Key Largo: The Dive Capital Of The World
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
102601 Overseas Highway
Key Largo, FL 33037
Just an hour and a half south of Miami is the watery wilderness of Key Largo, known to the locals as the dive capital of the world and to sports fisherman as the top spot for the best catches. Beneath the blue, blue waters of the gateway key lies North America’s only living coral barrier reef, mile after mile of exotic sea life and unique treasures of an island rich with history.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a top destination for exploring the underwater haven – from glass-bottom boat tours, canoe or kayak adventures and even snorkeling day trips, there is something for everyone to enjoy and discover. Full-service campsites are available throughout the property, so you never have to miss a minute of seaside fun.
Oleta River State Park: Urban Camping
3400 N.E. 163rd St.
North Miami, FL 33181
Oleta River State Park is Florida’s largest urban park, hidden beneath a wall of lush greenery amid Miami’s busy metropolis on Biscayne Bay. Oleta offers a little something for everyone, but has earned its reputation as the place to experience scenic off-road cycling in South Florida. The park offers multiple trails for all levels of cyclists, including novice trails for those just getting started and advanced trails for experienced cyclists. Bike and helmet rentals are available and trails are marked for your safety.
On the north end of the park stretching along the Oleta River, a variety of native South Florida plants and wildlife have made their home in a large stand of mangrove forest preserves. Rent a canoe or kayak or pack your own to paddle down river through this scenic natural area. Throw your swimsuit in your bag too and enjoy swimming off the 1,200-foot sandy beach area or experience saltwater fishing from the water’s edge. Stay overnight in one of the park’s rustic, air-conditioned cabins and view the starry night over Biscayne Bay. Cabin rentals are $55 per night, plus tax.
Take a Scenic Drive Down Historic Route 41
You don’t have to venture too far to explore the vast region of Florida wildlife alongside scenic US Route 41. Between Miami and Naples, US 41 winds across the Florida peninsula, cutting through the immense Everglades wilderness. This stretch of highway is part of the National Scenic Byway that runs east–west through the Big Cypress National Preserve and skirts the northern border of the Everglades National Park.
Tamiami Trail is the portion of the highway running between Tampa and Miami – the two cities for which its name is derived. Part of this trail has become known as Alligator Alley as alligators are commonly seen making their way across the road. The trail is only one lane in each direction, with no fences to keep the wildlife from crossing it.
Stops Along The Way:
Surf ‘n’ Skate At The Boca Beach Club
900 S. Ocean Blvd.
Boca Raton, FL 33432
Forget shivering at Rockefeller Square in NYC. Instead, grab your ice skates and experience a distinct South Florida winter wonderland at the Boca Beach Club from November 1 through January 1. The ice rink is kept cool under a large tent and stretches 85 feet long and 40 feet wide across the Boca Beach Club croquet lawn. Sun, surf and skate through the holiday season on real ice in sunny Florida – pink ice that is. Holiday highlights will include open skating at specified day and evening hours. Your experience will include music from the Boca Beach Club’s Resident DJ and, for special events, the Lynn University Philharmonic.
Each week, the Pink Rink at the Boca Beach Club will feature a live figure skating performance starring former figure skating champions Frank Sweiding and Anita Hartshorn, as well as a full team of figure skaters. A spectacular array of dazzling performances on ice await you this holiday season at the Boca Beach Club. Reservations are necessary for special events.
Eat, Shop And Rock At Mizner Park In Boca Raton
327 Plaza Real
Boca Raton, FL 33432
Mizner Park is an upscale lifestyle center – a mixed-use commercial development that combines shopping with leisure activities, such as dining, movie theatres, concerts and even lawn space. The downtown Boca Raton location is an open-air town center based on the Mediterranean design of the late Addison Mizner.
Just a few years ago, Mizner Park was a sleepy and quiet outdoor mall, but has recently become a destination in South Florida. The holiday season brings an influx of visitors for a unique shopping experience, a plethora of restaurants and bars, local festivals and “rockin’” concerts performed at the park’s amphitheater. The Centre for the Arts at Mizner Park is a cultural center on the north end of the development, which embodies the amphitheater and the Boca Raton Museum of Art. The newest addition to the establishment is the Lord & Taylor department store, which just opened in October 2013, and is the only Florida-based location.
Danielle Tworek is a freelance writer whose work can be found on Examiner.com.