As I'm trying to record some kind of a travelogue of places I happen to visit, there is no way I'm going to take a pass on the Florida mini-trip I did in December.
1. Miami - The biggest tourist sthalam in Florida - Miami is about 4 hours odd. The best thing I did was to rent a Jaguar for the road trip. Florida is notorious for having really sunny December and this car was the most comfortable one I've driven (I've not driven that many luxury cars, except for Infiniti and a colleague's BMW 5 series). Life in Miami begins at 4pm onwards - we left TPA @ 10am and reached there at an odd time of 2pm which made us late for lunch and most of the restaurants (the non-chain ones) were closed and so we had to do with some pizza from a very average place. I tried to do some research online and found that you get reasonable priced Marriott or Double Tree prices near the North Beach. This North Beach is the notorious nude beach. Thanks to a friend of mine who had had a horrible experience there, I avoided that place like the plague. In his own words, the only people who are nude there are botox-abusing, senile people ~50 years of age. It is entirely a different story if your preferences are not normal ;-). Well, this place called North Bay Village is 5 miles away from the South Beach and Collins Avenue and if you have a car and a GPS unit (with text-to-speech enabled), you should be fine.
The Miami beach is more like the Marina in Chennai in terms of crowds and azhukku on the beach (at least most parts of it). And be warned that the beach is zoned out into gay/lesbian areas and straight area. As its been quite a while since I last went to Miami, I ended up in the part where I'd rather not wanted to be at and I guess I have the co-ordinates of that area well defined and won't be found there again. (Its tricky when you go to that part of the beach as 3 guys! ). The evening life of Miami has to be seen to be believed - the whole of Ocean Drive bursts to life with music and sarakku around 7pm-ish and it goes on till 4 or 5am the next day. And the Miami beach in the night is a sight to behold as there are lots of cruise liners out on the sea and the moon, stars and the sparkling water amount to an awesome spectacle. And the wind you can enjoy has to be felt to be believed. A friend of mine and me spent sometime at this club which was supposedly the coolest place to hang out - the clubs are the usual kinds - Kudi and Kummallam. And we did go to the beach past 11pm - but the worsht thing was makkal were randomly making out there and most of them must have thought of my friend and me as gay ________. But then, we did walk around all the happening places and for me, after New York, Miami was another city that could take the tag of the city that never sleeps. But then, we headed back to our hotel at 4.30am and so do not know whether makkal are up early morning too. But then, if you like walking and taking in the breeze from the sea, then Miami is the place for you with added shopping areas and ocean facing restaurants (be warned that the prices on these menus might make you gasp for more of the breeze that's blowing).
Key West - If you are a time constrained trip, never drive to Key West. Either take the ferry from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale or fly into Key West. The drive is quite scenic. You are on a causeway-bridge and you have turquoise sea on both sides. And if you are water sports addicts, then do your parasailing, wave-running (jet skiing), Skurfing and other stuff before you reach Key West in Islamorada or Key Colony Beach, where the sea has an electric color, is shallower and the rental rates for the equipment are much more economical. Whatever prices you see marked here, the same activities will cost you X1.5 (at a minimum) at Key West. The only activities that have to be done only at Key West are the scuba diving and deep sea swimming for which you need deeper and rough waters. And talking about Parasailing, it is a one time activity. People who have para-sailed will mostly share this thought as once you are up in the air for 10 minutes, the novelty wears off. Though Key West is called the water sports capital of the US, stick to doing parasailing in Miami where the sea coast has a few high rise buildings very close to the sea which might add to your thrill during para sailing. But, if you are comfortable with swimming, then for the pure thrill, do wave running at Key West in the evening (between 3 and 5) on cold days - I did on such a day and man, the sea was quite rough and just managing to hang on to the jetski/ wave runner was difficult. My swimming warning might be redundant given the fact that you are given a life jacket. But, if you are thrown off the jet ski, you might have to dog paddle back to the jet ski (at a minimum) so prior knowledge of swimming will mean that you get to spend more time wave running, rather than waiting for somebody to bail you out from water and put you back on the jet ski. And the best thing you can treat yourself to is the deep sea swimming - try that. The key West place itself is contained in one street - Duval Street - the whole city/town gives you a very sleepy town feel - nobody hurries or there are no 'tours' trying to show you places to see. I think IMO, this is the best touristy place in the US. Go there with a week to spare. I went there with a few hours to spare and needless to say, hardly got to visit all the beaches or do other stuff apart from wave running and swimming.
The only other places in Florida I have not visited are Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Gainesville areas. I really have no interest to visit Jacksonville/Gainesville areas as they are really in the non-happening part of Northern Florida.