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OUR FAVOURITE PLAYGROUNDS - WHAT\'S UP IN SOUTHEAST FLORIDA
 
(2013 - Fall Issue)

Writer: D. SHELLEY MOREAU



Stretching from Key West at the southernmost point on the U.S. mainland to Glades County bordering the western shores of Lake Okeechobee, Southeast Florida offers a gamut of vacation options to suit all tastes and interests.

Consisting primarily of “The River of Grass” in the southwest corner and the Florida Keys to the south, Monroe County attracts kayakers, canoeists, birdwatchers, photographers, volunteers and divers intent on discovering its hidden gems and colourful locales.

Pure and Natural

Linking mainland Florida to Key West, the two-lane Overseas Highway (US 1) is a destination in itself. Choose the road less travelled, Card Sound Road, and stop at Alabama Jack’s, a local favourite known for its conch fritters and Key lime pie.

In Key Largo, climb aboard the African Queen, the same boat used in the 1951 film starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Fans may want to attend the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival next May. Coral restoration workshops are available from October 24–27 for citizen scientists wishing to join the efforts of Key Largo’s Coral Restoration Foundation. Participants go on an afternoon two-tank working dive to the coral nursery to clean and prepare corals for planting as well as an orientation dive at a restoration site.

Every third Thursday of the month, the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District in Islamorada hosts an Art Walk, a blend of fine art, live music and food. Another popular attraction is Robbie’s at MM 77.5 where visitors feed herring to hungry tarpons.

AT MM 59 on Grassy Key, a larger-than-life dolphin statue marks the spot where Mitzi, the dolphin face for Flipper, is buried. This is the Dolphin Research Center, an acclaimed non-profit marine mammal research and education facility and a definite can’t-miss experience. Allow plenty of time to watch and meet the resident dolphins. They’ll steal your heart away.

Nearby, the Turtle Hospital at MM 48.5 is dedicated to treating sea turtles. While its main goal is to rehabilitate turtles, permanent residents are kept in a 10,000-gallon natural saltwater pool. O.D., the largest at 136 kilograms, is thought to be 50 to 60 years old.

Before crossing Seven Mile Bridge, stop by the Pigeon Key Visitor Center to hop on the Pigeon Key Ferry to the tiny island that once housed workers who built Henry Flagler’s historic Over-Sea Railroad in the early 1900s. Or, if time is an issue, stroll along the Old Bahia Honda Bridge at the Bahia Honda State Park between MM 36 and 37 for a panoramic view.

Key West has somewhat shed its edginess and has evolved into a sophisticated community and shopping mecca. The city boasts the largest number of wooden structures in the country—about 3,000—many of which have been restored. In fact, due to its colourful architecture, Key West was named one of the 12 prettiest painted places in the U.S. by the Paint Quality Institute of America. However, crowds still gather at an admittedly much glitzier Mallory Square to watch buskers and stunning sunsets while zany festivals, such as the Fantasy Fest happening October 18–27, continue to delight revellers year-round.

For B&B accommodation in Key West, check out the Cypress House at 601 Caroline Street.

Party Central

Miami-Dade County is where you’ll find the glitz and glamour of Miami and its famous beaches. Greater Miami covers South Beach, Mid Beach, Sunny Isles, Ventura, Homestead, Redland and Coral Gables. South Beach is party central.

November kicks in with Miami Live Music Month, featuring live music and comedy venues, poetry readings and stage performances. Scheduled for December 5–8, Art Basel is a big deal in Miami Beach, with more than 50,000 international attendees expected to admire works by masters of modern and contemporary art as well as pieces by emerging stars.

In time for Art Basel, COMO Hotels will open their ultra-luxury beachside 74-room property, complete with butler service, in the historic Art Deco District. In the Brickell/Financial District, stay at the Conrad Hotel and avoid traffic by riding the people movers to downtown Miami. Or book the stunning Mayfair Hotel & Spa and check out the shops, eclectic eateries and vibrant nightlife in Coconut Grove.

Driving around and parking in Miami can be a nightmare however there are alternatives. DecoBike serves the South Beach area and there is talk of expansion into the Financial District, Coconut Grove and Coral Gables. Go Cars leases small eco-friendly vehicles at hourly rates making it a more affordable and convenient option to car rentals. Renters can pay and park at various stations throughout Miami.

Leaving city lights behind, spend a night or more at Paradise Organic Farms in Homestead where unique experiences include outdoor lunches and dinners prepared by local celebrity chefs.

Also in Homestead, Schnebly Winery & Brewery features avocado, lychee and mango wines as well as a brewery, using fruits, spices and herbs grown in the area. Once here, why not tour the Everglades and nearby Monkey Jungle or Zoo Miami?

Bound by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Intracoastal Waterway to the west, Sunny Isles Beach sits on a barrier island just east of North Miami Beach. This growing resort area has caught the eye of developers Michael Dezer and Donald Trump. Minutes from the Bal Harbour Shops to the south and Aventura Mall to the northwest, it’s a shopper’s haven. A new pier, replacing the one destroyed by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, opened this summer. It and Heritage Park at 192nd and Collins are hubs of activity and often stage outdoor concerts. You’ll appreciate the free bus transportation, which operates between Sunny Isles Beach and South Beach.

