I have been around Florida, and particularly South Florida and the Keys. Although my list of ‘places to see’ and ‘things to do’ is still as long as my arm and I am adding to it constantly, it’s time to take stock and bring you a list of my hot favorites before the summer is out. And as we know, the summer weather in South Florida won’t be out before December anyway!
I have concentrated on those little adventures that are more fun in the summer heat. For me, this mostly involves getting on and into the water, as well as not working too hard to get from A to B. Hiking for miles, for example, is not going to feature here, just as kayaking for hours through mangrove tunnels without the benefit of a beach close by won’t be. That would feel more like endurance training than fun in August.
Most of the following adventures, with exception of the Dry Tortugas, are either free (how fabulous is that?), or they require a modest entrance fee to a State or County Park. Some adventures do require kayak or other watercraft rental if you don’t have your own. Most of the activities are fine for families with older children.
So here are 10 of my favorite ‘cool’ adventures. I hope you enjoy!
1. Islamorada: Indian Key Kayaking And Snorkeling
This is a great little adventure, starting with a roughly 30 minute paddle over seagrass flats to get to Indian Key, once the seat of Dade County. When you see this abandoned wild little island you will find that hard to believe.
Once you arrive, you can walk historic Indian Key and inspect the remains of a former settlement. There are paths leading around the island, as well as plaques with information. Don’t forget to pay the fee at the dock, it was $2.50 last time we went and is based on an honor system.
What makes this so great for a summer’s day is the prospect of a little cool down and snorkel in the crystal clear waters. On the island’s southeast side there is a coral/stony ledge and bottom, where it is easy to get in and out of the water and explore it with snorkeling gear. It gets pretty shallow at low tide. This area has been called one of the best spots to snorkel off the beach in the Keys.
If you are historically interested, you might want to go on one of Brad Bertelli’s walking tours of the Island, more information can be found here. I have written about our trip to Indian Key and its interesting history here.
Where and How?
The easiest for ‘first timers’ is to rent kayaks at Robbie’s at Mile Marker 77.5 bayside. They will set you up with everything you need including a map and suggestions of where to beach the kayaks and other places to kayak in the area. Otherwise, you may launch your own kayaks from the roadside roughly between mile 77-79 oceanside. Then just head for the little island and remember to beach your kayaks in the mangroves you will reach well before the dock area (which is only suitable for boats). There is a sign pointing you to the canoe and kayak landing.
2. Clam Pass Park in Naples
Let’s say it’s the middle of summer and you really have no energy to expend on anything remotely resembling ‘exercise’, such as walking or kayaking. However, floating down a natural lazy river without doing anything sounds good?
Then Clam Pass Park in north Naples is a great place for you. I have written about Clam Pass in more detail here. Yes, it’s hot. But the water makes up for it and as long as you take adequate protection in form of hat, sunscreen and a sun umbrella for the beach, you will enjoy this interesting little bay.
You won’t even have to walk the lovely mangrove shaded boardwalk to get to the beach. There is a free tram that will take visitors right to the beach. Clam Pass with its natural lazy river is just a little walk north of the concessions area where the tram drops you off. Oh and don’t forget your ‘floating device’ of choice for the best possible experience…
Where And How?
Head to Seagate Drive in north Naples – the park is at the western end of the road right next to the Naples Grande Beach Resort. Parking is $8 and there is only limited parking, so get there early-ish on the weekends. The tram picks you up at the parking lot and takes you right to the beach. It’s that easy!
3. The Dry Tortugas
This is a very special adventure and involves either a long boat trip or a sea plane flight out to the beautiful Dry Tortugas National Park. It is the only suggestion on my list that isn’t free or cheap, but it is worth every penny. The park lies about 68 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico and is home to some of the most fascinating scenery, history and snorkeling you will come across in this part of the world. I wrote an extensive article on the Dry Tortugas here.
Where And How?
