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. 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.
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 specializes in contemporary light fixtures, furniture and objets d’art like Raptuslab’s lined fabric Soft Vase and the Font Clock, 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, the racks are bursting with eclectic vintage finds, both designer and no-name. Look for handbags and decades-old silk ties that are still in excellent condition. You’ll also find the line of dresses that owner Jean Marie Deardorff makes out of fun vintage fabrics. Base 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., 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, 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. Terry Gilder sells “a little bit of everything” at Recollections Antiques & Collectibles. His oldest oddity? A 3,500-year-old charm 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. 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. 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, built in 1860 and rich with Civil War history. At the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge 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. For decorative objects like old ostrich eggs, stop by Antiques & Collectibles Too. And be sure to duck under the red awning to visit Oleander, 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.
Biltmore hotel: 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables; 305-445-1926
Havana Harry's: 4612 S. Le Jeune Rd.; 305-661-2622
Luminaire Lab: 3901 NE 2nd Ave.; 305-576-5788
Fly Boutique: 650 Lincoln Rd.; 305-604-8508
Base: 939 Lincoln Rd.; 305-531-4982
Brownes & Co.: 841 Lincoln Rd.; 305-538-7544
White Glove Antiques: 2340 Wilton Dr.; 954-913-3100
Out of the Closet: 2097 Wilton Dr.; 954-358-5580
Recollections Antiques & Collectibles: 2216 N. Dixie Hwy.; 954-564-3504
Objects in the Loft: 3611 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561-659-0403
Dolce Antiques: 3700 S. Dixie Hwy.; 561-832-4550
Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse: 561-747-8380
Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge: 772-546-6141; http://hobesoundnaturecenter.com/
Cocoa Village Antique Mall: 105 Brevard Ave.; 321-576-0393
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.