Seven Fabulous Florida Trips for Philadelphians

The Sunshine State ... without Mickey, Goofy, or your grandmother.


Considering that they’re nearly a thousand miles apart, Philly has always had an unexpectedly tight relationship with Florida. There are the old-money Main Liners who’ve long wintered (yes, you know you’ve arrived when you use it as a verb) in Palm Beach. The rabid Phillies fans who cheat the start of spring with a visit to Clearwater. And the parents who get ransom notes from their darling children, saying: “Take us to Disney or there’s gonna be trouble.” Nothing wrong with any of those reasons to visit Florida, but if that’s all you’ve seen of the Sunshine State, you’re missing out. What follows are seven itineraries that will leave you tanned, rested, and just maybe dreaming of gators.

Edited by Tom McGrath and Ashley Primis

A pool at the  Miami Beach Edition. Photograph by Nikolas Koenig.

A pool at the Miami Beach Edition. Photograph by Nikolas Koenig.

Bold + Beautiful

The art of fitting in in Miami Beach

Those in the see-and-be-seen crowd (read: people who don’t mind packing more stilettos than flip-flops) will feel right at home in the buzzy barrier-island resort city. You can eat, shop and dance, but mostly you’ll just feel fabulous.

The Hotels
At the clubby Miami Beach Edition, hotelier Ian Schrager encapsulates all the flash of Miami: vast expanses of glossy white Carrara marble, gold columns, sleek rooms, and a staff of alarmingly beautiful people. For even more glamour, snag a room at the Fontainebleau, one of Miami Beach’s most iconic spots, with palm-lined pools, four signature restaurants, and one of the top spas in the city. Edition: 2901 Collins Avenue; from $429. Fontainebleau: 4441 Collins Avenue; from $399.

The Fun
Highbrow: The Miami Design District teems with impressive architecture, galleries, and glitzy shops like Hermès and Louis Vuitton. Meanwhile, Miami’s heralded Art Deco District is best discovered via a walking tour ($25), which sets out from 1001 Ocean Drive at 10:30 each morning.
Off-the-beaten-path: Leave an afternoon free for Wynwood Walls, a collection of large-scale murals by some of the world’s best graffiti artists.
Outdoors: Run, walk, bike or rollerblade (you can rent the latter two at Fritz’s Skate, Bike & Surf Shop) along the Miami Beach Boardwalk, a 40-block pathway that unfurls along the beach.

The Food
High-end: A newcomer to the South Beach dining scene, Bázi — managed by a Philly native and Starr expat — turns out stellar riffs on Asian cuisine.
Brunch: Go to Wynwood Kitchen & Bar (located within Wynwood Walls), order the cachapa — a traditional sweet and savory Venezuelan dish comprised of cheese sandwiched between corn pancakes — and dream of it long after your tan has faded.
Where the locals go: You can’t leave Miami without eating at least one taco (or five). Your best bets: the unfussy and often jam-packed Coyo Taco, and the unassuming Bodega Taqueria y Tequila, where a walk through the faux bathroom — seriously, open the graffiti-splashed Porta-Potty door and keep walking — rewards you with a nonchalantly cool bar and lounge, plus great happy-hour tacos for $2. — Emily Goulet

Phillies spring training at Bright House Field. Photograph by Getty Images.

Phillies spring training at Bright House Field. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images.

Come for the Phillies, Stay for the Culture

A fan’s guide to Clearwater and St. Pete

The Phillies have given us little to cheer for of late, but during spring training, hope is eternal. Enjoy the Gulf Coast beach-town vibe of their springtime HQ, Clearwater, or use cosmopolitan St. Petersburg, with its bustling — and gay-friendly — bayside culture, as home base.

The Hotel
You could spend the entirety of your getaway in the immediate vicinity of the historic, stately Vinoy Renaissance in St. Pete. While your days away in the spa, at the resort’s private golf course, or with a piña colada on the Veranda patio. Or wander around the Yacht Basin just outside the proudly pink hotel’s front door. 501 5th Avenue NE; from $179.

