The Keys

Island hopping down to Key West along the scenic Overseas Highway and the famous 7 mile bridge, you encounter numerous parks and attractions. At the highway’s end lies Key West, the southernmost city in the continental United States. The ambiance of this Key, which is situated closer to Havana than Miami, is embedded in its quaint, palm-studded streets, historic gingerbread mansions, and relaxed citizenry of self-styled “Conchs”.

Drive The Florida KeysAlthough it takes only 45 minutes to fly from Miami to Key West, a leisurely drive will provide a true Southeast Florida experience. The 113-mile Overseas Highway leapfrogs from key to key, treating travelers to turquoise seascapes and deep green landscapes under a brilliant blue Florida sky. The highway can be traversed in fewer than four hours from Miami, but many visitors prefer to get into the spirit of the islands and take time to explore the treasures along the way.

For an educational and extraordinary experience, take a seaplane or charter a boat from Key West out to Fort Jefferson, which lies among a cluster of seven coral reefs called the Dry Tortugas. Here, visitors can marvel at the fort walls — 8-feet thick and 50-feet high — as well as three gun tiers designed for 450 guns.

Fort Jefferson is remembered by many history buffs and movie goers, as being the prison which was “home” to Dr. Mudd when he was imprisoned for tending to the wounds of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin. (Dr. Mudd was portrayed by Dennis Weaver in The Ordeal of Dr. Mudd.)

In Key West, families will find many 20th-century attractions set amid 19th-century charm. Military history literally surrounds the city in the form of four classic, red-brick forts. Families can venture into towers reminiscent of a medieval castle or climb a winding staircase to the top of one fort for a sweeping view of the island and surrounding blue waters.

Visitors can explore the remarkable Lighthouse Military Museum; the stately Audubon House, where John James Audubon stayed while painting his noted works depicting wildlife in the Florida Keys; and the Key West Shipwreck Historeum, which focuses on the wrecking era of Key West. Then, visit the area’s most famous historical site, the Hemingway House, where Ernest Hemingway lived and worked for 10 years.

A stop that is well-worth the time is the Key West Aquarium. There you’ll find a 50,000-gallon tank which exhibits a cross section of a near-shore mangrove environment, including a variety of tropical and game fish, sea turtles, and birds.

Visitors will often end their day in Key West at a truly extraordinary sunset celebration at Mallory Square Pier. As part of a daily ritual, both islanders and tourists gather to watch as the glowing orange sun slips silently into the sea. Free entertainment including jugglers, musicians, unicyclists and more, keep the spirit festive. A stirring round of applause from the crowd salutes the Key West sun as it falls from view into the island’s green-blue waters. This offers the perfect ending to a day in the Keys, a day spent enjoying the region’s many pleasures, beaches, and treasures found not only in museums, but in the many boutiques and shops.

Southeast Coast

flower2Palm Beach County’s illustrious past is on display in the fabled town of Palm Beach, where mansions commissioned by Vanderbilt, Whitney, and Wanaker line shady avenues. More than 100 private residences in this area are historical landmarks.

Many art galleries, museums, theater troupes, orchestras, ballet and opera companies reside in the Palm Beaches. You can stroll through the Norton Museum of Art’s prestigious collection of French impressionist masterpieces, meditate in the Japanese-style gardens at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, or gaze at the planets through South Florida Science Museum’s telescope.

To the south, Boca Raton was created by architect Addison Mizner to be a haven for the soul. Discover the town’s grace and romance among the pastel-hued buildings which house chic boutiques and gourmet restaurants, and which cluster around bubbling fountains and grassy courtyards.

Explore the sprawling Boca Raton Resort and Club, Old Floresta Historic District, Town Hall (circa 1927), Florida East Coast Railroad Depot, and Mizner Park, for a beautiful showcase of Mizner’s architectural style and vision as well as an interesting collection of shops and restaurants.

True to its nickname as the “Venice of America,” Fort Lauderdale’s New River winds through the core of the city’s business, historical, and cultural districts. Visitors wanting to explore the area will find water taxis offer a picturesque means of transportation.

Downtown Fort Lauderdale’s main street is Las Olas Boulevard, considered by many to be the city’s most charming avenue. Lined by gas lamps and divided by a wide, landscaped median of flowers and towering shade trees, Las Olas offers fashion boutiques, art galleries, world-class cuisine, sidewalk cafes, and jazz houses.

One not-to-be-missed stop on any tour through the area is downtown Fort Lauderdale’s arts and science district, featuring the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, the Museum of Art, the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society, and the Museum of Discovery and Science. Here, visitors can watch world-class theatrical productions, as well as musical and dance performances. All four cultural venues are within walking distance of one another along Riverwalk, a meandering promenade of landscaped paths and engraved brick walkways, running parallel to the New River.

A short walk along the New River takes you to the Stranahan House, the oldest home in Broward county. Once the family home of Fort Lauderdale’s founding father Frank Stranahan, the two-story riverside house is now maintained as a museum furnished in period antiques.

Nearby, one of the few remaining oceanfront estates in south Florida, the Bonnet House, is open to the public. It is a 1920s Florida-style plantation mansion, complete with marble floors and Moorish columns.

Then as you head further South to Miami, you will discover, across sparkling Biscayne Bay, the world-renown Miami Beach. Here, the famed Art Deco District of South Beach beckons vacationers and locals to stop and explore. This one-square-mile area is an architectural treasure of more than 800 buildings in the Art Deco, Streamline Moderne, and Spanish Mediterranean Revival style.

For historical perspective as well as juicy tidbits, take a 90-minute guided walking tour of the area, conducted by the Miami Design Preservation League. This group is largely responsible for renovating and refurbishing the district. Making use of favorite South Beach modes of transportation, the League also offers bicycle and in-line skating tours of the district.

View of MiamiMiami Beach is a living mural, a splash of pastel buildings lined neatly along the white sand, all set against the brilliant aquamarine sea. It’s easy to “lose yourself” among streets packed with popular restaurants, art galleries, and boutiques. Stop at one of Ocean Drive’s inviting sidewalk cafes for a gourmet meal and an expansive view of the Atlantic, and the parade of people strolling by.

Shaded by banyan trees and fronting Biscayne Bay is the bohemian enclave of Coconut Grove. Once known as “Millionaires’ Row,” Coconut Grove retains much of its elegant ambiance as home to some of Miami’s finest hotels, restaurants, and designer shops. But the Grove’s neighborhood taverns and quaint village atmosphere have also attracted writers and artists, resulting in a carefree blend of the bohemian and the chic.

Visitors to this eclectic, energetic village can experience the trendy nightclubs at Cocowalk, and exclusive boutiques at Mayfair Shops, set along red brick sidewalks, with historic buildings tucked down secluded side streets or around bends in the Main Highway.

Coconut Grove seems to retain throughout the years its flavor of being an “in” place. It changes through the years, yet always remains a hub of activity and excitement. Visit the Coconut Grove Saturday Farmer’s Market for a taste of natural Florida (See p.133.) and local exotic fruits.

Further south in Homestead, the Coral Castle stands as a tribute to a “broken heart". According to legend, Edward Leedskalnin spent 33 years hand-carving this coral monument to a fiancee who jilted him at the altar. Hewn from 1,000 tons of coral rock, the one-man engineering triumph includes solar- heated bathtubs, a 5,000-pound heart- shaped table, and a 9-ton gate that a child can open it with the touch of a finger.

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