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(Visit Florida/Visit Florida)
(Visit Florida/Visit Florida)

What's a good home base for exploring southern Florida? Add to ...

Everything you want to see is an easy day trip, so why not base yourself in the Florida Keys when you’re not on the road?

“The Keys is great for families because the atmosphere is so laid-back,” says Jill Martin, the official family travel insider for Florida tourism (visitflorida.com). “There are great places to explore. The snorkelling is the best in North America, bar none. You can fish, swim, visit libraries, walk boardwalks, spot wildlife and eat beside the water most everywhere.”

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Everglades National Park is a day trip away – and don’t miss taking an airboat ride at the Everglades Alligator Farm (everglades.com), Martin says. And there’s plenty to do when visiting South Beach, from marvelling at the art deco buildings to visiting the Miami Seaquarium and Miami Children’s Museum.

As for finding a holiday home, Martin suggests zoning in on Key Largo, with its easy access to the Everglades, or Islamorada with its barbecued-shrimp bars, tiki huts and shops selling everything from swimwear to key lime cookies.

You can check out holiday rental sites, such as Home Away (homeaway.com) and VRBO.com (vrbo.com). Or you can look into a local company such as Island Villa Rentals (islandvilla.com), says Andy Newman, media relations director for the Keys tourism council.

Island Villa Rentals lists cottages and condos along the beaches and canals with tempting names such as Sail Away, Sea Biscuit and Casa Aqua. The Florida Keys tourism site (fla-keys.com) also provides accommodation options.

Wherever you stay, Newman reminds travellers to be wary of Internet scams: “Consumers simply should take some common sense steps to ensure the agents they are dealing with are reputable.” This includes asking for the rental’s licence number, using a major credit card (as the card may offer consumer protection) and being wary if you’re asked to send a cheque to another person if the owners are “out of the country.”

If you are drawn to the buzz of the big city, look for a place to stay in downtown Miami or Miami Beach, says Jennifer Haz, media relations manager for Miami tourism (miamiandbeaches.com). “South Beach is the classic Miami sunning spot, but if you want to avoid the crowds, Sunny Isles Beach, at the northern end of Miami Beach, is a better bet.”

She says rental companies include Churchill Suites Crown Miami Beach (churchillsuites.com), Miami Habitat (miamihabitat.com) and Tradewinds Apartment Hotel (tradewindsapartmenthotel.com).

If you do pick the Keys, at day’s end head for a local watering hole, such as Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill (jjsbigchill.com) in Key Largo, Martin says. It’s on the water, has a game room, “outstanding key lime pie” and a swimming pool. “Yes, it’s a restaurant with a pool! Not uncommon in the Keys.”

Send your questions to concierge@globeandmail.com.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Follow Karan Smith on Twitter: @karan_smith.

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