South Florida on a Budget: 3-day Itinerary

I’ve spent a lot of time in Florida. Not only do I visit very often, I lived there for two years. It was a great experience and it helped me find all the hidden gems and low-cost entertainment that I could go to again and again without ever getting bored. I’ve gone back to Florida a few times since I’ve moved back home and I usually go just for a long weekend. That’s why I decided to do a 3-day guide for the beautiful place I called home for two years.

First things first, Florida is hot. I’m not someone who does heat so I recommend going during the winter. For those in the north, it’s a great break from the cold and snow. Just be careful, you might get snowed in. I’ve gotten snowed in on many occasions, but it does score you a few extra days in the hot sun. For those who only have time off in the summer, I recommend trying to go in June. It’s not as hot and humid as July and Augusts, but only by a hair.

The first thing I want to say before we get started is to bring water everywhere. It is easy to get dehydrated when it is so hot and I’ve done it on a few occasions. I never leave the house without a water in my bag. I want you to enjoy your time and being sick from dehydration is not going to help you enjoy it. It’s a simple thing, but so important! Hit up any grocery store and just buy a case of water. It’s cheap and easy. For those people who don’t want plastic, you can drink the water. It just doesn’t taste good, but I’m a water snob apparently.

The first steps is flying there. Now, we are talking about South Florida here. The beautiful Atlantic coast. I recommend Palm Beach International (PBI) Airport in West Palm Beach. It’s small, clean and usually the cheapest option, but I’m sure that depends on where you’re flying from. PBI also has limited locations that fly to and from it. Fort Lauderdale is close too. It’s big and crowded, but cheap depending on where you’re flying from. Miami airport is another option. I’ve never been because it is usually the most expensive and the furthest from the main area I’ll be talking about in this post.

I’m not going to lie. I’m not well versed in hotels. I stay at my own condo when I go down, but the first few times we stayed at Embassy Suites in Boca Raton. The rooms are cheap in the summer, but can get pretty pricey at peck times, but that’s most hotels. They do have a free cocktail hour in the middle of the afternoon that makes the stay worth it. It’s about 3 miles from the beach and easy to find off the highway. There are plenty of other hotels so feel free to check out some others. I’m definitely not an expert when it comes to hotels.

Transportation is another story. I recommend renting a car. The price of the rental can be the same as an Uber to and from the airport depending on where you fly in and out of and where you stay. Costco and BJ’s always have good rental car deals and I highly recommend checking them out. We’ve rented from all different companies and don’t normally have problems. If we do, they’ve always fixed it, no problem.

Now, lets get to actual stuff to do.

This itinerary is a lot of outdoor walks. This is why I recommend going in the winter or early spring. The weather is the nicest to walk around and really enjoy yourself. Don’t forget the water though! It’s always good to have a cooler in the car too, if you rent (also another reason to rent).

Now, this is a three-day itinerary that could easily be turned into a longer trip, but I’m going to walk you through each day step by step and recommend places to eat along the way.

The acitivies I’m recommending are all locted in Boynton Beach, Delray Beach and Boca Raton Florida and are great spots for a budget traveler.

Day 1

WAKODAHATCHEE WETLANDS

No. I cannot actually say that.

This is a short walk. It also just so happens to be free. It’s about ¾ of a mile around with views that are amazing.

I recommend a camera on this walk as you’ll see alot of animals and a lot of plant growth. Plus, the little turtles that swim around are so fun to find. Keep an eye out for the resident alligator though! I’ve run into one every time I’ve been to this boardwalk and I find them amazing every time.

This is one of the places I recommend going to in early March. The Storks flock the trees and you can find babies galore squawking from their little nests. It is definitely a sight to see.

MORIKAMI MUSEUM AND JAPANESE GARDEN

This is one of my favorite spots in Delray Beach, FL. This park was donated by a Japanese Immigrant, George Sukeji Morikami, to preserve the memory of the Japanese colony that worked the land for years. It was turned into a Japanese garden that walks you through the different periods of Japan’s history.

It’s $15 for adults, but if you’re a student, bring your ID because they have a student discount, which brings it down to $11.

The first thing I recommend is to grab lunch here. The café closes at 3 so make sure you give yourself plenty of time. The teriyaki chicken is amazing and I get it every time I head back to Florida. The café is a nice little spot that overlooks the garden. There can be a wait depending on the day. The weekends are usually pretty busy. But they are fast and it is worth the wait. Don’t be afraid to get food to go either. Just don’t leave any trash behind.

After you finish lunch make sure to grab some fish food for $1 before you start walking!

