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Best Day Trip Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach 2005 - Lake Okeechobee

You've been to Naples, gotten lost in the Everglades, and burnt your epidermis on the beach. But have you ever circumnavigated the second-largest freshwater lake in the nation? It's a nice tour by car and takes you through five counties: Glades, Hendry, Palm Beach, Martin, and Okeechobee. Our preferred way to cruise around the 730-square-mile lake is counterclockwise. From Florida's southeast coast, head west for Belle Glade and then Pahokee. No need to linger, except to gawk at the poverty-prone towns that look more like old WPA photographs than part of 21st-century Palm Beach County. Continue north on Highway 441, but remember to stop and check out boats passing through the locks at Port Mayaca. Pelicans, double-crested cormorants, and great blue herons are some of the wading birds you'll see. On the north side of the lake is a bastion of Central Florida hickdom, the town of Okeechobee, a rowdy, rodeo-show retreat. Continue on past turf farms growing acres of sod and cows munching on grass until you're on the west side of the lake, home to marshland and citrus groves. This largely unpopulated flank sports a few sleepy old farming and fishing communities, with pickups parked along lonely canals, folks pulling catfish from the water all day long.

Curving down south, make time for a stop in Clewiston, where Angler's Marina offers one of the best views of the entire lake and the fleet of boats that ply its waters. Clewiston is also the finest place to stop for lunch. Dixie Fried Chicken (728 E. Sugarland Hwy.) can set you up with frog legs, gator tail, and catfish, but it would be a sin not to mention the best Mexican food anywhere in South Florida, which can be found from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Tortilleria y Taqueria (645 S. San Jose St.). No-nonsense proprietress Magdaelena Azua serves bistec, pastor, and lengua tacos -- served on homemade corn tortillas -- which are startlingly cheap at $1.25 a pop. On the way home, stop off at the aptly named John Stretch Park in tiny Lake Harbor and walk to the top of the Herbert Hoover dike. Say goodbye to the hinterlands and its liquid heart of the Everglades and head for home.

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