I’ve spent a lot of time in Florida in the past few years and now consider myself somewhat of an expert. If you’re visiting soon, these are my recommendations for where to go and what to do in South Florida.
Sanibel & Captiva Islands
For a relaxing, low-key beach vacation.
What to do:
- Go to the beach. The beaches here are beautiful and full of fine, white sand. If you’re staying at a hotel on Sanibel or Captiva, you’re set with a private beach, and if you’re staying inland, drive to the islands in the early AM to snag a spot on a public beach.
- Collect shells. Sanibel and Captiva Islands are infamous for their shell-covered beaches. I recommend scavenging the beach early in the morning for some to take home as a souvenir.
Where to eat:
Captiva doesn’t have many fine dining spots, so if you’re looking for a more upscale experience, head to Sanibel for Il Cielo and the Mad Hatter.
- Il Cielo ($$): Good Italian food in a charming building.
- Mad Hatter ($$$): My favorite in the area. The restaurant is underwhelming from the outside, but don’t let appearances fool you. The Mad Hatter serves up five-star American cuisine with a five-star view. I’ve been here a couple of times and every time, my expectations were far exceeded. I recommend making a reservation weeks in advance and requesting a table by the window so you can watch a beautiful sunset over the beach.
- The Bubble Room ($): If it’s lunchtime in Captiva and you’re looking for a simple burger prepared with little culinary prowess, head here. The food is not good (bordering on just plain bad), but the restaurant has survived since 1979 because of the entertaining and kitschy atmosphere. It’s an experience in and of itself, and you will never run out of things to look at.
For a relaxing, upscale getaway.
What to do:
Go the beach. There are a ton of beautiful public and private beaches in Naples.
Visit Naples Pier. This is a spot that could be very relaxing and zen if it weren’t for the seemingly constant swarm of tourists. Avoid them by visiting the pier around sunrise or early morning. You’ll definitely get some beautiful pictures and breathtaking views.
See the houses. Naples is in Collier County, a county that accounts for 2 of the most expensive zip codes and is known for attracting a lot of wealthy executives and Fortune 500 types. Therefore, the houses in Naples are insane. Absolutely huge, $42 million estates. I recommend walking or driving down Gulf Shore Blvd to see many of them.
Go shopping. There is a lot of great shopping in Naples. The best place to go is 5th Avenue. It’s a beautiful couple blocks of restaurants, shops and bars.
Go to the zoo. Naples has a surprisingly large zoo with a ton of unique animals (including a sloth – highlight of my visit)! You can also feed giraffes and ride camels.
Where to eat:
- Adelheidi’s Organics ($): Kilwin’s is down the street, but steer away from their artificial, way-too-sweet ice cream and go to Adelheidi’s for YUMMY organic gelato instead. My favorite flavors are the lavender, salted caramel and rose.
- BiCE Ristorante ($$$): Naples is very, very good at traditional Italian food and BiCE is one of the finer examples of this.
- Bha! Bha! Persian Bistro ($$$): This is my favorite restaurant in Naples and one of my top dining experiences of all time. I had a seriously religious experience at Bha! Bha! involving duck and pomegranates (full review to come).
- Terrazza @ Ritz Carlton Naples ($$$): You really cannot go wrong with any Ritz Carlton restaurant. Terrazza has great food in a relaxing, yet upscale atmosphere. It’s an open-air space, so be sure to make reservations around sunset. And after dinner, wander around the resort grounds and down to the beach.
Miami is the perfect place for an upbeat, exciting getaway.
What to do:
- Go to the beach/hang out by the pool. Taking advantage of the hotel’s beach or pool to relax is one of my favorite ways to spend the day in Miami. But if you’re looking for a less relaxing pool experience, there are always the infamous Miami pool parties. Some of the best are at SLS Hyde Beach, 1 Hotel Rooftop, Mondrian Pool Club and the Dream Hotel Rooftop.
- Watersports. Watersports are a great way to cool down on a hot day in Miami. This place will rent you jetskis, paddleboards or kayaks for the day. You can also go parasailing, flyboarding or, if you’re a real adrenaline junkie, flying with a jet pack…
- Go shopping. Both South Beach and downtown Miami have great shopping.
- See Wynwood Walls. Located in the Wynwood neighborhood, Wynwood Walls features work from some of the greatest graffiti and street artists around the world. There’s a lot to see and you could spend a good hour or two here admiring the murals. It is also an Instagram dream.
- Go clubbing. I recommend Story, Rockwell and Basement. And also LIV because … it’s LIV. It’s iconic, it’s insane and it’s a Miami nightlife must. And if you’re not into the club scene or want to take a break for a night, check out Bodega South Beach. It’s in the back of a taqueria and you enter through a graffiti-covered Port-a-Potty door.
Where to eat:
- La Mar by Gaston Acurio ($$$): A beautiful waterfront restaurant in downtown Miami serving up unique Peruvian cuisine. Great for a fun meal with friends or a more formal dinner with parents – it’s that versatile. You can read my full review here.
- Il Gabbiano ($$$$): Very classy, upscale traditional Italian with indoor and outdoor seating. A promoter once told me that “Il Gabbiano is where Pat Riley takes all the free agents to get them to sign on the dotted line *wink face*.” So, there you go.
- Cecconi’s Miami ($$): Cecconi’s is located in the courtyard of the Soho Beach House on Miami Beach. It’s the perfect place for a slightly bougie brunch with your girl friends … and an Instagram. I recommend coming on Saturday or Sunday for their brunch buffet (omelette station, raw bar, charcuterie corner, etc.). If you’re not into the buffet scene and enjoy staying seated and being served (like me!), come at 9 or 10 am for their incredible breakfast or later in the day for dinner.
- Under the Mango Tree ($): This spot sells made-to-order smoothies, juices and acai bowls, as well as a ton of other super healthy & clean meals. It’s a perfect spot to grab a juice before heading to the beach. It’s also a lot more down-to-Earth and less publicized than other Miami spots, like JugoFresh (which is great regardless).
The Great Calusa Blueway
The Calusa Blueway is a 190-mile marked canoe/kayak trail on the West side of Florida available for exploration by both beginners and experts. It has many entrance points in the Fort Myers/Naples area and at most of these, you are able to rent a kayak or canoe for the day.
It’s absolutely beautiful and incredibly scenic. You’ll see a ton of fish and birds along the way.
Go here for a map of the Blueway, including all entrance and exit points.
This should be an item on everyone’s bucket list. The Everglades are a 1.5 million acre National Park in the southern tip of Florida, made up of mangroves and marshes with a ton of wildlife to see (Florida panthers, crocodiles, turtles, etc).
I highly recommend this airboat tour for a really fun experience boating through the mangroves.
What about you guys? Where are your favorite places in Florida? Have you been to any of these?
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