Sans Souci Tennis Center
Once among the sports of the affluent, tennis still evokes images of manicured grass courts, sparkling white togs, and exclusive racquet clubs. But the era of starchy tennis "whites" is long gone. These days tennis is being embraced by the common man. And when the common man has laid out a hefty sum for a sophisticated titanium racquet that's supposed to improve his game exponentially, he wants a lot of choice and a great deal. At the Sans Souci Tennis Center in North Miami, that's what he'll get. A dozen well-maintained hard courts (and one clay court) provide a pick of surfaces available from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. on weekdays and from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on weekends. Those who can't tell the difference between forehand and backhand can take group or individual lessons from several pros. And loners who want to work on their serve have the option of whacking balls on a two-sided practice wall. All this comes for the pittance of $2.50 per hour during the day and $4.50 per hour at night, or $1 and $2 respectively for North Miami residents. First-class facilities for ordinary folks.
Ever since Cloverleaf Lanes opened in 1958, the scuffed Lustre King custom ball conditioner has been sitting there next to the cranky Art Deco vending machine that dispenses wrist supports, rosin bags, and tinfoil packets of Smooth Slide, which is guaranteed to fix sticky soles. And then y'got'chur baggies full of cracked ice floating in a thousand pitchers of beer. Y'got'chur teams of hair-netted cooks all dressed up like frazzled Little League mothers, slapping fresh meat patties on a grill, slicing tomatoes, and building $2.95 burger baskets. Y'got'chur Hank Williams, Jr., sharing jukebox real estate in the Emerald Isle Bar with Lauryn Hill and various hip-hop crews. There's also karaoke on Fridays and Saturdays. Y'got'chur pool tables, your arcade, and your video games that pay off in Bowling Bucks, which buy anything on the premises except booze and tobacco. Y'got'chur 37th Annual Tournament of the Americas scheduled for August, featuring bowlers from as many as 26 countries. They'll compete for trophies, not cash. Y'got'chur 50 lanes, all nicely rebuilt in 1997, and fancy graphics that keep your score and even show you how to make your split. And you can get your ball drilled at the pro shop.

But what you've really got is a community atmosphere full of cheerful, sweaty camaraderie that fits as comfortably as an old bowling glove. The Romaniks , who bought the place in 1977, encourage a friendly, family- run atmosphere. It's a good advertisement for Miami: a peaceful ethnic stew where everyone is shooting either for a place on the south wall's Hall of Fame or for one of those plaques scattered hither and yon that honor both living and dead local bowlers.

As a life form, humans have the singular advantage of experiencing wonderment. No, we can't flap our wings and soar into the great beyond. But we can imagine what it must be like. Thus great bird watching should combine two elements: one, the spiritual elevation of vicarious adventure, and two, birds. The well-worn Anhinga Trail, a wooden walkway stilted above the swamplands of the Taylor Slough, has oft been cited as the most reliable spot to spot the usual South Florida favorites: the gnarly, snail-eating swimmers called limpkin; the ubiquitous nonpasserine namesake anhinga; the underwater-hunting cormorants; a variety of members of the ardeidae family including the great blue heron (the largest local heron) and the virginal snowy egret; red-shouldered hawks; vultures; plus common passerines such as grackles and blackbirds. Visiting the trail at the right time (weekdays just before dawn are best) helps facilitate the experience. The crowds are thin then, allowing space for your spiritual transformation into winged freedom. While tripping thusly, just be careful not to step on any alligators.
Some intransigent people are of the unwavering belief that a genuine day trip requires meticulous planning down to the last detail. For them a complete change in scenery from one's everyday surroundings is in order. We're a little more relaxed. A leisurely drive is nice. So is an alternate ambiance. But we aren't particularly enamored of rigid schedules. We prefer an unhurried, casual outing like Biscayne National Park's three-hour boat tour to Boca Chita Island, which is offered from January to April for a mere $19.95 plus tax ($9.95 for kids under ten years old). In the early afternoon, you and 47 other adventurers will zoom off in a glass-bottom boat to the 32-acre island. Owned by the wealthy Honeywell family from 1937 to 1945, it was recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Once you disembark a guide will chat about the history of the onetime playground for the moneyed set, that still includes ten structures built in the Thirties, coral-rock walls, and a cute but useless 65-foot coral-rock lighthouse. After all that structured activity, you're free to roam, snap photos, picnic, or just hang out. (If you dock your own boat on the key, you can camp overnight, but the facilities are rather austere.) After your brief, invigorating visit to a quieter place in time, you'll be ready to hop back into your car and return to hectic civilization.
Amelia Earhart Park
Motorists speeding eastward on Gratigny Parkway might not know that behind the wall of pine trees to their right, mountain bikers are hard at work. If you bring your stump-jumper there, you'll find a frondescent labyrinth winding through the woods on the park's northern edge (or "undeveloped" side, as county employees call it). The course isn't hilly, much less mountainous, but it does have a sufficient number of drops and curves over coral rock and through dense flora to provide a distinctly South Floridian challenge. Maybe we should call it jungle biking. The foliage is tunnel-like in places, so don't forget to duck! The course is home turf of the twenty-member South Florida Dirt Dobbers racing team, which hosted the second round of the recent Sandblaster Mountain Bike series.