The mile walk around the gardens takes you through the different time periods in Japan’s history. Morikami has actually created their own app to walk you through the time periods and talk about the gardens and the history behind each garden. There are multiple stories for each garden.

My favorite part of the walk is the Bamboo garden. I recommend just sitting in there for a few minutes, enjoying the sound of the bamboo. It’s an amazing feeling when your inside.

For those who enjoy a bit of history, they have their own museum that you can explore. It talks about the history of the Yamato Colony as well as shows you around an authentic Japanese house.

The last thing to do besides the gift shop is explore the art museum. It highlights Japanese artist and the exhibition changes every few months so it’s worth going back for another look. I’ve seen all kinds of amazing art within those walls.

Don’t forget to drop in the giftshop before you leave!

DOWNTOWN DELRAY

Delray has a vibrant night life. It isn’t really my scene but I know other people enjoy it. There is a restaurant and bar every other door. They have small boutiques inbetween. But, the hidden gem is actually next to the railroad tracks, hidden in plan sight.

The Silverball Museum

If you like old games, this is your place. It has rows of pinball machines. It has air hockey. It has pac man. It has baseball games. It has every old game that you can think off. They have live music some nights so keep a lookout for a schedule. They have a few different options if you’re looking to head inside and play games. They have a daily re-entry pass for $15. This means you can go in and out all day. If you’re interested in playing a few games and then heading out for dinner, you can drop back in after. They have an hour pass for $10 and for those who like to stay up late, they have a late night pass (after 10PM) for $10.

Add AC and cover from rain during the summer and it’s a great stop along the way.

Back outside, I recommend Rocco’s Tacos & Tequila Bar for a delicious Mexican food. They make guacamole fresh at your table. It isn’t my thing, but it is still fun to watch. Park Tavern is another great spot. For those who don’t mind an early meal, they have great happy hour prices, but the food is worth it at full price. The Mac and Cheese is amazing. These are two of my favorites, but I’m sure there are many more places to eat. I recommend topping your day off with some ice cream though. It’s the best way to end your day.

The parking is a bit tricky for downtown, but they have parking garages or if you plan on drinking, please take an Uber and be safe. 

Day 2

I think you deserve some time to sit around at the pool today so I’m going to write that into your itinerary. Day 2 and 3 can also easily be switched depending on if you want a chill day for the second day or the third day.

GREEN CAY WETLANDS

Another day, another free nature walk.

The visitors center is only open certain hours and only some days, but it isn’t necessarily. The walk has codes that you can scan right on your phone that will tell you about the area. It lets you know what species you’ll find there and gives you imagies so you can try to find them yourself.

The walk has a short route and a long route depending on how you feel that day and there are a lot of stops along the way to sit and relax in the shade for a bit.

Make sure you’re looking in all directions for animals. It seems lik a big task, but you could spend hours trying to spot different animals. The water below houses turtles, frogs, fish and snakes, some rarer than other. If you see a frog, I’m going to be so jealous. I love frogs and I haven’t had luck catching a glimpse of one yet. My brother has, but sadly I wasn’t with him when he spotted one. If you’re afraid of snakes, I’m never seen one before and I don’t know how common they are. It’s mostly turtles and fish living in the swampy water.

The variety of birds leaves for some great picutres. They’re pretty used to humans so they just park themselves on the railings and chill. I’ve gotten some of my favorite pictures from the wetlands because the birds just pose for you. They also have a little area where an owl lives. It’s hard to spot, because it blends in, but I’ve seen it almost every time I’ve been there.

Just make sure you pack your sunscreen. It’s a place you don’t always think to put it on, but still get a lot of sun. The walks are mostly open, with only a few covered areas and I’ve gotten some of my worst burns walking around here.

THREE G’S

There are a lot of delis in Florida, specifically south Florida. I tried a few, but one of my favorites was three G’s. It is a bit expensive and it’s more of a restaurant than what you might think of as a classic deli, but the food is delicious and so worth it. The servings are huge and I would literally go every time I had a visitor in Florida. It’s one of the places I like to hit when I go for a visit.

It’s usually busy at dinner time, which is why I’m recommending it for lunch, but feel free to switch this with the restuarant I recommend for dinner.

THE BOYS

It may seem weird to put a farmer’s market on here, but this place is amazing. If you aren’t into the deli for lunch, then you can grab a hot meal here. The meatballs are delicious, and the rest of the food looks good. I can’t necessarily speak for it as I haven’t tried it all, but there is always a line and it does look delicious. If you don’t want food here, the vibe is just fun. It’s packed and usually filled to the brim so I wouldn’t go if you aren’t into crowds, but the fruit is fresh and so long as the fruit is in season, from their own local farm. If you’re there during orange season, the oranges are dirt cheap, juicy and a great present to bring home with you. I know my aunt loves it when we bring oranges home for her.

