South Florida is perfect place to retire -- one vacation at a time
Bahia Honda State Park in Florida at sunset (Tim Chapman, MCT / October 29, 2008)
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It has since turned into an annual post-holiday early retirement of sorts: a week in the sunshine to do nothing but read the books and magazines we ignore all year and take naps whenever gravity takes control of our eyelids. We figure with the way things are going, a long retirement may not be guaranteed, so why not take it one week at a time?
Since that first trip, which was to the Keys, our destinations have migrated north: from South Beach to Bal Harbour and Surfside to North Miami Beach, a good lifetime away from the heart of the club scene. We're over that; this is our retirement, after all.
Staying far from the action has a budgetary benefit: Hotels can be far pricier in South Beach. Also this year, what with last week's National Football League Pro Bowl and today's Super Bowl landing in Miami, timing was key. Just two weeks after we stayed there, the price of our room went up $150 -- and that was for the Pro Bowl. For the big game, the price more than doubled; it was listed at $599.
Another money-saving tip: Consider flying into Fort Lauderdale. It can be cheaper, and the airport is closer to North Miami Beach than the Miami airport.
Our destination of South Florida -- and Miami Beach specifically -- was primarily motivated by the consistently beautiful weather; even if it's cool, as it was this year, temps in the mid-60s are still higher than highs in the teens and 20s, and the sun shines nearly every day.
But we learn a little bit about the area each time we return. Miami's culture and cuisine is shaped by accents of the world, with influences from Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Italy, China, Russia, and lots more. It's a popular destination for international tourists; around the pool, English is only one of the languages we hear. We doze to a symphony of South American and Eastern European dialects.
To be sure, we don't spend all of our time napping. Going to the same place each year, we've cultivated favorite destinations, some in Miami and some beyond. Here are a few.
Lounge on Lincoln Road
A seven-block stretch of pedestrian mall may be away from the ocean, but it's still Miami Beach. In the center, outdoor seating for the oodles of restaurants form a boulevard of sorts, where sitting and watching the people walk by is a pastime in itself.
Here you'll find high-end designer shops, touristy trinkets, art galleries -- it's the home of Miami pop artist Romero Britto's gallery -- and national chains. You'll also find unique boutiques, like the Dog Bar, a little shop on a side street that caters to your canine's every whim, but also offers adoptions of stray kittens rescued by the staff.
After a morning in the sun, it's nice to spend a leisurely afternoon strolling up and down the mall, or sitting with a coffee or an ice cream cone, where it's still warm in the shade.
Settle in on Sunny Isles Beach
Every Florida beach has a personality, and this one is laid-back. Sunny Isles Beach is about 12 miles north of Miami Beach, but it feels a world away. Serenity reigns on the beach, which is sheltered from the bustle of the city by hotels and high-rise condos, giving the beachgoer a feeling of being disconnected from the everyday.
Gain access to the beach via various public parks and access points every few blocks. Relax in the sun and watch the cruise ships come in and out of the port at Fort Lauderdale, some 18 miles to the north. Or, if the beach isn't calling, this area of town has the Aventura Mall, with some higher-end designer boutiques for whiling away the hours. Whatever you do, take it slow; there's no rush here.
Just be at Bahia Honda
Our first trip was a spur-of-the-moment decision, so we were unprepared for the beauty of Bahia Honda State Park. About 125 miles south of Miami and two-thirds of the way down the Florida Keys, Bahia Honda offers a picture-perfect vacation, with its glorious sandy beaches leading into the teal waters of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other.
Wade out as far as you want; the depth stays pretty shallow for quite a ways. Or rent a kayak and skim around the shore. Snorkeling equipment also is available for rent, and excursions to a nearby coral reef are scheduled daily.
We considered the snorkels and the kayaks that first trip, but ultimately didn't do anything. This is where the practice of early retirement was born: spending a few days at our beachside campsite, with an agenda consisting of only reading, napping and watching the world around us.