Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
About four miles past the Shark Valley entrance to Everglades National Park, the Tamiami Trail (SW Eighth Street) makes a sharp bend to the northeast. Just at that point (look for a small church) an unmarked road peels off to the south and then veers eastward. This is the Loop Road, so named because it curves around to rejoin the Trail some 22 miles later. In between, however, lies an adventure, and you don't need an off-road vehicle to enjoy it. The first couple of miles are paved and punctuated by the homes of Miccosukee families. A little further along is a scattering of more rugged houses occupied by loners and weekend hunters. At the site of a secluded National Park Service environmental-education center the pavement ends and the real fun begins. From here the road is hard-packed dirt, which is quite passable except after heavy showers. It is dirt, though, so expect dust. Also expect a few fishermen, along with some of the most lovely scenery this side of a Clyde Butcher swamp photo. The south side of the road is the wet side, and it pays to get out and stroll now and then to take in the lush vegetation, deep pools, lazy gators, and cypress groves. Pack a lunch, bring a folding chair, relax. During the warm months, be sure to bring insect repellent.
In a town in which park often is synonymous with ball field, and in which much of the public green space is rendered inhospitable by a lack of shade, Morningside Park is a revelation. Indeed it may be one of Miami-Dade's few "big-city parks," the kind envisioned by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted when he created New York's Central Park as an escape from the noise and nervousness of urban life. Located in the historic residential neighborhood of the same name, Morningside Park runs for five blocks along Biscayne Bay and features not only tennis and basketball courts, a playground, a baseball field, and a municipal pool, but also picnic benches, walking trails, and (of all things) trees. Lots of trees. It's a perfect place for curling up with a good book under a banyan, teaching the kids how to ride their bikes, or just staring out over the water.
This isn't so much a park as it is a small oasis. Located on a canal and squeezed between two residential lots on a quiet, secluded street, this little patch of green can't really accommodate more than a dozen or so people at a time. Luckily it's usually empty (who else but the neighbors would even suspect it's there?). The perfect place for an intimate outing, the park features a couple of picnic tables, a grill, some benches, a sandbox and a tot lot for the kids. Pets are not allowed, but if you're an animal lover, keep an eye out for the ducks that make their home in and around the canal.
Many jiu-jitsu schools claim some connection to the Gracie family, a legendary clan of Brazilian fighters whose unique martial arts style continues to reign supreme in famous no-holds-barred confrontations, such as the Ultimate Fighting Competition (UFC). But South Florida has only one school with official accreditation from Helio Gracie himself, founder of the sport and father of an entire family of world-class fighters. Brazilian jiu-jitsu's mix of judo with simple and effective ground-grappling techniques proves incredibly effective against larger and stronger opponents. Small, soft-spoken instructor Pedro Valente, who was a student of Helio Gracie, makes this point painfully clear. At first glance he is unlikely to inspire fear in an opponent, yet his submission hold can bring down just about any once-aggressive rival. Valente's method for strategic conquest, while certainly not easy, is a lot less strenuous than, say, pumping major iron. And for what? Beefcakes, beware: Think twice before picking on some little guy. He just may have been trained at Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Ouch!
Don't worry that gyrating in those curve-hugging microbriefs you indulgently purchased during the holidays will make you look like a floozy. At the Winter Party (which is held in March) you can writhe on the beach with a throng of thong-clad dudes until the sun goes down and support equal rights at the same time. Since its 1993 inception, this circuit party, which attracts about 3000 revelers from around the world during tourist season, has helped support the Dade Human Rights Foundation, sponsors of SAVE Dade and half a dozen other groups and programs that fight gay, lesbian, and transgender discrimination throughout the county. So go ahead, shake your booty and shake small-minded bigots out of the trees.
Tugboats and freighters cruise by on the Miami River as you butterfly and breaststroke in the City of Miami's José Martí pool. Overhead the dramatic arch of the I-95 overpass, humming with the fierce pace of city life, reminds you just how far from the rat race you really are. Just minutes from downtown and Brickell Avenue, this pool offers a great lunch-hour escape. Pool hours are 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, with an adult lap swim until 3:00 p.m. Call for weekend hours. Admission to the pool is free, and the locker rooms are clean. Swimming lessons also are offered here. When you're done bathing, the adjacent park provides a respite for you to meditate as you dry off and watch the world go by. Now you're ready to dive back into real life.