Florida continues to be one of the top places for tourists in not only the country, but the entire world. An incredible 105 million tourists pick Florida as their holiday destination each year. So it's no surprise that when we're not traveling or working, we're hosting visitors to the sunshine state in our home. This summer alone, we are expecting 18 visitors to stay with us, and that's not including the 10 visitors we've already had this year!
So, I have plenty of experience hosting guests and recommending them some cool places to visit in and around in the South Florida area, along with, of course, just hitting THE BEACH.
Here are 25 places I continue to recommend to family and friends to check out when they visit. The last three places on the list I have not been to yet, but have heard good things about them. Every other place I've been to myself, or taken tourists many times! Even though I've seen these places several times and taken a million pictures already, there are many I would still go back and enjoy each time.
1. Hollywood Beach Broadwalk
If you're staying near Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood Beach is a great place to start for your South Florida beach experience because of the tourist-friendly atmosphere here. My favorite part about this area is the "Broadwalk" (not Boardwalk). It is a large, paved, pedestrian-only street between the beach and storefronts that line the area. Since it is closed off from traffic, you don't have to deal with the hundreds of cars that drive down Ocean Blvd right on the beach, like in Fort Lauderdale. Complete with palm trees lining the walkway, it's a picturesque and pleasant atmosphere. You can walk along the broadwalk and grab food and drinks at the numerous restaurants, you can shop in the many stores, or you can rent a bike and ride up and down the bike path to get the full Hollywood Beach experience. There's a farmer's market and juicer open on the weekends. Also, I always take tourists to Mamacita's, where we can order a whole fried snapper and sides, enough for four people! Be sure to make Hollywood Beach one of your destinations while in South Florida.
2. Viscaya Museum and Gardens
Another favorite of mine to take tourists, or even just to visit on my own, is the historic Vizcaya Villa and its surrounding gardens located on Biscayne Bay in Miami. An enormous mansion and estate that was donated by a wealthy landowner, James Deering, to the city of Miami, it is a popular spot for wedding photography and other events, and I love it for the same reason. There are some beautiful opportunities for photography. You could spend several hours walking around and exploring the many corners of the gardens. Inside, the estate has been historically preserved, so you can see how the Deerings lived back then (it's always fascinating to see how small their beds were!). I highly recommend spending one gorgeous day exploring this magical place.
3. Las Olas Blvd & Riverwalk
Another typical favorite of tourists visiting South Florida is Las Olas street in Fort Lauderdale. This is a shopping district lined with boutiques, florists, and restaurants to give you a classy afternoon of strolling the streets and shopping. You can also head down to the Riverwalk area, which is another popular place to stroll along, obviously, the river, and shop or dine. I always recommend visitors check out this area, especially if they happen to be visiting when one of the semi-annual Las Olas Art Fairs is taking place.
4. Pinball Museum (& Downtown), Delray Beach
This is a recent find for myself. Having lived in South Florida for many years and only discovering this place last year was a real treat. (It shows that even though I've called this area home for nearly 10 years, there are still so many adventures that await me!) Anyway, this one is for both adults and kids. Don't let the name museum throw you off: it's basically one large arcade and game room. But it's unique because all of the historic pinball machines were rescued and rigged so that you can play all machines in the place for a flat fee: no nickels required. The pinball machines date back from the 1940's all the way to the current millennium. So they're fun to play, but also interesting to read about. There's also skeeball, shuffleboard, racing games, shooting games, Mortal Kombat, Street-fighter, Pac-man; the list goes on. For a reasonable $15, you can get as much pinball and arcade game-time you like for 1/2 day! Usually we show up around 7:00pm and play right into the night, since they are open until 2am. It also has a bar, and they play some great music, too!
The downtown area of Delray Beach is also a great place to walk around, day or night. During the day, think boutiques and brunch. At night, think bars and nightlife.
5. Morikami Museums and Gardens
This enormous, Japanese-styled gardens is owned by the Morikami family, who were originally from Japan and were one of the first residents here in South Florida back in the early 1900's. This estate has become a museum, restaurant, gift shop, and gardens that serve to display the traditional architecture, culture, food, and gardening techniques of the Japanese.
It's a stunning place. Stroll around the lake among Japanese flora and zen gardens. Start with the main building where there are exhibits showcasing art from Japan and a complete library of Japanese books, including history books, cookbooks, gardening, decor, and even anime and manga. Make sure you have time to check out the numerous exhibits throughout the park that show a traditional Japanese home and school, complete with rice-paper doors, and the reasonably-priced restaurant where you can sip tea and eat sushi overlooking the lake and gardens. It's another magical place to spend a day in South Florida.
6. Holiday Park Everglades Airboat Ride
When you think of Florida, you think of alligators. And no tourist trip to Florida is complete without seeing them up close! There are many numerous airboat tours that offer to take you through the canals searching for live gators. I've always went with this location, and three out of the four times I went, we saw gators. Remember that it's not a guarantee that you'll see any alligators because, afterall, it's not a zoo; these are wild animals and may or may not be seen that day. However, the staff gives a nice tour of the Everglades even if you don't see any gators, you do learn a lot about this unique ecosystem. Also included in the tickets price is the gator wrestling show at the end of the tour.
