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.
It's been a strange morning. The kids are bored with their video games. In fact they're bored with everything. You're about to tell them to go out and play on the expressway. You feel as though you're a candidate for the funny farm. Well, why not go to one and take the kids along? Patch o' Heaven is a twenty-acre spread where owner Elaine Spear has been breeding goats, cows, deer, sheep, and emus, among other animals, since 1983. She's also devoted to providing children with an opportunity to pet and otherwise get personal with the creatures. She offers pony rides and two hayrides per day through fields that are scattered with deer and emu. Kids fraternize with ducks, geese, turkeys, parrots, pygmy goats, key deer, and some local celebrities such as Bernina Banana Capucha the monkey and Tiffany the dancing cockatoo. The patch is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Admission is $8.50 per person or six dollars a head for student groups if you call in advance. Huddle with your gaggle and quack at the ducks. It just might keep you from quacking up.
Here you are, jammed into overdeveloped, thickly congested, air-polluted Miami, raging at the idiots around you and choking on the toxic fumes of urban life. There it is, the outback, where porpoises frolic in the shimmering flow and hawks soar against the glow of the cirrostratus. You can get there from here. First pack up your camping gear, some food and beverage, your favorite bug repellent. Next drive south to Flamingo, where the park rents canoes ($40 overnight). Reserve one of the chickees or space at the other campsites (about ten dollars in season, free during late spring and summer) along the clearly marked mangrove-lined trail leading to nirvana. Then begin paddling. Hell's Bay is heavenly, like Florida before freeways, one of the last refuges for nature lovers, a place where you can awaken to a dawn bristling with color and life (devoid of those darn humans). Be aware that canoeing this route is not an endeavor of sissies: Hell's Bay is a narrow, twisting half-day paddle from Flamingo. That's what it takes to get from Miami to paradise these days.

Greynolds has received a bum rap in recent years. True, its once-teeming bird rookery has fallen victim to marauding raccoons, feral cats, and extensive development near park boundaries. Yet this park/golf course/ picnic ground is still a magnificent oasis from hectic urban life. Dirt and paved trails meander through oak and palmetto stands. Wooden bridges cross over water and red mangroves. You can view fish jumping, birds feeding, and kids flying kites here. A large playground and a stone fort on a hill are great diversions for small children. Adults can stroll the grounds and enjoy a natural serenity all-too-often forsaken in modern living.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®