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South Florida's top 11 day trips

This is part three of a five-part series: Top 55 places to go in Southeast Florida.

When it comes to day-trip adventures in Southeast Florida, we wanted to go beyond the obvious – beaches and Walt Disney World – to offer some off-the-beaten-path excursions. These 11 trips should introduce you to something exciting and new, whether it’s an authentic Japanese tea ceremony or exotic mango tasting.

With this list in hand, you can blast off, explore the deep blue sea or enjoy wildlife from half a world away, all on less than half a tank of gas.

Biscayne National Park

9700 SW 328th St., Homestead, FL 33033
305-230-7275
www.nps.gov/bisc

Manatees, green sea turtles and American crocodiles are among the many specimens of exotic wildlife you’ll find at Biscayne, located a short distance from Miami. You can explore the vibrant coral reefs in a variety of ways, including glass-bottom boat tours, canoeing, fishing and more. There are also hiking trails and camping sites on Elliot Key, or the more rustic Boca Chita Key. With 95 percent of its 172,000 acres covered by water, you’ll want to plan ahead to make sure you get the most out of the park. Call or stop by the Dante Fascell Visitor Center in Homestead for tips.


 

Everglades National Park

36000 SW 8th St., Miami, FL 33194
305-221-8776
www.nps.gov/ever

Not recommended in the summer due to the heat and mosquitoes, this national park is a must-see at any other time of year. It’s the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States and an important habitat for numerous rare and endangered species like the manatee, American crocodile and the elusive Florida panther. A number of tours are offered, including a guided two-hour narrated tram tour along a 15-mile loop into the “River of Grass,” and a Gulf Coast boat tour of the Ten-Thousand Islands area.


 

Fruit & Spice Park

24801 S.W. 187th Ave., Homestead, FL 33031
305-247-5727
www.fruitandspicepark.org

When is a mango not merely a mango? When it’s located at the Fruit & Spice Park, established in 1944 and still the only tropical botanical garden of its kind in the United States. Located about 20 miles southwest of Miami, you’ll find more than 160 varieties of the tropical fruit (in the appropriately named “Mango Row”), along with 75 varieties of bananas, 70 bamboo varieties and numerous other exotic edibles. Here, “please don’t touch” becomes “please come and munch,” as you’re encouraged to try the various specimens at the park’s tasting counter inside the park store. You can also choose to enjoy a sit-down lunch at the Mango Cafe.


 

Gold Coast Railroad Museum

12450 SW 152nd St., 12450 SW 152nd St., Miami, FL 33177
305-253-0063
www.gcrm.org

Located next to Zoo Miami, the museum traces its roots to 1957 and is home to many historic locomotives, freight cars and passenger cars, including the Ferdinand Magellan Pullman car, built for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and later used by Presidents Truman and Eisenhower. On some weekends, 25-minute train rides are offered using a diesel locomotive with the air-conditioned "Belle Glade" passenger coach, as well as on the “Classic Caboose,” which is always a big hit. Be sure to call ahead to make sure the trains are running on time, as they say.


 

Jungle Queen Riverboat

Bahia Mar Yachting Center
801 Seabreeze Blvd., Ft Lauderdale, FL 33316
954-462-5596
www.junglequeen.com

Boarding this riverboat, which seats up to 550, is like stepping (or make that floating) back into Florida’s less varnished (and more kitschy) past. Florida Backroads Travel highly recommends taking this trip at least once, stating “It's a reminder of the campy old Florida tourist attractions that used to dot the state. Another plus is that you'll learn the history and high points of a great town, Fort Lauderdale.” Dinner cruises (which depart at 6 p.m.) include chicken, ribs and shrimp. Standard sightseeing cruises depart at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.