It’s in the middle of the ocean so there aren’t too many options of getting there…
We took the Yankee Clipper ferry, which is undoubtedly what most people do. At the time of writing, a return ticket including breakfast, a tour of Fort Jefferson and the National Park fee, sets an adult back $175, and a child $125. The sea plane gives you a bit more time on the island and at the time of writing costs around $300 for the half day and $550 for the whole day, per person. Children pay a little less.
4. Lover’s Key State Park
Lover’s Key State Park is just minutes south of Fort Myers and well known for its abundance of wildlife and stunning white sand beaches. The wildlife you may spot here includes manatees, dolphins (we saw some), roseate spoonbills, bald eagles and many more species. The shelling here is spectacular but please check there are no live animals inside. This hot tip comes from someone who once discovered a walking shell in her Condo and went through pains to reunite the little sneaky hermit crab with the ocean.
The two mile long beach is accessible by boardwalk or tram and there is a nice kayak launch/boat ramp also. The whole area is perfect for a summer’s kayaking and swimming excursion. Read more about it here.
Where And How?
Lover’s Key State Park is located at 8700 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, about 10.5 miles west of I-75 on exit 116. The park is open from 8am until sunset on 365 days a year and the admission fee is $8 per vehicle. The park concessions provide kayak and paddleboard rentals, as well as beach chairs and umbrellas.
5. Phil Foster Park And Snorkel Trail
This is a much underrated little park in Palm Beach County, which boasts a neat snorkeling trail perfect for beginners. While it’s probably not worth driving hours to, we don’t mind driving over an hour to get there for a fun and cool day.
Best of all, it is entirely free, although that is one of the reasons why it fills up quickly on the weekends, with parking at a premium. It pays off to get there early.
Phil Foster is one of my favorites, while not necessarily in the same category as all the above natural beauties, being an urban park, it is under a bridge and therefore shaded all day long. Definitely something that is much appreciated on a sizzling hot summer’s day, which is one of the reasons why it made the list. Plus, the snorkel trail is just off shore, so not just a lot of fun but safe too. It’s an ideal place for families. I wrote an article about Phil Foster Park here, and here is a little video of only a small part of the snorkel trail:
Where and How?
The entrance to the Phil Foster Park is at 900 Blue Heron Boulevard in Riviera Beach, Palm Beach County. It is open from sunrise to sunset and free. It has additional facilities such as a boat ramp, and there is a life guard on the premises.
6. Toilet Seat Pass Off Islamorada
This place is strictly for kayak or boating enthusiasts. Toilet Seat Pass is a boating channel and the only way to get there is by boat, kayak or any other water craft. So it’s not for everyone, but I had to include it for the sheer fun factor. It’s the Keys in a nutshell and makes me laugh out loud every time I get close. It’s really just a channel through the seagrass flats, marked by toilet seats (yes, toilet seats!), but hear me out because it is well worth a visit. There are no ordinary toilet seats here, far from it, as people adorn them with all kinds of art. And there are some real artists out there, as you will soon notice.
The paddle out there is nice and leisurely. I think it took us about 30 minutes or so one way. I wrote about our trip here. Most of the time one can avoid boating traffic by hugging the mangrove coast line (the seagrass flats in the area are a little too shallow for most boats, which is in fact why toilet seat cut exists in the first place). You might even witness a toilet seat placing ritual, as we did one time, with lots of hollering, hammering and laughter. Just beware of the boats and current in the channel, it is easy to get carried away looking at all this potty art, meanwhile some motorboat is whizzing past you.
On a private note, on our second visit there, we had to ‘repurpose’ a bleached out toilet seat to announce our upcoming wedding.
Where and How?
Toilet Seat Pass is easily reached by kayak from Mile Marker 88 (bayside) at the little private beach. They charged us only $5 to launch our kayaks last time and the staff there are really nice, one time even insisted on helping us carry our kayaks from car to beach. Alternatively, you can put in at Founders Park a little south, but it will make for a slightly longer trip. You then kayak north hugging the shoreline and after passing houses on your right, there is a relatively open mangrove fringed area to kayak through. If you look closely a little north west, you will already see the white poles and toilet seats. Voila! Just watch the wind and tides – we don’t do this in over 10mph winds unless it’s an east wind (which the area is mostly sheltered from).
