Your relatives are visiting, your kids are out of school, or you're just ready to leave Miami's hipster lifestyle and explore a totally different side of Florida. But you can't afford a vacation, and you've only got one day to play.
Lucky for you, even though Miami is surrounded by water on three sides (if you count the Everglades), you can still find lots of short trips from Miami.
Options include exploring nature in the Everglades or another park—you can book tours from Miami to make it easy—as well as visiting less-crowded beaches farther north, delving into some piece of South Florida history, or exploring smaller cities, including the very posh Palm Beach.
If you like shopping, the second largest mall in Florida, a popular destination for international tourists, is within easy driving distance. Or you can experience an "African" safari if you're willing to suspend a little belief.
Here are some of our favorite day trips from Miami:
Everglades. Photo credit: Miguel Vieira via Flikr
Everglades National Park
The Everglades is a natural resource unique in the world. Its beauty is subtle, but you can see it if you look. Just a few inches difference in elevation can completely change the flora and fauna, and you can explore this wilderness easily on a day trip. Rent a kayak or canoe, bicycle at Shark Valley, or walk along the Anhinga Trail boardwalk. There are also day cruises from Miami. The best time to visit the Everglades is in winter, when there are more wading birds and fewer mosquitoes.
Living in urban Miami, you may not realize that Miami-Dade County still has significant agricultural areas. A visit to Homestead will remind you of that. Historic downtown Homestead is older than most of Miami; it was developed in the early 1900s, and many historic buildings are still standing. If you go in winter, be sure to visit Robert Is Here and Knaus Berry Farm for fruit shakes and cinnamon rolls. Homestead is also the place to go for authentic Mexican food, and it is home to South Florida's only winery, Schnebly Redland's Winery and Brewery. Stop on the way down at Cauley Square, a historic railroad village turned shopping and entertainment center.
Sawgrass Mills Mall
Sawgrass Mills Mall is one of Florida's top tourist destinations, and is one of the best day trips from Miami. The alligator-shaped outlet mall features more than 350 stores, plus restaurants and entertainment venues. You can find both true outlet stores and traditional discount retailers. Among the outlets are the Neiman Marcus Last Call Clearance Center, Prada, Coach, Burberry, Juicy Couture, Barneys, Kate Spade, Banana Republic, Gap, Ugg Australia, and many, many more. If you really love shopping, Ikea is nearby. If you buy too much, you can always store your finds in a Miami storage unit.
Downtown Fort Lauderdale and Las Olas
Fort Lauderdale has experienced much of the same growth Miami has in recent years, with condos and retail options springing up to revitalize its downtown. The Las Olas shopping and restaurant district has both old and new favorites, with plenty of sidewalk cafés for lunch. To see Fort Lauderdale from another vantage point, ride the water taxi. If you want to see how the rich live, you can take a ride on the Jungle Queen, which starts at Fort Lauderdale beach, where the mega-rich keep their mega-yachts, and follows the New River inland.
Palm Beach County
Town of Palm Beach
You don't have to be a Trump or a Kennedy to visit the barrier island town of Palm Beach. You don't even have to be rich to window-shop on Worth Avenue. Railroad magnate Henry Flagler's palatial estate is now the Flagler Museum, which offers an intriguing glimpse at how the other half used to live, as well as showcasing artwork. The Breakers Hotel, also built by Flagler, operates as a resort today and you can drop by for a meal or a drink and pretend you're on vacation. If all this opulence gets to be too much, drop by the Norton Museum of Art in plebian West Palm Beach, then check out happy hour specials at CityPlace.
One of my favorite places to travel for lunch or dinner is Delray Beach, south of West Palm Beach. Its relaxed beach-town vibe and dynamic downtown make it a fun location to visit. Bring your swimsuit and play on the beach, or just bring your appetite and eat at a restaurant with an ocean view. If you're looking for entertainment, you can find live music downtown at one of the many concert venues in nearby Boca Raton.
Lion Country Safari
You probably had no idea there were zebras in Florida. They're not native, but you can see them in the "wild" at Lion Country Safari, Florida's only drive-through wildlife park. In addition to zebras, the park includes lions (of course), impalas, giraffes, ostriches, water buffalo, wildebeests, and other African animals. There is also a walk-through safari where you can get closer to the less dangerous animals, including exotic birds and reptiles. The attraction is in Loxahatchee, about 20 miles west of West Palm Beach (and 75 miles north of Miami).