(Side note: I haven't participated in a tour of the Everglades through one of the Native American tribes in the area. I'd be curious to hear about your experience if you have! It seems like a worthy place to contribute tourist money.)
7. Lincoln Road, Miami
If I have to take a tourist to Miami, I always start with Lincoln Road. It's an upscale shopping area that tourists just love. You can park near Lincoln Road and walk all the way down to Ocean Drive, since that the area most people want to see. My favorite thing to do on Lincoln Road is to order a fresh lunch, a glass of wine, and sit and people watch. You see some real characters walking around Miami nowadays!
8. Snorkeling Adventure, Fort Lauderdale
For those who wants to get out on the water, but don't have the luxury of renting a whole boat to themselves, they can sign up for the snorkeling adventure out of the Bahia Mar hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I've done this snorkeling adventure three times, and although is can be a little pricey ($30 per snorkeler), you can bring your own drinks and snacks, enjoy the ride out and back in, and experience some awesome snorkeling on a reef located at about 20 feet deep about 1/3 mile off-shore.
9. Wynwood Art District, Miami
You can't claim you've experienced Miami if you've never been to Wynwood. It's hard to describe Wynwood without turning one off to the area, because it doesn't SOUND pleasing, but it's a fascinating place. What makes this neighborhood so fun is the incredible amount of commissioned graffiti in the area. What started as an abandoned industrial park, city-planners with a vision started renting the empty warehouses out to artists for their showrooms and galleries and transformed this area into a hip, artistic community. This awesome neighborhood has become iconic through the easily-Instagramable photos of the Wynwood Walls area. But this private art walk area, free to enter but only open until a certain time and sometimes closed for private events, is just one section of the several city blocks that make-up this street artists' mecca. It's also home to some trendy and unique restaurants, breweries, and boutiques. You can go pretty much any time, but on the second Saturday of every month they have an hugely popular Artwalk, where galleries open their doors, dozens of food trucks fill the empty parking lots, and thousands of people flood this neighborhood. For your first experience, avoid the crowds and get a tranquil experience of the place. Then maybe go back and experience the craziness of Artwalk at least once if possible!
10. Old Spanish Monastery, St. Bernard de Clairveux, Miami
This is one of my favorite places on the list because it feels kind of like a secret. I do feel like if you've read this far into my list, though, you deserve to know about this enchanting place. This monastery was actually built in Spain in the 1100's. It was then torn down sometime in the 1800's and saved, in crates, until the 1920's when William Randolph Hearst purchased it and shipped it to the U.S. It wasn't until another wealthy businessman purchased it from him and organized it to be built in Miami in the 1960's. It was eventually donated to the church and remains a working church today.
You can tour the monastery, church, and gardens as long as their isn't a service or an event occurring. It's spectacularly photogenic, and you can claim to have explored the oldest building the Western Hemisphere after visiting!
11. Venetian Pool, Coral Gables
While I've never actually swam in the Venetian Pool, I have stopped by and snapped a few pictures. It also seems to be a favorite by the locals who frequent the largest freshwater-fed pool in the country. The limestone structure that gives the freshwater pool its vibrant color would cool anyone off on a hot day just by looking at it! The Venetian Pool is located in Coral Gables, another area of South Florida that is worth a drive over to explore.
12. The National Hotel Pool in South Beach, Miami
When you picture Miami, this probably what you picture. You imagined yourself laying poolside, drink in hand, while sunlight filters through a palm leaf above you. Unfortunately, most visitors who come to Florida are staying with me to either save money or to spend time at my house. So how do you get that poolside experience if you're not a hotel guest? Luckily, you can pay your way into the hotel pool area and experience Miami the way a socialite would. It's been a few years since I've been there, so check with the hotel ahead of time, but for $35, you get use of the pool, a chair and a towel, and to use the hotel's entrance to the beach. There's also a bar, cabanas for rent, and a DJ on weekends! It's everything you imagined Miami to be!
(Side Note: I've also read The Raleigh Hotel allows non-hotel guests to purchase day-passes for use of the pool, but I haven't been there yet. Let me know if you have!)
13. Water Taxi, Fort Lauderdale
You may have heard that Fort Lauderdale is the "Venice of America". See why by jumping on the local Water Taxi that rides all throughout the canals of Fort Lauderdale. You can do a round trip, just for the sights, or get off at any stop, since it really is a taxi service. This is such a unique experience for visitors, and it allows you the chance to see many of the jaw-dropping intercoastal mansions and yachts along the way! If your driver is feeling up to it, he or she may give you the details on some of the rich and famous living nearby.