7. The Beautiful And Cool Springs In Central Florida
The beautiful springs in central Florida and north Florida make for an ideal summer adventure. It’s outside the scope of the article to talk about all the springs, so I am just going to name a few that I have personally visited and found wonderful: Fanning Springs, Manatee Springs, Silver Glen Springs, Juniper Springs (with Fern Hammock), Devil’s Den, Weeki Wachee and Alexander Springs.
All of these are worth a day out, but there are some ‘special springs’ to me, one is for sure Weeki Wachee (circa 45 minutes north of Tampa). I have not been to the main park and seen the mermaids, but simply kayaking this cool and turquoise clear water is a great pleasure – I wrote about it here.
Another personal favorite is Fern Hammock, accessible through the Juniper Springs park. Standing on a bridge over Fern Hammock, you can see the so-called ‘sand boils’ formed by water bubbling up constantly from deep inside the earth. Simply fascinating. I wrote about it here. Most springs are a refreshing 72-74 degrees all year round, which makes them a perfect summer outing. So refreshing when it’s 90 outside!
Where and How?
For us south Floridians, the easiest access we can get to any kind of spring (with exception to the urban Venetian Pool in Coral Gables), would be to head to Ocala National Forest. There are multiple springs there worth visiting, including Juniper Springs, my personal favorite, as well as many others. Most of them are set within parks and have all facilities one could need, including concessions and kayak rentals where appropriate. For further information, visit the official website for Ocala National Forest.
8. Islamorada Sandbar
Here’s another one that you can only reach with some type of watercraft. I am sorry about that, but quite honestly, if you can’t be on the water in Florida’s summer, you are probably better off staying in air conditioning. This is what I do in any case. July and August either involve the blue wet stuff or I am staying home!
Now, there’s a place that’s pretty popular for locals who want to party on the water in the Keys, and we all know: they know how to party there! At low tide on the weekends this place is full of boats and all kinds of other watercraft. I wrote a much more detailed account of it here.
You can see the boats all anchored up there having a great time, when driving by on the Overseas Highway (making me sigh very loudly every time we drive past it). It looks irresistible. I usually see chairs and umbrellas in the water and people having a great time. Bring all you need to survive the brutal summer sun (hat, sunscreen etc.), a picnic lunch, lots of water and maybe a couple of adult beverages, as well as a happy and friendly attitude and your day will be perfect! I promise.
For those of you who like it a little more quiet, there is the Marathon Sandbar, which can be reached by launching at Curry Hammock State Park and basically just turning ‘left’ or north along the shoreline. You will be able to see boaters and kayakers out there too, probably more so on the weekends, as it is a much more quiet place. I have more details about Marathon sandbar here.
Where and How?
The Islamorada sandbar or ‘beach’ as the locals call it, is located on both sides of the boating channel in Islamorada’s Whale Harbor, called Whale Harbor Channel. It is less than a mile off-shore and quite close to the Postcard Inn, although they won’t let you use their launch area to launch your own watercraft. Paddling to the sandbar is ideal for kayakers and paddle boarders on a calm day, but as always check your wind and tides. We launched from the Harborlights Motel and their charge seems to vary, but we could not find anything closer. If you know of a better launch that’s accessible by the public, please let me know.
9. The Dome Homes At Cape Romano
This is probably the quirkiest entry of all, and again you need some type of watercraft to get here, preferably a boat, jetski or anything else motorized. It can be reached by kayak, provided you are a very experienced kayaker and own all the safety gear, maps etc.
One of the reasons why I had to include the Dome Homes is that due to their location on an ever-changing barrier island, the next hurricane might just put an end to them. For years, the Dome Homes (once on dry land), have been marching into the ocean and there has been a long debate about what to do with them between the now-owner and the county – there was talk of them being demolished at some point. As far as I know, the debate is still ongoing.
