Lonely Planet's top five day trips from Miami
The nutrient-rich wetlands of the Everglades National Park. (Jim Wark/LPI)
Just a short hop away from Miami are some of Florida's most alluring, charismatic and well-known attractions. So, if you are tired of clubbing and celebrity-watching, take a break and head for the some of the most exciting sights that lie outside the city.
1. Everglades National Park
An easy day trip from Miami, the Everglades provides the perfect excuse to escape from the rat race and reconnect with nature. Here, you will be able to witness alligators' backs breaking the water, anhingas flexing their wings before breaking into a corkscrew dive or the slow, dinosaur flap of a great blue heron gliding over its domain.
The Glades should be approached with the same silence and gentle persuasion it shows its inhabitants. Come by car and canoe, bike, kayak or walk around the park. To understand the way a nutrient-rich patch of water produces a mosquito, that feeds a frog, who becomes lunch for a 'gator, who snaps up a fish that gets speared by an anhinga under these long, low marsh winds, you need to be still. In the quiet spaces, you realize that the Everglades, so often dismissed as a swamp, are more beautiful than all the sin and flash Miami can produce. South Beach changes by the day. The Glades have beautifully endured forever, and if we are very lucky, they will last that much longer.
2. Biscayne National Park
Just to the east of the Everglades is Biscayne National Park, where a portion of the world's third-largest reef sits (along with mangrove forests and the northernmost Florida Keys). Fortunately, this unique 300-sq-mile park is easy to explore independently with a canoe or via a glass-bottom boat tour. Biscayne is unique as far as national parks go: requiring a little extra effort to see the reef and a lot more reward for this work. This is some of the best reef-viewing and snorkelling you will find in the US, outside of Hawaii and nearby Key Largo.
3. Florida Keys
Take one part, rednecks and add snowbirds. Sprinkle with a large number of Cuban immigrants and Eastern European guest workers. Include the gay community (may consist of "sedate partners who just bought art gallery" and "screaming drag queens of the night"). Garnish with Bahamians. Set attitudes at "tolerant" and "eccentric", turn up the eccentric. Finish with rum. Lots of rum. Bake in searing Florida sun and serve on 45 islands scattershot over a 113-mile-long chain, connected by one long road. Throw in the government of the only republic to successfully secede from the US. Yes, those Conch Republic flags say "We Seceded Where Others Failed," and that is the Keys in a conch shell: equal parts tacky, quirky and alluring.
Hang out here for awhile and you start turning into a "Freshwater Conch" - a permanent transplant - real quick. The Keys are out there; it is three or four hours at a good clip from Key West, at the end of the chain, back to Miami. Come out this far, and you either contract cabin fever or fall in love.
4. Theme Parks in Orlando
In 1971 Walt Disney World opened the gates of Magic Kingdom. Today, it includes 23 hotels, four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom), almost 100 restaurants, two water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), a sports complex (Disney's Wide World of Sports), and two shopping and nightlife districts (Downtown Disney and Disney's Boardwalk), as well as six golf courses, three miniature golf courses and lagoons with water sports, all connected by a complicated system of free buses, boats and monorails. Just to get from one end of Disney to the other is a $25 cab ride!
In contrast, Universal Orlando is a pedestrian-friendly and intimate complex with two excellent theme parks (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure), three first-rate resorts, and a carnival-like restaurant and nightlife district (CityWalk) connected by lovely gardened paths or a quiet wooden-boat shuttle.