Posted September 24, 2013
By MORGAN GOLUMBUK
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Her mouth dripping with juice from sweet, wine-colored fruit fresh from a Jabuticaba tree, University of Miami student Chelsea Harrington swallowed the sugary mouthful before speaking: “This place is awesome!”
Her destination of choice was the Fruit & Spice Park just north of here, where she had spent the morning roaming the winding paths in search of ripe fruit. Anything that has fallen from the trees here is fair game and Chelsea has been taking advantage.
“I’m supposed to go to lunch soon at this place my parents keep raving about,” she said bashfully. “But I’m seriously stuffed!”
And Chelsea’s not the only one discovering Homestead’s charms. Located 30 miles southwest of Miami, Homestead is the perfect weekend — or even single day — trip for South Florida residents or visitors. The southern hospitality and off-the-beaten-path vibe are a welcome respite from fast-paced life in Miami. To put it simply, it’s a little slice of down-home heaven.
Incorporated in 1913, Homestead is nestled between two national parks: Everglades National Park to the west and Biscayne National Park to the east. Both parks are wildlife treasure troves with plenty to see and do and in close proximity to downtown historic Homestead.
To the west: Everglades National Park. This subtropical wilderness — the largest in the United States — was established to protect a fragile ecosystem, which is home to great egrets, water moccasins, alligators and many other freshwater inhabitants.
A glimpse of some of these inhabitants is possible thanks to places like Everglades Alligator Farm near the park. With airboat rides every hour, this attraction gives guests a chance to see Everglades wildlife in their natural habitat.
Pointing eagerly into the distance, 10-year-old Florida vacationer Ben Janaway exclaimed, “I see one!” Ben holds his bright orange protective headphones over his ears and yells again: “Look at that gator!”
Lo and behold, a true Florida alligator. Slithering a mere 20 feet from the boat’s edge, the eight-foot gator regarded its onlookers warily.
“He’s coming!” said Ben, with excitement, nearly teetering over the side of the boat for a better look. “It’s like he’s coming to see us!”
While one would be ill-advised to go toe-to-toe with a gator, the Everglades Alligator Farm gets its guests as close as possible to the swampy action.
On the other side of Homestead is Biscayne National Park. A much less swampy alternative to the Everglades, this park is an underwater exploration destination. From snorkeling to diving to canoeing, places like Biscayne Bay offer a multitude of activities for the ocean-bound voyager.
Last, but not least, in the wildlife category is Monkey Jungle. Home to nearly 400 primates, this attraction is the only protected habitat for endangered primates that is open for exploration by the general public. Most of these primates run free on a 30-acre reserve, and an adoption program is available for guests who want to help maintain the best possible care of a little furry friend.
But the opportunities to monkey around don’t stop there. The Homestead-Miami Speedway is the perfect place to keep the adrenaline ball rolling. On the first Friday of every month, guests can take their car down to the speedway and burn rubber on an actual NASCAR track, legally competing against friends on the track’s one-eighth mile pit road.
A Christmas-tree starting device and laser timing system ensure real-time performance results and a truly authentic NASCAR feel. Though a pit crew isn’t included, participants are encouraged to bring their families and friends along to spectate…they’ll have a bird’s eye view from elevated Pit Road cabanas.
Along with its wildlife and need for speed, South Florida culture also has deeply embedded Homestead roots. ArtSouth, a professional artist community, is the working place of nearly 40 studio artists whose art is featured in the campus’s three galleries. An open house is held on the second Saturday of every month, where art-loving guests get to experience exhibitions from Everglades artists in residence.
History buffs and conspiracy theorists alike can find solace at Coral Castle, a colossal historical and cultural monument built in the 1940s by just one man. The story of Edward Leedskalnin and his broken-hearted tribute to a lost love is shrouded in mystery and the source of much speculation in the South Florida community.
Coral Castle features a nine-ton gate that moves with just a touch of a finger, considered a scientific enigma to some and a supernatural phenomenon to others. The romantic story behind the monument speaks to a simpler time … a truly fitting Homestead attraction.
After an action-packed day, Homestead provides many multi-varied options for dining. Locals speak highly of Chefs On The Run, a quaintly small yet culturally diverse restaurant with famed mofongo, a fried plantain-based Puerto Rican dish filled with succulent churrasco or chicken.
