When you think about Miami, the first connotation that comes to your mind is probably the holiday resort of Miami Beach rather than the City of Miami itself. Miami with only 415,000 residents is the largest financial hub in the United States, right after the New York City. It has relatively little to do with industry and hence, the city has no problems with smog and bases its economy on tourism. Its geographical location and proximity to the Caribbean, the Bahamas, and Mexico make the port of Miami the largest cruise port in the world.
Due to the fact that a large part of the population comes from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and other countries of Central and South America, most of the captions and signposts are in English and Spanish. In the area of Little Havana, on 8th Street (also called Calle Ocho), you will find music, open-air markets, shops, and restaurants that reflect Cuban culture. The architecture of the older houses has strong Spanish influence to it. On the other hand, many modern homes reflect Caribbean influences.
Miami’s skyline is dominated by the Bank of America Building, which is illuminated every night. Brickwell Avenue can be found in the city centre and is regarded as the Wall Street of Miami. Here, you will find many international banks housed by modern edifices. Brickell Avenue was the film set of a number of films, for example “True Lies” – Arnold Schwarzenegger landed a plane on the roof of one of the office buildings. The Atlantis Building can be seen in the opening credits of a television series “Miami Vice.” It is characterized by a palm tree, a hot tub, and a red spiral staircase located in the middle of the building. The Bacardi Building is also another of the highlights. It can be found on 2100 Biscayne Boulevard and has a blue exterior which is visible from afar. The Metro-Dade Cultural Center, located on 101 West Flagler Street, is home to the Center of Fine Arts, the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, and the Main Library.
In Miami Beach, you can find large hotels and other buildings. Between 21st Street and Ocean Drive Street, there is the so-called “Boardwalk,” which is a mile long promenade directly on the Atlantic Ocean. One of the most interesting areas of South Miami Beach, called “Sobe” in short, is the Art Deco District, located between 5th Street and 23rd Street, Collins Avenue, Ocean Drive Street, and Lennox Court. Here, you will find some of the best-preserved buildings of the 1920s and the 1930s. At the Art Deco Welcome Center, on 1001 Ocean Drive, there are many souvenirs and books in the art deco style. On weekends, there are guided tours through the district. There are also bicycle routes starting from 1421 Washington Avenue.
The Ancient Spanish Monastery is also worth a visit. The monastery is the oldest building in the Western Hemisphere. It was originally erected in the 12th century in the Province of Segovia, Spain, and purchased by the multi-millionaire, William Randolph Hearst, in 1925. Afterwards, it was disassembled and packed in crates to be later rebuilt in 1964.
Coconut Grove located in the south-western part of Miami is one of the oldest suburbs in the city. There are many houses made from the wood of wrecked ships. These were erected by immigrants from the Caribbean. Numerous street cafés that can be found there give a very European flair to Coconut Grove today.
Five bridges, the so-called causeways, connect Miami with the long, narrow island of Miami Beach. Around the turn of the century, the island was inhabited only by wild animals, snakes, and countless mosquitoes. Today, this island is a synonym for recreation. There are many beaches as well as sweltering weather almost all year round. Miami Beach is both a vacation paradise for many Americans from colder states as well as for many foreign visitors.
Highlights & Tips
How to find your way in Miami
You need to know how to find your way in Miami. The city is divided into four parts – NE = Northeast, NW = Northwest, SE = Southeast, and SW = Southwest. Flagler Street (east-west), and Miami Avenue (north-south) create the separation. Streets run east-west and avenues run north-south, but both of these have numbers which might be confusing. Main arteries running through the city are Interstate Highway I-95, which intersects US1 to the south, and Highway SR 836 / Dolphin Expressway.
Guests in „Flipper's“ home
The Rickenbacker Causeway will take you to the Miami Seaquarium, home of the famous Dolphin “Flipper.” You can also admire orcas, sea lions, and dolphins, as there are shows held several times a day. The Miami Seaquarium is open on a daily basis from 9 am to 6 pm. Last admission is an hour and a half before closing time.
Recreation under the lighthouse
At the end of the Island of Key Biscayne, there is the Bill Bags Cape Florida State Recreation Area with the Cape Florida Lighthouse and other attractions.