The Fun
Highbrow: The folks behind the Dalí Museum have turned the artist’s shticky oeuvre (hallucinogenic trompe l’oeil, dude!) into a must-see attraction at their new architecturally adventurous, mustache-forward waterfront digs.
Off-the-beaten-path: Studio@620 is the epicenter of St. Petersburg’s homegrown arts and culture scene. On Friday nights, the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club opens its doors to the public for the St. Pete Shuffle. Cruise through the Spanish architecture of the historic Roser Park neighborhood (founded by Charles Roser, by some reports the inventor of the Fig Newton).
Outdoors: The Carpenter Complex and Bright House Field in Clearwater are the spring home of the Phillies and the summer home of the team’s High A affiliate, the Threshers. No Phillies Clearwater expedition is complete without a stop at Lenny’s diner, a madcap home-team-friendly outpost with sassy waitresses, a famous danish basket, and a guy who’ll make a balloon-animal likeness of you if the mood strikes him.

The Food
High-end: Don’t let its location in the downtown Sundial Mall dissuade you: Fabrizio Aielli’s stunning Sea Salt starts with the basics — an expansive raw bar, a (no joke) salt list — and spins it all up into something transcendent. Newcomer Brick and Mortar serves seasonal New American cuisine, with nods to an owner’s Indonesian and Spanish roots, that has the locals buzzing.
Brunch: The Sunday buffet at 400 Beach Seafood and Tap House piles the snow-crab legs and shrimp high, does a killer pork verde, and makes tres leches cake to elbow into line for.
Where the locals go: Florida’s Gulf Coast is becoming a beer hot spot (the upshot of Yuengling’s Tampa satellite brewery?), with stops like Cigar City (Tampa), Green Bench (St. Pete), Saint Somewhere (Tarpon Springs) and Dunedin Brewery making the Bay Area’s Craft Beer Trail a worthwhile endeavor. — Brian Howard

 A suite at the Gates Hotel. Photograph by Manolo Doreste/In Focus Studios.

A suite at the Gates Hotel. Photograph by Manolo Doreste/In Focus Studios.

Jimmy Buffett Wasn’t Lying

And other things you need to know about Key West

There’s something called Keys Disease, a mysterious affliction that leads people to quit their jobs, sell their homes, and decamp for this tiny island 150 miles southwest of Miami. Key West is a genuine escape — a place where you can be yourself, or be somebody else.

The Hotel
The recently opened Gates Hotel channels the laid-back Key West vibe without sacrificing creature comforts (like cozy Turkish cotton robes and towels) or going overboard on the nautical theme. If you can pull yourself away from the poolside bar, the Gates offers a fleet of chic blue bikes for exploring the rest of the island (a necessity, since the hotel is a few miles from the heart of the city and there’s no guest shuttle service). 3824 North Roosevelt Boulevard; from $249.

The Fun
Highbrow: The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum is a must-see. Take the 30-minute guided tour of his Key West hideaway, and you’ll probably catch one or two descendants of his famed polydactyl (six-toed) cats lounging in the shade.
Off-the-beaten-path: Drag shows are a mainstay of Key West nightlife. You can catch performances every night at Aqua and 801 Bourbon Bar, located just a few blocks apart on Duval Street.
Outdoors: Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is Key West’s only proper beach. Even though its shores are man-made (Key West is surrounded in part by a coral reef, which means no big waves and few natural dunes), it’s worth a visit just to marvel at the beautiful blue-green water.

The Food
High-end: Nine One Five is a welcome respite from the endless succession of raucous bars on Duval Street. The menu is eclectic, with an emphasis on island cuisine: grouper ceviche, smoked ahi tuna with saffron aioli, crispy whole yellowtail. But the fries are also to die for.
Brunch:: Snowbirds and locals alike rave about brunch at Sarabeth’s, a New American spot with a lovely patio for outdoor dining.
Where the locals go:: Sandy’s Cafe is a venerated hole-in-the-wall serving authentic Cuban fare — including probably the best, sloppiest Cuban sandwich in town. Order one with everything on it and grab a seat at the outdoor counter. Mind the
roosters. — Chelsea Edgar

The Marina Channel at South Seas Island Resort. Photograph courtesy of South Seas Island Resort.

The Marina Channel at South Seas Island Resort. Photograph courtesy of South Seas Island Resort.

