Some say that South Florida is itself an oddity within the U.S. – a place where gators and sharks dominate, with roaches the size of baseballs and where English is optional. But if you drive south to our tip of the country, you’ll find more than just good Cuban coffee. Between Palm Beach, Broward, Dade and the Keys, there’s an endless amount of interesting, off-the-beaten-path things to see and do to make for one hell of a road trip.
Edward Leedskalnin is something of a mythological creature in South Florida. He spent 28 years (from 1923 to 1951) carving over a thousand tons of coral rock into a monument dedicated to the one that got away. The structure, Coral Castle, is as mysterious as the story behind its creation, and certainly worth the side trip.
Once upon a time, a man named Benjamin Green created the popular tanning lotion named Coppertone. Green sold his company in 1950 and in ’57, investors hired an agency named Schering-Plough to come up with an ad campaign. Thus, the young and adorable Coppertone girl was created, and a 35-foot sign of her likeness was added to 5th street and Biscayne Boulevard. The building on which it hung was destroyed after Hurricane Andrew, so the little miss was placed off US-1 in the heart of MiMo, where she continues to hang to this very day.
This historic estate is part museum, part venue, part learning center. Here you’ll find classes in everything from calligraphy and watercolor painting to bird watching and basket weaving if that’s your thing. Classical music concerts and weddings often take place here as well, but for most, it’s all about checking out the beautiful orchids and the wild monkeys that make their home on the property.
Exotic, wild animals can be found roaming down south in Homestead, just before hitting the Keys. You won’t find them on Krome Avenue, of course, but rather at this important animal sanctuary that features tigers, ‘gators, lemurs and more. All the animals here have been rescued from private owners and other rescue facilities, and for just a small donation, you can see them up close and personal with little more than a chain-link fence between you.
First open in 1946, this long-standing Key Largo attraction will catch your eye as you drive down into the Keys with its large waterfall signage. It’s not a huge park, but big enough to keep you and your family entertained for a couple of hours. Swim with dolphins, meet sea turtles and lorikeets, paint with sea lions and more.
Built in 1963, the Miami Marine Stadium was the first stadium built specifically for viewing powerboat races. Through the years, it became a popular venue for concerts (Queen, Ray Charles and the Beach Boys all played there), boxing matches, and even Sunday services. Sadly, the stadium was closed after Hurricane Andrew and fell into disrepair over the next couple of decades. It did, however, become a haven for graffiti artists and urban explorers and is now being cared for by a group of volunteers looking to bring it back to its original glory.
At 40-feet long and 30-feet tall, Big Betsy makes her creepy, crawly presence known in the Florida Keys. This mammoth-sized statue, created by Richard Blaze, is life-like to a fault and has resided in the upper keys for more than two decades. These days, Bets hangs out in front of the Rain Barrel Artisan Village where tourists flock to take photos with the gigantic spiny lobster.
Even those who feel they’re above most roadside attractions couldn’t pass up the opportunity to watch real live mermaids, right? Okay, so they might not exactly have been born with tails, but these gorgeous underwater gals can swim with the best of ’em. Part of B Ocean Resort, the Wreck Bar features a live show that allows guests to watch a “mermaid” show through port hole windows
If you’re driving through South Florida and happen to be passionate about primates, there’s no better place to see them than at Monkey Jungle. Here you’ll find over 500 species of primate, including java macaques, orangutans, squirrel monkeys, and black-capped Capuchins. Best of all, it’s the monkeys (and apes) that run wild, with the humans enclosed in cages rather than the other way around.
This fresh-water pool in the heart of the Gables was created from a coral rock quarry back in the 1920s and is a sight to behold. The pool features hundreds of thousands of gallons of spring water that is drained and filled daily. It makes for a great way to stay cool in the spring and summer months.
Zoos are fun and all, but who wouldn’t rather come near face to face with the animals, by way of their own car? Yep, at Lion Country Safari, you can do just that. And as if driving and walking past 900 different animals wasn’t enough, there are also animal feeding experiences, rides, and more.
The Jungle Queen Riverboat Cruises began operations in 1935 as a group of sightseeing tours, but quickly expanded over the decades to include vaudeville acts, dinner, and drinks. Today, there are two boats on the Riverboat Cruise fleet and cruises, which may include a sightseeing tour, a tropical island tour and more.
Located in Tradewinds Park, this attraction is the largest butterfly park in the entire world (as well as the home of the largest free-flight hummingbird aviary). Opened in the late 1980s, Butterfly World is home to roughly 5,000 butterflies and makes for a magical experience.
Alligator wrestling has long been a part of Native American culture (especially for the Florida-based Miccosukee and Seminole tribes), as a form of hunting and later as a sport and roadside attraction. And if you happen to be driving around South Florida, there are few more “Florida” experiences to be had than watching an experienced handler wrestle one of these powerful reptiles. Additionally, you’ll get to learn all about Miccosukee history and culture, go on airboat rides, and purchase Native American crafts from their gift shop.
If you fly over Homestead, you’ll at one point or other see a roof with bright white letters letting you know that “Robert Is Here.” Follow the sign (you can still see it while you drive down Palm Drive), and park your car and get ready for a day of Florida-style fun. This colorful fruit stand is famous among South Floridians – a place where folks can get refreshing key lime smoothies, purchase fresh produce, take photos with tractors and even pet a few farm animals.