South Ft Myers Pilons
Beaches is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Florida, however, my home State is more than that, sure the beaches are beautiful, plentiful and diverse here, but go a few miles inland and you’ll discover different ecosystems and plenty of things to see and do besides laying in the sun. I live here, so pardon if I do not spend time on beaten path, overrated touristy stuff, there is more to life than a paid factory tour off the cruise ship.
South Florida: Miami & Fort Lauderdale
Let’s get the touristy things out of the way: if you are here to shop: Aventura Mall, Sawgrass Mills, Lincoln Road in South Beach… done, now with the real stuff:
- Fort Lauderdale Beach, which stretches from just north of Sunrise Blvd to south of Las Olas Blvd. Parking can be a hassle, come early before 12pm or after 4pm while the sun starts going down.
- Haulover Beach: the only clothing optional beach in the state
- Hollywood beach and boardwalk; boasts plenty of parking, a long and wide beach with plenty of shops along the boardwalk. My favorite place to eat is at the north end in Dania Beach Pier, Quarterdeck, it may be just bar food but the view is unmatched in south Florida.
- Key Biscayne & Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, be sure to finish your day at the Boater's Grill in the south end.
- Miami Beach is great but it can be a hassle, if you must say you’ve been, by all means go and experience it.
- Panya Thai, North Miami Beach. Thai. Perhaps the most authentic in town, careful with the spice level.
- Aromas de Peru. Several Locations in Miami. Peruvian.
- Matsuri, South Miami. Japanese. Japanese workers visiting the states flock here, it is an incredibly well kept secret.
- Aroma Cafe, Multiple Locations in Miami. Israeli. Simple yet still delicious healthy food.
- Havana Harrys. Miami, Cuban.
- Sakaya Kitchen, Midtown Miami. Asian Fusion.
- Ceviche 105. Downtown Miami. Peruvian. Perhaps the best ceviche in town even though there are a lot of great options around.
- Blue Collar. Upper East Side/Midtown Miami. American.
- Tuyo. Downtown Miami. Latin.
- Nido Caffe. Upper East Side/Midtown Miami. Italian. Get the burrata app.
- Bali Cafe. Downtown Miami. Indonesian.
- Wynwood Kitchen & Bar. Wynwood. American.
- Puerto Vallarta Restaurant. Homestead. Mexican. You can't go wrong with Mexican food in Homestead, this is my favorite place, I love their seafood dishes.
- Basilic Vietnamese Grill. Lauderdale-by-the-sea. Vietnamese. The Pho is addictive, so is their fried noodle dish.
- Tee Jay Thai. Dual Locations in Fort Lauderdale. Thai & Sushi. Probably the most consistent thai restaurant I have experienced, the food is perfectly done every time, and service is flawless.
- Old Checkers Munchen. Pompano Beach. German. Don't miss the sausage sampler, and you must order the beer.
- Quarterdeck on Dania Pier. Hollywood Beach. Best water view in town, bar food and sushi.
- Agave Taco Bar. Fort Lauderdale. Mexican
- Dona Raquel. Pompano Beach. Mexican. Most authentic Mexican restaurant north of Homestead.
- Masamune. Fort Lauderdale. Japanese.
- Go Bistro. Hollywood. Ramen. Best ramen in town.
- Temple street eatery. Fort Lauderdale. Asian Fusion. Have the arepas app.
- Brooklyn Water Bagels. Multiple Locations in Fort Lauderdale. The breakfast egg sandwiches are great, so is their iced coffee.
- Zuckerellos. Fort Lauderdale. Italian. Do not miss their eggplant tower app.
- Riverside Market. North of Fort Lauderdale Airport. American/Brewery. The food is ok but they have 500 beers on display, just grab what you want and pay at the end.
- Anthonys Coal Fire Pizza. Multiple Locations. Pizza. The wings are great.
- Lemongrass Asian Bistro. Fort Lauderdale. Asian. Their seafood soup is unparalleled.
- Smoke BBQ. Galt Ocean Mile. BBQ.
- Eduardo de San Angel. Oakland Park. Mexican. Elevated Mexican food, superb.
- Cafe Vico. Fort Lauderdale. Italian.
- Coconuts. Fort Lauderdale Beach. Seafood. Do not miss it for sunset.
- Greek Islands Taverna. Galt Ocean mile. Greek. Superb Octopus.
- Jet Runway Cafe. Fort Lauderdale. American. Stunning place for breakfast and lunch next to the strip at the Executive airport, if you are a plane buff, this is the place to eat.
- Kaluz. Fort Lauderdale. American. Great for sunset and dining outside by the water.
- Silver Pond. Fort Lauderdale. Chinese. Some of the best Chinese in town.
- Gabose Korean & Japanese. Lauderhill. Korean.
- Mediterraneo Cucina Siciliana. Pompano Beach. Italian.
- Guanaco. Oakland Park. Salvadoran. Hole in the wall, with great Central American food, order some pupusas.
- Canyon. Fort Lauderdale. Southwestern. Order a prickly pear margarita.
