SOUTHEAST FLORIDA:
A STUDY IN Contrasts

BY JEFF OSTROWSKI

South East Florida Tourism Guide - Free Magazine Subscriptions & Download

From crystal-blue water to big-city culture, Southeast Florida is a study in contrasts. Often, the tranquility of the beach and the bustle of a thrumming metropolitan area are just steps apart. Beyond the beach, the shopping is top-notch, the restaurants are world-class and the already-rich array of cultural amenities keeps getting better. From the quaint streets of Key West and 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

Visitors to the middle Florida Keys can now enjoy an immersive experience with reef fish, invertebrates, stingrays and even sharks without entering the ocean at Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters, a marine life attraction that recently opened in Marathon. Learn about the importance of marine conservation and discover the Keys’ complex underwater habitats. A signature feature is the coral reef exhibit and shark habitat housed in a massive 200,000-gallon interconnected saltwater aquarium. Following an instructional presentation, participants can immerse themselves in the tank to hover over the artificial coral reef structure and observe marine species that are part of the in-tank ecosystem.

Pérez Art Museum Miami is the newest addition to South Florida’s cultural scene. Housed in a US$130-million building overlooking Biscayne Bay, the freshly opened museum features contemporary art. But the building itself is the star. Designed by award-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron, the structure is a swirl of striking terraces, canopies and floor-to-ceiling glass. The 200,000-square-foot facility includes a sculpture garden and a restaurant.

If you prefer shopping to art, a new entry to Florida’s shopping scene is Delray Marketplace, which includes Polaroid Fotobar, Gymboree, Yankee Candle and other small shops, plus movies and dining establishments, such as Burt & Max’s Grille, Cabo Flats Cantina & Tequila Bar and Shula Burger.

The Palm Beach Outlets in West Palm Beach serves up the latest addition to Southeast Florida’s consumer culture. The mall, just off Interstate 95, opened with 100 stores, including such favorites as Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5th, Cole Haan, Kenneth Cole, The PUMA Store, Nike Factory Store, Under Armour and Banana Republic Factory Store. The adjacent Marketplace at the Outlets opened in the fall of 2014, featuring Whole Foods Market and Sports Authority.

Scheduled to open in summer 2015, the 350-room Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort is being built on the famous Broadwalk in Hollywood. It will tower 17 stories over the Atlantic and Intracoastal Waterway and will include multiple food and beverage venues, recreational areas including multiple pools, beachfront cabanas and entertainment venues, the 15,000-square-foot world-class St. Somewhere Spa, a beachfront fitness center, 7,000 square feet of retail space, the Johnson Street Amphitheatre and ample meeting and convention space.

ARTS AND CULTURE

Visual arts are an integral part of the scene here, and Pérez Art Museum Miami is just one of the many must-see attractions throughout Southeast Florida.

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. Another popular spot is the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in the heart of Old Town Key West, where Hemingway lived and wrote for more than 10 years. After touring his home, wander through the lush grounds where 40 to 50 polydactyl (six-toed) cats reside, some of which are descendants of Hemingway’s pet Snowball.

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.

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 Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach or the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami.

Beyond the museums, Miami is 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.

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.

Another unusual collection is on display at The Wick Theatre & Costume Museum in Boca Raton. Proprietor Marilynn Wick opened the museum as a place to hold her 1.2 million costumes, many of them Broadway originals. The Boca Raton Museum of Art is also well worth a visit.

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. While in the area, visit the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, the fascinating center for Japanese arts and culture in South Florida since 1977.

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. Perhaps no individual has had a greater or more lasting impact on a state than Henry Flagler has had in Florida. While in the Palm Beach area, be sure to tour the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum, housed in his opulent 73-room mansion, Whitehall, for a glimpse of what life was like for the wealthy during the Gilded Age in American history.

BEACHES

Beaches are Southeast Florida’s original tourist attraction, and the beach experiences here are as varied as the region itself.

The beach area at Bahia Honda State Park in the Lower Florida Keys was named one of the United States’ top 25 beaches for 2014 by TripAdvisor. Bahia Honda features a pristine, sandy expanse that’s part of a 524-acre state park. Deep near-shore waters are ideal for swimming and snorkeling, and the park also offers camping, picnicking, nature trails, the Sand and Sea Nature Center, a marina and rental cabins.

