Where else but in South Florida can one choose to explore nature or seek romance or experience heart-pounding thrills by land or by sea, year-round, in settings just this side of paradise? For the day-tripping adventurer, there simply is no better location or variety of options. Check out one – or all – of the following excursions, and we think you’ll agree.
By David Raterman
Cycling and Wine Tasting in Redland
Wide-open roads, fresh air and calming panoramas pull recreational cyclists into Redland, an unincorporated agricultural area about 20 miles southwest of downtown Miami, where a subtropical winery welcomes a vintage adventure.
Combine cycling and wine tasting for a getaway that’s as savory as Napa Valley. Instead of rolling hills and glasses filled with cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, you’ll enjoy flat land and wines produced from mangos, guavas and coconuts.
Edward Gilmore parked his car at the Schnebly Redland’s Winery & Brewery and pulled his bike from the trunk. Surrounded by sunflower and guava fields, with horses neighing in the distance, he pedaled off on a 90-minute ride.
“I enjoyed discovering a new side of South Florida I didn’t realize existed,” says the software engineer from Fort Lauderdale. “I was surprised to see how expansive the farmland was and the variety of fruits that were growing. It reminded me of a trip I took through central California.”
He adds: “I usually ride on A1A, so any chance I have to get out of the traffic and away from the noise of the city is one I’ll take. Be prepared to wave hello when you ride by a local or they pass you in a car. People are friendly out there.”
Gilmore topped off his day trip with a visit to the winery, which offers tastings and half-hour tours on weekends.
“We crush the fruit,” vintner Johnny Schnebly says. “It’s all locally grown fruit.”
The ride and the wine were enough to convince Gilmore to “bring a date next time I go down there. It’s completely different from dinner and a movie. It’ll be an adventure date.”
Throughout the ride, cyclists will pass farmers markets and roadside produce stands. One of the best known is Robert Is Here, which lies on the road to Everglades National Park. There are also u-pick-’em fruit and vegetable fields. Strawberry season runs from December to May.
Schnebly Redland’s Winery & Brewery, 30205 SW 217th Ave., Homestead, 305-242-1224, schneblywinery.com. Open Monday-Thursday 10 a.m-5 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday Noon-5 p.m.
A Biplane Over the Middle Keys
and a Meal on the Beach
Is there a better way to see the Florida Keys than from the open cockpit of a biplane? For this day trip, plan to leave early in the morning. Or better yet: Make it a getaway weekend.
An aerial tour over the Middle Keys offers perspectives that land and water travelers just don’t get. The beauty of water blues and land greens is astonishing. The wind will rush at your face, but you’ll be wearing goggles and an old-fashioned canvas helmet.
Overseas Aero Tours, based at the Florida Keys Marathon Airport, can accommodate two sightseers for up to 60 minutes in a vintage World War II biplane.
“What we see differs every time we go up,” says owner Evan Doumis, a former Continental Airlines pilot. “Maybe 100 sharks, or sea turtles, or rays. Maybe manatees. A lot of dolphins.”
The adventurous flyers also see dots of civilization, including the Sombrero Key Lighthouse and the thin ribbon of the Seven Mile Bridge stretching from Knight’s Key to Little Duck Key.
“Up in the air you can see all of the major features of the Keys,” Doumis says. “Down on the road you miss the views, and you don’t notice how wide the Keys are. They look super narrow.”
Doumis’ family-run business, which took flight in March 2013, takes up various types of sky riders: “Old and young, adventure-thrill seekers, or people who want to sit there and do a sunset ride with their loved one.”
After your flight, drive 20 minutes south to mile marker 28.5 for an elegant meal on the sand of Little Palm Island. To reach it, park your car on Little Torch Key and catch the private motor yacht that departs hourly into the open sea. At the restaurant on the beach, try a lettuce wrap or pulled pork empanada served in a guava barbecue sauce, and a glass of champagne. Sunday brunch is from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Overseas Aero Tours, 9400 Overseas Highway, Marathon, 305-304-0015, overseasaerotours.com. Rates for two passengers range from $110-$599. Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. For information about Little Palm Island visit littlepalmisland.com.
Paddling in Jupiter Inlet and a Frozen Drink
Another unique day trip, though not quite so soaring, is paddling in Jupiter Inlet and the surrounding waterways. Whether kayaking or standup paddleboarding, it’s a fantastic mode for seeing nature up close while getting an upper-body workout. And you can top it off with a well-earned refreshing frozen drink.
“The perfect place to launch is right from the Jupiter Outdoor Center’s private beach that overlooks the gin-clear water of the inlet and Jupiter Lighthouse,” says Ryan Sullivan, who works at the outfitter.
