South Florida: Miami and the Florida Keys

South Florida: Miami and the Florida Keys

Miami and the Florida Keys are an incredible vacation destination. With fun in the sun, beautiful beaches, incredible food and out-of-this-world sunsets, there is something here for everyone. My friend Nicole Welfel, who is currently a resident of Key West, and I have put together this guide to visiting.

When to Go

Avoid the humidity and schedule your trip during the dry season between November and mid April. Save the summer months for planning and making reservations because rooms and vacation rentals fill up quickly and hotel prices sky-rocket as the temperatures start to drop.

What to Pack

For locals, even in winter, 74 degrees is chilly, but it feels great. Shorts and a T-shirt will get you through the day, but for nighttime you will want long pants and a light jacket. Be sure to pack sunscreen, glasses and a hat and of course bring your swimsuit and beach clothes.

For anyone visiting in the summer, bring plenty of water with you. Whenever you leave the house/hostel/hotel, have water, sunscreen, a small towel (because you will sweat), and long sleeves for sun protection (if you can handle it), and more water.

When it comes to nightlife in Miami, it is best to be prepared. Everywhere you go, it is a place to see and be seen. And you want to be seen looking good. Put some effort into your outfit and walk with confidence. Key West on the other hand is laid back. There are no rules and anything goes.

How to Get There

Fly into Miami International Airport. Flights are also available to Fort Lauderdale but it is 30 minutes farther away.

Where to Stay

South Beach is where the action is in Miami. There are an incredible number of hotels to choose from for every price point and vibe you’re looking for. Many of the hotels further south on Ocean Drive are part of the Art Deco Historic District. Stay near Downtown Miami, if you just need to rest a night between flying in and making the drive to Key West.

In Key West, there are a reasonable number of hotels all around the island. The closer to Duval Street and the downtown area you are, the more expensive accommodations will be. Many of the hotels that are further away provide free shuttle transportation to and from downtown. Be sure to double check that a hotel offers this if you are planning to stay farther than walking distance.

Getting Around

Within Miami, there are multiple public transportation options. Metrorail connects the airport and neighborhoods within Miami, while the Metromover is a free tram that makes it easy to get around downtown. The only public transportation to or within Miami Beach is by bus. Luckily the South Beach neighborhood is very walkable. Uber, Lyft and taxis are also available. For longer trips such as the Florida Keys or the Everglades a rental car will be necessary. Many of the roads in the Miami area are toll roads and it is best to get a toll tag from the rental car agency. Miami drivers are very aggressive so be aware. There are routes you can take to avoid toll roads, but they take much longer and the toll fares are not much so it really is worth it.

Within Key West, bike rentals are a popular form of transportation. However, even without a bike, the bulk of Key West is entirely walkable. Duval is a long street and there is almost too much to see that walking it is really the best way to ensure you fully take it all in. During the winter months the crowds of people can be overwhelming so if you are in a car, be on the lookout for the tourists who have no regard for stop signs or street lights! Unfortunately Uber and Lyft are not available in Key West so you will have to take a pedi-cab or taxi if you need a ride.

What to Eat

Miami may be known for its Cuban and Latin cuisine, which is delicious, but there are a variety of restaurants offering fantastic food. From seafood to steaks to sandwiches, you cannot go wrong.  Miami and Key West both have great spots for brunch with some offering incredible ocean views.

 

Must See

 

Miami Beach (South Beach)

With its famous beaches, Art Deco architecture and nightlife, South Beach might come to mind first when thinking of Miami. Despite this, it is actually part of Miami Beach, which is a separate city located across Biscayne Bay from Miami. Lincoln Road Mall and Collins Ave are just a couple of the popular spots where you can play, dine, and shop all in one place.

The art scene in Miami/Miami Beach is stunning and interwoven throughout the community.
The art scene in Miami/Miami Beach is stunning and interwoven throughout the community.

Overseas Highway

The drive down to Key West is part of the entire experience and should be incorporated into your trip.  You won’t find many other places with turquoise blue medians and one-lane highways flanked by endless blue ocean and skies.

