Mini Day Trips from Miami
It doesn’t take much effort to access quaint beach towns, colorful surf towns, tropical farm communities, and otherworldly wildlife from The Magic City.
Miami is already pretty darn close to paradise, but the city glare can make it hard to fully settle into vacation mode. Fortunately, a slate of variations on the coastal lifestyle are nearby — quieter beach towns with Old Florida charm; world-renowned surf capitals perfect for beach bumming; the wild vistas of the Everglades; and cultural hotspots in small-town settings. Before hitting the road, check the Florida Department of Health site and the businesses listed below for COVID-19 updates, as well as the Airbnb Editorial team’s New Rules of Road Tripping guide.
1 Hour Away
Things look quite different when you hit the red-dirt farmlands of Homestead, with its iron-rich soil; steamy climate; and tropical crops. Often overlooked — even by locals — the aptly named Redland area is loaded with u-picks and farm stands. Meanwhile, ecological treasures such as kaleidoscopic coral reefs and mangrove forests lie in wait at Everglades National Park on the western end of town and Biscayne National Park to the east.
Drive just past the entrance to Bayfront National Park — an 173,000-acre, mostly submerged gem protecting one of the largest coral reefs in the world — and turn left into Homestead Bayfront Park. Homestead shares in the beauty of its neighbor with a few added perks, including one of the best photo ops in the area: a brightly painted lifeguard stand by Brazilian pop artist Romero Britto.
Redland is all verdant farms and dusty roads with locals selling avocados. Their strong suit is tropical fruits — from the South Asian jackfruit and Latin American guava at Serendib Farms to the dozens of mango varieties at Robert Is Here. Schedule your curbside pick-ups at any of the dozen-plus family-run farms in the area. Short on time? The weekend Redland Market Village offers a consolidated introduction to the bounty.
Miami’s sister city is a metropolis in its own right, but Fort Lauderdale has retained its mellower vibe, along with a full slate of hidden gems and quiet respites.
Once accessible only by ferry, Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park is Broward County’s last wild stretch of beach, with sea oat–lined dunes and wide trails surrounded by hardwoods and palms. Locals may refer to the 310-acre park as John U. Lloyd out of habit, but its 2016 name change recalls an important part of Fort Lauderdale history, honoring two civil rights activists who led peaceful protests to desegregate local beaches.
Film buffs have long whiled away hot evenings at the two arthouse cinemas run by the ever-popular Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. With theater lineups on pause, the group created the FLIFF Drive-In, with outdoor movies screened at the waterside Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina Thursdays through Saturdays. No current blockbusters here — the schedule focuses on cult favorites, such as Pulp Fiction and Teen Wolf.
Local Hosts Also Recommend: Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens
Airbnb Superhost and Florida native Alexandra Wagner says the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, just 30 minutes from Fort Lauderdale, is her favorite spot to land nice pictures for the ‘gram. “Walk down the little trails around the lake to look at gardens, art, bonsai trees, and stop by the Buddha statue — it’s very peaceful and serene.”
2 Hours Away
Swamp meets sea in Marco Island, the southernmost town on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Marco is the place for scoping wildlife, discovering secret beaches, and cruising by boat — preferably in the Ten Thousand Islands, a remote, labyrinthine network of mangrove-covered islets.
On the drive to Marco, pull into Big Cypress National Preserve, which has the same marshland scenery as Everglades National Park, but with fewer visitors. Within the park, find Big Cypress Gallery, the 13-acre compound where famed nature photographer Clyde Butcher has captured the ’Glades for more than three decades.
Nearby Sanibel might be known as “the seashell capital of the world,” but Marco’s Ten Thousand Islands area has an equally impressive stock of tucked-away beaches that never get picked over. The only way to navigate the maze of tiny islands is by boat, so hire an experienced outfitter with captains who know their way to deserted beaches, along with the full story on the so-called Cape Romano Dome House, a 1970s off-the-grid offshore compound that’s slowly sinking into the ocean.
