North, South, East…
Every South Florida city has its own distinct identity and allure, which makes it easy to load up the car, punch an address into the GPS and discover something entirely new in as little as an hour or two. We’ve put together a guide to the best nearby destinations on the compass that require no more than a tank of gas and a sense of adventure to experience.
Chill Out Up Coast
Fort Pierce – 127 miles north, 2 hour drive from Miami
Play: In Fort Pierce, the pace slows down, the crowds dissipate and everything feels familiar, yet somehow much more chilled out. Take Summer Crush Vineyard & Winery (4200 Johnston Rd., Fort Pierce; 772-460-0500; www.summercrushwine.com) for instance, where owner-vintner and Florida native Gary Roberts combines his longtime love of surfing (classic boards decorate the winery’s tasting room) with his newfound passion for sweet muscadine wine. You’ll sample blends of Noble, Carlos and Doreen varieties on your visit.
Eat: Head east towards the coast and grab lunch at Sharky’s (1012 Shorewinds Dr., Fort Pierce; 772-466-2757; no website), a no frills, diner-like eatery popular amongst local surfers, serving specialties like the blackened grouper Reuben.
Play: If you’re looking for waves in South Florida, your best chance of finding them is an afternoon at Fort Pierce Inlet State Park (905 Shorewinds Dr., Fort Pierce; 772-468-3985; https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Fort-Pierce-Inlet). Relax on the beach’s wide shoreline or hike through the hardwood hammock nature trail where you might spot marsh rabbits, gopher tortoises, butterflies or migratory birds beneath the dense canopy.
Drink: Back on the mainland, the Original Tiki Bar & Restaurant (2 Avenue A, Fort Pierce; 772-461-0880; http://tikibarandrestaurant.com) is set on the Fort Pierce City Marina near Gazebo Park overlooking the Indian River where you can enjoy frozen drinks, tasty bar grub (fish tacos, burgers, jerked tenderloin kebobs) and live music at sunset.
Play: Take the five-minute stroll to Sunrise Theatre (117 S. 2nd St., Fort Pierce; 772-461-4884; http://www.sunrisetheatre.com) and see whose names is on the marquee. The historic theater was built in 1923 and stages everything from touring Broadway productions to comedians and musicians.
Stay: Take the scenic route north on A1A for 16 miles to Costa d’Este Beach Resort & Spa (3244 Ocean Dr., Vero Beach; 772-562-9919; http://www.costadeste.com) in Vero Beach, your home for the night. Owned by Gloria and Emilio Estefan, this oceanfront boutique hotel brings Miami Modern flair to Vero’s largely rustic and colonial style architecture. The chic rooms have porthole-style windows and their Cuban restaurant borrows recipes straight from the Estefan Cookbook.
Barefoot (Luxury) Down the Keys
Block off a minimum of three nights and enjoy this road trip exploring Key Largo, Islamorada and Key West. Or, if you’re pressed for time, pick one destination and drive straight there.
Day One – Key Largo – 70 miles south from Miami, 1 hour 20 minute drive
Drink: Take the road less traveled—Card Sound Road, an alternate route to Key Largo where you’ll find Alabama Jack’s (58000 Card Sound Rd., Homestead; 305-248-8741; no website), a waterfront fish shack whose atmosphere is a little bit country and a lot of Keys color. Join the locals and while away the afternoon over fried grouper sandwiches and cold beers.
Play: Discover some of the most unspoiled sections of the Florida Straits (the third largest barrier reef in the world) with a two-and-a-half-hour snorkel trip at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (102601 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo; 305-451-6300; http://pennekamppark.com).
Stay: Check into Playa Largo (97450 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo; 305-853-1001; http://playalargoresort.com), the first newly built resort in Key Largo in over 20 years, and take advantage of 15 acres edging Florida Bay with sublime lagoon-style pools, hammocks swaying lazily in the breeze and dining venues that could hold their own in Miami.
An aerial shot of Playa Largo’s 15 acre property on the Florida Bay.
Day Two – Islamorada – 85 miles south from Miami, 1 hour 45 minute drive
Play: Known as the Sportfishing Capital of the World, get offshore in Islamorada with a charter fishing trip departing from Bud n’ Mary’s Marina (79851 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada; 305-664-2461; http://budnmarys.com). From backcountry to deep sea, tarpon to sailfish, there’s a guide and a boat to take you into the blue in search of the big one.
