Thursday, July 25, 2024

Iconic Florida


The Mai-Kai

Where: Fort Lauderdale

What’s the allure: The legendary restaurant serves an authentic slice of the South Pacific unlike any other in the country. Those who come for the food (think panang curry shrimp, Polynesian chicken and Tahitian cheese tangs) end up staying for atmosphere.

Part of a wave of Polynesian bars/restaurants to cash in on an island trend following World War II, the Mai Kai opened in 1956 at a cost of $300,000; it earned over $1 million in its first year alone.

Fifty years later, the tiki trend has diminished from a national sensation to a niche market. There are few places left like the Mai-Kai, which makes it so special. Waitresses in bikini tops and wraparound sarongs serve imaginative rum libations, and hula dancers in grass skirts and scantily clad fire-eaters entertain guests during the Polynesian Islander Revue Floor show, an irresistible spin on the tired old term “dinner theater.” The Mai-Kai is fun all year round, but be sure to stop by between June 6 and 9 for the Hukilau, the biggest Polynesian celebration on the East Coast.

Contact: 954/563-3272,

Loxahatchee Everglades Tours

Where: Parkland

What’s the allure: An airboat ride is the easiest way to get into the heart of Florida’s wilderness, the Everglades, pegged as one of the seven natural wonders of North America. It may not be as peaceful as a canoe or a kayak, but it’s the noisy, fun and fast alternative, an adventurous way to explore this eccentric and fragile ecosystem.

The Everglades of the Loxahatchee Preserve is more than a remnant swamp just past our western suburbs; it is the northernmost tip of the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. It is, as Marjorie Stoneman Douglas said, a true “river of grass”—for which airboats are made. The airboat skims over marshland, startling slithery alligators, slicing through floating islands, flushing flocks of ibis and herons and roseate spoonbills out of the sawgrass. This is about as real a Florida experience as one can get.

Contact: 800/683-5873,

Sawgrass Mills

Where: Sunrise

What’s the allure: Forget the beach. The state’s largest outlet retail/entertainment destination is such an irresistible draw to out-of-country visitors that nearly 50 percent of the mall’s shopper base is made up of international tourists. It’s no wonder given the more than 350 stores—including outlet incarnations for the likes of Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, Michael Kors and Tommy Bahama, and St. John and Gucci. More than 40 of the outlets are unique to South Florida, from Burberry Factory Outlet to Salvatore Ferrgamo Company Store.

The sprawling complex, which covers 2 million-plus square feet of terrain, recently added a Sawgrass shuttle ($25 round trip) to and from hotels along Fort Lauderdale Beach. Check the new website (below) for the dining/shopping specials and discounts, as well as links to social media updates about the respective stores.


To continue reading, please pick up a copy of our May/June issue of Boca Raton magazine.

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