 

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

Florida SR 405, Cape Canaveral, FL 32920
866-737-5235
www.kennedyspacecenter.com

While it’s about three hours north of Miami on the Atlantic Coast, the Kennedy Space Center is a must-visit attraction for anyone who’s a space buff. By checking the web address above, you can get an up-to-date list of rocket launches, as well as times when you can have lunch with an astronaut. Depending on the package you select, tours of the complex include a chance to explore Space Shuttle Atlantis, the Apollo/Saturn V Center, launch pads, launch control and vehicle assembly building. Be advised that area roads near the center are patrolled heavily, so drive with care. It’s also advised to leave the space suit at home, in case you were thinking of volunteering for the next launch.


 

Lion Country Safari

2003 Lion Country Safari Rd., Loxahatchee, FL 33470
561-793-1084
www.lioncountrysafari.com

Located near West Palm Beach, Lion Country Safari was rated by The Weather Channel as one of the Top 10 Amazing U.S. Zoos, and by Florida Backroads Travel as “one of the best and most unusual Florida tourist attractions.” Opened in 1967, it boasts the largest herd of zebras and rhinos in the country. Actually, there are more than 900 animals in all, including African antelope and (like the name on the sign says) lions. Choose from walk-through or drive-through safari adventures; the drive-through area is divided into seven preserves that approximate different areas of Africa.


 

Miami Children’s Museum

980 MacArthur Causeway, Miami, FL 33132
305-373-5437
www.miamichildrensmuseum.org

When the grandkids or younger family members visit, you’ll need something better to do than just park them in front of the big-screen TV. This museum is tremendous fun for all, as visitors of all ages are encouraged to play together, learn, imagine, and create in a rich environment. The first floor includes a kid-sized bank, supermarket, hospital, fire station, veterinary clinic, and television studio. Upstairs, children and adults can make art and music, board a cruise ship, work on a loading dock, and more. The 56,000-plus square-foot facility also includes 14 galleries, classrooms, a Kid Smart educational gift shop and a 200-seat auditorium.


 

Miami Seaquarium

4400 Rickenbacker Causeway, Key Biscayne, FL 33149
305-361-5705
www.miamiseaquarium.com

This 38-acre oceanarium is the oldest in the United States, dating back to 1955. Today the Miami Seaquarium offers eight different marine animal shows and presentations each day, along with a lively mix of exhibits, performances and attractions. And if you’ve got $200 to spend, you can participate in the wildly popular Dolphin Odyssey, where you don a wetsuit and get to spend about 30 minutes sharing all sorts of behaviors with your new animal friend, including kisses, handshakes, rubs and food – no, you, won’t be dining together but you will be able to participate in a feeding.


 

Morikami Gardens

4000 Morikami Park Rd., Delray Beach, FL 33446
561-495-0233
www.morikami.org

A center for Japanese arts and culture in South Florida since opening in 1977, Morikami Gardens features a variety of activities from tea ceremonies performed monthly in its Seishin-an tea house to Japanese traditional festivals celebrated for the public several times a year. The original building, named the Yamato-kan, is modeled to suggest a Japanese villa and houses a permanent exhibit chronicling the history of the Yamato Colony, a Japanese farming community in South Florida 100 years ago. And in 2001, The Morikami completed a major garden expansion and renovation. The new gardens reflect major periods of Japanese garden design, from the 8th to the 20th Centuries.


 

Vizcaya

3251 South Miami Ave., Miami, FL 33129
305-250-9133
www.vizcayamuseum.org

The former winter residence of American industrialist James Deering, Vizcaya takes visitors on a sweeping step back in time. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1995. The Main House includes 34 decorated rooms which showcase more than 2,500 art objects and furnishings. Vizcaya also features 10 acres of European-inspired formal gardens; a significant orchid collection totaling 2,000 specimens; and 25 acres of endangered primary growth forests. It’s also hosted foreign dignitaries such as Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, and Pope John Paul II.

Brand Publishing Writer

 


Looking for more exciting outings? See our next installment, 11 Top Shopping Destinations, the fourth part of our series, Top 55 places to go in Southeast Florida.


Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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