An Eclectic Mix

Farther north, Broward County includes a string of communities along Route A1A: Hallendale Beach, Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, Coconut Creek and Deerfield Beach. Inland, there are Miramar, Pembroke Pines, Cooper City, Sunrise, Plantation, Tamarac, Coral Springs and, of course, the ever-present Everglades. Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale lead the way when it comes to nightlife while other neighbourhoods in the county tend to be more laid-back.

In Hollywood, the Broadwalk is popular with Canadians. In fact, many French Canadian expats operate hotels, B&Bs and restaurants in the area. It’s also where you’ll find Latitudes on the Beach, the latest hot spot for dining and drinks. The talk of the town, and under construction, is the new Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort, a 17-storey, four-star hotel and complex, expected to open in late 2015. At the heart of Hollywood’s vibrant downtown, ArtsPark at Young Circle hosts a variety of cultural events and festivals year-round.

Las Olas Boulevard , the epicentre of Fort Lauderdale, features alfresco dining, boutiques and special events, such as the Six-Week Dine Out extravaganza from October 1 to mid-November and the Las Olas Art Festivals in January and March. Beachside is a hub of activity, with 37 kilometres of beach and every water sport you can imagine. Water taxis are accessible from the beachside while a trolley system runs from the beach to downtown Fort Lauderdale. B-cycle is a rent-and-drop bike system, which also connects with the water taxis and trolleys.

Dance like a star in Pompano Beach, where you can learn a few moves of your own with South Florida Dance Vacations. Single or married, there’s fun for all! And in Sunrise, the recently opened Barbie the Dreamhouse Experience brings every little girl’s dream to life.

Iconic Gems

Continuing north, Palm Beach County has been a favourite among the elite for generations. Like pearls along the oceanfront, Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, Lake Worth, West Palm Beach, Riviera Beach, Juno Beach and Jupiter have flourished as more discovered these coveted enclaves.

A particular favourite with Canadians is Delray Beach, where residents and tourists ride for free on the Delray Downtowner shuttle and the average annual temperature is 25 C. The arts and culture scene includes a Puppetry Arts Center, the Arts Garage, the Delray Center for the Arts, the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens and the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum, to name a few. Boutiques populate Atlantic Avenue and the Pineapple Grove neighbourhood and restaurants are plentiful. Five golf courses in the area and tennis courts are open to the public. You can dive a 110-year-old shipwreck off the beach or explore the nearby Wakodahatchee Wetlands, which form part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. In addition to all this, Delray Beach hosts special events year-round, such as On the Ave (October 17), the Wine & Seafood Festival (November 9–10), the Holiday Boat Parade (December 13) and more. No wonder Delray Beach is considered a gem.

With approximately 1,200 to 1,300 room nights available, Delray Beach has plenty of lodging choices to suit all budgets. Options include the new Hyatt Place in Pineapple Grove, the Seagate Hotel on Atlantic Avenue and Sundy House, a green hotel and the oldest in Delray Beach, among others.

Natural Choices

At the northern boundary of Southeast Florida, Martin County is dotted with quaint towns and ports such as Stuart, Palm City, Port Salerno, Indiantown and Port Mayaca. 

Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Lake Okeechobee to the west, this bi-coastal county is a fisherman’s dream. It’s also considered the “gateway to the Gulf of Mexico” by sailors and boaters who travel through a lock system from the Atlantic and Intracoastal Waterway to the Gulf. In these idyllic surroundings, you’ll not find a building taller than four stories or a parking meter. Beaches are free and admission fees, if any, to weekly events are minimal.

In Stuart, the Elliott Museum opened in March and a new waterpark—Sailfish Splash—features two waterslides and pools. Cruise around Jupiter Island where Tiger Woods and Celine Dion have homes. Or drive along the Martin Grade Scenic Highway.

To the west of Palm Beach County and Lake Okeechobee, Hendry and Glades counties signal a return to the old Florida of long ago, where life progresses at a slower pace.

Hikers and cyclists are often seen along the paved 30-metre-wide dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee, which forms part of the 2,250-kilometre-long National Scenic Trail. Fishing is another major pastime; the most common catches are largemouth bass, crappie and bluegill.

In Clewiston, board the Sugarland Express for an informative heritage and agriculture tour. Or book a Billie Swamp Safari and visit the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, both operated by the Seminole tribe. For those who prefer the roll of the dice, there’s even a casino on site!

Glades County sponsors one of Florida’s oldest recurring festivals. The Chalo Nitka Festival, held the first Saturday every March, commemorates local history, culture and the long, friendly relationship between resident Seminole people and settlers.

Travel Planner

Through December 15, 2013, Key West visitors can receive special values on museum and attraction admissions, excursions, water sports adventures, beverages and even accommodation by purchasing a $49 Key West Vacation Pass online at keywestattractions.org. Voluntourism efforts and opportunities in the Florida Keys are listed online at keysvoluntourism.com.

For more information on Southeast Florida destinations, visit:

Downtown Development Authority of Delray Beach: downtowndelraybeach.com

Glades County Tourism Development Council: visitglades.com

Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau: sunny.org

Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau: miamiandbeaches.com

Hendry County Tourism: visithendrycounty.com

Hollywood, FL Community Redevelopment Agency: visithollywoodfl.org

Sunny Isles Beach: sunnyislesbeachmiami.com

The Monroe County Tourist Development Council: fla-keys.com

VISIT FLORIDA®: VISITFLORIDA.com

 
 
 
 
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