Just a short hop away from Miami are some of Florida's most alluring, charismatic and well-known attractions. And as the summer heat cools to winter's milder climate, it's the perfect time to explore the wilder side of South and Central Florida. In fact winter is considered the best time of the year to visit by Florida lovers.
When you're tired of clubbing and celebrity-spotting in Miami, head to these incredible Florida sights, just a short drive from the city. Here are the top day trips from Miami.
Theme Parks in Orlando
In 1971 Walt Disney World opened the gates of Magic Kingdom in Orlando; today, it includes more than 25 hotels, four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom), more than 200 restaurants, and two water parks.
Winter is the quiet season for Florida's theme parks, with most kids back in school; for offseason travelers, that means shorter lines and cooler temperatures.
Universal Orlando is a pedestrian-friendly and intimate complex with two excellent theme parks (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure), eight first-rate resorts, and a carnival-like restaurant and nightlife district (CityWalk) connected by lovely gardened paths or a quiet wooden-boat shuttle.
Also try checking out Old Florida’s Cypress Gardens, just south of town, kitschy Gatorland and lesser attractions sprinkled throughout the city.
How to get to Orlando's theme parks: From Miami (via a car) take the Florida Turnpike. Via train, there is a daily Amtrak route. For flights, Orlando Melbourne International Airport is the closest airport to most destinations on the Space Coast.
Everglades National Park
An easy day trip from Miami, the Everglades provides the perfect excuse to escape from the rat race and reconnect with nature. Here, you'll be able to witness alligators’ backs breaking the water, anhingas flexing their wings before breaking into a corkscrew dive or the slow, dinosaur flap of a great blue heron gliding over its domain.
Beginning in November and stretching through April, the dry season clears up the skies over Everglades National Park, making this the perfect time to explore without the threat of wet weather delays.
The Glades should be approached with the same silence and gentle persuasion it shows its inhabitants. Come by car and canoe, bike, kayak or walk around the park. To understand the way a nutrient-rich patch of water produces a mosquito that feeds a frog, who becomes lunch for a ‘gator, who snaps up a fish that gets speared by an anhinga under these long, low marsh winds, you need to be still.
In the quiet spaces, you realize that the Everglades, so often dismissed as a swamp, are more beautiful than all the flash Miami can produce. South Beach changes by the day. The Glades have beautifully endured forever, and if we’re very lucky, they’ll last that much longer.
How to get to Everglades National Park: From Miami, take MacArthur Causeway to FL-907 N. The trek takes about 42 minutes by car.
Biscayne National Park
Just to the east of the Everglades is Biscayne National Park, where a portion of the world's third-largest reef sits (along with mangrove forests and the northernmost Florida Keys). Fortunately, this unique 300-square-mile park is easy to explore independently with a canoe or via a glass-bottom boat tour.
Biscayne is unique as far as national parks go, requiring a little extra effort to see the reef, and a lot more reward for this work. This is some of the best reef-viewing and snorkeling you'll find in the US, outside Hawaii and nearby Key Largo.
How to get to Biscayne National Park: From Miami, take the Ronald Reagan Turnpike to FL-989 S/SW. It takes a little over an hour to get to the Dante Fascell Visitor Center.
Take one part, Florida residents. Add snowbirds. Sprinkle with a large number of Cuban immigrants and Eastern European guest workers. Include gay community (may consist of “sedate partners who just bought art gallery” and “screaming drag queens of the night”). Garnish with Bahamians.
Set attitudes at “tolerant” and “eccentric.” Turn up the eccentric. Finish with rum. Lots of rum. Bake in searing Florida sun and serve on 45 islands scattershot over a 113-mile-long chain, connected by one long-ass road. Throw in the government of the only republic to successfully secede from the US. Yes, those Conch Republic flags say “We Seceded Where Others Failed,” and that’s the Florida Keys in a conch shell: equal parts tacky, quirky and, damn it, alluring.
Hang out here for a while and you start turning into a “Freshwater Conch” – a permanent transplant – real quick. The Keys are out there; it’s three or four hours at a good clip from Key West, at the end of the chain, back to Miami. Come out this far, and you either contract cabin fever or fall in love.
How to get to the Florida Keys: From Miami, take US-1 south. The trek takes over an hour and a half.
The space shuttle is to the Space Coast what pastel hotels are to South Beach, and you’ll be amazed by the celestial themes swirling in every gas station, cafe and hotel lobby within a meteorite’s throw. Even the area code is 321! In contrast to the high-tech buildings and bad space puns, however, the area also boasts some of Florida’s most deliciously undeveloped areas.
The Space Center only uses about 10,000 of it's 140,000 acres for its purposes. The rest of the area is set aside as a federally-protected wildlife refuge, so don’t be surprised to see sunning alligators, soaring birds (including bald eagles), and rooting wild pigs, giving new meaning to the term “government pork.”
Along the coast, you can find some of Florida’s finest sea turtle observation programs and among the most pristine beaches in the state. For adventure-holics, the waves from Sebastian Inlet to Cocoa Beach offer the state’s gnarliest surfing, and just west of the barrier island the lagoon is dotted with quiet, undeveloped islands, perfect for wiling away warm summer days.
How to get to Space Coast: From Miami, take the Florida Turnpike and I-95 north. The drive takes nearly four hours.