14. Butterfly World, Pompano Beach
This might be a tourist trap to some, but it's the experience of a lifetime for others. Butterfly World is located in Tradewinds State Park and consists of a massive butterfly atrium, bird atrium, and insect hall and museum. There's also an orchid garden and a lorikeet-feeding experience, so it may be a great choice with kids!
15. Hugh Taylor Birch State Park
I like this park because it's quiet, secluded, and gives the explorer a little chance to get up close and personal with the flora and fauna that makes its home in the hammocks of Florida. This park is also home to one of the most impressive trees in all of South Florida: the old Banyon tree at the center. You just have to see this amazing tree to believe it! You can also ride bikes or just walk through the many trails throughout the park. Discovering all the areas in this hidden gem is a nice day adventure away from the beach.
16. Blowing Rocks Preserve, Hobe Sound
Although a little far north than the rest of my list, I included this because it's just close enough for a day trip. As you depart Broward County and drive more north, Palm Beach county seems a lot more rural, secluded, and peaceful. So taking a drive north to this captivating beach is worth the drive to get away from the urban jungles of South Florida.
Blowing Rocks preserve doesn't look like any beach in Florida. The eroded limestone rocks that line the shore give this beach the feeling of being in another state. It may not be that impressive to someone from Maine, perhaps, but for us Floridians, it's a notable experience. If you time your visit right, during high tide and with a large surf, the waves that crash on the rocks can be quite dramatic!
17. Espanola Way, Miami
Just a few blocks from Lincoln Road is Espanola Way, where tourists will once again get that Miami-esque restaurant, bar, and boutique vibe. This is another area to stroll, especially at night, when the string lights above you come on, the music Spanish music filters out from the restaurants, and couples laugh and walk hand in hand.
18. Deerfield Beach and Lauderdale-By-The-Sea
Two of my favorite local beaches. Both recently renovated, Deerfield Beach and pier is worth checking out for it's small and local vibe. North of the pier are where the young crowds and spring breakers filter out from the bars onto the beach. There are volleyball courts where Brazilians will often show off their skills at foot volley. South of the pier is a little quieter, where families unwind and lounge chairs are rented. The pier itself is iconic to Deerfield Beach, and for $1 you can stroll to the end and watch the fisherman try their luck. Several new restaurants have opened up on the beach. Check a schedule of events for the many festivals that are held on the street filled with fair food and craft stands.
In Laudedale-by-the-Sea, there is an excellent, family-oriented outdoor space filled with beach shops and restaurants. There's even a small public space that was recently remodeled with huge wooden beach chairs and public cornhole games. It's a great place to walk around and enjoy the beach vibes.
19. Bar-B Ranch, Horseback-Riding, Davie
One may not think of horse-back riding when visiting South Florida, but for the equine lover, checking out one of the many ranches in Davie, Florida may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I've personally used Bar-B Ranch before and was very happy with my experience. They take all kinds of riders, from expert to beginner. The trail goes through farmlands, woods, and fields. You definitely won't feel like you're in the urban jungle of South Florida anymore!
20. McCarthy's Wildlife Sanctuary, West Palm Beach
Instead of taking the family to a zoo in the area, get your wildlife fill with a visit to McCarthy's Wildlife Sanctuary. A much better experience and for a much better cause, this sanctuary, as implied, is home to many abandoned and/or rescued animals, including the many impressive tigers they have on site. The close proximity to the tigers gives you a much better experience than any zoo, anyway, and at least you feel better knowing that the animals caged are rescued or being rehabilitated.
21. Schnebly Winery, Homestead
It's not the grapes that make this Floridian winery famous, it's the crazy combinations of other Florida fruit that are grown and made in this winery. Avocado, starfruit, and lychee wine are just some of the unique flavors that you can try at this winery. I didn't particularly have a taste for these wines, however, the place was full of people going crazy for this intoxicant, so to each, his own I guess! If you don't go here for the wine, you must go here for the scenery. The place is exquisite, complete with gardens, a waterfall, and koi ponds. Not to mention they also opened up a decent brewery in the back, if wine just isn't your alcohol of choice!
22. Oleta River State Park & Biscayne Bay
Renting a kayak or paddleboard in Oleta State Park is another fun experience, especially those with kids. The estuaries that lead into Biscayne Bay are fun to explore, and once you're in the bay, the water is incredible. On a good day, it's flat, warm, and full of sea-life. We seen all kinds of creatures swimming nearby, including dolphins, manatees, and sea turtles. For a break from paddling, make your way to the island in the middle of the bay that is only accessible to boats.
23. Flamingo Gardens, Davie
I have not yet been to Flamingo Gardens, but from what I've read, its an incredible place to see gardens, Florida flora and fauna, including its namesake, the flamingo. Iguanas, peacocks, alligators, otters, and even bobcats call this 60-acre sanctuary home! It's also not-for-profit. It sounds like it's definitely worth it to check this place out!
*UPDATE 2018* I recently visited Flamingo Gardens and it is incredible! I especially loved visiting the peacocks and flamingos (of course) everywhere! A truly beautiful place!