Road Tripping through Florida

Now that all 3 of my US pieces have been published in the Sunday Indy, I can finally write about it on Jozilicious –yay!

Planning a month in the US took a LOT of time. I would say I worked on the trip everyday for about 6 weeks. I had resigned from work by this time, so didn’t have to worry about leave. As such, I wanted to maximize our time in the US and see everything on my bucket list, but at the same time, I didn’t want to be exhausted after the trip because we had 10 days planned in Europe, starting the day after we landed back in SA!

We were in Florida around mid – June and it was scorching. Miami was so hot, it almost became unbearable. A bit of a tricky one, because June/ July is the optimal time to visit the rest of the US in terms of weather, so depending on where else you’re going, you may have to just sweat it out.

We stayed on South Beach (you wouldn’t want to stay anywhere else), and it’s actually what you’d imagine it to be. Palm trees everywhere- parties, bars, bikinis.

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Stay:

The James Royal Palm is a boutique hotel ideally located on South Beach, in the heart of all the action.  It fits perfectly into the art deco scene of the area, with quirky furniture and interesting artwork. Our room overlooked the pool and the ocean- I spent many hours on the balcony soaking in the view and even more time walking along the sunny promenade, which the hotel has direct access to. Here, I also enjoyed the best blueberry pancakes of my life- American style, light, fluffy and as big as a dinner plate.  www.jameshotels.com/miami

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Do:

Miami Culinary Tours is a great way to see the city and sample some of its cuisine, much of which is Cuban influenced. I thoroughly enjoyed the South Beach Food Tour, where I sampled what locals claim is the best gelato in Miami, traditional Cuban coffee and delicious chicken empanadas, all while learning about the history of South Beach. www.miamiculinarytours.com

Eat:

In Miami, locals love going out for brunch over the weekends. Morgan’s, a converted house, offers huge portions of Florida style cuisine- think fried chicken and waffles, pancake stacks and fried squid. The restaurant is focused on organic produce, and makes everything in house. www.morgans.com

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For a meal with a view, head to Juvia, Miami’s latest hot spot. Floor to ceiling glass wraparound windows ensure a bird’s eye view of the city, while the enticing cocktail menu will make sure you linger on the purple velvet couches. www.juvia.com

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From there, we drove 3.5 hours south to Key West, situated at the very end of the Florida Keys, a collection of islands. Hiring a car was super cheap (we had a Mercedes CLK for around ZAR500 a day), although getting to grips with driving on the wrong side of the road was a bit nervewracking at first.

The drive to Key West is as much of an attraction as the place itself. There’s just one highway all the way there, which is surrounded by ocean and small islands on either side.

People go to Key West to party and chill. It has only one main street, Duval Street, but it certainly packs a punch- there are dozens of bars and restaurants to keep you entertained. Duval Street is fun to walk along at night, when it gets very busy. The Southernmost point of the United States is situated here- a nice photo opportunity.

Stay:

When staying at a hotel, space is the ultimate luxury. Parrot Key Resort offers just that- suites come complete with 2 bedrooms, bathrooms and balconies, plus a kitchen and lounge area. These have an island feel- crisp white linen is contrasted with pastel blue and green furnishings. The resort isn’t within walking distance of the attractions within the town, so you will need to hire a car, but thankfully parking is free- a rarity in the US. With 4 pools and a range of watersports on the premises, you may not want to leave. www.parrotkeyresort.com

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Do:

Visit Mallory Square at sunset. You’ll struggle to find parking, but the view is spectacular, as are the street performers, include fire-dancers and acrobats, who gather here every night. Browse the stalls at the night market and take home a shell engraved with your name.

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If you’re an Ernest Hemingway fan, a visit to his house is a must do. Admission includes a 30 minute guided tour, where you will be able to see his writing room, bedroom and lounge, plus the strange polydactyl (6 toed) cats which are descendants of Hemingway’s original pet cat, Snowball. www.hemingwayhome.com

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Eat:

For one of the best donuts I’ve ever tasted, head to the Glazed Donut, where absolutely everything is made from scratch, from the dough to the sprinkles. Flavours range from exotic options like Candied Kumquat and Pumpkin Pecan Praline to plain donuts with vanilla frosting. www.glazeddonuts.com

From Key West, you can either fly out to your next destination from the Key West International Airport, or drive back to Miami. If you choose the latter, stop over in Islamaroda, also part of the Florida Keys, about 2 hours away from Miami.

This is a fisherman’s haven, and also offers fantastic opportunities for snorkeling, sportfishing and watersports. Here, you can charter a boat and find over 500 species of fish within minutes of the shore.

 

Stay:

Cheeca Lodge is a luxurious oasis of calm complete with its own saltwater lagoon, 9 hole par 3 golf course and world class spa. Rooms are fabulous- our king size suite had a Jacuzzi style bath on the veranda, overlooking the ocean. The hotel’s signature restaurant, Atlantic’s Edge, is a great way to try food that is signature to the Florida Keys. Seafood is fresh, having been caught onsite. If you are lucky enough to line in a fish during the day, the restaurant can prepare your catch for you in the style of your choice. www.cheeca.com

Eat:

For an American diner experience in the true sense of the word, check out Mangrove Mike’s. Portions are massive and oily with waitresses wearing pastel yellow uniforms- just the way a diner should be.

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Do:

If you’re an animal lover, you’ll love the Turtle Hospital, the mission of which is to rehab injured sea turtles and return them to their natural habitat, as well as educate the public about keeping beaches and water safe for sea turtles. Here, a guided tour allows you complete access to the hospital, where you can see the surgical rooms, hear about success stories, and meet some of the current patients in the rehabilitation area. Turtles range from tiny babies to larger ones that weigh over 200 kilograms! www.turtlehospital.org

My next post will be on the West Coast- LA, San Fran and Vegas- stay tuned 🙂