Before tree huggers and other nature lovers quashed plans for an overseas highway down the center of Elliott Key in the late Sixties, developers bulldozed a six-lane-wide opening. When the dust settled, the key emerged as part of Biscayne National Monument, which Congress reclassified as a national park in 1980. In the years since, managers of this offshore Eden have allowed the foliage to reclaim all but one unpaved lane, which now forms a seven-mile trail. There's also a one-mile loop that slices through the hammock and turns into a boardwalk with an ocean view. If you take either path between April and June, try to spy an endangered Schaus's swallowtail butterfly along with the usual herons, egrets, warblers, and hawks. Or bring your snorkel and check out the rays, sea grass, and sea cucumbers. The best way to get to Elliot Key, unfortunately, is by private boat. The park service's boat concessionaire will take you roundtrip from the Convoy Point Visitor Center on SW 328th Street and Biscayne Bay for $21 per person, but only if you stay overnight and make reservations well in advance. Park authorities recommend avoiding the island during the summer because of mosquitoes and other insects.

Best Place To Ditch The Kids While You Lunch On Lincoln Road

Scott Rakow Youth Center

There isn't much on South Beach to interest eight-year-olds. Nor is there anything constructive for your teenager to do. What to do then with the young ones when you're hankering for adults-only strolling, shopping, or lunching? The answer lies at the Scott Rakow center. It is a virtual summer camp where, for only three dollars on weekdays or six dollars on weekends (half price for Beach residents), fourth- to twelfth-graders can frolic. Among the diversions: ice-skating, swimming, bowling, basketball, and Ping-Pong. Qualified counselors provide supervision. On Sunday children of any age (including those over eighteen) can enjoy the activities. Hours are weekdays from 2:30 till 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. till 7:00 p.m., and Sundays from 11:00 a.m. till 7:00 p.m. A warning: Convincing the kids to leave may be difficult.

There's something to be said for regression. When (and if) a person reaches a certain age, he or she likely begins re-enacting youthful behaviors: hanging out with the gang, playing some game or another, or killing time before time kills them. Shuffleboard, the civil sport of the retirement set, perfectly suits this enterprise, reinvigorating the mind, body, and soul. All of which is fine for the geezers of Broward, where disk-shoving can still be found on land (there's a tournament in Hollywood and courts at dozens of condos). But in all of South Florida, there is only one court maker and only one retailer of cues. Susie Day of Hollywood's Beach-O-Rama, the equipment seller, sums it up: "It's a small, little market." With the graying of America, it's about time to resurrect the dying pastime outside the world of Fort Lauderdale fogies. The best bet, if you're not just being childish and really want to get into a game of skill, fun, and patience that isn't golf, is a cruise. Most major cruise ships have shuffleboard courts where you can soak up the sun and breathe sea air while showing your stroke to a broad demographic cross section. Travel agents recommend Carnival, which has thirteen ships, all with shuffleboard. Most other major liners also feature courts. (Beware day trips like Discovery; most do not offer the venerable game.) There's one catch, though. It ain't cheap. The most affordable rate on a three-day Carnival trip runs upward of $400 per person.

Nestled along the banks of the Miami River, this remote, ten- acre park is eerily enticing. Strange artifacts leave you wondering what the designers had in mind. Concrete steps that seemingly belonged to the front porch of a house now lead to nothing; multicolor pillars stand erect on a slab of concrete; a sidewalk begins and ends in the middle of nowhere. Only the gently flowing river, the beautiful hammock, and the coconut palm clusters make sense. This is a wonderful place to sip iced tea and lounge on a hot summer afternoon.

Best Place For A Flying Leap Into The Gulf Stream

Fowey Rocks

Miami mayhem got you feeling like a wreck? Then why not take a flying leap? We've got just the place: Fowey Rocks, about six miles southeast of the southern tip of Key Biscayne on the Gulf Stream's edge. A lighthouse atop a 110-foot iron frame tower, built by U.S. soldiers in 1878, helps cargo ship captains avoid the shallow spot. Unfortunately the beacon wasn't around when the British battleship H.M.S. Fowey scraped bottom there in 1748 and sank just to the south. But if you can find a pleasure boat or a willing sailor, head straight for the submerged rocks; it's easy to drop anchor there. Once you arrive you'll find a twenty-foot-tall platform, which once served as an access dock for the lighthouse keeper. Dive in, drift over to the metal ladder attached to the platform, and climb up. At the summit you can put your family, your job, and your world into perspective. You think your life is hectic? Gaze eastward over the water and contemplate the Mexican sailors whose tanker was torpedoed by a German U-boat near here during World War II. Then put your worries behind you, leap into the void, and scream as loud as you want on the way down. (Don't worry, the water is deep enough.)

