It's a Thursday afternoon. Your busy downtown office is driving you insane. The 3:00 appointment cancels, and suddenly you have a free hour. Hit the road, Jack! Ten minutes away is a picturesque, deserted, tropical beach where you can lie under a shady Australian pine tree and listen to the waves lap against the shore. Feel the stress disappear. Back in Jim Crow days, Virginia Key was a blacks-only beach and it remains a refuge, though of a different sort. Thanks to activists' tenacity, it recently was rescued from private development -- again. Windsurfers cherish the place because it's sheltered by offshore reefs. But the further south one walks, the more secluded and exotic it becomes.
Imagine standing on a boardwalk, looking out upon a vista of pristine Florida bayfront. You see scores of roseate spoonbills foraging through the sand, sweeping their beaks from side to side while emitting low grunting croaks. Nearby are other avian waders, such as herons and white pelicans. These sights and more await you at the end of the 1.6-mile-long Snake Bight Trail in Everglades National Park. Although you may see more birds on the Anhinga Trail, you will also have to see and hear more squawking children and tourists jabbering in foreign tongues. Walk a little way down the Snake Bight Trail, which is located four miles north of the Flamingo Visitor Center, and nine-tenths of the people are left behind. They are not committed birders willing to withstand the feeding frenzy of mosquitoes on this path, which cuts through tropical hardwood and mangrove forests. You are.
Okay, maybe Porky's isn't the best name for a gym, but you can't argue with the hours. The place never closes. Far from the distractions of sand and surf, a sea of mustard-yellow machines and no-nonsense free weights attracts serious lifters. Photocopies from bodybuilding magazines plaster the walls with stories of champions whom may you may spot in line at the drinking fountain or working the leg press. In the aerobics studio, a suspended wooden floor protects the knees, while the cool blue and cornflower-yellow walls soothe the nerves. And those nerves will need soothing after a Tae-Bo class with competitive fitness pro Maria Bellando or a toning session with onetime Reebok National Aerobic champion Gina Kourany-Aleman. If your limbs ache for a little tenderness, try flexing with the seniors weekday mornings during the Young at Heart workouts, which are taught by health-care professionals from Baptist Hospital. Weekend nights the gym is packed with the club-bound, eager to pump before they primp. In the wee hours, you may have the place to yourself. Just imagine what you and your workout partner could do with soft mats, soft lights, and a whole lot of mirrors. Porky's is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
When kids go to the arcade these days, they aren't thinking flippers, bells, and bumpers; they're thinking video. But there are plenty of middle-age men out there reliving the era of pinball madness during their lunch breaks. Just go hang out at Grand Prix in Dania Beach, and you'll see cashiers change dollar bills for tokens faster than cars whiz past the place on I-95. The addicts position themselves for the game just as they would at the urinal, hips pressed against the pinball machines. They undo their nine-to-five ties and slam their hands against the glass when they fail to score. The featured pinball games at Grand Prix, by the way, are awesome. They aren't just equipped with a few flashing lights. Most of the machines are computerized. Star Wars Episode 1 offers scenes from the movie, Godzilla vibrates, and the four South Park games feature obscene language. That's enough to arouse even the most arcade-savvy traveler. Or maybe not. If you need more than pinball to motivate you for a trip north, consider this: At Grand Prix there's an authentic replica of Old Sparky, the electric chair that has put many a Florida felon to death. The Grand Prix arcade is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
This 8.75-acre spot, once a coconut-tree farm owned by Richard Nixon's buddy Bebe Rebozo, is a kids' wonderland. Ain't bad for adults, either. There are two tot lots, one for tykes under three years old and another for older children. Overall there are 32 pieces of equipment, including swings, jungle gyms, slides, rings, bars, and even a climbing dinosaur. Then there's our favorite thing: a splash fountain. Press a button and sea horses spit out streams of water while little ones prance around on a rubberized surface. It's great for the hot months. Finally there are two soccer fields, one adult size and the other pint size, as well as a half-mile-long running track. Hang around this place on weekends and you'll feel young again. That is unless you're all wet.