Miami Beach – Cocoa Beach
Suggested route: Miami Beach – Fort Lauderdale – West Palm Beach – Cocoa Beach
Stage distance: approx. 210 miles / 336 km
Today, the route goes north. It is recommended to take I-95 North, drive for 24 miles to Exit 29A, and turn right on E Sunrise. Then, you will take State Road A1A, which is a very nice road running between Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach. From Palm Beach, turn left on Okeechobee Boulevard / SR 704 to I-95 North. After 132 miles you should take Exit 201 and turn right on FL-520 E / King Street to Cocoa Beach.
Fort Lauderdale is a popular seaside resort for Americans and tourists from all over the world. It was founded in 1838 by Major William Lauderdale. Between that time and 1911, it developed into a resort. It is one of the leading seaside resorts but also an important commercial city. Port Everglades, located about 2 miles (3.2 km) south of the city, is one of the deepest ports south of Norfolk, Virginia.
Fort Lauderdale is known as the “Venice of America.” It is crisscrossed by rivers, bays, and canals and consists of small islands. You can decide whether you want to travel here by car or by boat. One-tenth of the city is covered with water – 165 miles (over 265 km) of navigable water provide a home to boats of all sizes. Therefore, you can park your camper and take a “water taxi.”
West Palm Beach is a commercial and industrial city, which, however, has not lost its character of a spa resort. Especially in Palm Beach, which is situated at the north end, on a 13.5-mile-long (22 km) island, beach life plays a vital role. Henry Morrison Flagler built the railroad on the east coast of Florida and was the first to recognise the potential of this lush, sub-tropical, palm tree-decorated area. He erected the Royal Poinciana Hotel, which is considered to be the testimony of the “gilded age” of America. While visiting the buildings, you can admire not only the collection of paintings and porcelain but also Flagler’s private railway compartment. In addition to the beautiful beach and the elegant shops along Worth Avenue, which is the “most expensive shopping street in the world,” there is also the lifestyle resort, Royal Poincianalaza.
Highlights & Tips
On various routes along the Atlantic Ocean
There are three roads which are more or less parallel to the entire Atlantic coast of Florida: A1A, US 1, and I-95. Up to Fort Pierce, you can also use Florida’s Turnpike (a toll road). A1A is a two-lane coastal road and crosses all beach towns – with a very slow progress you will see most scenic and most interesting places. US 1 has many traffic lights, and there are many business commuters whom you will be passing through the day. On the other hand, this road gives the opportunity to visit many shopping centres along the way. I-95 is a highway like any other – a wide strip of concrete that goes through grass landscape. It is somewhat boring, yet the fastest.
Cocoa Beach – St. Augustine Beach
Suggested route: Cocoa Beach – Daytona Beach – St. Augustine Beach
Stage distance: approx. 125 miles / 200 km
From Cocoa Beach, you will drive towards the Kennedy Space Center. This is the starting point of many space missions. There is a two-hour bus tour that will take you around the complex, where the space shuttles are assembled. You will see training machines for astronauts as well as launchers. What is more, you can admire some of the spacecraft and missiles from a close distance.
The Space Center is located in the Merrit Island National Wildlife Refuge. When leaving the island, you should take a look at the channels running left and right of the road. You will spot alligators, as over 4,000 of these animals live in the area. The park is also home to waterbirds. To see more natural highlights, you can visit the northern part of the park.
St. Augustine is the oldest permanent settlement in the United States. It has played an important role in the early history of the country. A Spaniard, Ponce de Lèon, discovered the present-day St. Augustine in 1513. To get to the Spanish Quarter, follow the signs captioned “A1A North/Historic Center.” You will pass the Lighthouse Museum and the Alligator Farm. Cross the Bridge of Lions. The Spanish Quarter is an open-air museum that presents houses and lifestyle characteristic for the 18th century.
In St. Augustine Visitor Information Center, on 10 Castillo Drive, you can find out more about the city. The Castillo de San Marcos Monument is located in the city centre, at the intersection of Castillo Drive and Avenida Menéndez (A1A). It is the symbol of 235 years of Spanish presence in Florida. The fortress is constructed from “coquina,” consisting of sea shells, sand, and stone, and is a unique example of a bygone style of military architecture. In 1565, St. Augustine with its fort was the northernmost post of the Spanish Caribbean. It was also the expression of the Spanish claim of Florida. It protected the Spanish ships returning through the canal to Europe from the Bahamas.
