South Florida is all about the water. I'm not a big fan of powerboats or jetskis, but still wanted to get out there, so I went sea kayaking. You'll see locals kayaking in the bays around Miami and in Fort Lauderdale's canals. I opted for a more natural setting a bit farther south: Biscayne National Park.
Our first stop was the visitors center, where we rented kayaks from the park's licensed concessionaire for $16/hour. (They also had canoes available for about half the price, but I prefer the stability of a sea kayak.) We then spoke with a park ranger, who gave us a map and showed us a route to explore. She also pointed out the haunts of a manatee and crocodile that lived in the area. With the information in hand, we grabbed our paddles and life jackets and hit the water.
We were warned that it sometimes gets choppy, but Biscayne Bay was smooth that day. A string of barrier islands a few miles out keeps it from being open water, so you won't encounter any big waves out here. The barrier islands are a long paddle away, so we just headed for a couple of nearby islands that the ranger had suggested. The bay was never too deep; at most points, I could see the bottom (and schools of small fish swimming around).
After circling the islands a couple of times, we headed toward the mangroves that line the coast and paddled north. The feeling that we were removed from civilization disappeared with the vision of the Miami skyline in the distance, so we decided to turn around. On the way back, we turned into one of the narrow drainage canals that feed into the bay. Now we felt that we were visiting a different world: the Everglades. A mangrove canopy covered us, and we imagined that at any turn that crocodile might pop up or a snake might drop from above. We turned around when the canal narrowed uncomfortably and headed back to the bay and visitors center.
Two hours was about right to leisurely explore the islands, canals and mangroves. We never saw the manatee or crocodile, but a pelican watched over us while we circled the small islands.
If you go, wear a bathing suit and footwear that you don't mind getting wet. Also bring sunscreen and a hat; you'll be getting plenty of reflected rays off the water. Insect repellent is recommended for the buggy summer months. The visitor center sells disposable waterproof cameras, which come in very handy if you're tossing the camera back and forth between kayaks. (It floats!) The concessionaire also offers snorkeling trips out to the park's coral reef.