‘Gator filled swamps, glorious art deco architecture, year-round warmth, Disney World, boutique shopping and cranking nightlife. Welcome to Florida.
In the ’20s, Miami was nicknamed the Magic City because its population had rapidly grown, seemingly overnight.
Those who haven’t been can be dissuaded by plastic fantastic preconceptions – bikini babes, rollerblades, palm trees, golden sands, multi-million dollar speed boats, cocktails with little umbrellas…
But a host of hip hotels (The EDITION, The Thompson and the Metropolitan by COMO come to mind) and restaurants have made an appearance in recent times, bringing a wave of sophistication to Miami that has nothing to do with Spring Break.
Once a run-down warehouse district, The Wynwood Walls is now an uber-cool art district, with more than 7400 square metres of street art.
Each year the display grows – it has seen more than 50 artists from 16 countries worldwide.
If you want a real taste of Little Havana head to Domino Park for some fascinating people-watching.
Here you’ll find locals playing (and mastering) dominos, the national game of Cuba, as they roll and smoke cigars.
Grab a cortaditos (Cuban coffee) and simply soak up the Hispanic culture that has permeated this multicultural American city.
Bathe in the Venetian Pool, which was built in 1924 as part of the Venetian Casino in Coral Gables.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s the largest freshwater pool in the US and is fed with spring water from an underground aquifer that’s drained and refilled daily in the warmer months.
Head here to swim among waterfalls, grottos, under a replica Venetian bridge and relax on its small sandy beach away from the crowds.
A great place to stay in Miami is The Vagabond Hotel, which is dripping with Florida cool.
There are 12 theme parks in Orlando (including Disney World), but to see how the locals live you need to visit two parks without rides.
Thornton Park in downtown Orlando is the ‘green heart’ of the city with the weekly Eola Street Markets and buzzy Washington Street to explore; Winter Park is a schmoozy neighbourhood, with the highest concentration of cafes and boutiques along Park Avenue.
Wartime history meets tropical paradise at Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida.
This is where two very different worlds collide. A harsh and imposing 19th-century fort used until 1874 as a post Civil War federal prison, meets an isolated tropical paradise, home to bird breeding grounds, coral reefs and legends of sunken treasures.
Mainly open water interspersed with seven small islands, the park’s coral and sea grass habitats are among the most vibrant in the Florida Keys, making it a coveted spot for snorkelling and scuba diving.
Camping here is an incredible experience. The primitive campground has ten sites on Garden Key (where Fort Jefferson is located) which are on a first-come, first-served basis.
But plan ahead … there are no services on the island and the nearest human-inhabited island, Key West, is over 100 kilometres away.
Visitors get here by seaplane or boat over 68 nautical miles of open sea… but the reward of experiencing this one-of-a-kind island is surely worth it.