Highlights & Tips
Trip to outer space
The films “Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3-D” and “Space Station 3-D” can be watched free of charge at the IMAX Theatre at the spaceport of Kennedy Space Center. Due to the fact that the crowd is always quite large, you should try to obtain tickets upon your arrival, even before you take a look at the rockets. What is more, you can also marvel at the reconstructed space shuttle free of charge.
St. Augustine Beach – Orlando
Suggested route: St. Augustine Beach – Daytona Beach – Orlando
Stage distance: approx. 125 miles / 190 km
Daytona Beach is famous for its 37-kilometre sandy beach, which can be used by cars and motorcycles, provided that these are travelling at a slow speed. In good weather, the beach is transformed into a fairground. There are many stalls which are dedicated to surfers, kite surfers, individuals interested in beach sailing, and many others. The city is best known for two major events for tourists: Spring Break, the exuberant celebration for American students, and Bike Week, one of the largest Harley-Davidson meetings. Daytona is also known for the race, Daytona International Speedway, whose track consists of an oval with three steep curves and an indoor track. The former is used for American racing series NASCAR, which includes Daytona 500. The latter is used for the race known as 24 Hours of Daytona.
Orlando was named after Orlando Reeves, a soldier who died in 1835. He was wounded by a Seminole’s arrow. The city of beef and cotton existed until the end of the 19th century. Then, came the cultivation of citrus fruit. Today, Orlando has only 250,000 inhabitants and, with around 59 million (2003) tourists, it is one of the most visited cities in the United States. It is visited by even more tourists than New York City. In addition to all the entertainment that you can find in the city, there are many small and large shopping centres, where you can find cheap casual clothes and souvenirs.
The marshland in the south-west of Orlando was transformed into a gigantic fantasy world in 1965. Disney World covers an area twice as big as Manhattan. Under the direction of Disney World, there is another attraction, namely Disney Hollywood Studios, which is part of a Hollywood studio that was simply moved to Orlando. Here, many television series and action movies are filmed.
Highlights & Tips
(At least) a day at Disney World
Access to various parts of Disney World is possible both from US 192 and I-4. Please follow the large signs on the streets. The opening hours of Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, and Disney Hollywood Studios Theme Park depend on the season and the day of the week.
To get an overview of the park area, you should make the following tour: Adventureland with Caribbean pirates, Liberty Square with the haunted house, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland with the carousel of progress. At Crystal Palace, you can relax for a while. You can walk around the attractions in any order. Unfortunately, the waiting time is slightly longer due to a great number of visitors.
In the lagoon, you will have the opportunity to visit different countries of the world. Here, you can try dishes which are typical for different states. Apart from the restaurants, there are also many cafeterias.
Orlando – Clearwater
Suggested route: Orlando – Tampa – St. Petersburg – Clearwater
Stage distance: approx. 105 miles / 170 km
Clearwater, St. Petersburg, and Tampa serve as the commercial, financial, and business centre of Florida’s west coast. Tourism plays an important part in the beach towns such as St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island, Madeira Beach, and Clearwater Beach.
Through the historic centre of St. Petersburg, you will continue your trip to Sunken Gardens, on 1825 North 4th Street. It is a botanical complex with tropical and subtropical vegetation. You can also find a few good museums in the city.
The biggest tourist attraction in Tampa is Busch Gardens, on 3000 Busch Boulevard, as well as the Dark Continent – a theme park divided into seven different parts, all of which have a theme of “Africa at the turn of the century.” Here, you will see Serengeti wilderness and feel the adventure on the Congo River. Visit the Bazaar in Timbuktu and a Broadway-like show in the Moroccan Palace Theatre.
Highlights & Tips
Museum tour in St. Petersburg
In addition to other museums, there is also a museum housing works of the Spanish painter, Salvador Dali. The Salvador Dali Museum is located near the campus of the University of Florida, on 1000 South 3rd Street.
