Nearly 100 million travelers grab their sunscreen and head to Florida each year.
Miami, Florida is at the epicenter of the action, placing visitors within easy reach of its big-city thrills as well as the serenity of the nearby Florida Keys.
Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from the United States of America’s most southeastern coast, Miami’s appeal runs the gamut. As actor/singer Will Smith says, “I only came for two days of playing, but every time I come I always wind up staying."
There are plenty of ways to enjoy Miami’s coveted sunny weather, including warming up your credit cards in Coral Gables. This neighborhood southwest of downtown Miami is home to a variety of boutique and artisanal shops selling everything from handmade leather goods to the latest fashion. Meanwhile, across Biscayne Bay, Lincoln Road is the place to stock up on anything from name-brand clothes and accessories to artwork. This wide pedestrian promenade is lined with outdoor cafés and palm trees.
If you’re hungry, seek out a table in Little Havana. This eclectic neighborhood just west of downtown is home to many of the city’s Cuban residents. At any time of day, Little Havana pulses with the beats of traditional music, while the scent of croquetas and Cuban sandwiches hang in the air.
A little farther north, Little Haiti is another great spot to sample the multicultural flavors of Miami. Come here for dessert and order a traditional Haitian treat, like fried bananas or sweet potato bread, before making your way into one of the neighborhood’s many independent music shops.
Come sundown, both Little Havana and Little Haiti woo night owls with sultry dancing and local cocktails. But those who want to see and be seen head back across the bay to Miami Beach, where the area really comes to life when night falls and the neon lights illuminate the art deco buildings lining Ocean Drive. The party lasts until the wee morning hours (around 5 a.m.).
Ocean Drive mainstays like the Clevelander Hotel invite you to mingle poolside with a fancy drink in hand. If you’d prefer to dance the night away, plan a night on Washington Avenue, where numerous dance clubs sit just a few blocks from the shore.
The Edison Hotel on Ocean Drive is one of Miami Beach’s many late-night hangouts.
Relax in the Florida Keys
If all the excitement of Miami has you craving some peace and quiet, you can rent a car from Miami International Airport or in the city and take a road trip to the Florida Keys. This string of islands starts just south of Miami and curves around the southern tip of Florida into the Caribbean Sea.
Biscayne National Park
You don’t have to go too far to experience the Keys. Biscayne National Park — framed by Sands Key and Elliott Key in the southern portion of Biscayne Bay — is about 50 kilometers southwest of the city. The allure of this National Park lies below the bright blue waters of the bay: Strap on some scuba or snorkeling gear and dive in to find sunken shipwrecks and colorful coral reefs. You can sign up for a guided underwater tour through companies like Tropic SCUBA.
Curry Hammock State Park
Should you prefer to stay above water, follow Florida’s scenic Route 1 about 180 kilometers south of Miami to Curry Hammock State Park. Occupying a large portion of Little Crawl Key at the center of the archipelago, this collection of verdant mangrove swamps and seagrass beds is ideal for kayaking and paddle boarding. Keep your eyes peeled for some of the park’s beautiful birds, including ibis and pelicans. You may even spot a bald eagle, the U.S. national bird.
To get a sense of the quirky Keys that author Ernest Hemingway loved, follow Route 1 to Key West, the southernmost point in the continental U.S. This fun and funky island (about 256 kilometers from Miami) bustles with beachside bars and boutique shops. To engage in the action, spend some time on Duval Street. But if you’re here for the sand and the surf, don your swimsuit and lay your towel down on the soft sands of Smathers Beach. Located near the Key West International Airport, this nearly 1 kilometer-long stretch of shoreline keeps beachgoers occupied with volleyball courts, jet ski rentals and plenty of people watching.
To make the most of both destinations, give yourself at least three days in Miami and three days in the Keys.
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Smathers Beach on the southern coast of Key West is a great place to try your hand at sailing or just kick back and people watch.