JOC rents kayaks and standup paddleboards, or you can bring your own. Paddle by yourself or join a guided tour.
“Our Manatee and Mangrove Tour is a daily tour that offers a 90-minute excursion that even a beginner or infant with adult can enjoy,” Sullivan says. “You can paddle into the Loxahatchee River-Lake Worth Creek Aquatic Preserve, Sawfish Bay or explore the Intracoastal and Indian River Lagoon.”
You’ll pass the iconic Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, built in 1860 by George Meade, who later defeated Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg. Depending on tides and your route, you might see Indian shell mounds, the Historic Dubois Home and unique perspectives from under bridges. Glide up the Indian River to see the beautiful waterfront homes on Jupiter Island, one of the most affluent areas of the country.
Encountering wildlife feels like a gift from Mother Nature.
“Paddlers, on any given day, can expect to see sea turtles, manatees, dolphins, pelicans, osprey and other seabirds and marine life,” Sullivan says. “And of course the mangroves, which are an ecosystem unto themselves.”
Call ahead to find the best time to paddle.
“High tide is always when the water is at its clearest, and also during high and low tides the current of the water is at its least powerful state, which makes for easier paddling,” Sullivan says.
Afterward, walk next door to Square Grouper Tiki Bar to recuperate. The eatery stands on the site of a small hotel and saloon that was built in the 1800s to serve travelers venturing south by steamer or yacht. Jimmy Buffett has performed onstage here, so don’t be surprised if you’re inspired to try the cheeseburger and sip a frozen margarita.
Jupiter Outdoor Center, 1116 Love St., Jupiter, 561-747-0063, jupiteroutdoorcenter.com. Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Square Grouper Tiki Bar, 1111 Love St., 561-575-0252, squaregrouper.net. Open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday noon-12 a.m., Thursday and Friday noon- 1 a.m.
Hiking in the Everglades and an Art Gallery
For a reprieve from the zaniness of urban life, immerse yourself in nature by hiking the Florida Trail, a 1,000-mile footpath that stretches from the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41) to the Florida Panhandle. Trekkers can explore more than 50 miles of the Florida Trail within the Big Cypress National Preserve.
“I really enjoy the vast openness of it all, that you can see forever in all directions,” says Christopher Boykin, who has walked the trail scores of times. “Hiking across a marl prairie in the middle of the Everglades ecosystem is a beautiful experience, especially with low white clouds wafting across an azure sky and dwarf cypress in the foreground.”
You’ll see bromeliads, wildflowers and colorful orchids clinging to pond and dwarf cypress trees. You’ll spot all sorts of birds, maybe step around a snake or two and, if you’re lucky, glimpse a large mammal like a deer or black bear.
Boykin points out that hiking is more than viewing wildlife. “It’s about finding solitude, breathing fresh air and seeing the real Florida.”
Park at the Oasis Visitor Center on the Tamiami Trail. The gate at the trailhead is always unlocked. Be sure to close the gate after you enter and exit so wild animals don’t wander out and attempt the dangerous crossing of the highway. Once you start trekking, you’ll see orange blazes to mark the main trail and blue blazes to show the start of side loops.
Plan your turnaround time early. If you can walk for three hours, watch your clock so you return after an hour and a half. You don’t want to get fatigued on this day trip. You’re far from civilization, and cell phones don’t always work out here.
Before driving home, stop by Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery, which is one mile east of the visitor center. Butcher is the Everglades’ most celebrated artistic photographer. Sometimes standing in swamp water up to his waist, he shoots black-and-white images with large-format cameras. His work has appeared in numerous galleries and magazines over the decades, and he has received the Ansel Adams Conservation Award for his photography.
Having built up an appetite, you’ll want to drive 25 minutes to Everglades City for fresh stone crabs at City Seafood, an open-air restaurant. Or eat at the Everglades Rod and Gun Club, one of the oldest establishments in South Florida. With the mounted game animals and dark, varnished wood in the main parlor, walking into the club is like stepping back in time. Visitors have included five U.S. presidents, actors John Wayne and Burt Reynolds, and, of course, novelist Ernest Hemingway.
Oasis Visitor Center, 52105 Tamiami Trail E, Ochopee, 239-695-1201, nps.gov/bicy/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm.Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery, clydebutchersbigcypressgallery.com. City Seafood, 702 Begonia St., Everglades City, 239-695-4700, cityseafood1.com. Open Monday-Saturday 6 a.m.- 6 p.m. Everglades Rod and Gun Club, 200 Riverside Drive, Everglades City, 239-695-2101, evergladesrodandgun.com. Open daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m.