So rivers bore you? You hate those newfangled kayaks, yet you want to brave some big water? Try the ten-mile paddle from Flamingo to Cape Sable in Everglades National Park. If you have a tent, spend the night on a white sand beach in one of South Florida's most wonderfully secluded spots. When it gets dark, the motorboaters -- sparse during the day -- will disappear and you'll be able to crack a bottle of wine, gather some driftwood (or use a stove), and cook your dinner while looking out on a spectacular view of the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Keys. If you must rent a canoe, call Flamingo Lodge (941-695-3101) and ask for the boat concession. Rental prices can be steep ($40 for 24 hours) but at least you get a real Old Town as well as paddles and life jackets. Two important pieces of advice: (1) Bring plenty of water, and (2) make sure the weather's calm. You wouldn't want to need a kayak.
At this school you'll learn to tango like a porteño (a native of Buenos Aires) by taking cues from a Colombian milonguero (a social dancer). Indeed Jorge Nel has been dancing most of his life. "I learned my first steps from my parents," he says. His padres also taught him how men and women relate: In dance, as in life, the man decides everything, he proclaims with a laugh. Nel uses many metaphors to describe tango. "Imagine the trunk of a tree; that is the basic structure of the dance," he explains. The love affair that results, says Nel, occurs between a man, a woman, and music. "The man interprets the music, and the woman must execute the man's interpretation." Kind of like follow the leader, only the female has to predict her partner's movements as she becomes an extension of his desires. A delicate balance, one that Nel and his partner, Mara, can show you during hourlong classes or private sessions. In fact Nel is such a great instructor that our sexy Mayor Alex Penelas declared May 15, 1998, Jorge Nel Day.
Matheson Hammock Park
Photo by Chris Garcia / Courtesy of the GMCVB – MiamiandBeaches.com
Necessary elements for a perfect picnic: scrumptious food, fine wine, engaging company, cooperative weather, and a picturesque setting. You find the first four and we'll recommend the last one. This urban secret, which is nestled between tall condominiums, offers ample grass on which to drop that little-used, red-checkered tablecloth. Once you're seated in the glorious shade of the oak canopy, soak in the vista of Biscayne Bay's blue water, green mangroves, and the skyscrapers of Miami Beach. The city recently spent $100,000 to upgrade the park. There's a tot lot, three concrete chessboards, and six picnic tables with two nearby barbecues. Bring along a Frisbee; this place has ample room to toss a disk. After completing your hearty meal, lean back on the sheet, close your eyes, listen to the rhythm of the waves lapping against the shore, and succumb. If you are missing any of those important elements, dream about them.
This state park covers 1043 acres of woods, mangroves, and canals. So why confine yourself to the impeccably groomed and entertaining mountain-bike course? Travel the path less taken. If you're an outlaw by nature, try the north end of the park. Leave the car in the first lot, and instead of heading west to the marked trails, follow the main road back toward the entrance. Then turn on to the first dirt road on the left and pick your trail. Pat yourself on the back if you can climb the 30-foot-tall dirt mound that overlooks the ranger station. But don't blame us if you run into trouble with the law. The recreation area operates from 8:00 a.m. until sundown 365 days per year.
At $11 per hour for a table, it's not cheap. But if you seek pure roll, it is hard to find a place as perfect as Jillian's. "We keep our prices high because we don't want the riffraff," says general manager Jason Klein. There are 26 professional-size, nine-foot tables. Each month two tables are stripped and re-covered with a new surface of fine, 21-ounce felt. Likewise the house sticks are regularly retipped and replaced at the first sign of warping. And there's a 35-foot-long, full-service bar where domestic draft beers go for three dollars. Yes it's a chain (there are 33 Jillian's in fifteen states), but Miami's place started up eleven years ago, just after the first location in Boston. Jillian's is open seven days a week, Sunday through Thursday until 2:00 a.m. and Friday and Saturday until 4:00 a.m. There is an $11 flat rate from noon until 5:00 p.m. After 5:00 the cost is $11 per hour. Friday and Saturday nights, beginning at 6:00, the hourly rate is $13 for a table.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®