Why This Trip:
First, I rarely go someplace warm and sunny in the middle of winter so I figure I'd change that. Birmingham's winter has not been especially cold so far but it has been more dreary and rainy than usual. Ideally, I was looking at a place in which I could swim in the ocean without a wet suit. If you've got to stick to the continental US, South Florida is your best option. Water temperature is normally about 73 degrees, which is a bit on the chilly side for someone accustomed to the warm waters in the South but I found it to be chilly only for a minute or two. I was perfectly comfortable once I became acclimatized. It's also the dry season with an average rainfall of only 2 inches per month.
In my case, it was also a bucket list item. I had been to South Beach back in college for Spring Break but did not venture down to the Keys. This time, I was going as far south as you can go. Perhaps most significantly, this trip was supposed to be to celebrate closing on a new condo. The loan process has been a royal pain in the ass and there was a last minute SNAFU that has put it in limbo. Instead, I would go to get my mind off it and clear my head. I thought about a race in Key West but decided against it because lodging combined with the entry fee would be over $500. That proved to be a good call as I will explain later.
One word of caution: Miami is not immune to cold fronts. Although average high temperatures in January are in the mid-high 70s, every winter, the city will see about 6 days in which it doesn't make it out of the 60s and maybe 1 or 2 in the upper 50s. For this reason, I recommend waiting until early March if possible. You are virtually guaranteed 80 degree weather and it's still the dry season. I chanced it and for the most part, the weather cooperated.
No issues on the flight and I landed in Ft. Lauderdale (20 miles north), picked up my rental car and was on the road on Hwy 1 by 10 AM. I arrived to find crystal clear skies with a temp of about 78 degrees. Plenty warm enough for a swim. After a tasty burger and a pina colada, I took a nice long dip in the aptly named Sunny Isles Beach. By mid-afternoon, I would hit the road again, this time down to the Keys.
|End of the Road|
The next morning, I got up early again, this time to a breathtakingly beautiful sunrise on the beach. Looking at the picture, it's hard for me to believe it's even real. It looks more like a painting but even the pictures don't do it justice. I chose to spend my nights in Mid-Beach away from the crowds at a much lower price. Probably another good call. I'm not much of a drinker nowadays and though the beach wasn't quite the same as South Beach, it was still awesome in its own right. It's possible to take a cheap bus or trolley from Mid to South Beach to avoid the parking charges. I've been to so many beaches in my life. From Maine to Key West on the Atlantic and Sanibel Island to South Padre on the Gulf. It's a close contest but my number one pick remains the Emerald Coast from Panama City, Florida to Gulf Shores, Alabama for its sugar white sand. Then again, being able to swim in mid-January in Miami while much of the country is in a deep freeze? Can't beat that. I've yet to visit San Diego or Hawaii so that could change everything. A storm hit, which probably hit Key West during the race but it was over quickly and it was sunny again by the afternoon.
On Monday morning, I slept in a bit and found that it was too cold for a morning swim so I checked out of my hotel and took a ride down to Bayfront Park, which is a cool shopping center overlooking the Bay with views of the city skyline. Miami does have a strong Latin American flavor and yes I was able to use my Spanish a few times, which was much appreciated. I took a nice walk through the park and through the business district of downtown Miami. It was then a relatively smooth ride up I-95 back to Fort Lauderdale for my return flight.