Key West

Located at the end of the Overseas Highway, Key West is a unique tropical paradise that brings a taste of the Caribbean to the United States. Watch the sunset from Mallory Square, explore historic homes and gardens, or take a walk down Duval Street.  This is a very eclectic and welcoming community that embraces new people like family.
Southernmost Point
Southernmost Beach which serves a delicious Key Lime Margarita
Sunset from Mallory Square
Duval Street
Ernest Hemingway House
One of the many cats that live at the Ernest Hemingway Home. Keep on the lookout for those with 6-toes!
Key West Lighthouse

Everglades National Park

At over 1.5 million acres, Everglades National Park is the 3rd largest National Park in the country. The park protects a fragile network of tropical wetlands and forests that are home to a variety of plants and animals native to Florida. Just outside of the park boundaries are a number of companies offering airboat tours of the Everglades.
Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park
Alligators are a very common site in the Florida Everglades
Airboat

Bonus

If time allows consider adding one or more of the following stops to your trip

Downtown Miami

From historic points of interest to shiny new skyscrapers, downtown Miami is a mix of old and new. The neighborhood has a booming population in addition to being the commercial center of South Florida. Restaurants, museums, shops, and parks offer a number of things to do.

Waterfront along Biscayne Bay
Freedom Tower
Metro Mover
American Airlines Arena
Miami Riverwalk

Key Largo

One of the northernmost islands of the Florida Keys is Key Largo which bills itself as the "Diving Capital of the World." John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is located just offshore. It is home to the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States. You can view the reef up close by snorkeling, scuba diving, or taking a glass-bottom boat tour
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Glass Bottom Boat

Little Havana

Little Havana is home to a large immigrant population that comes from all over Latin America. Restaurants, cafes and markets offer a sampling of the different cultures that have made their way to Miami.
Tower Theater
Tower Theater
Calle Ocho Walk of Fame

Sample Itineraries

3 Day Trip 

Day 1

  • Arrive at Miami International Airport
  • Check into hotel in South Beach
  • Go to the beach
  • Experience the nearby Nightlife

Day 2

  • Go to the Beach
  • Make a side trip out to Downtown Miami or Little Havana
  • Return to hotel in South Beach

Day 3

  • Check out of Hotel
  • Drive out to the Everglades
  • Go on an airboat tour or explore Everglades National Park
  • Fly out of Miami International Airport

5 Day Trip

Day 1

  • Arrive at Miami International Airport
  • Check into hotel in Downtown Miami
  • Explore Downtown Miami

Day 2

  • Drive the Overseas Highway to Key West
  • Check into hotel in Key West
  • Watch the Sunset Celebration from Mallory Square
  • Have dinner and drinks on Duval Street

Day 3

  • Explore points of interest in Key West
  • Drive the Overseas Highway back to Miami
  • Check into hotel in South Beach

Day 4

  • Go to the beach
  • Experience the nearby night life

Day 5

  • Check out of hotel
  • Drive to the Everglades
  • Go on an airboat tour or explore Everglades National Park
  • Fly out of Miami International Airport

7 Day Trip

Day 1

  • Arrive at Miami International Airport
  • Check into hotel in Downtown Miami
  • Explore Downtown Miami

Day 2

  • Stop by Little Havana
  • Drive the Overseas Highway to Key West
  • Check into hotel in Key West
  • Have dinner and drinks on Duval Street

Day 3

  • Explore the points of interest in Key West
  • Wander the shops along Duval Street
  • Watch the Sunset Celebration from Mallory Square

Day 4

  • Check out of hotel in Key West
  • Drive to Key Largo
  • Go snorkeling or do a glass bottom boat tour of a coral reef
  • Drive to South Beach
  • Check into hotel on South Beach

Day 5

  • Go to the beach
  • Experience the nearby nightlife

Day 6

  • Drive to the Everglades
  • Go on an Airboat Ride
  • Explore Everglades National Park
  • Drive back to South Beach

Day 7

  • Go to the beach
  • Check out of hotel
  • Fly out of Miami International Airport

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