The Southeast Florida Region
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Tropical Treasures & Waterfront Wonders
Florida's Southeast Region
The chic elegance of Palm Beach and the pulsating rhythms of Miami's South Beach are more than enough to keep most vacationers deliriously and delightfully entertained. Add in the grassy vastness of the Everglades and the coral majesty of the Florida Keys, and the result is a miracle of diversity and a vacation treasure unlike any other -- this is Southeast Florida.
To the south lies a true gem of Florida's Gold Coast -- Palm Beach County. Long heralded as a playground for the rich and famous, Palm Beach County is also surprisingly replete with family-oriented activities. For an unforgettable trip to the beach, families choose from more than 23 miles of sparkling sand, stretching from Deerfield Beach in the north to Hallandale in the south. Some popular spots include Pompano Beach and Lake Worth.
With headquarters in Greater Fort Lauderdale, the Seminole Tribe has developed eco/heritage attractions for the whole family. West of Fort Lauderdale on the Big Cypress Reservation is Billie Swamp Safari. The Seminole Tribe's official Everglades attraction includes swamp buggy tours, airboat rides, exotic animals, alligator shows and Seminole arts and crafts.
For visitors torn between "getting away from it all" and "being a part of it all," Miami offers the best of both worlds, with a remarkable style of its own. It's a blend of 21st century and Old-World architecture, thrill-packed sports and leisurely sunbathing, colorful big-city culture and quaint small-town neighborhoods.
Island hopping down to Key West along the scenic Overseas Highway, travelers will encounter numerous parks and special attractions sure to enchant and excite the entire family. Marathon Key, heart of the Florida Keys, is home to Crane Point Hammock, a 63-acre land tract that is one of the most important ecological, historical and archaeological sites in the Keys. On Big Pine Key, a dwindling herd of tiny Key deer -- each no larger than a medium-sized dog -- can be spotted in the National Key Deer Refuge.
At the highway's end lies Key West, the southernmost city in the continental United States. The ambiance of this Key, which is situated closer to Havana than Miami, is embedded in its quaint, palm-studded streets, historic gingerbread mansions and relaxed citizenry of self-styled "Conchs." In Key West, families will find 20th-century attractions set amid 19th-century charm. Military history literally surrounds the city in the form of four classic, red-brick forts. No trip would be complete without a stop at the Key West Aquarium, the first tourist attraction built in the Florida Keys, where a 50,000-gallon tank exhibits a cross section of a near-shore mangrove environment, including a variety of tropical and game fish, sea turtles and birds.
Martin County's pride in maintaining the best of Florida's wilder side is seen in its ongoing natural preservation efforts. Its beaches are home to one of the largest sea turtle nesting areas in the world, an important privilege respected by area beachfront hotels and restaurants that dim their lighting in order not to distract the nesting turtles. On summer evenings, huge sea turtles emerge from the ocean to lay their eggs on the beach. Educational "turtle watches" are organized to give visitors a first-hand view of this phenomena.
Dade County is the only county in the United States whose borders encompass two national parks -- Biscayne National Park and the Everglades National Park. Although separated by only 21 miles, the two parks seem world's apart to visitors. Of its 181,500 acres, 95 percent are underwater, making Biscayne National Park the nation's only underwater park. Visitors explore the park aboard guided glass bottom boats, which meander through mangrove creeks and offshore islands out to underwater reefs, some of which tower 25 feet high from the oceans floor. Divers are welcome along the reefs.
Everglades National Park, one of the nation's most important ecological preserves, encompasses nearly a million acres of rare and unspoiled wilderness, offering a sprawling sanctuary for vanishing species of birds and other rare creatures, such as the Florida panther and American crocodile.
Although it takes only 45 minutes to fly from Miami to Key West, a leisurely drive allows a true Southeast Florida experience. The 113-mile Overseas Highway, sometimes called the "Highway that Goes to the Sea," leapfrogs from key to key, treating travelers to turquoise seascapes and deep green landscapes under a brilliant blue Florida sky. The highway can be traversed in fewer than four hours from Miami, but many visitors prefer to get into the spirit of the islands and take time to explore the treasures along the way.
To the south, Boca Raton was created by architect Addison Mizner to be a haven for the soul. Here, couples discover the town's grace and romance among the pastel-hued buildings which house chic boutiques and gourmet restaurants, and which cluster around bubbling fountains and grassy courtyards.