Things to do when having very early inbound/outbound flights from Miami
September 1, 2015 12:26 PM   Subscribe

We´re going to Florida to visit a relative this week. She lives in Port Saint Lucie (1.5 hour drive from Miami). We will arrive at MIA very early in the morning (Around 3:30 AM) and will depart at 5 AM five days later. We have rented a car but we´re not sure what to do during our arrival and departure days. More after the jump.

Our initial idea is this: spend our arrival day in Miami or its surroundings (Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton or even going to Key West) since we have a car and then drive to Port Saint Lucie around 3-4 PM to be there around dinner time. The main problem is that we´re going to arrive very early to find places to eat or visit.

In our way back, we have a flight departing around 5 AM, so we need to know what to do or when to stay while we wait for our plane. The Miami Airport is a bit rough for night travelers (VIP lounges are closed, no restaurants, very high AC, etc). I´m not keen of driving at night (since we could stay at my sister´s until 11 PM-12 AM and then drive back to MIA), so we need suggestions about what to do or where to go while we return our rental car and board our plane.

We do not want to stay in a hotel for just a few hours, but if it is needed, we will consider it...

Thanks for your feedback!
posted by Matrod to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Realise that you'll be very tired on arrival day and that whatever you decide to do, allow for a nap at some point - spending 12 hrs sight seeing on what will be very little poor quality sleep before starting a reasonably long drive us a good way to fall asleep behind the wheel. So don't do that.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:15 PM on September 1, 2015

I flew into Miami for Florida tourism a few months ago. It was fun!
It takes a long time to get to the Keys and along the whole highway, and it's not particularly scenic once you get accustomed to seeing scrubby mangrove bushes. It would be exhausting to do Key West as a day trip between Miami 4AM and Port St Lucie 5pm; it's about 8 hours total drive time. Though Key Largo is a possibility, it's not a spectacle, there's no downtown like Key West. Upper Keys seemed to be about going to parks and seeing nature, sitting on beaches. But you'd be in plenty of time for 8am check-in for a 9am snorkeling boat at John Pennekamp reef, and that would be a great half-day activity.

You could definitely go to the Everglades. If you drive west on 41, there's the Shark Valley Visitor center to go on a short hike along boardwalks, and a large assortment of airboat tour operators who will take you through the marshes to see alligators and wildlife.

If it were me (and perhaps I have a warped idea of "fun") I would go pick up my rental car and get out of the airport (4:15-4:30am) then go find a Waffle House (or any local 24-hour diner) for breakfast. Then you drive an hour or so into the Everglades, park (7am) outside the closed gate at the visitor center and walk into the park, hike a bit, stop by the visitor center for edutainment if they're open then back to the car and go take an airboat tour (most have first tour at 9, so would be showing some life before then). We were at the park at 5pm, and parked outside the gate because the lot was full; then the rangers were hustling people out so they could close the gates at 6, except they left us alone once we said we were parked outside. So I bet it would be okay to go in early for a hike.

I also enjoyed the Fruit and Spice Park in Homestead, but I love gardens and edible landscaping and tropical fruit more than the average person does, so I found it fascinating to be in a grove of 90 different varietals of avocado tree even when they weren't fruiting. A lot of different exotic fruits; something is nearly always ripe, and when it is you can taste it. Also a giant exotic fruit stand not far away. But doesn't open till 9 and isn't more than an hour from the airport, so you'd still have to kill a few hours after breakfast in the 6am-9am range.
posted by aimedwander at 1:16 PM on September 1, 2015

Miami Beach, which is right across the causeway, doesn't really shut down. You're not arriving early in the morning so much as late at night, during which the beach is still active. Head to News Cafe to people watch. You can then walk over to the beach to watch the sun rise. That should then nudge you into early morning.

I would advise against heading to Key West. Not only is it very tourist-y, but it's also a four hour drive in the wrong direction. Seconding Fruit and Spice Park. It's very cool. Also, Fairchild Tropical Garden has an incredible collection of rare and hard to see plants. Also, Viscaya is pretty neat.
posted by batbat at 1:19 PM on September 1, 2015

Key West tries to sell their sunsets as a tourist attraction, but I bet the sunrise on Miami Beach would be a great plan for you! Grab coffees and just go sit on the sand. (that's assuming the weather's good, and assuming you're not already living on/near an East-Coast seashore).
posted by aimedwander at 1:27 PM on September 1, 2015

Response by poster: Hey guys,

Thanks for all your insightful answers. It seems we are going to give the Everglades and Fruit and Spicy Park a try. I just discovered I had a free night available at and redeemed to spend the last night at a hotel near the airport (this was the most difficult part of the trip). We are going to arrive around 8-9 PM there after having dinner in Miami or with my sister and rest for a while before heading for the airport for our fly home.

We already went to the News Cafe at SB and it was a lot of fun. It´s just we want to do things we haven´t done before on this trip. My SO wanted to go to Key West but it is a very long trip for just a day. Snorkeling is out of the question since there are nice spots to do this in Port Saint Lucie as well...

I´ll report back as soon as I´m back. Thanks again!

PS: Any good waffle house recommendations for our first-day-very-early-breakfast?
posted by Matrod at 2:56 PM on September 1, 2015

Just wanted to chime in with some info about timing and traffic - I live in Fort Lauderdale, which is between Miami and Port St. Lucie, and I'm about 1.5 hours from PSL. I would plan on the trip to PSL from Miami taking more like 3-4 hours, taking into consideration weather and traffic. Also, not sure if you've been here in early September but it is insanely hot, humid and rainy - wear as little clothing as possible and bring bug spray for your Everglades trip!
posted by tatiana wishbone at 7:57 AM on September 2, 2015

PS: Any good waffle house recommendations for our first-day-very-early-breakfast?

I actually meant Waffle House, a ubiquitous 24-hour southern diner chain, rather than just an establishment that serves waffles; I doubt there is significant difference between the various Miami locations. Do I recommend them? They're 24-hours, and have pecan waffles and "atmosphere". That said, though I am quite fond of Waffle House, I understand that $4.49 breakfast specials aren't what all people want to fly across the country to experience.
posted by aimedwander at 9:08 AM on September 2, 2015

Response by poster: Hey guys,

Thanks again for all your suggestions. The trip changed a little bit from the planned itinerary. When we arrived in MIA, we spent two full hours to clear the immigration queue (talk about federal budget cuts...) so when we finally got to the rental car, it was already 5 AM. We were so tired that we headed straight for Port Saint Lucie and we arrived around 7 AM there. No heavy traffic at that time. We had a great time there doing some snorkeling in Palm Beach and just enjoying the stay (we even had time to go to the Kennedy Space Center, which was very empty and quiet. Yay!)

In our return trip, we did not go to the keys (It was Memorial Day and the motorways were packed, and to add insult to injury, it was raining like hell). So we ended up eating at a very good sushi joint at Doral, doing some shopping and getting to the hotel near the airport (we got lost trying to reach it on our first try thanks to our GPS...) around 10 PM to rest for a bit and then taking our flight back home.

For the record, I read that visiting the Everglades in September is not a good idea since all the animals are scattered, there´s plenty of bugs and there is nothing really worth to see at this time of the year. We will plan our next trip in a different season since we do want to go there.

Thanks again!
posted by Matrod at 8:50 AM on October 6, 2015

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