Other food favorites include The Whistle Stop Restaurant & Bar, a comfort food haven specializing in plates piled high with fiery wings, homestyle chicken and dumplings and “Not Your Momma’s Meat Loaf”. Located in the Hotel Redland, it’s the ideal spot for some “stick-to-your-ribs” southern food in a cozy, inviting location.
But, above all, Homestead is famous for its Mexican food. Restaurants like El Puerto De Vallarta, Rosita’s and Casita Tejas top the city’s culinary hierarchy and satisfy a South Floridian’s need for some south-of-the-border flavor. The seafood at El Puerto De Vallarta is out of this world, with entrées like the shrimp enchiladas that would have anyone’s mouth watering. Rosita’s, the low-budget option, provides fresh chips and salsa reminiscent of a day in Cabo. And no Homestead stay would be complete without some thick, delicious guacamole from Casita Tejas.
Another main draw of the Homestead wine-and-dine scene is Schnebly Redland’s Winery. Specializing in tropical wines, this winery/brewery provides tours and tastings of their unique facilities and libations, as well as a scenic backdrop for birthday parties and weddings.
In true South Florida fashion, Schnebly’s wines are an ambrosial trip to the tropics, with ingredients and fragrances ranging from lychees to mangos to coconut. Bottles are available for purchase so that guests can take a little bit of Homestead sweetness back to their own hometowns. Tours of the 96-acre park are available, where guests can get a closer look at the exotic tropical fruits and gourmet vegetables that are grown and marketed fresh through the Schnebly’s produce company, Fresh King, Inc.
An oft-overlooked spot between Miami and The Florida Keys, Homestead is the place to go for a southern getaway. Unbeknownst to most South Floridians, culture, flora and fauna thrive only 30 miles from Miami’s hectic atmosphere. From rare fruits to endangered wildlife to exotic cuisine, Homestead is truly a small-town city with big-time appeal.
If You Go
Take Florida route 874 south, following signs for toll road/Homestead. Merge onto Florida route 821 toll south. Take exit 1 for U.S. 1 north toward Florida City. Turn right onto U.S. 1/NE 1st Avenue and continue to follow U.S. 1.
Fruit & Spice Park – 305-247-5727 – www.fruitandspicepark.org
24801 SW 187th Ave., Homestead, Fla. 33031
Everglades National Park – www.nps.gov/ever/
40001 State Hwy. 9336, Homestead, Fla. 33034
Biscayne National Park – www.nps.gov/bisc/
9700 SW 328th St., Homestead, Fla. 33033
Everglades Alligator Farm – 305-247-2628 – www.everglades.com
40351 SW 192nd Ave., Homestead, Fla. 33034
Monkey Jungle – 305-235-1611 – www.monkeyjungle.com
4805 SW 216th St., Miami, Fla. 33170
Homestead-Miami Speedway – 305-230-5000 – www.homesteadmiamispeedway.com
1 Speedway Blvd., Homestead, Fla. 33035
ArtSouth – 305-247-9406 – www.artsouthhomestead.org
240 Krome Ave., Homestead, Fla. 33030
Coral Castle – 305-248-6345 – www.coralcastle.com
28655 S. Dixie Hwy., Homestead, Fla. 33033
Chefs On The Run – 305-245-0085 – www.chefsontheruninhomestead.com
10 E. Mowry Dr., Homestead, Fla. 33030
The Whistle Stop Restaurant & Bar – 305-246-1904 – www.hotelredland.com
5 S. Flagler Ave., Homestead, Fla. 33030
Shiver’s Bar-B-Q – 305-248-2272 – www.shiversbbq.com
28001 S Dixie Hwy., Homestead, Fla. 33033
Mario’s Family Restaurant – 305-247-2470 – www.marioscubancuisine.com
1090 N Homestead Blvd., Homestead, Fla. 33030
El Puerto De Vallarta – 305-257-5012
24811 S. Dixie Hwy., Homestead, Fla. 33032
Rosita’s – 305-246-3114
199 W Palm Dr., Florida City, Fla. 33034
Casita Tejas Mexican Restaurant – 305-248-8224 – www.casitatejas.com
27 Krome Ave., Homestead, Fla. 33030
Schnebly Redland’s Winery – 305-242-1224 – www.schneblywinery.com
30205 SW 217th Ave., Homestead, Fla. 33030