The area is great for many reasons, for example you can snorkel around the Dome Homes. It is also a great spot for marine wildlife watching, fishing and enjoying the stunning and remote beaches nearby. We saw dolphins, sharks, turtles and plenty of birds in the area – unsurprisingly, with it being set within the Ten-thousand Islands area. I wrote in more detail about the Dome Homes here and here.
Where and How?
Cape Romano is south of Marco Island on the south west coast of Florida. It falls just within the Ten-thousand Islands area, a remote chain of islands and mangrove islands bursting with wildlife. The way to get there is preferably by boat. There is some organized cruising – I found a company offering cruises of the area, including the Dome Homes, here. If you ask me, the best way to do it, not necessarily the cheapest, is to rent a boat and get out there yourself. The advantage of it is that you can spend as long as you want cruising the area (we saw several pods of dolphins), spend as much time as you want around the Dome Homes and snorkel around the structures, and again spend as much time as you want shelling or just relaxing at the remote beaches all around. We had a great experience with Calusa Marina on Marco Island, renting their great little bay boat.
You certainly do need some experience driving a boat, and need to know how to read maps and markers – the rest is straightforward as you are never far from land. Check your depth finder frequently because the area has some shallow parts especially at low tide.
10. Haulover Sandbar In North Miami Beach
Believe it or not, here is another place you can only reach by boat or kayak (and of course other paddle and motorcraft), I hope you all love the water as much as I do…
Haulover Sandbar is perfect if you want to party on the water in Miami. Forget quiet, wildlife and reflection – think lots of music, lots of boats and kayaks and party, party, party! Although we are getting over there less and less these days, just because it has become so busy everywhere and we are always glad to get away from the crowds and into nature, I do love this sandbar in the intracoastal. It really comes to life on a Saturday and Sunday and is crazy busy and loud on any type of holiday.
Come here and go with the flow. The perfect place to end up after boating around Miami and needing to jump into some crystal clear water afterwards. And the water is crystal clear. At low tide, sand will be exposed and most of the area will be ankle/knee deep, so you can walk around. There is even a concessions boat (shout out to D’s Sandbar Munchies) who serves up some great burgers, ice creams, sodas and anything else your heart could possibly desire on a sandbar. No need to bring lunch, she has you covered.
Where and How?
Haulover Sandbar is situated inside of Haulover Inlet in North Miami Beach in the Intracoastal, which makes it relatively sheltered even on windier days. Getting there by boat is pretty straightforward as you typically see lots of boats anchored up there as soon, as you get near the area. If you want to launch somewhere close, there is Haulover Marina, which is only a tiny distance further north in the Intracoastal. It’s a pretty busy place.
Coming by kayak, canoe or paddleboard, your best option will be Oleta State Park. It is also just a short paddle out to the sandbar. Once you paddle out of Oleta and the bay, you only need to cross the boating channel. I say ‘only’, but that is probably the hairiest part of the whole journey. Just watch out for the boats, and be extremely vigilant later in the day when often sadly alcohol has done its thing and people can be a little reckless with their boats and jetski’s. We never had any problems, but I usually make sure to wear my lifevest for this short trip.
So there you go, my top ten for the summer around here. I must say, it was pretty hard to narrow it down and if I wanted to make the list longer, I would have included kayaking and snorkeling in John Pennekamp, and for sure kayaking down the Loxahatchee River and stopping off at Trapper Nelson’s – although personally, for me it needs to be a little cooler to do the latter one, as I have a real problem with mosquitos. Well, who doesn’t?! I do my best to avoid the worst areas for the little swamp angels in the summertime, such as closed mangrove tunnels and slowly flowing rivers with lots of vegetation. That’s personal preference and you may feel differently about it.
Do you have any favorites in my list or perhaps you have some great excursions you want to share with the world (and me!)?
Let’s connect, I can’t wait to hear more!