Friday, March 31, 2017

South Florida

So, before heading to South Florida for the first time I did a lot of research.  I read a lot of post.  I asked a lot of friends.  The best advice came from a friend of mine who lived in Miami for a few years.  One thing she told me (after I rented a car) was that I wouldn't need a car while I was in Miami.  She was so right.  I parked the car for two days and didn't move it once.  One, because everything I wanted to see was a mile or less away (at the most) and two, the traffic is CRAY-ZEE!  I'm sure it didn't help that the spring breakers were all in full force, but I'm told the drivers are always this nuts.  So, just a thought-to save some sanity and money-wait to rent your car until you are done touring Miami.  I also found the car rental to be really expensive.  I had read it wasn't bad, but....it was pretty pricey and they added a bunch of fees for tolls.  Even if you only use the tollway once they charged us every day a service fee, plus the tolls, so....plan to add quite a bit to your usual cost b/c I think it would be really tough to drive anywhere without hitting a toll road.  
OK....on to some details.  When I first arrived I drove to one of the first Keys-Biscayne (not to be confused with Biscayne National Park).  There was a cute lighthouse that sat at the end of the beach.  You can climb it and get a great view of the beach around.  It was just a beautiful little beach town and worth a stop-especially as we waited for our hotel room to get ready.  
 On to the beach-not many of the hotels are ON the beach-they are generally one street away.  On Ocean Drive you will find adorable art deco buildings everywhere (which is why I wanted to go), but even at that you are overlooking sand dunes that eventually lead to the (really beautiful) beach.  There is a sidewalk that runs the length of the beach.  I stayed near 8th on Collins and it seemed to be the place to be.  I stayed at a really cute Art Deco hotel called The Hotel.  This is not an ad.  I wish I did get something for saying I stayed there-but I highly recommend it.  They only allow you to stay if you are 21 or older.  It's really clean inside.  The staff was AMAZING and attentive.  It was so quiet and relaxing even in the middle of spring break CHAOS.  There is a pool on the top floor that is heated....like, actually heated.  It overlooks south beach and has a bar etc.  It was one of the highlights of the stay in Miami.
 We also were able to hang out in some beach side chairs and towels the hotel provides (umbrella's are extra).
 The beach was quiet in the morning....later on, the spring breakers woke up.  Lots of white sand.
My friend also suggested we walk to a place called Lincoln Road with tons of shopping.  We went on a Sunday and they also had an antique market with rows of booths with lots of art deco fun, jewelry, and antiques on Sunday.
 They also had a bunch of fruit stands set up on Sunday.  The shopping included a lot of high end stores, but it was fun to browse, and I LOVED antiquing-they were really affordable prices at all the booths I frequented.
 I ate a few great meals.  For Cuban food there was a restaurant a shop gal suggested called Havana 1957 along Lincoln road.  I suggest anything there.  There was another place we tried called Naked Taco on Collins (which runs parallel to Ocean Drive one street over).  It has Florida's take on Mexican and it was really good.  They also provided free shots.  It was wasted on me, but....just so you know.  Last up we tried Joe's Stone Crab.  My friend suggested it.  Expect to wait, but it was fun-it was on the pricier side of the three places, but it literally takes up a block....and we waited an hour to be seated, but it was worth the wait.
It's been my goal for a LONG time to see Miami Beach's Art Deco scene.  The crowds were really rowdy during Spring Break, but the weather could NOT have been any more beautiful.  I found that when I went out early the younger crowd stayed in until about 3 or 4, so I did all my site seeing early and my lounging later on.  There was one shop I really loved that was right next to the Art Deco museum on Ocean Drive.  They sold lots of 1930's antiques.  All of it is non-profit and they had some really cool pieces.  I ended up buying a pin made from antique jewelry by an artist who lives local.  It was my favorite shop stop.
 Next up on the travel plan for South Florida was a drive down the keys.   I expected to see more beach, and there was, but there were also pieces where it was  town scenes, but it was fun and it was a really easy drive with tons of bridges, and glimpses of blue waters.  We shared a lot of the road with motor cycles.  There were lots of places I had read to stop.  There are tons of little art shops etc, but they were all really similar, so....stop when the mood hits, or keep driving. I didn't find one that was better than the other.  Obviously,  I didn't hit them all, but they were all good that I did stop at along the way.  There was one shop I was really liked called Shell World.  I expected it to be like all the other beach shops (there were at least two), but I found out they had some super cute beach things inside, so....that's the one place I'd say to definitely stop if you want to grab some gear.  The one I went to was in Key Largo.
I read about a stop called Robbie's in  Islamarado.  There were some little stands etc around a marina, and a place to eat that overlooks a boat marina (the lot was crowded).  The draw is the tarpon.  ONE THING I didn't know was that to walk out on the dock, it's two bucks a person.  If you buy a bucket of fish-(a few bucks more) you can walk out with that, but....just know-it's not free.  The fish were pretty impressive.
 Some were as big as 8 feet.  They'll leap out of the water to grab the fish....but, so will the pelicans, so....just know it can be a little chaotic.  It was neat to see such large fish.  Aside from some catfish-these definitely were the biggest fresh water fish I've seen.
 I asked for some dining advice and one of my favorite views the whole week was at this little stop called Sunset Grill.  How cool is this, you can swim (or your kids can) while you wait to eat.  It overlooks the 7 mile bridge.  It's literally the last left before the 7 mile bridge in Marathon.  The food was really great, and the view of the water and 7 mile bridge were gorgeous.
