Over Thanksgiving, B and I flew to Miami, Florida. This was a great way to escape the cold winter of Idaho and relax over the holiday. While we were there, we saw lots of wildlife, beautiful beaches and national parks. Southern Florida is rich in national parks–three within a few hundred miles of each other. This is reason enough to visit this area! We highly endorse visiting Florida in the winter and here are our recommendations for eight things to do in Southern Florida.
Explore Everglades National Park
I was super surprised when we arrived at the entrance to Everglades National Park. We went to the visitor’s center and watched the park’s video (I heartily advise everyone to do this at the National Parks). Did you know the Everglades aren’t swampy and marshy? Did you know that they are essentially a huge river that flows out of Lake Okeechobee twenty miles north? How about that there is no other place like it on the planet? Nope, I didn’t know any of those things either.
While at the park, we drove from the Ernest Coe Visitor Center entrance on the east side of the park to the Flamingo Visitor Center on the south part of the park, a drive of about an hour. Along the way, we stopped and walked many hiking trails, the highlight being the Anhinga Trail, where we saw lots of birds and alligators.
Take an airboat ride at Everglades Alligator Farm
If you are driving out to the Everglades, you will undoubtedly see signs for the Everglades Alligator Farm. This is a kitschy but well done outdoor zoo kind of thing that had tons of alligators that you can look at or learn about through the performances. Normally, B and I would not go out of our way to visit a place like this. However, I really wanted to go on an airboat ride and the admission to the Alligator Farm includes one. All the other airboat vendors were at the north part of the park, about an hour drive from where we were. For $20, we got to see all the alligators we could wish to and take a spin on an airboat. Very loud, but very cool.
Swim at Bay of Biscayne National Park
This national park is very unique because it is mainly under water. Visitors can catch boats out to different keys and snorkel and scuba dive. I had done some research and found that you could rent kayaks near the visitor center. Unfortunately, the company that handles rentals had an issue with their insurance so we weren’t able to kayak around the mangroves. Instead we decided to sign up for an evening cruise at sunset, which was very affordable at around $20 for an hour ride. If I visited this park again, I would want to take one of the snorkeling trips. We had planned on snorkeling later on our trip so we bypassed it this time around.
Kayak at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Since we were unable to kayak at Bay of Biscayne, we popped into Pennekamp State Park on our way to Key West. This park is at the end of the Bay and is quite beautiful. We rented kayaks and went on a nice little trail through mangrove forests.
Make the effort to see Dry Tortugas National Park
To get to the remote former military fort that is Dry Tortugas National Park, you either have to take a boat or a seaplane from Key West. We opted for a plane and were heartbroken when the weather got too rough for the plane to fly. I’m including it on this list of things to do in Southern Florida, though, because I know it is amazing. Even if I wasn’t able to get there this trip, I will go at some point.
Drive a convertible
I fully believe it is worth spending a little more on a convertible when renting a car in a tropical place. We had a great time driving a Mustang around Hawaii, and went with a Camaro for our Florida trip. If you have a Costco membership, the car rental service through Costcotravel.com is a great option. You can get a good price for the car, but also can add an additional driver at no charge.
The road from the edge of Florida down to Key West takes you through lots of different keys (quick lesson: a key is an island that is built on coral reef) and over lots of bridges. The coolest bridge is a remarkable seven miles long. We cruised down this with the top down and lovely blue water to our right and left.
Enjoy Key West
I wasn’t sure what to think about Key West, but I was pleasantly surprised. We walked around downtown and I was really impressed with the lovely architecture of the buildings and homes. This place has history, from Hemingway’s house (we didn’t go in) to an old Civil War fort (we totally went in). There were clearly a lot of tourists here, but it didn’t feel like the town sold its soul for the sake of attracting people. We stayed at a nice resort away from the center of town, but I think next time I’ll pony up the extra dough and stay in the thick of things.
Eat Key Lime Everything
When we got to Key West, I vowed to eat Key Lime pie every day. In retrospect, this was a bit rash, but man is the Key Lime pie here good. We recommend Kermit’s, although, not the frozen option. On our way back to Miami in Key Largo, we picked up a Key Lime Shake at Mrs. Macks. I’m pretty sure anytime I’m ever in Key Largo in the future I’ll make sure to do this. So good!
Some additional logistics
Amount of time
We left Boise on Thanksgiving Day. We wondered if there would be a lot of people at the airports, but they were surprisingly calm. If you count the travel days getting there and flying home, we were gone for seven days. This was the perfect amount of time for what we wanted to do.
We stayed in three different locations, but the last night was spent right next to the Miami airport so we could easily catch our flight the next morning. B and I prefer to spend at least two nights in the same place, with the nights of arrival or departure being the exceptions to the rule. For our first few nights, B had done a little research and decided that the area around Homestead would be our Homebase (see what I did there). It was a perfect location as it was close to both Everglades and Bay of Biscayne National Parks. For our other nights, we decided to stay in Key West.
As the Key West hotel was going to be pretty expensive, we wanted to save some money for our other nights. Interestingly, AirBnbs were not the cheapest option, so I found a Travelodge. I mention it here because it was one of my favorite hotels we’ve stayed at. Partially because my expectations were low and partially because it was such a value for our money. If you are ever in Florida City, Florida, do yourself a favor and check into this motel. When I was checking out, I learned that this little motel routinely wins best Travelodges in North America at their annual convention. Lucky us!
It’s always nice to break up winter with a little jaunt to warmer climates. We had a wonderful time exploring this part of the country over Thanksgiving break. If you are lucky enough to do so also, make sure to do these eight things in Southern Florida and bask in the sun and key limes.