It’s fitting that Florida looks like America’s kickstand. After all, this state is where we tend to slow down, pull over and park for a while. And that’s the best way to visit the easygoing 200-mile stretch of coastline from Coral Gables north to Cocoa Beach. Using route A1A, this slow-mo road trip offers cultural treats and roadside wonders, like pelicans soaring over tidal lagoons. But the real draw is the shopping, from Miami’s trendy boutiques to vintage glassware in Cocoa Village. From there it’s a quick swing west to the riches of Orlando’s theme parks. So hit the road for your best spring break ever.
Driving north from Miami, most people opt for I-95, the efficient but charmless inland highway. Meanwhile, the A1A (which joins U.S. 1 or adopts another name in sections) hugs the shore and connects barrier islands as it moves north. In other words, it’s I-95’s slower, more scenic twin. You could do this drive in one long day, but it’s more fun to take your time—and to stop and shop—along the road worthy of Jimmy Buffett’s attention. (The musician named his fifth album after the unhurried roadway.) And if the white caps and salty breezes start to pall, you can just shoot over to I-95 at any point to cover miles faster. (But keep singing along to the tunes from A-1-A as you drive—how about “Life Is Just a Tire Swing”?)
Get a cultural kickstart in Coral Gables, the architecture-rich community just south of Miami. Start by meandering down a few of the city’s oak-sheltered streets, lined with handsome Mediterranean Revival houses. Then head towards the copper-clad tower of the Biltmore hotel, which over the decades has drawn Jazz Age stars, President Clinton and, supposedly, the ghost of onetime Miami area resident Al Capone (1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables; 305-445-1926; free tour, Sunday only). For a taste of local flavor, stop at Havana Harry’s, a favorite of Cuban émigrés. At the bar, you can spread out a map and plan your route while feasting on hunks of fried pork with roasted garlic, rice and yucca (4612 S. Le Jeune Rd.; 305-661-2622; lunch for two, $30 without drinks, tax or tip).
Jump on U.S. 1 for the quick jaunt north to Miami. The city’s Design District, an 18-block swath of once-faded Art Deco buildings, is now full of sleek furniture showrooms and art galleries. Stroll around to take in the retail scene. Luminaire Lab (3901 NE 2nd Ave.; 305-576-5788) specializes in contemporary light fixtures, furniture and objets d’art like Raptuslab’s lined fabric Soft Vase (starting at $110) and the Font Clock (from $434), a typographic hit by Sebastian Wrong that mixes 12 fonts randomly to display the time. Keep your eyes peeled for prototypes and works by new designers in the store’s special exhibition space.
Cross over Biscayne Bay to reach Miami Beach, then turn south to explore the glamorous South Beach neighborhood. Along Collins Avenue (a.k.a. A1A) you’ll find rows of the quintessential Art Deco buildings that Miami is known for. After ogling the high-style hotel bars and crowded open-air restaurants, head about 10 blocks north to Lincoln Road for some superb independently owned shops. At Fly Boutique (650 Lincoln Rd.; 305-604-8508), the racks are bursting with eclectic vintage finds, both designer and no-name. Look for handbags (last season’s Yves Saint Laurent, $695) and decades-old silk ties that are still in excellent condition ($16). You’ll also find the line of dresses that owner Jean Marie Deardorff makes out of fun vintage fabrics (from $88). Base (939 Lincoln Rd.; 305-531-4982) draws fashion-forward types with contemporary menswear (Fred Perry, Rag & Bone) and clean-lined designs for women (Helmut Lang). Offbeat home furnishings—such as a faux-antler chandelier next to a realistic-looking plush reindeer—provide a whimsical touch. And beauty junkies can’t get enough of Brownes & Co. (841 Lincoln Rd.; 305-538-7544), where vintage apothecary-style display cases are stuffed with products from more than 100 lines, including skin-care items from Liz Earle.
Just north of Fort Lauderdale, the mom-and-pop art galleries and antiques shops of Wilton Manors aren’t fancy or particularly busy. But all the shoppers here seem happily engrossed. At White Glove Antiques (2340 Wilton Dr.; 954-913-3100), owner Monique Rudnick has assembled a homey hodgepodge of mid-century furniture and lighting as well as some pieces from the 1970s. Down the street, you might find a lily-print upholstered couch or a Lucite side table at Out of the Closet (2097 Wilton Dr.; 954-358-5580). Terry Gilder sells “a little bit of everything” at Recollections Antiques & Collectibles (2216 N. Dixie Hwy.; 954-564-3504). His oldest oddity? A 3,500-year-old charm ($125) once buried with an Egyptian mummy.