South Beach is perhaps Southeast Florida’s most iconic destination. The art deco architecture, wide beach and vibrant nightlife draw pleasure-seekers from everywhere. For a quieter experience, try snorkeling at John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo or at John D. MacArthur Beach State Park in North Palm Beach.

The beaches around Southeast Florida’s many piers also are a good bet. Among them: Newport Fishing Pier in Sunny Isles Beach, Dania Beach Pier, Anglin’s Fishing Pier in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Pompano Municipal Pier, Deerfield Beach International Fishing Pier, Lake Worth Pier and Juno Beach Park Pier.

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 Crabs, 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, book a guided tour with 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 you find yourself in Delray Beach in March, check out the Savor the Avenue event, a huge open-air extravaganza featuring a long table set up along Atlantic Avenue.

Sharing more than 20 years of international culinary experience at two of the most celebrated and well-known restaurants in the world, Nobu and Katsuya, Chef Alex Becker has orchestrated the talented team responsible for the December 2014 opening of a contemporary new-style Japanese restaurant at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood. In collaboration with his Executive Sushi Chef Shuji Hiyakawa of the famed Morimoto restaurant empire, every fine detail—from the socially-chic ambiance to the specialty crafted flavors—takes guests on a memorable culinary journey. Locally harvested ingredients in perfect tune with the expertly curated selection of fresh fish are uniquely designed for a personal dining experience.

If your budget is as expansive as the blue Florida sky, the high-end restaurants in Palm Beach are reliably excellent. If you’re on a budget, grab a quick bite at one of the new Trader Joe’s grocery stores in Southeast Florida. The organic grocer is opening a half-dozen locations between Miami and Palm Beach Gardens.

Gamblers take great delight in the number of venues available to them in Southeast Florida.

Two casino boats have begun operation. Resorts World Bimini offers Bimini SuperFast, a cruise ship, which sails to Resorts World Bimini Casino in the Bahamas on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday from PortMiami. The Balearia Bahamas Express ferry includes slot machines.

Casino Miami offers 1,000 slot machines, a poker room, dominoes and live shows, while Miccosukee Resort & Gaming serves up slots, poker and a hotel. A bit north, Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino in Hallandale now features year-round thoroughbred racing as well as shops, dining establishments and a casino. Other popular options include the Calder Casino and Race Course in Miami Gardens, Mardi Gras Casino in Hallandale and the Isle Casino & Racing in Pompano Park.

If a baseball game at Marlins Park in Miami is on your schedule, there’s no better place to take it all in than at The Clevelander, an exciting nightspot where you can watch the game from the poolside bars and take a dip.

FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT

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

Just north of Homestead, Zoo Miami 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.

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. 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.

For a quieter outdoor experience, try Oleta River State Park in North Miami. It’s an oasis of calm in the midst of the bustling city where you can picnic, 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. There are even cabins for rent.

Auto buffs ought to tour the Miami Auto Museum at the Dezer Collection, which boasts a stash of more than 1,000 cars divided into sections such as Hollywood Cars of the Stars, European Classics and American Classics.

Cool de Sac is a restaurant and play center at Gulfstream Park Village in Hallandale Beach where you can relax at the full-service restaurant, while your kids play and draw. Another array of indoor gaming is on tap at Dave & Buster’s in Hollywood.

For an educational excursion, try Davie’s Young at Art Museum. This hands-on facility lets kids ride a subway, visit a cave, build sand sculptures and puppets, and learn about other cultures.

If arcade-style fun is your speed, try the Boomers locations in Dania Beach and Boca Raton. Attractions include laser tag, batting cages, mini golf, climbing walls and go karts.

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. The place abounds with passionflowers and other nectar-rich plants. Butterfly World is also home to hummingbirds and The Bug Zoo houses scorpions, spiders and, if you’re not feeling too squeamish, giant Asian cockroaches.

If sea creatures are more your kids’ speed, visit the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton. See sharks in the center’s saltwater tanks, and view sea turtles that are recuperating before being released into the ocean.

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

If you prefer to get outside, Rapids Water Park in Riviera Beach north of West Palm Beach boasts dozens of waterslides, a wave pool and a lazy river. Just one of the highlights: Big Thunder serves up a 45-degree drop and speeds of 20 mph.

