Florida is a wonderful destination at winter time when you want to stay on the mainland US. The weather is gorgeous and the beaches are of course beautiful. In order to see the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic sides, we flew into Naples and flew out of Fort Lauderdale. We stayed in Fort Myers for 3 nights from Dec 31 at the Best Western Plus Beach Resort on Fort Myers Beach and then 3 nights in Lauderdale by the sea at High Noon Beach resort. Both these hotels were right on the beach and it was a relaxing vacation.
In Fort Myers we were unexpectedly delighted to find that we could see the New Year’s eve fireworks from our balcony at the Fort Myers Best Western plus. In the Fort Myers area, you can choose to simply relax on its beach or explore further. The town of Fort Myers itself is small but nice and we enjoyed eating at the restaurants in the small town.
Take a drive to visit Sanibel and Captiva islands to check out the shells on the beach. Sanibel is known for its shell-laden beaches. You can also visit the Lighthouse Beach on the eastern tip of the island with the lighthouse, built in 1884. Head back to Sanibel for the leisurely four-mile drive through the main section of J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, making sure to stop at the observation tower near Mile 2.
Travel through downtown Fort Myers en route to I-75 for a visit to the 20-acre Edison and Ford Winter Estates, with botanical gardens and nine historic buildings dedicated to these American inventors if interested. You can also take a Sunset Dolphin Cruise at Port Sanibel Marina, located between Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island. The 90-minute trip cruises takes in mangrove islands, flocks of birds nesting for the evening, and frolicking dolphins. Also if you have time, take a walk down the renovated Fort Myers Beach Pier, or meander around the lively surrounding shopping and dining area known as Times Square.
Atlantic or East Coast
As you drive into Miami, the view is spectacular and it’s fun to see the big ships by the port. In Miami, definitely visit South Beach and South point park in Miami. Also enjoy a stroll on the Miami boardwalk.
Miami is a playground of the rich and famous but for us it was just too crazy and too crowded. We spent just some hours in Miami and that was enough. We drove to South Pointe Park at 1 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach. The main Ocean drive around Miami’s south beach was crowded with bars and strangely dressed people and the scene was too crazy for us and not exactly a place our family wanted to spend any time around. Others may of course enjoy the Miami Beach area. While in Miami, have a meal at one or more of the Cuban restaurants. Suggestions include Las Olas Café on 644 6th St, Miami Beach or Bella Cuba restaurant which is found right off Lincoln Road and Washington Ave. It is two short blocks away from the beach entrance. You can also make the drive to Key west which should take around 3.5 to 4 hours depending on traffic – be sure to have enough water with you for the journey. We skipped this due to time limitations.
It was actually a relief to get back to small town Lauderdale-By-The-Sea where the beach just in front of the small boutique hotel we stayed at was nice and quiet unlike Miami’s South Beach which was just packed with thousands of people. Lauderdale By the Sea is so much more quieter and peaceful than Miami. We enjoyed the sunsets on the beach in Lauderdale by the Sea.
In Fort Lauderdale, we loved being on the Water taxi on the intra-coastal waterway and surroundings. As you cruise down the canals you get to see all the fabulous mansions on either side. We thought Fort Lauderdale was lovely and we can see why it is called the Venice of America.
We were really glad we took the time to drive through West Palm beach. Stunning mansions in a beautiful area and historic Whitehall – Flagler mansion. Henry Flagler would be so proud today. Tourism is booming in Florida. Flagler, one of the original Standard Oil founders, is the person who started tourism in Florida and built the first set of hotels including historic Breakers and the first railroad at a time when Florida was just nothing but swampland. Whitehall, his home in West Palm Beach is now a museum. At more than 100,000 square feet and 75-plus rooms, Whitehall was described in 1902 by the New York Herald as, “… more wonderful than any palace in Europe, grander and more magnificent than any other private dwelling in the world.” It is even today just grand and its setting in Palm Beach beautiful. When they say that no individual has had a greater or more lasting impact on a state than Henry Flagler has had in Florida, it is no exaggeration.
One last note about safety:- in most of these places, we did not venture out of the hotel after 9 pm, using that time to relax in the room instead. Fort Myers, Lauderdale by the Sea and such do have their share of crime and we think it is better to be cautious and safe than party around. There is no better place to beat the winter blues than the Southern coast of Florida – both the Gulf coast and the Atlantic side have their own unique charm.