At Jupiter’s 73-acre Blowing Rocks Preserve, limestone forms craggy rocks that jut into the Atlantic. The most stunning vistas are in winter, when water gushes up to 50 feet into the air between the rocks, but the site is also a beauty at low tide, when you can climb down into the coves. If the preserve is still closed when you go (it shut down for the pandemic), you can get a good glimpse of the rocks — along with a 360-degree shot of the scenic town — from the top of the 160-year-old Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum. Being an institution dedicated to saving lives, the lighthouse is operating with extensive COVID safety precautions.
While everyone else is busy claiming the jewels on Worth Avenue, admire Mother Nature’s adornments at Pan’s Garden, a half-acre lot about a block from the shopping thoroughfare. It’s filled with more than 300 species of native plants that hint at a pre-Flagler Palm Beach. Before driving back over the bridge to the mainland, detour to see the classic and contemporary bronze artworks at the Philip Hulitar Sculpture Garden, inside the Society of the Four Arts’ lush 10-acre campus.
Local Hosts also Recommend: Palm Beach Lake Trail
“It’s a gorgeous paved trail that goes behind beautiful mansions. The opposite side of the trail is the inner coast, so you’re seeing all the boats. It’s such a crowd pleaser. You can rent bikes or just walk along the trail.”
3-4 Hours Away
Florida’s littlest big town takes the high road when it comes to its cultural offerings. And even though the beaches and performing arts get a ton of play (the Ringling Bros sprawling museum complex is here), locals know the real gem is the city’s architecture, which has its own name and school: Sarasota Modern.
Create a self-guided tour of Sarasota Modern design, hitting landmarks such as Sarasota High School’s Rudolph Auditorium, City Hall, and the Lido neighborhood, which is home to the famed Umbrella House. You don’t hear people talk about Sarasota Modern the way they talk about Miami Art Deco, but chalk it up as an oversight. Established in the 1940s, the style — created with Florida’s climate in mind — is considered the most sophisticated version of mid-century modern design. The structures are sleek and angular, with tall windows, simple white exteriors, and lofty, open interiors.
Get high on the treetop trail at Myakka River State Park. One of Florida’s largest and oldest parks, the 37,000-acre stretch remains surprisingly untapped, but that just means more undisturbed time to explore its varied landscape of prairies, forests, and swamps. The canopy trail — which peaks at its 74-foot-high observation tower — provides a solid vantage point.
The Mars 2020 rover launch in July garnered Florida’s Space Coast a lot of attention, but there’s more to this area than the family-favorite Kennedy Space Center and Elon Musk’s SpaceX project. A bona fide surf capital, Melbourne and its surrounding towns are what beach bum dreams are made of.
Watch the next generation of pro surfers from the twin jetties at Sebastian Inlet State Park. The break has trained legends such as Cocoa Beach native Kelly Slater.
Surrounded by Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore, the Indian River Lagoon is shielded from city lights — all the better to see the lagoon’s warm waters glow year-round. Bioluminescent plankton shine blue from May to November, and comb jellies emit white light in the cooler months. Local operators offer tours on clear-bottomed boats for optimal viewing.
Local Hosts also Recommend: Vero Beach
Airbnb Superhost Paul Schiller and his wife Sara suggest making a stop at Vero Beach for its peaceful, less crowded vibe. On clear days, the couple loves paddling or snorkeling out to the Breconshire Wreck, just off main Vero beach, to see marine life.
“It’s so close to shore,” Sara says. “You can still see everything even though it went down in the late 1800s.”
Stephanie Granada is a Colombian-American freelance writer, who splits her time between Florida and Colorado. She's into books, her dog, all things ocean-related, and small towns. You can also find her work in Sunset, Woman's Day, National Geographic Traveler, Southern Living, and others.
Xuetong Wang is an illustrator living in Brooklyn, New York. She received her M.F.A. in Illustration Practice from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She treats illustration as her communication method visually and conceptually, and strives to create works of beauty, accuracy, and interest.