Water, Water Everywhere

Getting back to nature on Captiva Island

This tiny island off the southwest coast of Florida has the charm of Cape May, quiet beaches and all, plus a seemingly endless parade of wildlife to watch from wherever you set your sandals down.

The Hotel
Anyone who makes it out of the gates of the South Seas Island Resort during a stay here deserves a medal. With water everywhere you turn — miles of beaches with dolphin-speckled deep-blue water and a bevy of pools — multiple waterside bars, a golf course, and mouthwatering fish tacos you won’t mind eating over and over again, you’ll need Olympic-level strength to pull yourself away. 5400 Plantation Road; from $219.

The Fun
Highbrow: Shelling is one of the island’s big draws, but if spending hours hunched in the Captiva Crouch, as locals call it, sounds like the opposite of relaxation, a visit to the quirky Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum gives you a taste of the exotic finds minus the aching back.
Off-the-beaten-path: There’s no shortage of serene nooks that feel like they were plucked right out of a Nicholas Sparks novel, but the Chapel by the Sea, a century-old interfaith outpost right off the beach, is one worth taking a seat in.
Outdoors: J.N. Darling National Wildlife Refuge offers a change of scenery, with 6,400 acres of mangrove forest and marshes and four miles of walking trails. Just look out for alligators. Captiva Cruises keeps the water in view with trips lasting anywhere from 90 minutes to a half day. Opt for the Out-Island Cruise to check out Cabbage Key, a car-free hundred-acre island that feels about as far from Philly as you can get.

The Food
High-end: With walls decorated in everything Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter makes over-the-top obsession look cute. Prepare to walk out stuffed with seafood, and obsessing over something yourself — the unforgettable phyllo-wrapped shrimp.
Brunch: Don’t expect white tablecloths at diner-style spot RC Otter’s. Do expect breakfast potatoes that will wipe away the morning-after pain of one too many piña coladas.
Where the locals go: Head to laid-back Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille for the mojitos; stay for the Yucatan Shrimp and the conversation you’re sure to strike up with a fellow patron who’s been coming to the island every year for half a
century. — Adjua Fisher

Ponce de León’s Fountain of Youth; Timoti’s Seafood Shak. Photography, from left: Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park; Deremer Studios.

Ponce de León’s Fountain of Youth; Timoti’s Seafood Shak. Photography, from left: Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park; Deremer Studios.

Down South

The carefree charms of Amelia Island

The barrier island in the northern part of the state feels way more Georgia than it does Florida, thanks to grassy dunes, twisted live oaks and Southern hospitality. If decompression time with the fam sounds like just what you need right now, a few days on this island couldn’t be more ideal.

The Hotel
You know all those appealing things about big resorts? Beachside pool, sprawling spa, lounge-chair service, outdoor restaurants? The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island has all of that, but without the loud music, bikini-clad tarts or snooty staff. 4750 Amelia Island Parkway, Amelia Island; from $399.

The Fun
Highbrow: Part of this island’s appeal is its lack of fancy anything — a trip here feels blissfully more Castaway than The Hangover. But for some culture, head to Fort Clinch in Clinch State Park, to tour the Civil War garrison and chat with the reenactors. For more history, Saint Augustine, and Ponce de León’s Fountain of Youth, is about a 75-minute car ride, though you might have better luck de-aging at the spa.
Off-the-beaten-path: Yes, there are still wild horses running around in America. See them on Cumberland Island, a national park in Georgia that’s accessible only by boat (private or ferry).
Relaxing: Do not miss the spa at the Ritz. Treatments are first-rate, but the facilities are the real appeal.

The Food
High-end: Salt, at the Ritz, is the fancy place to eat on the island. Enjoy foie gras, lobster, or the thoughtful vegetarian menu. Timoti’s Seafood Shak in nearby Fernandina Beach has baskets of fresh seafood and a covered outdoor seating area.
Brunch: T-Rays Burger Station serves hash browns, biscuits with eggs and free-form burgers, in a converted gas station.
Where the locals go: DeNucci’s twists up soft-serve and cult favorite Dole Whip in a candy-colored shop the kids will love. —Ashley Primis

A Taste of the Tropics

The beauty of Boca Raton

Boca has long had a rep as the place where everyone’s Jewish grandmother lives, but in fact, its historical vibe, Southern charm and hint of the tropics make it a great spot for a relaxing vacation even if you never see Bubbe. (Still, you really should give her a call.)

