Living in the hustle and bustle of Miami, it's easy to forget how close we are to very different parts of Florida. Drive two or three hours in any direction (well, except east, where you will end up in the Atlantic Ocean), and you'll find yourself in a different world.
Weekend trips from Miami give you a chance to sample different worlds, see some of Florida's glorious natural beauty and relax in a quieter environment. There are parts of Florida where you won't get stuck in traffic and there are no skyscrapers. But you might have to eat dinner earlier than you're used to doing in Miami.
Too many South Floridians rarely leave the region, except to visit the Orlando theme parks, and that's a shame because Florida is a diverse and fascinating state, with places to experience history, nature, culture, shopping and fine dining.
Here are five favorite weekend trips from Miami:
Depending on where you are in Miami, you can be in Key Largo in an hour or less. But you'll feel as if you've traveled much farther. The first stop in the Florida Keys, Key Largo has a relaxed island vibe. You can visit the first undersea park in the United States, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, where you can snorkel, ride a glass-bottom boat or just explore. The "African Queen," made famous by the 1951 movie of the same name, offers canal and dinner cruises. Catch a sunset with a tropical drink in your hand.
Just 84 miles west of downtown Miami is the old-time town of Everglades City, which is the entry point for the 10,000 Islands area. You can use the town as a jumping-off point to visit not only the 10,000 Islands but also Big Cypress National Preserve and Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, both incredible natural areas. Everglades City is home to the Miccosukee Village and Cultural Center and the Museum of the Everglades.
Looking for a little luxury in your getaway? Naples, about two hours west of Miami, offers golf, resorts, upscale dining, designer and shopping and beautiful sandy beaches. You don't have to go upscale in Naples, either. You can find hints of old Florida and lots of nature to explore, including the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, which has an elevated boardwalk from which you can see birds, alligators and other native wildlife.
People all over the world come to Florida's Sanibel and Captiva islands, and from Miami, you can get there in about four hours. The islands are known for their white-sand Gulf Coast beaches, where shells are plentiful. Both of these islands have a relaxed, upscale vibe. For a quiet view of Sanibel's natural assets, visit J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
If you like beaches, it's worth driving a few hours north of Miami where the beaches come with dunes and far fewer visitors. There is more surf farther north, too. One favorite spot is Hutchinson Island, near the towns of Jensen Beach, Stuart and Fort Pierce, all of which are worth a visit. Learn about marine life at the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center in Stuart and drop by the House in Refugee, built in 1875. It was one of 10 built along Florida's East Coast to provide shelter to shipwreck survivors.
If you're willing to drive a little farther, perhaps for a long weekend, you can easily get to two popular locales that draw people from all over the world:
The Magic Kingdom is four to five hours from Miami, depending on traffic. Disney lovers make frequent trips, and nearly everyone in Miami has made the voyage at least once. Many theme parks offer periodic discounts for Florida residents. But Orlando is far more than theme parks, with a vibrant downtown and a strong cultural scene. You can rent a paddleboat at Lake Eola downtown or see the world's biggest collection of Tiffany glass at the Charles Homer Morse Museum of American Art in nearby Winter Park (a town worth a separate visit). If you want to see Florida's agricultural center, take State Road 192 up the center of the state instead of Florida's Turnpike.
Yes, you can indeed take a weekend trip from Miami to the southernmost point of the United States and photograph yourself at the marker. While the Florida Keys sustained substantial damage from Hurricane Irma, Key West itself is back in business. The town is known for the never-ending party on Duval Street, but much of its charm is in its tree-lined back streets of old homes. One touristy event that is not to be missed is the daily celebration at sunset at Mallory Square. Expect music, spectacle, and cats that do tricks. Speaking of cats, you can visit the six-toed descendants of Ernest Hemingway's pets at the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum. Despite its small size, Key West is known for culture, so watch for art festivals, literary events, and live music.