POOL TIME

You’re on vacation. You deserve some time at the pool. The hotel I recommended has a great pool out back. If you aren’t into the pool, head over to the beach for a while and soak up some sun. If you’re looking for other activities, feel free to check out my other South Florida posts.

BAMBINI’S AND THE GIRLS

This little pizza place is a great spot and has a bird sanctuary in the back. It’s definitely a great little spot for dinner (I recommend the garlic knots!). They have a small seating area, but you can order at the counter and eat out back. Plus, their ice cream is delicious. I used to go all the time and get it. While you’re eating your ice cream, feel free to head out back to look at the birds. It’s a few bucks to get in, but all the money goes to taking care of the rescued animals out back. It’s a fun little spot and you can spend a few hours eating and looking at all the birds out back. They’ve even expanded recently and have brought in other animals as well! If they’re in season, they also do strawberry picking.

Day 3

THE BEACH

How can you go to sunny Florida and not go to the beach? I am not a beach person. I don’t do the saltwater and I’m not a big fan of the sand, but the beach is beautiful in Florida. I’m from MA and the water is a completely different color. I can’t believe how blue the water gets in Florida. If you’re not into swimming, then I recommend a walk along Delray Beach to take in the ocean. I love listening to the waves and I can often be found just taking in the sights and sounds when I head to the beach.

Atlantic Dunes Beach is a great spot in Delray if you want something a little quieter and off the beaten path. The parking lot is across the street and does cost money, but the free parking lot down the road gets crazy and overwhelming, at least for me. I would rather pay a few dollars so I don’t have to deal with people who don’t know the rules of waiting for a parking spot. (I’m reliving traumatic memories as I’m writing this). Plus, I just like the beach.

Important!: Make sure you pay attention to the signs on the beaches in Florida. They only lifeguard to a certain point and the currents can get strong so you want to make sure you’re staying in the correct areas. Also pay attention to the flags out. Please don’t swim if the no swimming sign is out and the water is rough.

LUNCH

Linton Ave in Delray Beach has every fast food restaurant that one could dream of and a few deli’s and other restaurants along the way. I’m not a big beach person so I usually time my beach outing so I’m leaving the beach at lunch time as I’m driving by all the food at lunch time.

GUMBO LIMBO

Named after the Gumbo Limbo tree, which flacks to reveal a beautiful orange color. It’s said that they look like burnt tourists, who forgot to put sunscreen on for the beach.

This is a hidden gem. This little nonprofit rescues sea turtle and releases them back into the ocean when they are better. They have some resident turtles as well, who can’t go back to the ocean due to their injuries. They ask for a five-dollar donation when you arrive and the sticker they give you is a great little souvenir. I have one of mine on my luggage as a little memento from going so often.

Gumbo Limbo has a lot of different things that you can do so definitely plan a few hours. The highlight for me are the pools. They have different pools to highlight different kinds of fish. It has to do with how deep the fish live in the ocean. They have a shallow pool for the fish who live closer to the top and a deep pool for those who live near the bottom. Plus, this is where their permanent residents reside when they can’t go back to the ocean. The volunteers are a wealth of information and there to help when you have questions. They also feed the fish at 1 so try to get there for the feeding so you can see Elmer, there resident eel.

There is also a whole area with all their recovering turtles. They give each turtle a name (last time I went was a Harry Potter theme. I was very excited) and you can find the information about the turtle right infront of the tanks, including when they plan to release them back into the ocean.

The butterfly garden is another great feature, especially if you hit it in the right season. The flowers are beautiful and the little walk around leads to a nice little spot on the intercoastal that really highlights the mangroves, a protected species in Florida.

They recently expanded their nature walk as well. They have a nice specimen guide and you can take the short walk to find all the trees and plants on the list. It’s also a great way to see the Gumbo Limbo trees along the walk.

For dinner that last night I recommend Pollo Tropical. The food is delicous and they don’t have them in my area so it’s a nice little treat for me.

I lived in Florida for two years and these are the things I make sure I do every time I go back down. These are some of my favorite spots to enjoy and I’m always excited to visit.

One last tip is sunscreen. Honestly, put it on if you’re leaving the house, even if you don’t think you need it. I’ve gotten some of my worst burns because I didn’t think I would need it. It may seem obvious, but I know I’m always forgetting it when I travel.

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