The Hotel
Recently redesigned and right off the famous A1A, the Waterstone Resort instantly shows its bona fides as a seaside getaway with its tropical color palette. Stay on the intercoastal side of the hotel for views of the turquoise waves, palm trees and tons of boats (as long as you don’t mind the party music you’ll be hearing off in the distance). There are beachside rooms as well, and if the shore is more your cup of tea, luckily you’re only a quick walk away. 999 East Camino Real; from $169.

The Fun
Highbrow: If you’re a history junkie, take an Uber to the Brazilian Court Hotel in West Palm. The homey hotel was built in the 1920s, and many of the original aspects remain. There’s the Frédéric Fekkai Salon and Spa if you’re looking to do some
pampering — beat the heat with complimentary lemon water while stylists attend to your hair. In Boca, check out Mizner Park, which houses the Boca Raton Museum of Art and plenty of upscale shops.
Off-the-beaten-path: Take the 20-minute ride down to Delray’s Pineapple Grove Arts District and search out the hidden-
gem art galleries. There’s less foot traffic than in other parts of the popular Delray area, and when you’re finished seeing quirky sculptures and other creations, have a drink at Beer Trade Co. — it’s honor system here, so just grab what you want right out of the cooler.
Outdoors: In Boca, exercise is almost inevitable. Rent bikes at Boca Bike Shop, then ride along A1A and sightsee some beautiful beachside mansions.

The Food
High-end: City Oyster & Sushi Bar in downtown Delray is a good choice for an upscale atmosphere. There’s an extensive menu of seafood-centric classics, but it’s the sushi and sashimi that set this place apart.
Brunch: Farm-to-table Max’s Harvest in downtown Delray serves everything from fresh salads to an unlimited Bloody Mary/champagne cocktail bar (with any garnish you could possibly imagine, including gumballs from a gumball machine). Sundy House is more low-key, situated in a lush botanical garden filled with ponds and beautiful white decks.
Where the locals go: Don’t miss J&J Seafood Bar and Grill — a tiny joint with the freshest of seafood. — Rachel Chernaskey

The Luxe Life Lives

Or at least it does in Naples

Come to this opulent beach town on the Gulf and soak up the life of the one percent. It has great seafood, upscale shops, beloved golf courses, and one of the most dazzling (and tranquil) beaches in the country.

The Hotel
The rooms at the Naples Grande Beach Resort are just plain sexy, with hip sheets and rugs, oversize tubs, and balconies with views that will immediately put you at ease. Speaking of ease: The hotel spa’s 50-minute Swedish massage will make your back pain melt away. 475 Seagate Drive; from $439.

The Fun
Highbrow: The Waterside Shops feature an array of high-end stores including Gucci, Nordstrom, Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren. At the Baker Museum, you can spend an afternoon gazing at contemporary art and a night listening to chamber music, all under the same roof.
Outdoors: There are plenty of options, from a private manatee safari to deep-sea fishing to paddleboarding. Ask the concierge at the Naples Grande to hook you up.
Relaxing: There’s no better way to chill out than to go to the beach and people-
watch. The water is warm and translucent, the sands are soft and white, and the beachgoers are tanned and beautiful. Wildlife enthusiasts will enjoy Barefoot Beach Preserve Park, where you’ll find sea turtles, a tropical tree hammock and a dazzling sunset.

The Food
High-end: The Catch of the Pelican is the place to go to get local seafood. The grilled octopus tastes like it was caught that morning, and the fennel-crusted ahi tuna is barely cooked, just as it should be.
Brunch: The Naples Grande offers a great one. Or check out the original Tommy Bahama restaurant, a short walk from Naples Pier, and enjoy the burgers, awesome outdoor space and live music.
Where the locals go: If they’re in the mood for a cheesesteak — seriously — they head to Old 41 Restaurant. Owner Tony Backos is a Philly native, and he makes his cheesesteaks with rib eye and Amoroso rolls. The Philly Breakfast, with two eggs, home fries and scrapple or Taylor pork roll, is just as good. — Holly Otterbein

Published as “Sunshine State of Mind” in the March 2016 issue of Philadelphia magazine.