If you’re craving palm trees, turquoise waters, and white-sand beaches peppered with umbrellas in every color of the rainbow, a trip to Central and Southeastern Florida should definitely be on your radar. Don’t have a ton of time to dedicate to your journey? We get it. That’s why our friends at VISIT FLORIDA have curated the perfect Sun Seekers trip to help you get some much-needed Vitamin D.
Get ready to hit the road with a custom itinerary from the destination experts themselves, from fun in the sun on Merritt Island and Hollywood Beach to Miami. Just follow the numbers on the map below and you’re on your way!
(1) On Florida’s largest island, Merritt Island, don’t miss NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex with numerous interactive exhibits and experiences including the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, and astronaut training simulators inside Space Shuttle Atlantis. At the Rocket Garden, learn about nine real-life rockets and spacecraft on display from NASA’s Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, or venture to NASA Now for a close-up of the Mars Rover Vehicle Navigator (or MRVN) replete with a mobile lab and giant wheels constructed to traverse craters, rocks, and dunes. Next, peruse gear worn by astronauts, including Alan Shepard’s spacesuit still covered with actual moon dust, or discover what it’s like to be an astronaut with live presentations and question-and-answer sessions with veteran NASA astronauts like Steve Smith and Anna Fisher. (Check the event calendar for Astronaut Encounter and Chat With An Astronaut experiences.)
(2) Grab your camera and binoculars and catch a glimpse of Florida wildlife (think osprey, bottlenose dolphin, stingray, and heron) with a two-hour guided kayak tour with Fin Expeditions. The company offers four experiences spanning daytime tours of Cocoa Beach that wind through shady mangroves, and summertime bioluminescence evening tours along the Banana River, a 31-mile-long lagoon between Cape Canaveral and Merritt Island. Watch the water illuminate beneath the kayaks with a glow-in-the-dark effect from the emission of light in marine organisms.
(3) Spend the day meandering on hiking trails, or go swimming on a protected beach at The Nature Conservancy’s Blowing Rocks Preserve, a 73-acre barrier island sanctuary serving as home to endangered plants and animals such as rare loggerheads, leatherback, and green turtles. Established in 1969 by eco-conscious local residents, the preservation project includes a handful of diverse beach and dune trails, and a 300-foot-long elevated boardwalk set within a mangrove forest with a scenic overlook of the Indian River.
(4) About 30 minutes from Blowing Rocks, pick up snorkel equipment including a mask, snorkel, fins, and defogger spray ($30 for four hours) at Get Wet Water Sports. Then, take a self-guided snorkel tour at Phil Foster Memorial Park, a two-acre artificial reef made of limestone boulders, and dotted with squid, tropical fish, spotted rays, and starfish.
(5) Since the 1920s, the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk has been a hub for beachgoers for leisurely strolls, running, rollerblading, and cycling. The iconic 2.5-mile-long paved brick beachfront promenade is lined with more than 50 restaurants, three oceanfront parks, and a slew of specialty boutiques, inns, and outdoor cafés, ranging from organic juice bars and taquerias to ice cream shops. At Sun and Fun Cycles Hollywood, rent a beach cruiser ($10 per hour; $35 for eight hours), or breeze along the path with an American Raven step-thru electric bike ($25 per hour; $45 for two hours.) For a small group adventure with a nostalgic vibe, opt for a Surrey for two pedalers or the Limo for up to six adults. Guests at the newly renovated 229-room Hollywood Beach Marriott, can also choose to rent from a fleet of bikes for use along the path.
(5) Situated along the waterfront at Hollywood Beach, Tiki Tiki is the place for a just-off-the-beach bite with fresh seafood selections served up by servers in T-shirts emblazoned with cheeky phrases such as “let’s tiki time,” “kick back & relax” and “happy as a clam.” At the casual, island-inspired eatery with a thatched roof and expansive open-air patio, order the local stone crab paired with mustard sauce; peel-and-eat shrimp with butter, garlic, and parsley; saltwater clams with creamy broth, potatoes, and herbs; or Fisherman’s stew with shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari, mahi, tomato broth, and garlic bread. Watch the boats cruise by while sipping on artfully concocted libations such as the Marina Mule with vodka, ginger beer, fresh lime, and mint.
(6) Built in 1930, The Villa Casa Casuarina, a boutique hotel and event venue, was conceived by architect Alden Freeman, the son of Standard Oil tycoon Joel Freeman. Later, fashion icons Gianni and Donatella Versace purchased the property as their private mansion—appointed with opulent stone fountains, bronze statues, decorative portrait medallions of Cleopatra and John D. Rockefeller, and a swimming pool lined with thousands of 24-carat gold tiles—before its current iteration as a luxury hotel in 2015. Check in for a luxurious overnight stay and enjoy complimentary breakfast as a guest, or book a table for dinner at the on-site restaurant, Gianni’s, for seafood, meat, and pasta menu items ranging from the Cacio e Pepe, or spaghetti served in a pecorino cheese wheel, to the grilled veal chop with roasted potatoes and mixed baby vegetables.
(6) Opened in 1916 as the private villa and estate of industrialist and businessman James Deering, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1994. Located on Miami’s Biscayne Bay (the name is derived from the northern Spanish province of Vizcaya), the ornate property is comprised of highlights such as a main house blending architectural styles from Mediterranean-Revival to Baroque; a tea house with a domed, sea green-hued filigree roof; and formal gardens with an aerial hedge, a native forest with endangered plants, and an orchidarium with 400 varieties of Cattleyas. Consisting of 32 rooms, the main residence is layered with photographs, furniture, and antiquities, including an 18th century Italian Bergère chair and a pair of Deering’s black cap-toe leather oxford shoes. Visit the swimming pool grotto to view a decorative ceiling plaster mural by American painter Robert Winthrop Chandler depicting an elaborate underwater scene with fish, coral and seashells.
(6) Surrounded by converted warehouses, galleries, and craft breweries, Wynwood is known as one of Miami’s most beloved street art districts. Delve into the area’s history and book a comprehensive tour of graffiti, murals, and street art with Miami’s Best Graffiti Guide, founded by local muralist and artist Pedro Amos (referred to as “AMOS.”) In the Can Control Crash Course, suit up with painter’s coveralls, a spray can, gloves, and mask and discover the techniques and tools of graffiti art with a live demonstration. Later, you can apply newly learned skills and paint an actual wall. Post-class, take a 15-minute drive from Wynwood to Amos’s studio, Pedro Amos Galeria, for a private tour of his workspace and gallery.
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