Clearwater – Naples
Suggested route: Clearwater – Sarasota – Venice – Fort Myers – Naples
Stage distance: approx. 170 miles / 272 km
Continue on US 41 to the south through Sarasota, Venice, and Fort Myers to Naples. The Ringling Museum Of Art, located in Sarasota, on 5401 Bay Shore Road, is worth paying a visit. John Ringling, together with his circus known as the “greatest show on Earth,” accumulated such wealth that he built a small empire in Sarasota. He erected a manor house with 30 rooms which looks like the Italian Palazzo Ducale. In 1920, Ringling gave this house to his wife as a gift. To store his extensive art collection, he built his own museum which now houses one of the largest collections of works by Peter Paul Rubens. Thanks to Ringling, Sarasota became the cultural centre of Florida.
As the name suggests, channels traverse the heart of Venice. In 1867, first settlers arrived here and opened the first post office in 1888 – it was a very important event for such a small place. In 1923, Venice became connected by the construction of the Tamiami Train both to Miami and Tampa. In 1941, an important military base was opened here. The city is the winter residence of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus with the only “training school for clowns” in the world. Venice is also called the “Shark Tooth Capital of the World.” Enjoy the beautiful white sand beach while looking for shells and shark teeth. Many restaurants offer fresh fish, shellfish, and seafood from the Gulf of Mexico.
Fort Myers is a very fast growing city located on the Caloosahatchee River. The wide streets and beautiful palm trees that line many of these streets are particularly charming. More than 70 different species of palm trees are there in the city. What is more, you can admire exotic flowers and tropical fruit in the area. There are also beautifully restored houses located around Main Street and Broadway. For those who are into history, there is the Southwest Florida Museum of History, located on 2031 Jackson Street.
Naples, known for its 41-mile-long (66 km) beach, is characterised by fashionable boutiques and cosy restaurants. Until 1885, it had only been accessible by water. The Naples Pier is a relic of this period. You can stroll along 5th Avenue and 3rd Street. You will find the prettiest shops between Broadway and 14th Avenue. Going over a small wooden bridge, you can reach the beautiful sandy beach which invites you for a stroll. In Old Naples and on Dockside Boardwalk, you can admire a beautiful view of Naples Bay and visit many shops and restaurants.
Highlights & Tips
Shopping in Venice
If you like, you can go on a shopping spree and visit a former building of the Kentucky Military Institute located in Downtown. Today, it houses small shops and boutiques on the ground floor. There are more nice shops on Venice Avenue. What is more, there are quite a few shopping malls along Tamiami Trail.
Guests in the inventor's house
In Fort Myers, you should pay a visit to Thomas A. Edison Winter Home, which is located right next to Henry Ford’s winter residence. It can be found on 2350 McGregor Boulevard. There, you can not only find a chemical laboratory and the museum dedicated to the inventor but also see the original decorations of the house and the botanical garden with many unusual trees and shrubs.
On the pirate islands near Fort Myers
There are Sanibel Island und Captiva Island located in the near vicinity of Fort Myers. (From the city centre, it is about a 30-minute journey to get to Sanibel Island. The Sanibel Causeway is a toll road). At the time of the pirates, José Gaspar, a famous pirate, used the place to imprison the beautiful women who he had abducted. The first permanent inhabitants settled here in 1833. They came from New York and landed on Sanibel Island. Today, there are large holiday resorts, shopping centres, and a nature park on the island. Once you get there, you will see the Chamber of Commerce, where you can obtain a detailed map of the island. At the eastern end of the Periwinkle Way, you will come to the old Sanibel Island Lighthouse, which has pointed the way for many ships since 1884.
Naples – Key West
Suggested route: Naples – Florida City – Key West
Stage distance: approx. 300 miles / 480 km
From Naples, continue on the right side of US 41, known as the Tamiami Trail, to the east. In Collier County, you will drive along the southern border of the Big Cypress National Preserve, where many cypress trees grow along the road. You will drive for approx. 80 miles through the Everglades National Park. For many centuries, the Everglades have been inhabited by the Calusa Indians. Europeans first came to this area in 1513. Later, other Indian tribes came, but ultimately, these were completely banished by white people. Today, a few descendants of the Calusa Indians settled in the northern part of the park again. They live mainly from tourism, selling handicraft products, and cigarettes without value added tax.
