Follow Highway 1 South out of South Miami to reach Homestead, threshold to two major national parks and crucial ecological systems. An agricultural town known for its tropical fruits and landscaping plants, Homestead lies at the crossroads of Highway 1 and Route 997 (Krome Avenue).
Visit Tropical Fruit & Spice Park in the historic agricultural community of Redland for a taste of what’s grown in this fertile soil reclaimed from Everglades swamp lands.
South on Route 997, you’ll come to the intersection of Route 9336, Palm Avenue.
Head east 10 miles on Route 9336 to the 181,500-acre Biscayne National Park, photo above, 95 percent of which is under water. This begins the teeming coral reef environment that continues through the Florida Keys.
At the park’s visitor center and marina, you can sign up for a snorkeling, diving, or glass-bottom boat tour to experience the incredible marine life in these parts. You can even catch a water taxi out to one of the islands for primitive overnight camping. Alternatively, if you turn west at the intersection of routes 997 and 9336, you’re just 9 miles from the eastern access of Everglades National Park. On your way, stop at Robert Is Here fruit stand.
Robert sells fresh and exotic fruits and vegetables and shelves full of Florida honeys, jams, preserves, and hot sauces. As if that weren’t enough, you can also get the best fresh fruit ice cream shakes imaginable.
Try for example the Key lime, passion fruit, or a combination fruit shake.
The kids will like looking at the turtles out back.
Everglades Alligator Farm is also along the way. Stop here for an airboat ride (you won’t find any within nationa park boundaries) and a look at thousands of alligators and other Florida critters. Before you enter the national park gates, stop at the main visitor center for a smooth and sophisticated introduction to this oddball world.
Inside the gates, veer off to the left about a mile down the road at Royal Palm Visitor Center. A walk along Anhinga Trail is a must. Kids will go wild over all the alligators and birds they will see. Along the park’s 38-mile drive, you can pull off at a number of trails, overlooks, and recreational areas.
The main recreational area lies at the end at Flamingo, where this is also a motellike lodge. Cabins and campgrounds provide alternative accommodations, The emphasis is on outdoor activity. There’s another visitor center offering ranger-led programs that take you into the often-forbidding land of the Everglades.
Go to Eco Pond for more wildlife watching.
Rent a canoe, kayak, bike, or skiff to fish or sightsee. Board a tour boat for an on-water ecology lesson; you’re bound to see saltwater crocodiles, alligators, coots, herons, ibises, and other birds.
The marina also rents houseboats and provides fishing charters. You can rent anything you need-including binoculars-at the marina store. The lodge has restaurants, but hours are cut during the hot, wet, buggy summer season.
This tour: about 90 miles
InsideMiamiBeach.com, the site of South Beach.