Next up: the 60 miles of golden beach leading north to Palm Beach County. After peering past the gates of Palm Beach’s mansions, follow Route 1 inland to West Palm Beach’s South Dixie Highway. Dozens of shops are overflowing with pieces gleaned from local estate sales. “Sixty to seventy percent of our customers are interior designers from New York,” says Rico Baca, of Objects in the Loft (3611 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561-659-0403). This two-story gallery mixes furniture styles, from turn-of-the-century Arts and Crafts to an impressive collection of rattan. A strip mall across the street is home to fanciful Dolce Antiques (3700 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561-832-4550). Recently, two elegant teal chairs shared company with a giant pair of scissors and a hot-air-balloon stage prop—it’s no surprise that designer Jonathan Adler is a fan. Stop for a salad at the mall’s tearoom, Belle & Maxwell’s, with its parlor-meets-jungle atmosphere.
A NATURAL BREAK
By now it’s time to downshift for the quiet villages and maritime landmarks of the Treasure Coast. In Jupiter, 20 miles north of Palm Beach, watch for the redbrick Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse (561-747-8380; tours $7), built in 1860 and rich with Civil War history. At the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge (772-546-6141; hobesoundnaturecenter.com; free) you can hike through forests and along ancient sand dunes. Farther north is 22-mile-long Hutchinson Island, a skinny barrier island with low dunes and vegetation screening the Atlantic on the eastern side. To the west, you might spot a few fly fishermen working the tidal lagoon, while pelicans soar above the water on wide wings.
Eventually, A1A leads to Cocoa Beach, a surfers’ paradise about an hour east of Orlando. Take the Cocoa Beach Causeway to the enchantingly restored Cocoa Village. Collectors can spend hours hunting through the 12 rooms at the Cocoa Village Antique Mall for sports memorabilia, vintage glassware, tools, fishing gear, vinyl records and more (105 Brevard Ave.; 321-576-0393). For decorative objects like old ostrich eggs ($20), stop by Antiques & Collectibles Too (115 Harrison St.; 321-632-9924). And be sure to duck under the red awning to visit Oleander (10 Oleander St.; 321-504-4301), a bakery selling delicious treats like chocolate-drizzled chocolate chip cookies. Try one while you ponder where you’ll head next—but don’t think too long. The shops of Orlando are beckoning, and there are many choices to be made.
by Rona Gindin
From Cocoa Village, it’s an hour-long straight shot on Route 528 to theme-park heaven. The biggest parks, Walt Disney World® Resort and Universal Orlando® Resort, offer thrill rides, fine dining (ostrich schnitzel, anyone?) and—yes—great shopping. Browse the crystal collectibles, movie memorabilia and precious loot from around the world. You can even get pink fur mouse ears for your little princess.
WALT DISNEY WORLD® RESORTS
With four theme parks, two water parks and dozens of resorts spread over 25,000 acres, Walt Disney World® Resort can be overwhelming. If shopping is your goal, you might want to focus on these four favorite areas.
This theme park devotes half of its 300-acre space to the World Showcase, where 11 pavilions each represent a different country, offering its best food, entertainment and shopping. Venetian masks are for sale in Italy’s La Bottega Italiana boutique, while a miniature Mitsukoshi Department Store in the Japan pavilion displays tea sets, chopsticks and silk kimonos. Throw rugs, embroidered slippers and bellydancing outfits can be found in the Morocco pavilion. Buy a cutting board decorated with an Impressionist painting at the France pavilion, or perhaps a Provençal apron or bottle of Guerlain perfume. If you’re a Hummel collector, don’t miss Germany’s Glas und Porzellan shop, where you can watch an artist painting the figurines on site. At China’s spacious Yong Feng Shangdian, buy some almond cookies to munch on while you decide between a cloisonné vase and a jade flower arrangement.
MAGIC KINGDOM® PARK
Load up on Disney goodies at the Magic Kingdom® Park. First stop: The Chapeau, to the right of the Main Street U.S.A.® area, for an iconic mouse-ears hat embroidered with your name. Choose from 19 styles, including pink fur and glow-in-the-dark green. Stock up on mementos from the Hundred Acre Wood at Pooh’s Thotful Shop, and on princess gear, from tiaras to slippers, at Tinker Bell’s Fairy Treasures. And cuddle up to plush versions of many Disney characters at Mickey’s Toontown Fair Souvenirs.