Tourist: "What's the name of that there river?" Local guy: "Pardner, that there's no river. That's a canal." Tourist: "Well, it sure in hell looks like the gol dang Mississippi." It's true. South of Florida City, a stretch of the C-111 canal does resemble a river. It even bends and flows alongside a dusty, unpaved road. Several years ago the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tore down the C-111's earthen walls as part of an effort to restore the natural flow of the Everglades. That opened up quite a vista. The fourteen-mile, canalside pathway is called the Southern Glades Trail and it's the newest installment of the South Dade Greenway Network. Bordering farmland and saw grass expanses, it connects to three other paths that were created by the Redland Conservancy. The Southern Glades Trail has two starting points. One of them is about twelve miles south of Florida City, where U.S. 1 crosses over the C-111 canal. The other is on State Road 9336, about a mile east of the Everglades National Park entrance. You can travel on foot or horse, but we suggest biking. That way you can cover ground more quickly and likely see more wildlife. Local guy: "That there's no cute little beaver. That there's an alligator head."

After fighting traffic, crowds, and auto exhaust while pedaling through the urban jungle, you'll be rewarded with a new perspective on the city. Perhaps the best route for such a point-of-view shift starts near the Rickenbacker Causeway tollbooth. Leave your car there and head back to South Dixie Highway, then go north. Detour on SE Fifteenth Street to Brickell Bay Drive. Take a left, follow it back to Brickell Avenue, and cross the Miami River. Take the bayfront sidewalk next to the Dupont Plaza Hotel and follow it to Bayside. Work your way back to Biscayne Boulevard and continue north to the I-395 on-ramp. Use the sidewalk and the emergency lane to cross the MacArthur Causeway into South Beach. Your reward: one beer. Remember, it's a roundtrip.

You would think Miami's ample public space near the shoreline and constant easterly breeze would make kite flying as popular as Rollerblading on South Beach. Well, maybe not. But some think it's hip to sail the winds with cloth and string. A few of these aviators/eccentrics can be found showing off their kaleidoscopic flights-of-fancy Sundays on the beach at Crandon; some are employees and customers of Sky Dancers, a kite shop in Coconut Grove. Besides sending aloft their rainbow-color wonders, which come in shapes ranging from a parrot to a cube, they are also willing to share a trade secret or two with novices. Some day soon this could become Miami's next big fad, as cool as Rollerblading on South Beach. Okay, maybe not.
Its location is a study in contrasts. The hut that serves as the office neighbors the Crandon Marina boat ramp. Clean sailboats, ranging from 22 to 25 feet, are dwarfed by humongous powerboats that slide from their trailers into the water. As the wind-driven craft languish, high-pitched outboards burn fossil fuel and make waves on their way to Biscayne Bay. But to seasoned sailors, the differences serve as a noisy reminder of the therapeutic qualities of their avocation. And there's a bonus: The location allows sailors to reach the shadow of the Miami skyline in less than fifteen minutes. Rates start at $27 per hour; daylong cruises go for $129 and up. Weekend packages are also offered. Basic sailing knowledge is, of course, required. And that means more than identifying port and starboard. If you don't know more, lessons are available beginning at $35 per hour.
Doral Golf Resort & Spa Hotel
For four bucks you can tee off at one of the swankiest clubs in South Florida. Of course for that price you have to confine your backswing to the driving range. Or you can get really fancy and splurge for a big bucket of balls, which costs seven dollars. If that's a little steep for your working-stiff budget, check out the charge for parking: free if you avoid the valet service. Then again, considering the fortune you're saving by not joining Doral, why not hire a fellow working stiff to park your car? As you head to the range, swagger like the elite. In fact swagger more than the elite. They pay $200 ($250 in winter) a pop to play eighteen holes on the Blue Monster, the most prestigious of Doral's four courses.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®