pottery, jewelry and more.

Vying for the title of ritziest shopping area in Southeast Florida, Worth Avenue in Palm Beach attracts socialites shopping for wares at such retailers as Tiffany, Gucci, Cartier and Chanel.

For a more relaxed vibe, Atlantic Avenue in downtown Delray Beach features a variety of specialty shops.

Another outdoor shopping complex is Mizner Park in Boca Raton, a mix of upscale bistros and retailers such as Lord and Taylor.

Flea market fans flock to Swap Shop locations in Fort Lauderdale and Lake Worth while the Festival Flea Market Mall in Pompano Beach, the largest indoor flea market in the world, boasts more than 500 shops and restaurants.

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.

Another classic drive takes you along State Road A1A from Deerfield Beach north to Palm Beach. You’ll pass some of the world’s priciest oceanfront mansions as you’re 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. Flanked by water on both sides, you might imagine you’re floating through Islamorada, Key Largo, Marathon Key and Big Pine Key.

FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT

While galleries and museums are wonderful for the mature mind, nothing beats family adventures like Zoo Miami, which boasts more than 2,000 animals available for viewing in a cage-free setting.

Another family favorite, Miami Seaquarium on Key Biscayne is home to dolphins, manatees, crocodiles and a 7,000-pound killer whale. To get really 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, Jungle Island is renowned for its wonderful bird and wildlife shows.

Displaying some 150 species and more than 20,000 butterflies in its aviaries and gardens, Butterfly World in Coconut Creek promotes itself as the largest butterfly facility on the planet.

There’s nothing cuter than baby turtles and the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach has them by the tankful. The 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, visit Monkey Jungle south of Miami, which offers a Rainforest Adventure Tour through a habitat filled with South American monkeys.

Auto buffs ought to tour the Dezer Collection Museum & Pavilion in Miami, which boasts a stash of 600 cars divided into sections such as Hollywood Cars of the Stars, European Classics and American Classics.

If you find yourself in the Florida Keys, don’t pass up the opportunity to visit the Dolphin Research Center and the Turtle Hospital on Marathon Key. Residents at both facilities will surely win your heart.

In December, kick off the Holiday Season at one of the many holiday boat parades throughout the region. The Winterfest Boat Parade is a spectacular sight where more than 400 lighted boats promenade along the Intracoastal Waterway through Fort Lauderdale to Lake Santa Barbara in Pompano Beach. Another is the Boca Raton Holiday Boat Parade.

INSIDER’S TIPS

Water Taxi Miami hop-on, hop-off service connects Miami and Downtown Miami and the new Marlins Stadium with Miami Beach/South Beach, Key Biscayne, Coconut Grove, Fisher Island and Indian Creek.

Water taxis are also an excellent way to take in the sights along Fort Lauderdale’s waterways and provide access to both Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale beaches, world-class shopping and dining and the many cultural and historical sites in both cities—all for one low price. A convenient trolley system also runs from beachside to downtown.

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