We decided to experience Southern Florida by way of a road trip through the Florida Keys. Having flown into Miami, our first stop was 90 minutes away in Islamorada. Known as the “village of islands,” it encompasses six of the Florida Keys. The Islands lie along the Florida Straits dividing the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the northwest. Prior to 1900, they were hard to reach other than by boat, so American business magnate, Henry M. Flagler, began building a railroad to connect Jacksonville, Florida to Key West in 1903. He filled swamps, bridged waterways, conquered jungles, and rebuilt after hurricane destruction. Flagler first rode his train south to Key West in 1912. Today Islamorada is known as the Sports Fishing capital of the world.
We joined our friends in the Keys, (both husbands went to high school with Scott.) One couple has a beautiful vacation home on the water in Islamorada, and the other couple drove their motorhome down from Virginia to stay at a local campground. We choose to stay at the Checca Lodge, in a beautiful room overlooking the ocean. We escaped the “Marco Polo” family pool to spend our days at our friend’s home playing pickleball, paddleboarding, kayaking, and taking their boat out to Alligator Reef to swim by the famous old lighthouse.
We had a divine French Fusion dinner at Pierre’s, a two-story plantation house that resembles the old colonial-style residences found in West Africa. Pierre’s property lies on a glorious palm-lined beach overlooking Florida Bay, with walking paths thru tropical flowers. We were given a choice of dining on the second floor, in an interior room, or on the veranda-accompanied by Islamorada’s spectacular sunsets and tropical views. We chose the second floor and caught the sunset while sipping rum concoctions.
Our next stop was three hours further south towards Key West. We drove to Torch Key Shore Station, a sort of welcoming lodge where visitors “check-in, valet park their vehicle, and get a complimentary “boat-drink,” while awaiting the Criscraft to take them to the resort’s private island.” Our private island was called Little Palm Island, ranked the #7 resort in the USA by Conde Nast. After our 15-minute boat ride, we were met dockside by our perky concierge, named “Cat,” who would be assigned to us for our stay. Cat showed us around the 4-acre island complete with spa, gym, motor and sailboats, pool cabanas, and the most deluxe accommodations I’ve ever stayed in. Our bungalow came complete with an outdoor soaking tub, private beach, fire pit (which they lit for us every night when we left to go to dinner), living room, bedroom, ensuite bath, shower, and second outdoor shower, master with sitting area and West Indian curtained bed, and our name on the entrance!. The resort had live entertainment nightly, indoor, outdoor, bungalow or beach dining, and basically anything you could dream of. To top it off, there are only 30 bungalows on the island, so it felt peaceful, quiet, uncrowded, and luxurious. As far as food goes, we dined like Kings and Queens. Scott had what he now declares as the best Cuban sandwich of his life.
Our last stop was a 4.5-hour drive back north against the traffic jam to Palm Beach. We stopped in Miami for a BBQ lunch at the famous Shorty’s, and then checked into The Breakers Hotel in the afternoon.
The Breakers was built in 1896 and is a grand dame. The lobby and ballrooms are gilded-age opulence with a magisterial presence! Our travel agent booked us in one of their remodeled rooms which was updated to chic Palm Beach pink and green decor. It’s a large hotel with four pools (the adult pool is a stone’s throw away from the kid’s pool, so it’s still loud) and a bit of a wait for the buffet breakfast, lunch, pool chairs, etc. Spring Break mode was “game on” here. The spa, however, was soothing and top-notch.
We spent one afternoon touring the Flagler Museum (home to Henry Flagler, the man who built the Keys railroad, The Breakers Hotel, and many other properties in Florida.) His Palm Beach mansion/museum features a plethora of antique-laden bedrooms, great rooms, music rooms, and even his personal train car.
Worth Avenue is the shopping street for the Palm Beach elite, so we strolled up and down the beckoning blocks and had a blast meandering in and out of the little hidden courtyards behind the shops (These nooks are called the “Vias”). We had a delicious lunch in one of those charming courtyards at Pizza Al Fresco. The courtyard was filled with blooming violet hydrangeas, lively conversation, and fashionable ladies who lunch. My lobster salad was scrumptious.
For dinner, we were able to secure a reservation at Lola 41, one of the latest hot spots serving Asian cuisine. It’s part of the White Elephant boutique hotel in the center of town. A local celebrity from Fox News was dining near us (I had no idea who she was) and many guests jumped out of their seats to take selfies with her.
My favorite lunch was at Swifty’s at the Colony Hotel. This place was a scene! The outdoor patio was covered with a ceiling made from artificial vines and flowers. The restaurant is adjacent to the hotel pool and hip diners chat away while watching the lively chic pool scene, complete with singer/guitar player.
I’m looking forward to a re-do of this trip! It was definitely a first class experience!