South Beach is a hotspot for bars and nightlife, even during the day. Las Olas and downtown Fort Lauderdale, Mary Brickell Village are a bit more grown up. Wynwood and Calle 8 are taking on a rebirth of their own and worth checking them out. Wilton manors is LGBT central.
- Everglades National Park, worthy of mention is ‘Robert is here’, a fruit and juice mega stand, stop by and have a smoothy while you put on the first coat of bug spray.
- Big Cypress National Preserve, also featuring 'Shark Valley'
- Everglades Holiday Park
- Anne Kolb Nature Preserve
- Key Biscayne
- Oleta River State Park
Everglades Blue Blood Moon +1
Anne Kolb Park, 2
Key West & the Florida Keys
A good 3-4 hours from Miami, Key West is the ultimate R&R destination, but the drive itself is quite a sight and a delightful experience if you have the patience for it. As you drive by the pristine aquamarine waters around you, keep in mind there are many stops along the way worth parking for a few minutes, if not the night, and enjoy a different pace of life. Southernmost laidback capital of the US, Key West has been a number of things over the years; final link in the Flagler overseas highway, POTUS retreat, LGBT hotspot, wedding capital of Florida, but it will always be the place people escape the real world either for the weekend or a lifetime. Key West is has a diverse mix of weird, creative, formal, rich, poor, artsy, seedy and everything in between.
On the drive down…
- Key Largo is the first island off the mainland, check out John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, you’ll want to scuba or snorkel.
- Islamorada: check Lazy days for bite to eat outdoors at the south end, Islamorada Fish Company, Morada Bay and Cheeca Lodge & Spa are great stops as well.
- Long Key State Park, Bahia Honda State Park and Seven Mile Bridge (you can walk on the old bridge) are just before you get to Key West.
Once down in Conch Republic...
The formula in Key West is simple; sun, water, drink, sleep, eat, in any order you prefer. My favorite places to eat in Key West are as follows: Conch Republic Seafood Company, Harpoon Harries, Blue Heaven, Deuces Off-The-Hook Grill, Mangia-Mangia, Nine One Five, El Siboney.
Things to do:
- Rent scooters or bicycles and wander around the island, it is by far the best way to see it.
- Duval crawl; walk Duval street up and down, you'll find plenty of shops, bars, restaurants, more bars, eccentricities, and more bars... but the real Key West starts 2 blocks off Duval, be sure to wander around
- Fort Zachary Taylor
- Take a Catamaran out; you can snorkel, drink and eat while on the boat, or just take in the sun
- Take a biplane ride around the island.
- Mallory square at sunset
- Key West Cemetery
- Smathers Beach; this is the only public beach in Key West, its wide and roomy, and there are some basic vendors and facilities.
- Fly/boat out to Dry Tortugas National Park.
Central & North Florida
Forget Disney, there is plenty more to see here. For starters, the Kennedy Space Center is not as crowded as other parks and it is by far the most comprenhensive of all space centers in the country, if not in the world.
- The Canaveral National Seashore around KSC is also worth a visit before or after.
- Blowing Rocks Preserve in Jupiter.
- Blue Cypress Lake, west of Vero Beach , you'll need to rent a small boat to see the lake and the cypress trees, also a great spot for birding
- Saint Augustine is an eclectic town, home to the Flagler college (you can tour it), and the oldest everything in the US (so they claim). Visit the Castillo de San Marcos.
- If visiting Pensacola, check out the National Naval Aviation Museum and Fort Pickens State Park
- Bok Tower in Lake Wales, 1+ hour south of Orlando
- Fisheating Creek west of Lake Okeechobee. You can access this river from the campground, rent a canoe or kayak and see plenty of gators and birds while zigzagging between flooded cypress trees.
West Coast: Naples, Ft Myers, Tampa Bay Area
Running at a different pace is Tampa Bay Area and the west coast, part of it due to the relatively temporary population. This side of Florida has a great number of State Parks and preserves, along with a large number of popular beaches.
Naples & Ft Myers
Old Naples, also known as 5th st, is a good crawl with restaurants, bars and shops. The Municipal pier is nearby. Marco Island is a few miles south and has great beaches, so does any of the public beaches in the area. If you can, head over to Everglades City for a chance of pace and scenery, it was known as the main point of entry for drugs in the 70s and 80s, you can take a boat out and check out the Cape Romano/Ten Thousand Island area. The beaches from Naples all the way north to Clearwater are pristine and not insanely crowded if you go a few steps away from the parking areas. As for beaches be sure to check out: Sanibel, Lovers Key, Ft Myers Beach, Barefoot Beach, Naples (around the Pier). As for eating: Izzy’s Fish & Oyster, Taqueria San Julian, Lazy Flamingo, Marias Mexican Restaurant, The Fish House Restaurant, Spice Club Fine Indian Cuisine.
Tampa Bay Area
For beaches check out: Clearwater beach, Ft DeSoto State Park, Treasure Island. Dali Museum is one of the largest collections from Salvador Dali outside Spain. Check out Downtown St Petersburg, and Ybor city east of Downtown Tampa.
Path to Blowing Rocks
Shark Valley Swamp #1