Gators, snakes, birds and lakes -- that's what I'm reminded of when I think of the stretch of water-drenched land between Miami and Naples, a.k.a. the Everglades.
From my home in Miami, I've zipped across the Everglades many times to visit the gorgeous Gulf of Mexico, but I've never taken my time to stop and experience the little hidden treasures along the way. So I set out for a great adventure -- a road trip across the east-west section of the Tamiami Trail.
As the Entertainment & Luxury Insider for VISIT FLORIDA, I don't usually go trekking around in swamps -- I leave that to Kevin Mims, our Outdoor & Nature Insider. Nonetheless, I found it necessary to make the trip as stylish as possible, so I recruited my husband to be my driver, donned my hot pink Calypso espadrilles and hopped into a brand new charcoal-colored Audi A3 from my friends at Prestige.
Journey Begins on Brickell Avenue
Completed in 1928, the eastern section of the Tamiami Trail starts on a bustling section of Brickell Avenue in Brickell (southern section of the city just south of downtown Miami), then turns into Calle Ocho in Little Havana, and then extends 90 miles across the Everglades to downtown Naples. From Naples, the Tamiami Trail takes a sharp turn north and heads all the way to Tampa.
Turning left onto SE 8 Street/Tamiami Trail, we set off to leave the city behind.
Stop 1: Cafe Versailles in Little Havana
No trip down Calle Ocho is complete without a stop at Miami's most famous Cuban restaurant and bakery: Cafe Versailles. Every good road trip starts with breakfast and coffee, but not just any type of coffee. I'm talking about a colada -- coffee of the Cuban variety that packs a serious punch in a tiny plastic shot glass. After a few sips, we have the energy we need to cruise the road -- and take on a few alligators.
Stop 2: Coopertown Airboat Tours
Located about 11 miles west of the Florida Turnpike, you'll come across a friendly little town known as Coopertown -- home to only eight humans and too many gators to count. Take an airboat ride into the sawgrass marsh to watch real live alligators in their natural habitats. Yikes! Then head back to the educational center to learn more about the Everglades.
I learned that the Everglades is not actually a swamp, it's a slow-moving river that begins near Orlando at Lake Okeechobee. Water leaving the lake in the wet season flows southward across a limestone shelf to the Florida Bay at the southern end of the state.
Stop 3: The Ochopee Post Office
Considered to be the smallest post office in the United States, this building was formerly an irrigation pipe shed belonging to the J.T. Gaunt Company tomato farm. It was hurriedly commissioned into service after a disastrous night fire in 1953 burned Ochopee's general store and original post office to the ground.
The tiny present structure has been in continuous use ever since and still services residents in a three-county area, including deliveries to Seminole and Miccosukee Indians. And according to the postmaster, it's also a favorite picture-snapping spot for our friends visiting from the U.K. -- I can see why, the structure is adorably tiny.
Stop 4: Downtown Naples
The perfect place to sit at an outdoor cafe and relive the trek across the Everglades while sipping a glass of wine, downtown Naples is a collection of boutiques and local shops that line 5th Avenue South. For authentic Italian food, dine at L'Angolo 5th Avenue. We were so starving and excited to eat Italian food that we did a little car dance (see second photo below). If you're looking for a luxurious place to stay, the Inn on Fifth offers upscale club suites and is situated in the heart of the shopping and dining district on 5th Avenue South.
Journey's End at the Gulf of Mexico
We made it from one coast to the other! There's something special about driving right up to the Gulf of Mexico, opening up the sun roof, and breathing in the salty air. Special shout out to Audi for the sweet ride -- check out this story from my personal blog to find out how it drove.