Ten South Florida Tourist Traps That Actually Don't Suck

Just as many New Yorkers have never been to the Statue of Liberty, most Miamians are too busy to stop and smell the roses. We can go to the beach anytime we want, but we spend most of our days working and the rest of them recovering from work. It’s the plight of the tourist town: Residents never actually do any of the touristing.

That is, until that one day a relative or old friend or some other excuse to take off work comes into town. And they want to see everything Miami has to offer! Art deco! South Beach! Cubans playing dominoes! Here are a few places to take them.
1. Coral Castle. When people talk about tourist traps, they probably mean bizarre roadside attractions, usually giant statues of fruits, animals, or other inanimate objects that dot the American highways. Coral Castle outdoes them all, because it’s not simply a massive piece of kitsch; it’s also an enigmatic curiosity. No one knows exactly why or how Edward Leedskalnin, a Latvian who immigrated to America after being left at the altar, built this strange coral rock dwelling. Rumors say magnets were involved. Today it stands in Leisure City in South Miami-Dade as if it’s been there for centuries, a modern Stonehenge inviting visitors to explore its grounds and its mystery. There’s nothing else like it. 28655 S. Dixie Hwy., Miami; coralcastle.com.

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Photo by Michael Ferry / Flickr

2. Monkey Jungle. South Floridians have plenty of options when it comes to seeing wildlife. The best is Zoo Miami, where animals roam in spacious enclosures. But there’s also Monkey Jungle, a small wildlife sanctuary in the Redland without any cages. It began in 1933 as a research project by animal behaviorist Joseph DuMond, who released a group of Javanese crab-eating macaques into a patch of forest to study them in an environment similar to their native habitat. Today the park is still family-owned, and humans can wander through it and gaze at everything from great apes to reptiles and birds from the safety of a fenced-off path. 14805 SW 216th St., Miami; monkeyjungle.com.
3. Everglades National Park. There are many ways to take in the beauty of the Everglades: speeding across it by airboat, flying above it by plane, slogging through it on foot and getting slashed by sawgrass (a staple of school field trips). But none is as leisurely as taking a tram or bike ride on the 15-mile trail in Shark Valley. Here, you can see the serene sights of the River of Grass, from beautiful native birds to alligators lounging near the path (look; don’t touch). Once you tire of all that peddling, take in the park from high above in the observation tower. 36000 SW Eighth St., Miami; nps.gov/ever.
4. Knaus Berry Farm. It’s difficult to tell when autumn finally arrives in South Florida, mostly because it’s so damn hot year-round. That’s why we should be thankful for Knaus Berry Farm, whose annual opening in late October/early November is a local harbinger of slightly temperate climes. Founded in 1956 by brothers Ray and Russell Knaus as a tiny strawberry stand, the Redland farm is celebrated for its signature cinnamon rolls, whose fans clamor for every year. The in-house bakery also offers strawberry and guava jelly, cakes, pies, and other treats. You can even pick your own strawberries and tomatoes. 15980 SW 248th St., Homestead; knausberryfarm.com.

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Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

5. Little Havana. There are probably better ways to spend your time visiting Miami than schlepping all the way to Versailles for a cubano and colada, both of which you can find better versions of elsewhere. Still, Little Havana has its charms despite how touristy it might seem at times. You can take in a movie at the Tower Theater or walk across the street to Ball & Chain to party. You can get ice cream at Azucar. You can even walk to Máximo Gómez Park and watch the viejos clack away with their dominoes.

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Joe Anzalone/Flickr

6. Wynwood Walls. No, we’re not talking about every single mural in Wynwood. The small fenced-in area on NW Second Avenue at NW 26th Street called Wynwood Walls is the brainchild of late real-estate magnate Tony Goldman. The man who helped turn Manhattan's SoHo into a playground for the ultrarich also transformed this space into an outdoor art gallery. Goldman brought in artists from around the world to supplement the already-present street art, which had existed for years. On the one hand, Wynwood Walls has contributed enormously to the area’s gentrification. On the other, it has turned the area into a hot spot and stimulated the economy. At least the pictures are pretty. 2520 NW Second Ave., Miami; thewynwoodwalls.com.

7. Water Taxi. So you’ve somehow found yourself north of the county line and are looking to see the sights in Fort Lauderdale. Well, don’t go around driving a car and getting stuck in traffic like a common landlubber! Take the Water Taxi. These charming boats navigate the many canals around the Intracoastal Waterway, taking passengers to Broward hot spots such as Las Olas. Fares start at $16 and get you unlimited rides per day. Plus, there’s now an express route that will take all you Parrotheads straight to the Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort (which is a tourist trap that actually sucks). Watertaxi.com.

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Geoff Livingston/Flickr

8. Ocean Drive. If there’s anywhere a South Floridian would never be caught dead, it’s here. Ocean Drive is unequivocally a filthy, crime-ridden, tourist-infested hole, so much so that the New York Times last year wrote about the blight the strip is causing Miami Beach. Yet isn’t that kind of the point? This is the one place you can live out your Miami Vice fantasies of danger, sin, and glamour, and those dreams will definitely never fade. Besides, Ocean Drive is kind of nice in the daylight: Take a stroll through Lummus Park by the art deco buildings and you’ll remember why you still live here.

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Courtesy of LIV

9. LIV. There’s a saying in Japan: "A wise man climbs Mount Fuji once. A fool does it twice." The same goes for LIV. For ten years, the megaclub has reigned over Miami Beach nightlife from its throne at the Fontainebleau by catering to the wildest fantasies of its patrons. Where else can you see Calvin Harris, Lil Wayne, and Kim Kardashian, possibly all in one night? Where else are you gonna get kicked out after a douchebag hits you over the head with your $200 bottle of champagne while VIPs look on with pity and bemusement? Just once. Never again. 4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; livnightclub.com.

Ten South Florida Tourist Traps That Actually Don't Suck
Michelle Eve Sandberg

10. Mai-Kai. The food is overpriced. The drinks are watered down. One of the flame dancers set himself on fire. Mai-Kai might be the epitome of a tourist trap, but it’s a 60-year-old institution, one of the last of a dying breed of restaurants that once brought Polynesian culture to all the mainlanders. Honestly, where else can you see anything else like this on the East Coast? Where else, for that matter, can you indulge in the vanished tradition of dinner and a show? Medieval Times? No way, haole. 3599 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale; maikai.com.

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