For McCool Travel’s 122nd travel profile, I am happy to introduce you to Mike Ragsdale, the founder of 30A. Have you heard of 30A? 30A celebrates small-town ...
Most people do not associate scenic drives with visits to Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and South Florida. Since learning to drive 30 years ago there, I have found many scenic drives in South Florida and will share a few local road trips with you in this article.Hint: when possible, stay off the major roads.
8 Great Scenic Drives in South Florida
1. Florida Keys
The Overseas Highway is one of the world’s great scenic drives and the only road to Key West. The drive between Key Largo and Key West crosses 42 bridges, including the Seven Mile Bridge. Take time to explore the quirky shops and restaurants, natural areas, beaches, and other attractions in the Florida Keys.McCool Travel Tip: I like to drive on Card Sound Road in one direction.
2. Ocean Drive
One highlight of famed South Beach is seeing and being seen along Ocean Drive. Located between 1st and 15th Streets along the Atlantic Ocean in Miami Beach, Ocean Drive is the Miami you see on TV (like Miami Vice) and in movies (such as The Birdcage and Scarface). The fitness path and beach on the ocean side is packed with models, sun bathers, skaters, walkers, and runners while the commerce side has art deco buildings, neon lights, shops, bars, and restaurants. On busy nights, it is faster to walk along Ocean Drive, as it becomes a virtual parking lot.
McCool Travel Tip: Visit Star Island off the MacArthur Causeway entrance to Miami Beach from downtown Miami. Ask the guard if you can do a quick drive around the island; I have never been denied. If you want to buy one of the homes, prices start at $20 million.
Growing up in South Florida, the tagline jingle for one of the radio stations was Jimmy Buffett’s “Strolling along the avenue that’s known as A1A.” A1A is basically the street that is closest to the water. It runs from Key West to the Georgia border, along the east coast of Florida. A portion of it is a National Scenic Byway. In many places, US1 and A1A are the same road. When they are separate roads, I almost always choose A1A. Some highlights north from Ocean Drive include Bal Harbour (where extremely wealthy South Americans shop on weekend visits), Haulover Beach (official public nude beach and fishing excursions), Aventura, and North Miami Beach. Further north is Broward county (Lloyd State Park and Hallandale beaches are two favorites!), Hollywood, Ft. Lauderdale, and the rest of Florida.
4. Tamiami Trail
OK, there is more to South Florida than the ocean. Tamiami Trail, a road between Tampa and Miami, begins in downtown Miami on Brickell Key and soon turns into SW 8th Street (aka Calle Ocho); it is the heart of Little Havana and a definite must-see. Driving west on Tamiami Trail, after about 18 miles, you will pass Krome Avenue and enter the Big Cypress National Preserve (part of the Florida Everglades). Many attractions are operated by the Miccosukee Indian tribe. Shark Valley Loop Road (and the Shark Valley Visitor Center) is part of the Everglades National Park and a great place to see gators in the later winter and spring. A little further west is a primitive road from the 1920s called Loop Road. Road conditions may be treacherous but I always see amazing wildlife (including giant gators) along it. Ochopee, a few more miles west, is known for having the world’s smallest post office. Side note, my grandparents lived near here (in the Big Cypress) for 20 years. Yes, many stories…
5. Rickenbacker Causeway
Ten times a week for four summers I traveled across Rickenbacker Causeway to my college internship at the Fisheries Center on Virginia Key. About the only nice thing I can say about I-95 is that it ends at the entrance to Rickebacker. Rickenbacker Causeway leads to Key Biscayne, Virginia Key (with Seaquarium), Cape Florida Lighthouse, and Crandon Park. I love the views of Brickell Avenue and downtown Miami, especially at night. Stiltsville can also be seen from Key Biscayne and Cape Florida. A special treat is eating a take out meal from La Carreta (in Key Biscayne) on the sand facing the twinkling lights of Brickell—or on the other side facing the vastness of Biscayne Bay. South Florida is not known for having hills. The highest natural point is only 40 feet above sea level. One of the highest points in South Florida (outside of buildings) is from the top of the bridge. At a whopping 78 feet, it is popular with cyclists.
6. Old Cutler Road
Driving south from Rickenbacker Causeway, turn left (first left!) on S. Bayshore Drive, not US1. S. Bayshore Drive goes past Vizcaya, through Coconut Grove (both are worth a stop—or a whole week’s visit), and then turns into Old Cutler Road. This drive is a treat. You might get sick of seeing countless massive banyan trees, stone houses, and overall quaintness—but probably not. You will pass the exclusive Ranson Everglades School, Fairchild Tropical Gardens, Matheson Hammock Park, and Charles Deering Estate but the drive is the highlight for me. There is even a surprise (sorry!) massive traffic circle that is almost reminiscent of a European city.
7. Southern Everglades, Flamingo Visitor Center
The beauty of the everglades is that different areas have different personalities. A drive across Alligator Alley (between Ft. Lauderdale and Naples) is different than Shark Valley (see #4 above). The southern Everglades drive between Florida City and Flamingo is other-worldly; like a tropical lunar landscape. You will see pine trees, which is seemingly odd for the Everglades. This is the extreme southwest part of Florida and you will see unusual fauna like roseate spoonbills and maybe even crocs and gators together. Most of the drive is simply beautiful and peaceful, as most visitors do not venture to this southern end. Be smart and do it! Also, make sure to bring bug repellent and sunscreen.
OK, it is difficult to pick only one more scenic drive in South Florida. I could go with Krome Avenue which travels between the Everglades and the ever encroaching civilization, passing incredible produce stands. Or a boat tour, like of the Ft. Lauderdale canals or Intracoastal waterway or cruise to nowhere.
Instead, I must point out that South Florida has so many wonderful neighborhoods. Miami Beach has art deco and “old school” architecture, downtown Miami is now all glittery, the islands (Star, Hibiscus, Palm, Fisher) are where the wealthy live. Coconut Grove and Coral Gables are a couple of the oldest and most scenic areas. In Little Havana and Hialeah, you will see and hear more Spanish than English. There are many ethnic neighborhoods, including Little Haiti, Little Tel Aviv, and Little Moscow. There is a scattering of Romanian restaurants and churches in the Ft. Lauderdale area. It is fun to see older houses with fireplaces, like in Hollywood and Wilton Manors. Opa Locka has many Arabian themed buildings—but do not visit after dark! I love exploring the relative spaciousness of Miami Lakes and Weston.
Even better, I certainly have not been to all of them and things change over time. I, for one, miss the voodoo store in my childhood neighborhood—but, thankfully, the Cuban bakeries and bodegas remain.
Have you been on any scenic drives in South Florida? Do you have a favorite?