So you like to drop your top when you sunbathe, but you hate the drooling idiots who eye your bare chest as if they were schoolboys. Or maybe the plethora of plastic surgery-enhanced breasts get to you. Well, if either of the above is a problem, the beach between Fourteenth and Fifteenth streets is for you. No, we cannot promise there won't be ogling perverts or young women with ample melons, but this stretch of sand is relatively calm, uncrowded, and surgery-less. Tucked between hotel/condo row and the SoBe promenade of perfection, the area seems to draw more tourists than locals and more genuine beach-lovers than participants in the tiresome beauty scene. So relax, bare your chest, and be confident that not only will you go home sans tan line, but also sans body-image complex.

Despite the fact that he's been flying people up, up, and away in his beautiful balloons for the past 30 years, Don Caplan says matter-of-factly that South Florida is not a very good place for such activity; it's too windy, the weather is unpredictable, and mornings are usually the only time calm enough to launch. Caplan, owner of Balloonport of Coconut Grove, is one of a small number of loyal hot-air balloon captains for hire in Miami-Dade. Year after year they wake at the crack of dawn and put up with quirky weather patterns and demanding customers for an hour of magic. And what magic it is. Using the winds to take you into birds' territory, succumbing to invisible forces, you will experience flight in intimate, low-tech fashion. This Memorial Day weekend Caplan and about 30 others will take customers skyward at the Homestead Air Reserve Station in the Spitzer Dodge Sixteenth Annual Great Sunrise Balloon Race (a misnomer, as the balloons don't really race, they compete for accuracy in reaching a target). According to Caplan the past three years have provided unusually good weather. The event benefits Sunrise Community, a nonprofit organization for people with disabilities. For details call the race hotline at 305-275-3317. If you're willing to shell out about $200 to ascend 1500 feet in a wicker basket propelled by gigantic flames that shoot into a canvas balloon, you'll get the closest thing to a magic carpet ride this side of sobriety; if not, you can watch the colorful spectacle from the ground, where you belong.

The choice is obvious. Players at this sun-splashed location spike and set in a beach-volleyball paradise. Their bare feet sink deep into soft white sand while an endless parade of beautiful people ride, stride, and roll past to the west. Just beyond this pulchritudinous procession are some of the world's most photographed bars and cafés. And over the dunes to the east lies a fantastically wide ribbon of topless beach. The best in town? How about on the planet.
So okay, residents of other cities can criticize Miami for its lack of cosmopolitan cultural events, poor public transportation, and corrupt politicos. But when it comes to natural resources, other urban centers don't even come close. One shining example is Matheson Hammock Park's atoll pool, an eco-friendly swimming hole that puts chlorinated concrete boxes to shame. The atoll pool is actually a saltwater pond flushed by the tidal movement of adjacent Biscayne Bay. Surrounded by a pristine, palm-shaded beach, and blessed with a breathtaking bay view, it's a great place for just about everybody. Mothers like to bring their young children here because of its calm waters, which also make the pool perfect for lap-swimming. And it's cheap, only $3.50 per carload to enter the park. On weekends visitors can eat at the coral rock Red Fish restaurant or grab a hot dog from the snack-bar window, then settle in for some sunbathing. Take a dip in this pool on a hot day, lay back in the sand, and you'll definitely be glad you live in Miami.
Three floors of bright, airy exercise rooms chock full of equipment make this gym the county's top workout spot. An overabundance of stationary bikes and weight machines means there's rarely a delay to start sweating. Although it's located just a block from Ocean Drive, this is more than just a backdrop for Lycra-clad beautiful people with water bottles and towels around their necks: It's a mecca for the aerobically inclined. One significant perk is free parking. There are neither tip-crazy valets nor meters. And there's not one, but two lots. All classes, including spinning, yoga, kickboxing, tae kwon do, and more, are free to members. The locker rooms are clean, spacious, and include steam rooms. XS is open Monday through Friday from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®