Best Weekend Getaway Miami 1999 - Everglades City/Chokoloskee
Readers' Choice: Key West
If you want to kick back in a nature-intensive, Old Florida kind of way, just take Tamiami Trail to within about 30 miles of Naples, then hang a left at State Road 29. Once you cross the bridge into Everglades City, you're on the threshold of the Ten Thousand Islands, a maze of mangrove islets and brackish water between the Everglades and the Gulf of Mexico -- where us city folks get many of our stone crabs. The tiny Twin Cities of southwest Florida have always boasted a curious blend of insularity and bravado, typified by the recently deceased swamp pirate Loren G. "Totch" Brown. Ol' Totch spent most of his life lurking in and around the islands and Everglades National Park, hunting quarry such as "Chokoloskee chicken" (ibis, the killing of which is now illegal) and "square grouper" (bales of marijuana, the trafficking of which landed Totch and many of his neighbors in the pokey some years back). Yet despite the shadiness of his pursuits, Totch wrote a book about his adventures, thus adding to the mystique of his swampy haunts. They're plenty mystical on their own, though. Whether you want to explore the labyrinthine mangroves by canoe, kayak, airboat, flatbottom tour boat, or airplane, Everglades City and Chokoloskee are perfect staging areas. Check with the park rangers at the visitor center (941-695-3311) for boat tours and canoe rentals. The water is jumping with fish, if that's your pleasure. If you just want to gawk at wildlife as you paddle or putter around, you'll see alligators, osprey, pelicans, cormorants, and maybe a dolphin or bald eagle. You can launch your boat from Chokoloskee, and by all means check out the historic Smallwood's Store in the tiny island town, but Everglades City has all of the lodging. There are a couple of charming B&Bs, but why not go whole hog and stay at the famed Rod and Gun Club (941-695-2101). Sure it's a more expensive place to eat and sleep, but hey, presidents have bunked there. You at least need to pop in for a drink and stare at the Barron River as it meanders by the historic, whitewashed inn. Like most eateries in town, it specializes in seafood pulled out of local waters.