The words "Key West" may conjure up images of Jimmy Buffett lazing on the beach with a margarita or Ernest Hemingway hunched over a typewriter or lounging in a bar. These impressions aren't far from the truth. The pace is decidedly relaxed, the margarita is a popular refresher, and the influence of the water is unmistakable. Sunset cruises, fishing charters, snorkeling and other watery activities are de rigueur, and a lively arts scene adds a punch of local color. Roughly 160 miles and 40-plus bridges from downtown Miami, Key West may be a bit far for a day trip, but it's certainly worth an overnighter!
Although many people are familiar with the southern Everglades, not many realize that Loxahatchie is a much-diminished northern portion of the preserve. Complete with wet prairies, sawgrass marshes and swamps, the refuge harbors abundant wildlife – particularly birds but also snakes, turtles, lizards and bobcats. In addition, Loxahatchie works to maintain water levels for irrigation and emergency needs. Be sure to check out the visitor center and hiking, biking and canoeing trails.
If the constant urban buzz wears thin, this park makes an ideal escape. About two hours south of Miami, it was founded in 1963 as the country's first underwater preserve. At the visitor center, immerse yourself in the area's ecology and natural history, and check out the 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium. For a closer look at the reef and its inhabitants, opt for snorkeling, scuba diving or glass-bottom boat tours. Other diversions include fishing, swimming and camping.
Commonly referred to as "The Venice of America," Fort Lauderdale is also considered the yachting capital of the East Coast and is home to the International Swimming Hall of Fame. While the wealthy city stands on the cutting edge of fashion and the arts, it's also a fun-loving beachside community awash in souvenirs and sunscreen-wearing beach-goers. Picturesque surroundings, historic sights, museums, sidewalk cafés and a 22-block waterfront walkway contribute to the city's captivating appeal.
Accessed via the Rickenbacker Causeway, this small island grants a rich taste of Miami's coastal charms. Crandon Park, on the northern end, is known for its marina, golf course, tennis center and beaches. The residential Village of Key Biscayne, in the center, offers exclusive boutiques, gourmet shops and art galleries. On the southern end, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Recreation Park boasts its own superb beaches and historic Cape Florida Lighthouse. If you've got time coming or going, catch the marine exhibits, porpoise shows and impressive killer whales at the Seaquarium on Virginia Key.
Whether you're a seasoned pro or an enthusiastic tyro, you'll find the waters off greater Miami ideal for sport fishing. Many professional companies offer charters that depart from Miami for half- or full-day trips, and Haulover Marina's fleet of individual boats can accommodate groups of any size and budget. If you want to splash out a bit, head for Key Biscayne. Prices may be higher, but boats are bigger and more luxurious. Most charters from Key Biscayne also venture farther out, which means you can potentially catch bigger fish.
The fantastical Venetian Pool was created to satisfy the imaginative urges of local designer Denman Fink. In 1923, he transformed a rock quarry into a dramatically beautiful swimming pool that's still a favorite place to cool off. Its setting features canals, a man-made island, fountains, waterfalls, coral caves and other whimsical touches. The pool's impeccable condition is maintained by daily drainage and an evening refill of more than 800,000 gallons of artesian water. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Children under 3 are not permitted.
In the 1920s, Palm Beach architect Addison Mizner bought thousands of acres in present-day Boca Raton, intent on developing a new Venice. Shortly after he completed his first big projects, the real estate market went bust, taking most of his plans with it. Fortunately, the city survived, and Mizner's Mediterranean-inspired architecture was replicated, giving the town a unified aesthetic and a decidedly pink tint. Now home to various technology industries, Boca boasts an affluent population who enjoy elaborate shopping venues, stunning beachfront parks, innovative restaurants and an atmosphere of cultivated leisure.
This beautiful recreation area set on an idyllic strand of Miami beach is a great place to get away from it all. Visitors enjoy miles of walking paths and mountain bike trails, a peaceful man-made stretch of beach, a designated fishing area and a well-appointed playground for the kids. A jewel of natural beauty in the center of Miami's urban landscape, the 1,043-acre Oleta River State Park is the largest urban park in the state.