Ecotourism Adventures in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Part 3

Reader Contribution by John Ivanko

Nested amongst the skyscrapers and tucked between white-powdery beaches and either the buzz of South Beach or nature preserves in Hollywood are some eco-minded hotels and restaurants offering patrons a taste of local and sustainable cuisine.

This is the final blog in a series that covers some of the highlights of my family’s ecotravel adventures in and around Miami or Fort Lauderdale. My first two posts covered some of the nature-based activities possible both in the ocean and on land.

Green Lodging

If being in the middle of the historic Art Deco district of Miami Beach, a mere minutes’ walk from the sweeping beaches and the internationally-inspired cornucopia of restaurants, then the eco-chic Z Ocean Hotel has a luxurious guest room for you. With its soothing blue lights and modernist design, plus balconies overlooking either the pool, hopping Ocean Drive or popular Espanola Way, it’s hard to go wrong here.

Their pool features several underwater windows that send flickers of sunlight down to the lower floor and, from the lower floor looking up, a fascinating view of the swimmers above. The boutique hotel’s friendly staff are quick to point out places of interest. When prompted, they’ll confirm that the garbage is sorted and recycled off site — a true feat (if you’re a regular to Florida, you’ll how hard it can be to recycle a can or bottle in this state). Use of LEDs and florescent lighting and a host of energy efficiency and water conservation practices take place throughout the property. I admit I wished it sported a PV array or solar thermal system on the roof, too – just to drive the point home.

Z Ocean’s spacious rooms, rare in South Beach, are a value for their price. Plus it’s easy to lose the car and walk and bike everywhere. By avoiding a car, you’ll save the $35 you’d have to spend on valet. No bikes, no problem. There are over 1,000 DecoBikes available for rent at 85 locations around town; pay with credit card, unlock a bike and pedal away.

Further up the coast, wedged in a side street of Hollywood’s North Beach is The Desoto Inn, a small eco-minded gem that offers tidy little one bedroom, studio and efficiency units that allow you to prepare your own meals, perhaps with organic ingredients from herbs you can harvest in the lush subtropical gardens right on site, or from Brother’s Farmers Market, also in Hollywood.

Tucked in a short street between the beach and the Intercoastal Waterway with a nature preserve on three sides, this restored 1950s hotel provides complimentary bikes, making a rental car a waste, both of money and fuel. Their tiki huts surrounded by gardens overflowing with native plants provide the perfect refuge after a bike ride, ocean swim or baking in the sun.

Farm- and Ocean-to-Table Feasts

Overlooking a tropical garden and small bamboo forest, Essensia Restaurant and Lounge located in the award-winning Palms Hotel and Spa in Miami fulfills its sustainability promise of delivering delicious and creative farm-to-table cuisine, “inspired by nature.”

Essensia’s Signature Chef Julie Frans tends and harvests fresh herbs, salad greens and other vegetables from her restaurant’s small organic garden on site to be used in her spectacularly creative and tasty appetizers, salads, soups, entrees and, even, their cocktails. For the rest of the produce, Chef Frans sources it from local farmers; poultry, meats and seafood come from sustainable or environmentally-certified suppliers.

As a part of the eco-experience at The Palms Hotel and Spa, weekly edible garden tours led by Chef Frans introduce guests to some of the ingredients that will find their way onto the plate during dinner that evening. Accredited by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Lodging Program, the hotel features numerous energy and water conservation initiatives as well as Aveda products used for the Spa and in-room toiletries.

To get a taste of South Beach, we savored Argentinean empanadas and Spanish croissants filled with dulce de leche while we walked and talked, weaving through the Art Deco District on Miami Culinary Tours’ guided South Beach Tour. We sat down for samples of Cuban vaca frita at Polo Norte Restaurant and Floribbean ceviche at the Columbian fusion restaurant, Bolivar. What a way to get a taste of place.

Our hands down favorite, though, was the hole-in-the-wall Blocks Pizza Deli where business partners Richard Collins and Eugenio Vittoni serve up their pizza by the slice (always fresh baked, never re-heated), calzones and vegetarian Blocks Pockets prepared with locally-sourced, seasonal, organic ingredients. Their 300-year-old recipe using their “mother dough” makes you wonder why you’d ever settle for another slice of pizza any other way. Don’t forget to leave without adding a splash of their infused extra-virgin olive oils to your slice or pocket.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, “9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living”. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine.