This hidden gem island is just over the Rickenbacker Causeway from Miami, but the two are poles apart. It’s bookended by two state parks, so greenery’s in good supply. You’ve got Crandon Park to one end and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on the other. Here, the porcelain beaches are backed by swaying palms, rather than skyscrapers. In fact, the only high-rise structure in sight is a whitewashed Cape Florida Lighthouse. If you time your visit between Thursday and Monday, you can take a guided tour to the top for 360-degree views. In Crandon Park, meanwhile, the beaches are just as idyllic. You can also take a walk to a former zoo, where free-roaming peacocks, iguanas and swans have taken over.
If you fancy swapping ocean for pool, Coral Gables is the place to head. A stroll through the so-called City Beautiful will transport you back to the Mediterranean, with tree-lined streets, ivy-covered mansions and Renaissance-style architecture. The whole place was the brainchild of real estate developer George Merrick, and it’s all just 15 minutes’ drive from Miami. The intricate Venetian Pool is the star attraction for oasis-seeking tourists. This former rock quarry was converted into a vision of rock formations, waterfalls, caves and tropical palms, with a lagoon the colour of a Tiffany & Co® box. It holds 820,000 gallons of fresh water, fed from an underground aquifer. And, during high season, the pool’s emptied and filled back up again every night – to keep it nice and fresh. The pool’s not just a nice place to relax, it’s also the only pool to make the National Register of Historic Places, so you’ll be swimming in a slice of history.
The Everglades is Florida stripped back, so it’s as far from made-up Miami as you can get. Distance-wise, though, it’s just over an hour’s drive from the city, depending on traffic. The 1.5-million-acre preserve is wetlands, swamps, lakes, rivers and grassland all rolled into one, so it’s the perfect place to get back to nature. Airboat tours are the best way to get around – they’re designed to be 60% quieter than traditional boats, so as not to disturb any lurking gators. You can skim along the grassy water, keeping your eyes peeled for the alligators, turtles and birds that call this untouched wilderness home. You’ll also get a chance to get even closer to these creatures at the Everglades Alligator Farm, which puts on snake shows and alligator feeding demonstrations.
This mysterious site, just 40 minutes’ drive from Miami, has been likened to Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids. Legend has it, Latvian Edward Leedskalnin set out to create the one-of-a-kind monument after his fiancé cancelled their wedding a day before the ceremony. He single-handedly carved 1,100 tonnes of rock, without any machinery – quite a feat for a five-foot-tall man, who weighed just over seven stone. Opening in 1923, the masterpiece took him 28 years to finish, and scientists and engineers still remain baffled by his achievement. The Coral Castle isn’t really a castle – or made out of coral – but the hand-sculpted walls, tables, moon and sundial are impressive nonetheless.
With coral reefs, sunken ships and statues, it’s easy to see why Key Largo is such an underwater playground. It’s not very often that you get to visit a state park below the waves, but the first – and biggest – of Florida’s Keys is home to just that. The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park which spreads along the ocean floor for 70 nautical square miles. It’s one of the reasons that Key Largo’s often dubbed the Diving Capital of the World – there’s also a neighbouring marine sanctuary. Either way, you’ll find no shortage of glass-bottom, snorkelling and scuba diving boats ready to whisk you out to explore the fish-filled waters. One of the biggest attractions here for snorkellers and divers is the sunken Christ of the Abyss – an eight-foot-tall bronze sculpture of Jesus Christ. Plus, if you’ve got your PADI Open Water certificate, you can also dive down to a World War II shipwreck.
You’ll need to be an early bird for this daytrip, but it’s worth it. Grand Bahama – the northernmost island of the Bahamas – is a hop, skip and a jump from Miami’s shores at just 56 miles. You’ll be picked up from Miami before making the 40-minute drive up to nearby Fort Lauderdale, where the ferries leave for the Bahamas. It’s a three-hour cruise to the 85-mile-long island, which means you’ll be left with six hours’ worth of sunbathing time. The isle’s name translates as ‘great shallows’ in Spanish, thanks to its shallow reefs and sandbars. Lucaya Beach is the most popular beach – it’s a vast expanse of rice-white sand, washed by turquoise-tinted waters. If you have time, there’s also Lucayan National Park. Walk the mangrove trails past Gold Rock Beach, where the raccoons outnumber the people. Or duck down at Ben’s Cave – one of the longest underwater cave systems in the world. Just so you know, you’ll need to bring your passport with you.
Thanks to a historic setting on Ocean Drive and trendy interiors, seamlessly blends the old with the new.
You can spot the sands from the rooftop terrace at the . It’s got a privileged position on Miami’s all-action Ocean Drive.
With its beachside locale and chilled-out pool, the Riu Plaza Miami Beach ticks off all the Miami must-haves.
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