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T+L's Ultimate Guide to Florida

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Photo: David Alexander Arnold

The Florida Keys

Driving south on U.S. 1 takes me to the Florida Keys, with booming Key Largo my first stop. The restaurant scene in the Keys has long swayed between irredeemable tourist traps and overwrought French joints with delirious post- nouvelle ambitions. But I’m surprised to find a new cadre of creative young chefs who are changing the culinary landscape.

My reconnaissance mission kicks off with lunch at the waterfront Snapper’s Restaurant & Saloon ($$$). Snapper’s has all the usual semiotics of a Keys cliché, from Conch Republic flags to saucy let-the-good-times-roll bar signs, but there’s also an herb garden out front and up-and-coming chef Andrew Tsang in the kitchen. His ceviche, made with lime, cilantro, serrano chiles, and locally caught lionfish lightly smoked in a glass Mason jar, is one of the most flavorful yet subtle dishes I’ve ever eaten in the Keys.

From Key Largo, I continue down U.S. 1, stopping in for smoked lobster at Casa Mar Fresh Seafood Market (Rte. 1; 305/440-3935), in the town of Tavernier, before arriving in Islamorada. A traditional haven for sport fishermen—a roll call that includes Winston Churchill and Paul Newman—Islamorada has lately earned the reputation as the most sophisticated of the Keys. My hotel, the 18-cottage beachside Moorings Village & Spa ($$$$), is surrounded by bougainvillea and coconut palms, and there’s a cool pop-up boutique nearby called Mayú on the Bay in an Airstream trailer filled with pieces by Roberta Freymann, Letarte, and others. Come evening, I head to chef George Patti’s slick new S.A.L.T Fusion Cuisine & Caña Lounge ($$$) for a plate of Manchego grits and seared shrimp in chorizo cream sauce, a welcome leap from the fish-fry-palace era of the old Keys.

I arrive in Key West at cocktail hour, when downtown is just hitting its sloppy stride, and take a shuttle boat from the Westin Key West Resort & Marina to Sunset Key Guest Cottages ($$$$), the Westin’s sister property and the perfect spot for watching the sun descend into the ocean. For breakfast the following day, it’s Glazed Donuts, where Jonathan and Megan Pidgeon have developed a cult following thanks to their maple, bourbon, and candied-bacon treats. The island’s drowsy rhythm is seductive, and I spend the morning shopping downtown, before lunch at Old Town staple Garbo’s Grill ($), a tricked-out food stand and truck with mock gun turrets made out of painted Tupperware cake covers. The grilled mahimahi tacos and Korean bulgogi short ribs are downright addictive.

Despite the vestiges of Key West eccentricity, serious hotel money is funneling into the island. At the entrance of Key West, far removed from Old Town’s mad flavor, there’s the new, 100-room Gates Hotel Key West ($$); and in the historic seaport area, the Marker ($$$) has 96 airy, white-on-white rooms, some with water views. Just south, the Saint Hotel Key West ($$) is a multimillion-dollar renovation of the city’s landmark Southern Cross hotel.

What's New in Naples

The Gulf Coast city is trading its hallmark Old Florida sophistication for a younger—and more vibrant—sense of style. The Naples Grande Beach Resort ($$) has just renovated 424 rooms, many overlooking a sugar-sand beach. At the revamped Ritz-Carlton ($$$), a first-floor lounge called Dusk whips up first-rate sushi and is great for people-watching. North of downtown Naples, don’t miss the Local ($$), where the farm-to-table menu includes a mouthwatering barbecue chicken with pecan crumble

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