Think of this potholed byway as a very wide hiking trail through an expansive swamp. It is one of the only consistently dry pathways for hoofing available in the preserve. About a half-hour west of Miami, the Tamiami Trail swerves northwest, a curve known as 40-Mile Bend at the eastern frontier of the Big Cypress preserve. If you are traveling west from the Magic City, take a left (south) here on to State Road 94, the Loop Road Scenic Drive. Follow the pavement until it ends, then park your vehicle and lace up your walking shoes. So peaceful is this zone you can hear the trickling of water as it flows through culverts beneath the road, er, trail. Alligators great and small like to lounge in the pools, while egrets and herons hang out nearby. Gilded garfish also frolic here. It is possible, but less likely, to spot deer, otter, and wild boars. For a little structure, hikers can start out with a walk on the very short Tree Snail Hammock Nature Trail, which offers an educational overview of plants and animals in Big Cypress. For a more adventurous and soggy experience, continue west for five more miles in your automobile (or on the bicycle you hauled out) and find the southern end of the Florida National Scenic Trail, which heads north into the stately saw grass and magnificent muck of the Roberts Lakes Strand. Don't forget bug repellent.
This is for people who must rent kayaks. We're not here to recommend the best kayaking trail, although there is excellent kayaking here. It is the combination of location and Florida Bay Outfitters that makes this place the best. No rental facility anywhere in South Florida can match this outfit. You name the type of kayak, and they have it available for sale and rent, from fiberglass to plastic to sit-on-top to rudder or rudderless. This provides a great way to learn more about these watercraft. In addition FBO offers lessons at all levels and expeditions, ranging from the beginner's day trip to weeklong treks through Everglades National Park. Plus the bayside setting is gorgeous enough to entice you to linger once you've come ashore. Oh yeah, they canoe, too.
Haulover Beach Park
Photo by osseous / Flickr
On this tsunami-starved coast, finding the monster wave means settling for the rare six-footer. To secure a place on it takes perseverance and patience. Persistence and gratefulness are therefore touchstones of the area's most experienced and devoted wave-riders, who monitor weather advisories for signs of barometric disturbances throughout the winter months. They await cold, cloudy, often rainy weather, and launch their boards in the sort of windy conditions that typically send their Australian, Hawaiian, and Californian brethren back indoors. Sometimes they get lucky. Incoming hurricane swells made 1999 an uncharacteristically long season. As early as August, conditions were ripe for set-seekers. Far enough north from the sometimes cramped surfing conditions on South Beach is Haulover Beach Park and its clothing-optional beach. Here -- ideally during low tide -- you can surf either lefts or rights, depending on which way the wind is blowing. For a northerly wind, pack plenty of quarters and park in front of the Harbour House on the south side of the Herman B. Fultz Bridge. It's ten minutes per quarter at this lot but worth every penny. This is the only place to be when twenty-knot winds make conditions unbearable in Miami Beach. If the wind is southerly, leave your car for a flat $3.50 at parking lot number four. Plenty of respect for your fellow surfers is a must. Hot dogs quickly become pariahs on this beach where everybody knows your name.
Psssst. Reliable sources say the angling at the southeastern tip of Bayfront Park often is excellent. Right in the Magic City's own front yard. Maybe the groupers, grunts, snappers, and other coastal species just want to check out some well-heeled tourists. And even if the fish have decided to head to South Beach for a little club hopping, you and your pole will add a little rustic charm to our classy downtown waterfront. Live bait is available just a few minutes away by car from the fishmongers on Watson Island. Another unique perch for dropping a line is an old chunk of road, once part of the Rickenbacker Causeway, that became a pier when the county replaced the drawbridge with an elevated span. Take the first exit after the tollbooths. You're likely to hook big ones here without having to spend a mint on a boat, because you're practically in the middle of Biscayne Bay. No wonder they call this city magical.
Two people barely fit side by side in the tiny cockpit. The engine roars to life as the propeller spins to an invisible blur. The pilot taxis the Cessna 172 to the runway while speaking to the control tower in techno-babble. After lining up his aircraft, he revs the engine, gains speed, and lifts off the ground. The slow, bumpy climb continues to 1000 feet, where the macho guy levels her off. Look out the window for a bird's-eye view of Miami and notice the hundreds of lakes and canals that fill the landscape. A seemingly endless stream of cars traverses a crisscrossing maze of asphalt. The Atlantic Ocean looks bluer from this altitude. If macho man is brave enough, he might let you take control, an experience both thrilling and scary. A half-hour later the airplane glides toward the ground, softly touches down on the runway, and you leave a wiser person. Most flight schools offer the short trip, called an introductory flight, as bait to reel in new students. Cost: $20 to $60. A reservation is recommended. Be careful. Once you're hooked, it will cost $4000 to $5000 to log enough time to get a license.
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®