Recently I was in dire need of a quick and easy getaway that included some warmth and the chance to do little except relax. I’m a little embarrassed how long it took me to think of South Florida, but once I did everything clicked into place right away. Even though I used to travel down to Florida pretty often, it’d been years since my last visit and I quickly became very excited to return to what is without a doubt one of America’s best vacation getaways. While there are thousands of ways to enjoy your time in Florida, even South Florida, here’s how I spent a perfect weekend getting away from the cold northern temperatures and learning how to slow down a little.
Where To Stay
While there are many outstanding upscale options in South Florida, I decided to spend a couple of nights at the newly (and extensively) remodeled Diplomat Beach Resort. The main reason I decided to stay at this historic property is because it’s a member of the Curio Collection of hotels by Hilton. I stayed for the first time at a Curio hotel in Philadelphia and was so impressed by the unique property that I sought out the collection in Florida and I’m so glad I did. While a large hotel, the Diplomat somehow makes guests feel special and the newly revamped interiors definitely help in this process. Beautifully designed with a fun but elegant look, it’s impossible not to feel like a VIP as soon as you walk in. Add in to that spacious, light and airy rooms, truly excellent cuisine and five-star levels of service, and it really is the perfect retreat to enjoy the beach and famous Florida sunshine.
While I’ve been to Florida a number of times, I rarely (if ever) have done any of the state’s famous and incredibly touristy experiences, a sad travel omission I wanted to address on this trip. That’s why my first stop after landing at the airport was to the Sawgrass Recreation Park. There are many places around South Florida if you want to take an airboat out into the swamps and look for alligators, but the Sawgrass Recreation Park is close to both Fort Lauderdale and the Diplomat and was the perfect option for my brief first foray into the swampy side of Florida. Although this park isn’t technically part of the massive Everglades, all of the waterways are really all part of the same system, one that is not only a National Park but also recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Hopping into the airboat, Captain Bob looked a little grizzled but there was no doubt he knows these waterways well. Approaching speeds of 30 miles per hour, the uniquely designed airboat isn’t only a fun way to explore the swamps of Florida, it’s the only way. What was the most fun though was encountering alligators almost right away. Sitting there just a few feet away from these massive and strangely beautiful animals was humbling and the perfect outdoors experience on a beautiful Florida afternoon.
Florida in general has a lot to offer history buffs like myself, from the Spanish-influenced St. Augustine in the north to the unique charms of Ybor City in Tampa. South Florida too has a lot to offer history enthusiasts and it’s mostly entirely thanks to one man – Henry Flagler. If you’re from Florida, then Flagler is a name you know very well, but for people outside of the state it may be a new one. Hundreds of books have been written on his influence not only around the state, but the country so I’ll just briefly summarize here to say that his innovations eventually led to the popularity of Florida as a tourist destination. Flagler made his fortune as one of the founders of Standard Oil and became one of the richest men not only in the country, but the world. This was the Gilded Age of unimaginable wealth controlled by the now-infamous robber barons. I’ve always thought that term to be a bit of a misnomer though as many did give back to the general public through a variety of different projects, including the ones Flagler undertook in Florida. Through the development of the Florida East Coast Railway and the luxury hotels he built from Jacksonville to Key West, Flagler was responsible for bringing both agriculture and tourism to Florida, still the state’s two major revenue streams today. Located in the perpetually posh city of Palm Beach, Whitehall was Flagler’s Florida estate and today it’s home to the Flagler Museum. Walking through the front gates, it’s hard not to feel like a member of the wealthy elite and the tour through the house isn’t just interesting, it’s a beautiful walk back through time. Flagler though is just one of many historical experiences found throughout South Florida, you just have to take the time to discover them for yourself.
Doing Nothing At All
While there’s plenty to do in South Florida, most of us travel down to this famously tropical part of the country to do very little at all. The beaches lining the Atlantic Coast from the Palm Beaches down to Miami are world famous, and that fame is well deserved. That’s also why I decided to spend the weekend in Hollywood, Florida and I wanted to make sure I enjoyed every moment of it. Luckily, the Diplomat Beach Resort makes it easy with beach access along a particularly pristine section of coastline and several large and elegantly designed pools that serve as the perfect complement. Deciding to add a little luxury to my day, I rented a cabana and enjoyed a full day poolside with my own private room complete with couch, TV, drinks and snacks. Hollywood, Florida is also home to what is one of the best boardwalks in the state, the curiously named Broadwalk. This 2.5 mile boardwalk includes wide open and beautiful beaches along with hundreds of hotels, shops, bars and restaurants. It’s a really well done boardwalk full of fun without some of the sketchiness one finds in many other beach destinations. No matter how you decide to enjoy the famous Florida sunshine, it’s hard to go wrong in this part of the state.
More than just a nice and relaxing weekend getaway, my quick trip down to South Florida reminded me just how much fun the state can be. I’m guilty of traveling the world in search of interesting and exciting experiences while oftentimes overlooking my own country, and this is the perfect example. This trip made me recommit not only to spending more time exploring the US, but Florida in particular and I couldn’t imagine a better first step than this relaxing South Florida getaway.