DOWNTOWN DISNEY® AREA
This 120-acre swath of shops and restaurants sits outside Disney’s parks, so no admission fee is required. (Universal Citywalk is similar; both stay open after the rides close.) Its three sections sell upscale home-decorating items, artisan soaps and even cigars. Start in West Side at HoyPoLoi, which offers whimsical clocks and metallic menorahs. The nearby Pop Gallery abounds with wacky ceramic sculptures and artist-signed paintings. Pick up a fine stogie at Sosa Family Cigars. Over in Pleasure Island, you can buy a rhinestone-studded denim jacket at Orlando Harley Davidson and board shorts at Curl by Sammy Duvall. Marketplace souvenirs have more of a Disney theme. Find reproduction animation cels at Art of Disney and Mickey-shaped pasta at Mickey’s Pantry.
DISNEY’S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS™
The souvenirs here fit the movie-lovers theme. As you enter the park, look left for Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind, a ’20s-style bungalow selling film memorabilia like vintage movie posters, costumes worn in movies and framed signed photographs from such legends as Frank Sinatra and Harrison Ford. Fans of Miss Piggy and Kermit will find apparel and more to their liking at Stage 1 Company Store. Preteen girls will favor Legends of Hollywood, where High School Musical and Hannah Montana are the dominant themes. If you’re hitting the rides, theme stores can frequently be found as you exit the attraction.
UNIVERSAL ORLANDO® RESORT
Though much smaller than Walt Disney World® Resort, this newer theme park (it opened in 1990) is still expanding. It’s worth a multiday visit to take in all the sights—especially if you plan to hit the shops as well.
A 30-acre complex of shops, nightclubs and restaurants, Citywalk lies between Universal’s two parks (Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios). Expect namebrand stores selling Fossil watches, Tommy Bahama vacation wear and more. The Quiet Flight Surf Shop carries surfboards, skateboards and Billabong apparel. Jimmy Buffett fans can pick up all things margarita, from a mango-flavored mix to a margarita machine, at the Parrot Perch. To seal in your vacation memories forever, get a customized tattoo (yes, the real deal, not henna or airbrush) at Hart & Huntington Tattoo Co.
ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE
This five-part theme park has some nifty fantasy related offerings. At Village Potter, you can pick up a finely detailed metal rapier in a leather sheath, or a replica of a medieval padlock. Treasures of Poseidon nearby displays bonsai trees along with miniature jade and bamboo trees. In the park’s Toon Lagoon section, stock up at the Comics store on dozens of titles, including The Mighty Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Girl. Look for Betty Boop hairbrushes at Boop Oop a Doop, Popeye mugs at Photo Funnies, and Scorpion Suckers—a slightly creepy lollipop with a bug inside—at Jurassic Outfitters.
At Studio Styles, pick up replicas of the glittery baubles worn in the movies by stars like Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart (copies of his gold ring with two cubic zirconia are $155). Five & Dime sells Lord of the Rings statuettes, while at Silver Screen Collectibles you’re likely to find an Elvis or Pierce Brosnan collectible. Egyptian-themed pewter chess sets and pyramid-shaped jewelry boxes at Sahara Traders Souvenirs & Supplies make for interesting souvenirs. Or how about some Simpsons slippers at the Kwik-E-Mart? When you’re shopping the theme parks, you’ll never leave empty-handed.
RCI-AFFILIATED RESORTS IN FLORIDA INCLUDE:
DRIFTWOOD BEACH CLUB, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea
RON JON CAPE CARIBE RESORT, Cape Canaveral
SILVER LAKE RESORT, Kissimmee*
VACATION VILLAGE AT PARKWAY, Kissimmee*
*South of Orlando.
For more information, visit RCI.com or call
1200 Anastasia Ave.,
Coral Gables; 800-915-1926;
660 Washington Ave.,
Miami Beach; 866-729-8800;
4441 Collins Ave.,
Miami Beach; 800-548-8886;
FORT LAUDERDALE GRANDE HOTEL & YACHT CLUB
1881 SE 17th St., Fort
doubles from $199
DOCKSIDE INN & RESORT
1160 Seaway Dr.,
S. Hutchinson Island; 800-
doubles from $89
BEACH PLACE GUESTHOUSES
1445 S. Atlantic Ave.,
Cocoa Beach; 321-783-4045;
doubles from $195
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.