You’ll be glad you made it to the Everglades. Here are all the right places to get lost in Florida’s last frontier.
Friday, 8 a.m.
Everglades National Park
It’s impossible to scour the entirety of the Everglades in one day. But if you impulsively decide to make the trek out to the deep inlands of South Florida, then experiencing the national park is a must.
Everglades National Park is a sprawling 1.5 million-acre wetland landscape that’s home to hundreds of plant and bird varieties and many threatened or endangered species, such as the Florida panther and the American crocodile. You may end up seeing some rare wildlife while you’re out, but make sure you’re in sturdy sneakers and pants: much of this valuable ecosystem can only be experienced by slough-slogging—wading through deep swamp water.
While you’re here, you can go fishing or hiking, participate in some unbelievable bird-watching and even kayak. Expect to spend quite a bit of time at the park: The Everglades is one of the few places where you can totally immerse yourself in the natural environment and emerge victorious because you were not eaten by an alligator.
Address: Main entrance at Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center: 40001 State Road 9336, Homestead
From Collier County for Gulf Coast Visitor Center: 815 Oyster Bar Lane, Everglades City
Price: $30 per vehicle for seven days; individual fees at $18.
Joanie’s Blue Crab Café
Although it would be a good idea to pack some snacks for your adventure in the national park, it wouldn’t hurt to make room for some Florida-esque fare. Joanie’s Blue Crab Shack is a quaint little café offering such delicacies as blue crab and catfish sandwiches, seafood salads, and, if you’re really brave, the Swamp Combo: a basket with frog legs, gator nuggets, crab cake, Indian fry bread, salsa and coleslaw.
The walls and ceiling of Joanie’s are plastered with postcards, photos and all sorts of trinkets you might expect to find in this part of the state. After eating here, you will not only have been in the swamp, but you’ll have had a taste of it, too.
Address: 39395 Tamiami Trail E., Ochopee
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday through Tuesday. Closed Wednesdays during the summer.
Corey Billie’s Airboat Rides
It’s hardly a trip to the Everglades without an airboat experience, especially at Corey Billie’s. Billie himself is a native Seminole who grew up in Ochopee and was raised to value the primal beauty of the Everglades.
His airboat tours are designed to showcase the nature of the Everglades while also encouraging its preservation. Each airboat ride whisks you through open grasslands and between mangroves, letting you experience the depth of raw Florida. You’re likely to get a good look at several alligators as you zip through. And you’ll even get a chance to hold a baby gator after the ride is over. Each tour is accompanied by an exuberant captain who is knowledgeable about the area and its history.
Address: 20610 Tamiami Trail E, Naples
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Price: $40 per person, $24 per child.
America’s Smallest Post Office
If you’ll be heading back to Naples or Fort Myers for the night, you’ll likely pass by America’s smallest post office, in Ochopee. The 7-by-8-foot building served as an irrigation pipe closet for the town general store in the early 1950s. After a fire consumed the store and the post office that was located inside, mail service was switched over to the pipe closet, which has operated as the post office since 1953.
Though it’s small, it can get busy. Tour buses and international visitors frequently pull off to have something postmarked or to get a pre-stamped Ochopee post card. The post office’s long-time clerk, Shannon Mitchell, has a stack of these cards ready by the window for you to document your visit to the Everglades, and, of course, the United States’ smallest, fully-functioning post office.
Address: 38000 Tamiami Trail E., Ochopee
Hours: 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Angler’s Cove Restaurant and Bar
If you’re something of a night owl and you want to stretch out your trip to the swamp just a little longer, consider an evening at Angler’s Cove. They’ll have just rung in their happy hour (5 p.m. to 7 p.m.), making this an opportune time to settle in and wind down after the long day. This rustic little nook is housed in the Port of the Islands Retreat Hotel but is open to the public. It’s a family-owned joint that offers live entertainment and a vast lunch, dinner and dessert menu. One item on the dinner menu is symbolic of Angler Cove’s commitment to friendly hospitality: “Your Fresh Catch.” There aren’t many places that will offer to cook up your catch of the day and let you (quite literally) enjoy the fruits of your success, so don’t pass up this place.
Address: 25000 Tamiami Trail E., Naples
Hours: 5 p.m. to 11 p.m, Tuesday and Wednesday;
12 p.m. to 11 p.m., Thursday through Sunday.