The Everglades Swamp is actually a very slowly moving river which is about 200 miles (about 320 km) long, about 50 miles (80 km) wide, and only 0.5 foot (15 cm) deep. The water flows from the Kissimmee River Valley near Orlando, through Lake Okeechobee, until its journey is finished in Florida Bay. A whole year has to pass before the water reaches its final destination. The interesting mixture of fresh and salt water allowed many species of animals to thrive in the area. There are about 300 species of birds and about 600 different species of fish. Since 1947, the area has been under conservation. However, a short hunting season for alligators is allowed.
From Florida City, you will head towards the Florida Keys – to Key West. The term “key” comes from the Spanish word “cayos,” which means “small islands.” The line that they create is called the Overseas Highway or also “the Highway that goes to the Sea.” About 113 miles (182 km) of road and 43 bridges had to be built to connect all of the islands. It happened in 1938. In 1982, more resilient construction elements were added to 37 of these bridges.
People who were born in Key West call themselves “Conchs” (pronounced as “Konks”). Conch is a small mollusc that is very tough, it is also found on all menus in the city. Conch shells of any size can be found in most souvenir shops. Many interesting or even eccentric people as well as artists have settled in Key West. Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway were attracted to this island with rich vegetation of palm trees, hibiscus, and bougainvillea. There is a variety of plants in the area. You will also find here 26 species of palm trees and 2 different types of banana trees. The highest natural elevation is located 18 feet above the sea level, which means that it is less than 6 metres high. The land around the Eisenhower Drive is not natural mainland. It had to be propped up as the island was simply too small.
Especially in the evening, the Old Town around Mallory Square Dock, Front Street, and Duval Street is very much alive. There are various street entertainers, vendors, and palm readers trying to do some business with many tourists. Do not forget to see the famous sunset on Sunset Pier. On your walk along Duval Street, check out Hemingway’s favourite bar, “Sloppy Joe.” Enjoy the good food in one of the many restaurants and have a drink in one of the numerous bars. You can also visit one of the countless shops that are in the area. Duval Street is sometimes referred to as the “longest street in the world,” even though it is only 14 blocks long. However, it spans from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. The Wreckers’ Museum, on 322 Duval Street, was built in 1829 and is the oldest house in Key West. St. Paul’s Church, built in 1832 for the first time, is the oldest church on the island. The current building was constructed in 1912.
With the exception of Hawaii, Key West is the southernmost point of the United States. In the area, you will also find the southernmost house, the southernmost hotel, and the southernmost point of the mainland USA, which is marked by a huge metal drum. The idea to place there a sign was abandoned due to the problem of theft.
Highlights & Tips
In the Everglades
In June, there are short and heavy rains almost on a daily basis. As a result, there are a lot of mosquitoes in the area. You ought to use repellent on your T-shirt as well, so that the mosquitoes cannot bite you through your clothes. Do not forget to use strong sunscreen and to cover your head. You will come across a small Indian settlement, where you can participate in airboat rides. A speed ride on an airboat through the Everglades Swamps will be a unique experience. You can also visit the Everglades Safari Park on 2600 Tamiami Trail, which is located about 9 miles (14.5 km) past Shark Valley on your right
Information about the Overseas Highway (Florida Keys)
During the day, it is highly recommended to drive with low-beam lights turned on for your safety. The relevant speed limit should be observed at all times. There is heavy traffic control on this route. During the entire trip, there are only a couple of opportunities to overtake the car driving in front of you.
Activities in Key West
You can take a trip around the city on the Conch Tour Train. The train rides are available on a daily basis and depart at regular intervals from two stations, namely Mallory Square in Old Town and 3850 North Roosevelt Avenue (at the Welcome Center). The small train gives you a good overview of the beautiful city in 90 minutes. With the Old Time Trolley you can travel in the same way and have the opportunity to hop on and off at any time. You can also follow signs with pelicans which will guide you through the historic Key West.
Key West – Miami (Miami Beach)
Suggested route: Key West – Florida City – Miami (Miami Beach)
Stage distance: approx. 180 miles / 270 km
Today’s trip goes back from Key West on the Overseas Highway (US 1) and heads north to Miami. For the places of interest in or around Miami and Miami Beach, you can plan one or two days at the end of your journey. After returning your camper, you can spend some relaxing under palm trees with views of the Atlantic Ocean.