Eat: Enjoy a languorous meal on the sprawling waterfront patio at Lorelei (96 Madeira Rd., Islamorada; 305-664-2692; http://loreleicabanabar.com) for a bountiful menu that includes cracked conch, smoked fish dip, buffalo chicken wings and the catch of the day. There’s even a vegan sauté. Keep your eyes peeled for the larger than life mermaid cutout on the west side of the road.
Stay: Unwind at the refreshingly chic Amara Cay Resort (80001 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada; 305-664-0073; http://www.amaracayresort.com) awash with driftwood paneled walls, woven basket chairs swinging from the ceiling and gorgeous rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Tuck into a sumptuous Italian dinner in the airy dining room of onsite restaurant Oltremare for orecchiette with scallops and rock shrimp or the braised short rib with polenta and Sangiovese wine.
Day Three – Key West – 160 miles south from Miami, 3.5 hour drive
Lunch & Spa: Make a romantic pit stop at Little Palm Island Resort (28500 Overseas Hwy, Little Torck Key; 305-872-2524; http://www.littlepalmisland.com) just before you hit Key West for lunch and spa (Japanese soaking tubs on your own private patio!) on the five and a half acre Robinson Crusoe-like private island paradise. Be sure to make your reservations in advance in order to access the ferry.
Stay: Marquesa (600 Fleming St., Key West; 305-292-1919; http://www.marquesa.com) is a refined 27-room guesthouse that exudes the Old Town charm you crave from a Key West escape. It also positions you within walking distance to Duval Street and Mallory Square for sunset. While not technically a bed and breakfast, you can arrange for freshly baked blueberry banana bread and coffee to be delivered to your room in the morning for breakfast in bed.
Play: Take advantage of the tranquil summer conditions on the water with Fury Water Adventures’ (241 Front St., Key West; 855-990-0197; https://www.furycat.com) half day Island Adventure excursion. Cruise into Key West’s backcountry and snorkel at secret spots, kayak through mangrove islands and splash around on a sandbar beach with ice cold Coronas to cool you down.
Eat: For dinner, make reservations at Santiago’s Bodega (207 Petronia St., Key West; 305-296-7691; http://www.santiagosbodega.com) tucked away in Bahama Village for a refined interpretation on Spanish tapas. Must order items include: beef tenderloin with bleu cheese butter, croquettas with prosciutto and provolone and the brandy flambéed haloumi cheese.
Drink: Start or end your night at the Green Parrot (601 Whitehead St., Key West; 305-294-6133; http://www.greenparrot.com), an open air bar loved by locals with crowds that spill onto the sidewalk for live music, free popcorn and the house shot, root beer barrels (that’s root beer schnapps plunged into a rocks glass of Miller Light).
Gulf Coast Tranquility
Naples – 130 miles east, 2 hour drive
Play: Take the Tamiami Trail and make a pit stop at Big Cypress National Preserve at either the Oasis or Swamp visitor center (33000 or 52105 Tamiami Trail E., Ochopee; 239-695-2000; https://www.nps.gov/bicy) where you can take a short hike, go kayaking or bird watching and experience the preserve’s five ecosystems: prairies, hardwood hammocks, pinelands, cypress swamps and estuaries.
Stay: Naples Grande Beach Resort (475 Seagate Dr., Naples, 239-227-2182; http://www.naplesgrande.com) is your chic home away from home with spacious rooms and oversized balconies overlooking the Clam Pass Park nature preserve, which leads to what feels like a heavenly secret beach on the Gulf of Mexico. Take advantage of the beautifully landscaped swimming pools and upscale, yet relaxed Catch of the Pelican restaurant during your stay.
Drink: Head to Fifth Avenue South, the main drag in downtown Naples with its tidy Mediterranean architecture and palm tree-lined streets, for pre-dinner cocktails at the bar at Bistro 821 (821 5th Ave. S., Naples; 239-261-5821; http://www.bistro821.com). Their espresso martini has a cult following amongst locals and their small plates menu will tide you over before dinner with tempting items like the chili relleno stuffed with garlic shrimp and spicy beef.
Eat: Third Street is another fashionable corridor downtown where you’ll find the The Continental (1205 3rd St. S., Naples; 239-659-0007; http://damicoscontinental.com) with ample al fresco seating on the patio covered with white umbrellas. Enjoy live music on Friday and Saturday nights, an impressive menu of Prohibition-era cocktails and everything from USDA certified prime black angus to Japanese wagyu steaks.