South Florida Sampler: Miami, Sanibel, The Everglades and The Keys

baby alligator everglades

A baby alligator in the Shark Valley area of The Everglades; photos by Amanda Lobell

The blizzard that hit NYC the day after Christmas may have been pretty to look at (see snowy city photos here), but it sure ruined a lot of vacation plans. Amanda Lobell and Neil Roach had planned to take a trip to Arizona, but their flight to Phoenix was canceled and couldn’t be rebooked until over a week later. They took the refund and scrambled to plan a whole new vacation to Florida, where they lucked out with perfect weather. In eight days, they covered a lot of ground in South Florida: Miami, Naples, Sanibel Island, The Everglades and The Keys. Here, Amanda shares the highlights.

Ernest Hemingway's House in Key West

Ernest Hemingway's House in Key West

Road Trip Itinerary: We flew into Miami late on New Year’s Eve and stayed there for the night. The next day we drove through the Everglades and spent most of the day there, but spent the night in Naples. The next morning we went to Sanibel for two days. Then we drove back to Miami via The Everglades again. After another night in Miami, we headed down to Key West for two nights. We spent our last night, before a really early flight home, back in Miami.

Favorite Restaurants: We ate a lot of seafood on this trip, and the best we had was at Fish House on Key Largo. It doesn’t look like much (the decor is dated and the location, right on US1 isn’t scenic), but the food is amazingly fresh and well and prepared.

Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson on Garden Key

We also liked Lazy Flamingo in Sanibel and Truluck’s in Naples, where we ate at the bar to take advantage of their half price drinks and appetizers until 7pm.

Snorkeling in the Dry Tortugas: While in Key West, we took a full day trip to Dry Tortuga National Park on the Yankee Freedom II. The Dry Tortugas are a group of islands 70 miles west of Key West. We visited Garden Key, which is the home to Fort Jefferson, a Civil War Fort in the middle of nowhere in the Gulf of Mexico. Fort Jefferson was incredibly well preserved, and we were able to walk around all three levels, seeing not only the fort itself but great views of the ocean. The ferry provided snorkeling equipment, so we also were able to snorkel off the island. The snorkeling was fantastic — we saw thousands of fish, including a giant barracuda.

Heron in The Everglades

A Heron in The Everglades

Miami Hotel Deal: Because the trip was so last-minute, we didn’t book all of our hotels before leaving. Instead, we booked them as we went along, often using Priceline to get the best deals. Our favorite hotel was Hyatt Regency Coral Gables in Miami, an upscale property that only cost us $90 for the night. The downside was the location — it’s in the middle of Coral Gables, a quiet residential area of Miami. However, if you have a car, you can get to South Beach quite quickly.

Exploring the Everglades: We spent a good deal of time in the Everglades, first entering through the western entrances (Shark Valley and Everglades City) and then the southern entrance (in Homestead/Florida City). Although we loved seeing alligators, anhingas and herons right by the side of the road at Shark Valley and had fun on a boat ride though mangrove swamps from Everglades City, we found that the southern entrance gave a superior view of the park. The setting is more natural than at Shark Valley, and there are tons of walks through different ecosystems. Because we visited this section at the very end of our trip (on our way back from the Keys to Miami before flying home) we weren’t able to go through the whole park — so we’ll have to go back to see more!

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One Response to South Florida Sampler: Miami, Sanibel, The Everglades and The Keys

  1. Rebecca January 25, 2011 at 5:59 am #

    Florida looks so cool! Would love to go there… all these names I’ve heard about forever, Miami, Everglades, Key Largo…

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