 My final destination was Key West.  It took a little over three hours (not counting stops).  I stayed in a little bed and breakfast-ish place called The Douglas House.  It was in between Duval Street (the main street on the island) and the street that houses the Southernmost Point marker and Hemingway's house, so....perfectly located.  The room was clean, and they had a pool and a bunch of different seating areas to hang out.  We started the afternoon walking up Duval.  I stopped at a shop with Key Lime everything called Kermit's and grabbed a chocolate dipped piece of Key Lime Pie.
We shopped and walked up the street.  Next time I'd probably skip most of the other shops along the route and just shop Duval.  There were lots of different artist shops and souvenir shops and stands.  We also hit up Jimmy's Buffets for lunch.
We took a few hours to walk about a mile making lots of stops and finally made it to Mallory Square.  There are more shops here, but this is where to aim towards sunset.
 Get there an hour before sunset and you can see all sorts of street acts-jugglers, acrobats, sword swallower etc.
 Grab a spot on the wall overlooking the water and watch the sunset.  Lots of boats were out on the water with the same aim, but they just make the scene more picturesque.  Even on a semi cloudy day it was a pretty sunset.
 The next morning we got up early (8:30 ish) and walked to the Southernmost point.  The key is to get here early or you will wait in a REALLY long line for your picture.  When we arrived there was just one other person so I was able to grab as many shots as I wanted.  Any other time of the day there was quite a pile up waiting to take pictures.
 I then walked up to street to Hemingway's House (again) when it opened.  Again, two hours later the line was down the street, but when we went we walked right in and hopped on a guided tour.  The admission is around 14 a person (student and senior fees vary).  It includes a guided tour around the house and then you are left to roam.
 There are over 50 cats with their 6+ toes who roam freely through the houses and grounds.  That's 20 less than Hemingway had when he lived there.  He thought they were good luck.  Given his life....not so much, but they made it a truly different sort of tour!
There were lots of fun pieces that tell the story of his life here and after, and you can even walk up and see where he wrote many of his books throughout the 7 years he called this place home.  
 Key West was a super cute beach town.  Chickens roam free throughout the islands and there was tons to do for everyone of all ages.  The last morning we were there I yelped a restaurant.  We found this little side street and tried out some southern food foodie style at a restaurant called Firefly.  It was soooo good.  I had met my beach food/Cuban food max and it was a nice break from the usual.
Last up was a drive to Homestead and the Everglades National Park.  I LOVE national parks.  I'm on a quest to visit all the big ones, and I've got several on my list for the year.  It's so neat to see animals in their natural habitat.
 The Everglades are one of the lesser visited parks, but I'd add it to the list.  March, again, was the perfect time.  The weather was great.  The mosquitoes were pretty testy at our first stop, so....bring spray.  They were fine on the trails, but it was a windy day.
We stopped to take the Anhinga Trail.  It's less than a mile, but....first up you need to cover your car with the provided tarps so the vultures won't damage your car.  Sure enough they were still on the cars that were covered up prancing around.
 We started down the trail and I was thinking-I hope I see an alligator....uhhh....silly.  They were EVERYWHERE.  Check out this guy.  I read up on it and nobody has ever been killed by a gator, so...good news.  I still didn't make any sudden moves.  They were along the banks and swimming through the swamps.
 There were wooden trails that lead you into swamps with birds, turtles, snacks, and gators.
 I mean....this guy swam up to the dock we were walking on and was so close I could see his teeth.
 I'm not a birder, but I can appreciate all the variety.  This colorful guy was hopping along the lily pads.
After the trail, we drove to an area called Flamingo (about an hour drive).  A family of manatee hangs out in the marina there and we got to watch them play.  We also decided to take a boat ride from here.  It was about 30 bucks a person.  One goes out into the bay, the other goes into the back waters.  We chose the back waters.  We saw crocodiles, manatees, dolphins, mangrove trees etc.  It was a great tour.  We went back and forth between this an an airboat, but the was definitely more relaxing and the wild life was amazing.  Our guide said you usually saw sharks...uhhh....alligators and crocodiles were enough for me.  
A day was really enough time to spend in the Everglades, but it was a really unique spot and a different national park from the other wooded ones I've visited in the past.  We ate at Buttonwood-it's just a little grill in the park.  It was great grill food, nothing fancy, but an easy spot.
After we left the park I stopped at this farmer's market you pass along the Homestead entrance called Robert Is Here.  It has all this unique fruit and veggies, but I recommend the fresh fruit milkshakes.  They cost about 7 bucks each, but they really were delicious.  For dinner I tried out a BBQ restaurant about ten minutes from my hotel called Shivers-another great find.  I'm tossing in food recommendations b/c I've had a lot of bad meals in my days-but all of these stops I've mentioned I'd definitely do again!
     On my last day, we had a few hours before we needed to head to the airport so I took my friend's advice one last time and went to an area called Wynwood Walls.  It says it opens at 11, but that's only a small portion, you can really get there earlier and see a lot of the art work before headed into the small portion that opens/closes etc.  The earlier the better because parking is a booger.
What a unique concept though.   I LOVE art, and this whole part of town used to be these old abandoned concrete buildings.  Artist were brought in and now the whole place is covered with graffiti art by well known artist with little funky restaurants along the way.
 Seriously, this is just a big concrete wall gone art.
 This is the back of some warehouse.  I could never do it justice.
 And these little Florida oranges.  They were everywhere.  It is #3 on the best places to see-and I agree it's a don't miss b/c I've never seen anything like it.  It brought life to what I imagine was once a really dreary place and embraces the culture of what's around this part of town.
All in all I learned a lot.  I could definitely do it better next time, and I have lots of tips and tricks I can share now with my friends who head down south.  Let me just say-spring breakers or not-March looks good on Florida!

0 comments: