The Everglades (image above)
The Everglades starts just past the city limits. A couple of miles in and you will feel like you have been airdropped into the Amazon. If you are lucky, your airboat captain may be a friend of Mama’s. Ours was and called out over the water from the island’s dock, ‘Mama! Mama!’ in a deep Floridian accent. A large snout poked out of the water. He patted it and continued urging Mama out of the water until all 14 feet of her was on the dock with us. She stayed for some more love, then turned around and flopped her scaly alligator body back into the water. After the airboat ride, drive past the usual tourist haunts to Chokoloskee, where small boats can be chartered to take you into the Gulf waters. There, you will be met by pods of dolphins and possibly spot the elusive sawfish. Admire the rows upon rows of birds lining the thin islands before enjoying a late lunch stop in Everglades City to gorge on pre-ordered stone crabs.
For the perfect tour, contact John Simmons of Miami Native Tours; miaminativetours.com
James Deering’s Villa Vizcaya in Coconut Grove is not to be missed. But if an over-the-top gilded age waterfront estate with 32 decorated rooms and 10 acres of Italian Renaissance-style formal gardens isn’t to your taste, an equally interesting visit is to his preservationist brother, Charles’s, more modest abode, the Deering Estate, which is home to a tropical hardwood closed-canopy forest.
Villa Vizcaya, 3251 S Miami Ave, Miami; vizcaya.org
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
Drive down one of the most storied (and photographed) streets in Miami, the Banyan-lined Old Cutler Road, to reach the entrance of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Named for the famed environmentalist David Fairchild, the spectacular gardens comprise 82 acres of rare palms, cycads, orchids and bromeliads.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, 10901 Old Cutler Rd, Coral Gables; fairchildgarden.org