Viva la long weekend! Except if you don't start making plans soon, you'll probably spend the next four days watching a Saved by the Bell marathon with a straw stuck in your Jimmy Buffet brand margarita machine. But planning a weekend trip from Miami ain't easy. We're surrounded by water on three sides and have strange country-fried neighbors to the north (i.e., the entire state north of West Palm).
Plus, mid-west folks plan their Key West excursions years in advance, thwarting spontaneous trips by locals who are within a four-hour drive. So what to do? You camp. You find the curious and the weird off the beaten track. Check the cut for five years worth of Best Weekend Trip winners from our Best of Miami issues. And please, tell us your ultimate weekend getaway in the comments section.
The below blurbs are pulled from the Best of Miami archives:
2011: Ghost Hunting in Key West
"Check in at the La Concha Hotel on Duval Street, home to a half-dozen apparitions, including a waiter who fell down the elevator shaft and a girl who jumped off the roof on New Year's Eve. Some guests feel a strange tapping on their shoulders, only to find no one there. The Original Ghost Tour starts in the La Concha lobby and ventures out to haunted churches, movie theaters filled with ghost children, and the original home of Robert the Devil Doll.
After dinner at the Hard Rock Café -- visited by the spirit of the original owner, a malicious man named Robert Curry -- grab a drink at Captain Tony's Saloon, where the original Key West hanging tree still grows and Hemingway is said to roam in search of one more drink before last call. When you wake up (if you wake up), head to the East Martello Museum on your way out of town to meet Robert the Doll face-to-face. Take a picture if you dare, but remember to ask his permission. The museum walls are filled with letters begging Robert to lift his curse on them. Then get the hell out of Key West before anything follows you home."
2010: Wekiwa Springs State Park
"Steer the car north like you're heading for Disney, but bypass all the mouse-touting exits and that spooky biblical theme park called the Holy Land Experience. Deep in the Ocala National Forest is Wekiwa Springs State Park, where you can spend the weekend camping in a backcountry Florida Shangri-la. Here's the scene: Moss-draped oaks canopy the park's springs, and pristine blue water nestles in natural rock that, thanks to the Floridan Aquifer, is always a cool 72 degrees. As for lodging, choose one of the campsites in the inner circle for the best shade, and kayak the Wekiwa Lagoon for some guaranteed gator watching."
2009: Bahia Honda State Park
"Find Mile Marker 37 and plan an entire day in the small piece of paradise known as Bahia Honda. With its emerald green waters, powdery white sand, an effervescent coral reef, and the tattered remains of the old Flagler Overseas Railroad, Bahia Honda State Park is one of the Florida Keys' best-kept secrets. It is, quite possibly, the best beach you'll find in all of Florida.
The three beaches that make up Bahia Honda stretch out toward the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf, and their waters are teeming with fish. The Bahia Honda Bridge is a great place for pictures or for spotting the nurse sharks that swim underneath the railroad. The park also features kayak rentals and boating excursions. Overnight lodging is available, but because reservations are tough to come by, it's probably best to stay at a hotel in Marathon, which is a good 20-minute drive away. Key West sits about an hour south."
2008: Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge Camping
"Pack up your camping equipment and head down to Big Pine. For more than 30 years, the lodge has been a home away from home for those who want to get away from home. Why? Is it the amply sized campgrounds, complete with rustic-style or fully hooked-up sites? Is it the RV sites and the clean public bathrooms? Is it the proximity of both Key West and Islamorada for dinners followed by debauchery? Perhaps.
But we also attribute it to the key deer, the adorable, nearly extinct, dog-size critters that have put Big Pine Key on the map. The deer aren't afraid to walk right up to you for tidbits. You aren't supposed to feed them, of course. But if you don't, the cute little bastards might just dig through your garbage bag when you're not looking. Less than an hour's drive away, Big Pine is a perfect escape from Miami drivers, violence, and intensity."
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"Between Homestead and Key West, the 18-mile-long village of islands called Islamorada is probably the most happening of the northern Florida Keys. The pace of life is still steady as she goes, and sun-drenched relaxation is the order of the day. But there are adorable souvenir shops, tropical art galleries, and lots of bars and restaurants. A cruise down to Islamorada can take less than an hour from Kendall or South Miami, and sitting in the shade at the Tiki Bar, you feel like you're on vacation much further away from home. At this thatched frat house of a bar back in 1972, inventive bartender "Tiki" John created the rum runner.
The Island Grill is another local favorite, with its own beach and comfortable waterfront seating. Dinner at the Islamorada Fish Company is worth the wait for a romantic waterfront dinner and one last cocktail before heading back to Miami. The front of this vast establishment is a popular fish market with great prices on fresh-caught stone crab, yellowtail, and delectable, buttery lobster. Eat dinner on the waterfront -- some pretty big fish come swimming up to the marina to be fed by eager guests."