Best of Miami®

Best Of 2001

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Best Of :: Sports & Recreation

Best Public Park

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.

750 NE 55th Terrace, Miami, 33137
MAP
305-795-1834
Best Public Park No One Knows About

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.

Best Jiu-Jitsu Academy

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!

Best Place To Dance In Your Speedos For A Cause

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.

Best Swimming Pool (Public)
José Martí Park

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.

351 SW 4th St., Miami, 33130
MAP
305-575-2103
Best Swimming Pool (Private)
The Raleigh Hotel

Fashion mavens and wannabes now splash and lounge where Esther Williams once fluttered and kicked in lavish synchronized-swimming numbers. Decades later the faux tropical lagoon remains the coolest place to be seen cooling off in Miami. A shallow ledge hugs the pool's Moroccan-style curves so you can immerse yourself in this chlorinated oasis without mussing your hair. Dive into the deep end or stand beneath the waterfall while sheets of water pummel your back. Sneak in after dark for a late-night dip -- you'll think you fell into paradise. Hotel guests swim for free any time; visitors pay fifteen bucks and are ejected after seven at night.

1775 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 33139
MAP
305-534-6300
Best Place To Hike

It doesn't take very long on Rowdy Bend before our busy metropolis melts away. Located three miles north of Flamingo, it's a great place to fully appreciate the coastal Everglades. As you pass through open-salt prairie and canopies of shady buttonwood, the stresses of traffic and a hundred daily incivilities lose their weight. Soon rabbits scampering ahead on the trail, deer concealed in the woods, and birds of brilliant incandescent colors absorb your attention. When after 2.6 miles you reach wide-open coast, it's hard not to feel like the first human to lay eyes on this stunning landscape of sand flats and islands. A word of warning, though: Unlike earlier explorers, we have the benefit of bug spray, and it is highly advised in these parts. If five-plus miles roundtrip is too much, Rowdy Bend shares its sublime destination with the 3.2-mile-long Snake Bight Trail.

Best Place To Kayak

Heading east toward Snake Bight from the marina at Flamingo, the park's southern outpost, a paddler can pretty much be guaranteed a rewarding experience. Once past the small village for employees, it's wilderness for as far as you'd care to travel. Along the shore, on the ground and in the tall mangroves, teeming flocks of birds congregate -- herons, egrets, white pelicans, roseate spoonbills, even the occasional flamingo. The silty water usually prevents clear viewing of sea life, but it is abundantly evident nonetheless, from leaping mullet to racing bonefish and cruising rays. Go far enough east, and if you are very lucky, you might even see an American crocodile lounging on the sand. But even if you're not, you'll still enjoy solitude, silence, and nature the way it's meant to be. The park concessionaire rents kayaks and canoes at the marina, though it's wise to reserve in advance, especially on weekends (941-695-3101). It's also smart to check the tides (www.saltwatertides.com). High tide is best for close-up viewing along the shore, and low tide can literally leave you stuck in the mud. Prevailing winds are from the southeast, which helps on the return leg of your trip.

Best Place To Canoe

There will likely be a moment, perhaps as you pass through a mangrove forest into bright sunshine, when canoeing in the Upper Keys will qualify as pure, unadulterated bliss. It might happen when you've bailed out and are happily snorkeling among the coral, or while you're listening to a naturalist describe the flora and fauna of Lignumvitae Key. To access the beauty of this fragile environment, simply drive to Key Largo and put in at the end of Garden Cove Road adjacent to the North Key Largo Hammock State Botanical Site for an easily manageable day trip. You are now situated between Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge to the north and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park to the south. The latter also offers a good launch spot, with the added bonus of showers and facilities. (If you head south from Garden Cove, beware bigger craft passing through the channel.) Follow the Atlantic's tidal flats as they give way to clear-water creeks full of snapper and snook. For individuals nervous about going solo or lacking equipment, Florida Bay Outfitters (305-451-3018) rents gear and leads half- and full-day trips in the area and further south.

Best Public Park

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.

Best Place To Birdwatch

The best place to see hundreds and hundreds of birds of dozens and dozens of species doesn't have to be on the most obscure, hard-to-reach passage in South Florida. No, the very short, very accessible, very easy Anhinga Trail, just four miles inside the park, offers the most spectacular sightings around. Especially in drought years -- as this most certainly is -- and in winter, there may be no other half-mile in the entire nation that winds through such densely populated bird territory. The trail is a wide, wooden platform raised above the marsh, so alligators are no real threat to you, even if they are to the birds. Heron, egret, anhinga, and thousands of their cousins dive for fish in scattered pools that result from the dry season (in summer the marsh is flush with a layer of water, and the animals -- feathered, scaled, and shelled -- have no need to congregate so closely to feed). To intent eyes it is obvious the birds know they, too, could soon be dinner; they are supremely sensitive to any movement of a reptilian neighbor. On some perches the riot of color from the winged ones resembles a glorious splash of confetti thrown on a bush. Some species are native, but many others have migrated from the cold, landing in a bird -- and birdwatching -- paradise, if only for the season.

Best Public Park No One Knows About

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.

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Best Public Park: Morningside Park

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