Continued from Region 2 Southeast Florida:
As you cruise north on U.S. Highway 1 among the islands, crossing huge expanses of turquoise water, fishing villages, plush resorts, family-owned hotels and plenty of seafood restaurants dot the landscape along the way. Campers will find options from RV resorts to waterfront tenting in state parks.
Try to keep your eyes on the road and off the electric blue waters on either side as you drive through the Lower Keys, Marathon, Islamorada, and Key Largo. Key Largo, known for its crystal-clear waters, offers star attractions like John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and the neighboring Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Snorkelers and divers have seen 40 varieties of delicate corals and more than 600 species of tropical fish. Throughout the islands, water activities top the list of things to do, although Key Largo and Looe Key are best known for diving and snorkeling. Islamorada and Marathon are most famous for angling, with plenty of fishing boats ready to be chartered.
Drive a bit farther north to the Coral Castle Museum in Homestead, where Edward Leedskalnin spent 28 years secretly hand-carving 1,100 tons of coral rock. This mysteriousengineering triumph includes solar-heated bathtubs, a 5,000-pound, heart-shaped table and a 9-ton gate so perfectly balanced that a child can close it with the touch of a finger.
Nearby, Jungle Island (formerly Parrot Jungle) is an interactive zoological park and subtropical garden in Watson Island, home to a flock of trained parrots, macaws and cockatiels that perform daily. In a more unusual twist, visitors to Monkey Jungle, a wildlife park in Miami, observe the antics of more than 400 free-roaming primates representing 50 species, all from the vantage of caged walkways through the rain forest habitat. The 290-acre, state-of-the-art Zoo Miami in western Miami-Dade County is home to lions and tigers and bears – and some 700 other wild animals. The zoo features a wildlife show and a behind-the-scenes tram tour through the working and breeding areas of the impressive facility.
Nearby, Coral Gables also provides a wealth of dining, relaxation and entertainment opportunities. The 83-acre Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden includes a museum, laboratory, learning center and conservation research facility. It features a rare-plant house, rain forest, sunken gardens, exhibits and narrated tram tours. Some of Miami’s most popular nature parks and attractions stretch southward from the suburbs to the far reaches of southern Miami-Dade County.
Running at a very different pace is Miami, often referred to as the “Gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean.” The city offers many ways to see, hear and taste its rich heritage. Visitors can drink a cup of café con leche in Little Havana, Miami’s most concentrated Cuban community; stroll past Art Deco architecture in SoBe, the city’s South Beach district; explore trendy Coconut Grove; or take a cruise from the “Cruise Capital of the World.” The Miami experience also includes world-class ballet, theater, opera and philharmonic orchestra companies; unique cultural events and museums; and exciting professional sports.
In the western corners of Broward County, Seminole Indian traditions are alive and well. At Sawgrass Recreation Park in the Everglades, visitors can witness daily life in an 18thcentury Indian village and taste authentic Indian dishes at the park’s cafe. At Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation off Alligator Alley, Billie Swamp Safari offers a host of adventures, including an eco-tour by swamp buggy, folklore storytelling around the campfire and an overnight stay in a thatched Chickee hut. Run by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the park also features hiking tours, guided hunting, sunset canoe rides, air boat rides, alligator exhibits and the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.
Other popular sites in Broward County include: the town of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea’s 600-foot-long fishing pier and the living coral reef just 100 yards off shore, accessible to snorkelers and divers; the 1907 Hillsboro Lighthouse marking the northern limit of the Florida reef; the one-of-a-kind Hollywood Beach Boardwalk, popular for dawn-to-dark walking, cycling and skating; the Stranahan House, built on the New River site where Fort Lauderdale began as a trading post in 1893; and the John U. Lloyd Beach State Park, which offers 310 acres between the beach and intercoastal waterway for canoeing, swimming, fishing and picnicking.
Popular with cyclists, walkers and skaters, the Fort Lauderdale Beach Promenade runs along Atlantic Boulevard and provides scenic, easy access to miles of golden sand beaches. Besides new attractions, visitors also enjoy excellent diving and golfing here. Shoppers will want to explore the unique boutiques of Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale and a thriving antiques district in Dania.