The Loggerhead Marine Life Center in Juno Beach also includes aquariums and a sea turtle hospital. Both Gumbo Limbo and the Marinelife Center serve as animal hospitals where injured and sick turtles are 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 released into the ocean. While the turtles recover, you and the kids can get a close look at them—babies, juveniles and adults are divided among various tanks.

For movie lovers, there’s no shortage of IMAX screens in South Florida—the partial list includes Sunset Place in South Miami, Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, Dolphin Mall in Miami, Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise and the Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale.

In December, kick off the holiday season at one of many holiday boat parades throughout the region. The spectacular Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade showcases brightly lighted boats promenading along the Intracoastal Waterway through Fort Lauderdale to Lake Santa Barbara in Pompano Beach. Another is the Boca Raton Holiday Boat Parade.

ROAD TRIPS

An all-time favorite is the 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. 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 a stunning short drive, head east from downtown Miami. If you choose the Rickenbacker Causeway, you’ll spot 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 view 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.

For wildlife sightings, head west on Tamiami Trail from Miami, 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.

SHOPPING

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. West of Miami, Dolphin Mall boasts restaurants and some 240 stores. Another popular destination is Bayside Marketplace, situated along the water in the heart of downtown Miami. Shops include Express, GUESS, Victoria’s Secret and Wet Seal.

Bal Harbour Shops, in a ritzy enclave north of Miami, is one of the region’s trendy shopping areas, which counts Chanel, Hermès, 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 with eligible purchases of US$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.

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 while the Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens lists just about every retailer you can think of, from A to Z.

Outlet malls are big draws in Florida. 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. To the north, Palm Beach Outlets, which opened in February 2014, aims to siphon off some of those shoppers. Sawgrass Mills has responded with billboards on Interstate 95 listing the stores it has.

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. Another outdoor shopping complex is Mizner Park in Boca Raton, with its mix of upscale bistros and retailers, such as Lord & Taylor. For a more relaxed vibe, Atlantic Avenue in downtown Delray Beach features a variety of specialty shops. 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 and Co., Gucci, Cartier and Chanel.

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

SPAS

If you’re keen to pamper yourself, South Florida offers no shortage of options. Many full-service hotels feature an array of facials, massages and nail treatments.

The Biltmore in Coral Gables, Fontainebleau in Miami and Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles Beach are but a few that provide spa services in Miami-Dade County.

In Broward County, the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa, the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort, the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six in Fort Lauderdale and the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Pompano Beach Resort & Spa are among the partial list of hotels with full spas. In Palm Beach County, there are spas at Boca Raton Resort and Club, Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa in Manalapan and PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens.

If you’re in Florida during the months of April or October, watch for Spa Week specials. This bi-annual event features wellness locations across the Sunshine State that provide two to three full-service spa treatments for just US$50 each. Check the official website for a full list of participating locations.

Similarly, Miami Spa Month lasts 60 days, from July 1 to August 31, and offers discounted packages designed to rub you the right way. While smaller day spas also participate in this seasonal offer, some of the largest luxury hotel spas are also available at the same price. Some even feature reduced rates on valet parking and unrestricted access to the hotel’s pool deck. Reservations for all appointments are required and most treatment menus are posted on the official website in the spring.

UNIQUE PLACES TO STAY

The historic Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables may not be on the ocean, but the hotel pool is so massive you might not miss the beach.

The Delano South Beach epitomizes Miami Beach hotels—beautiful and uber-hip, relaxing and full of attitude. Gauzy white sheets hang in the lobby. Pool furniture upholstered in elegant white adorns the pool deck. South Beach’s art deco architecture means just about any hotel here is unique.

North of the Art Deco District sits the freshly renovated Fontainebleau Hotel Miami Beach, a legendary beachfront inn built in the heydays of the 1950s.

In Palm Beach County, the Boca Raton Resort and Club and The Breakers are the grandes dames of oceanfront hotels. Both inns deliver elegant, old-world architecture that make them favorites for conferences and weddings.

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 in both cities from beachside to downtown.

Located midway between downtown Miami and Fort Lauderdale, the city of Sunny Isles Beach offers free community shuttle service seven days a week with three different routes for the convenience of residents and visitors. Shuttle buses are handicapped accessible and are available for such use when a reservation is made at least 24 hours in advance.

Depending on where you plan to visit, a number of international and regional airports service Southeast Florida besides Miami International Airport: Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Palm Beach International Airport and Key West International Airport.

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