Historic buildings and museums are part of the Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District. The Broward Center for the Performing Arts presents Broadway musicals, plays, dance, opera, film and children’s theater. The Museum of Discovery and Science, Florida’s most visited museum, lets kids of all ages explore science, space and the environment. The museum’s five-story AutoNation IMAX 3D Theater offers the biggest screen in south Florida. Also nearby are the African- American Research Library and Cultural Center; with books and artifacts from Africa, the Caribbean and North and South America; Bass Pro Shops’ massive Outdoor World store in Dania; and Sawgrass Mills, the nation’s largest outlet mall.
In Broward County, Fort Lauderdale is no longer just a spring break capital for the college crowd. In addition to the beach, the winding river and canal waterways create the “Venice of America” and offer visitors miles of scenic waterways. A fleet of water buses – quiet and environmentally friendly electric ferries – can transport 70 passengers at a time. The Jungle Queen sails the waterways on daily sightseeing and dinner cruises through Old Fort Lauderdale, past the palatial estates of Millionaire’s Row.
Boynton Beach, Delray Beach and Boca Raton are quieter, but they still please visitors with scenic beaches as well as a variety of performing arts, shopping and dining. Delray Beach exudes yesteryear charm that shows in its accommodations as well as its downtown shopping district and cultural loop. On its outskirts, the history of its Japanese immigrant population is told at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, a superbly serene oasis including inspired landscapes, a tea house, waterfall, bonsai collection and museum. Sports fans of all ages will enjoy the Sports Immortals Museum in Boca Raton, showcasing the largest sports memorabilia collection in the world.
Visitors who seek an urban safari may look no further than the Palm Beach boutiques of Worth Avenue, voted one of the top three “Most Iconic” streets in America, and the dining and nightlife of Clematis Street, the historical heart of downtown West Palm Beach.
Despite its reputation as a playground for the rich and famous, Palm Beach County also has a lot for the budget-minded traveler to enjoy. For a wild time on the western edge of West Palm Beach, visitors can drive through the Lion Country Safari’s 500-acre wildlife preserve with more than 900 animals, from giraffes and bison to elephants and lions. On a smaller scale, the 22-acre Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society at Dreher Park features more than 700 animals from Florida, the Americas, Australia and Madagascar.
The Palm Beaches are known as the Gold Coast, a name reflecting the region’s 47 miles of golden sand as well as its incredible wealth. Ever since railroad mogul Henry Flagler brought his railroad to town and erected fabulous hotels for his passengers, Palm Beach has been synonymous with luxury. One of the favorite pastimes for modern-day visitors is to simply drive around the island and gaze at the magnificent mansions, then head to one of its landmark restaurants to people watch.
Nearby, Jupiter’s historic complex is comprised of the Florida History Center and Museum, a Florida cracker-style building; the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum, offering climbing tours of the 1860 landmark; and the DuBois Pioneer Home, built in 1898 and the oldest Palm Beach County home on its original site.
To see an unusual geological phenomenon, visit The Nature Conservancy’s Blowing Rocks Preserve on Jupiter Island, the site of Florida’s largest outcropping of Anastasia limestone. Extreme high tides and storms provide the best opportunities to see surging waves erupt through the blowholes in the rugged gray stone, sending plumes of water up to 50 feet in the air.
Martin County’s natural character also can be enjoyed at Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Hobe Sound, where visitors take guided nature tours, canoe on the Loxahatchee River and camp amid towering greenery.
Tranquil Martin County takes pride in its preservation efforts. Many beaches have turtle nesting areas, like the Hobe Sound Nature Center and Wildlife Refuge, and lucky visitors may glimpse a sea turtle lumbering across the sand.
Fishing enthusiasts will want to try the waters off Stuart, known as the “Sailfish Capital of the World.” Convenient and intriguing alternatives to the beach include the Florida Oceanographic
Coastal Center, 44 acres of nature education, and The House of Refuge Museum at Gilbert’s Bar, the last standing of 10 havens for shipwrecked sailors and travelers provided by the U.S. Lifesaving Service during the time sailing ships dominated world commerce.
In addition to natural attractions, the arts and museums also flourish along the Treasure Coast. The Elliott Museum in Stuart features the inventions of Sterling Elliott, a contemporary of Thomas Edison. His inventions range from the egg carton to the forerunner of rack-and-pinion steering. The varied exhibits include antique cars, bicycles and publishing equipment. Edison labeled Elliott a genius.