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.
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.
Mount your trusty metal steed at the Venetian Pool and head north on De Soto Boulevard, which merges into Biltmore Way. Stay to the left at the fork, pass Coral Gables City Hall, and ride east on Miracle Mile. Watch out for the BMWs and Cadillacs backing out of the metered parking spaces. Continue down Coral Way, where the four-lane road's tree-covered median provides cool shade. Make a left on to SW Third Avenue, pass the impressive Beth David Congregation synagogue, then hang a right on to SW 25th Road. Go under the interstate and then north on South Miami Avenue. Observe the eclectic architecture in the Roads, one of Miami's oldest neighborhoods. As you make your way toward the Miami River, notice the ambiance changing to small offices and restaurants. Once you've crossed the newfangled bridge, hang a right and pass through the entrance to the James L. Knight Center and ride in front of the Dupont Plaza. Stay to the right and move to the sidewalk along the bay. Dismount at the Mildred and Claude Pepper Fountain. Relax on the return trip by grabbing a cold one at Tobacco Road, window shopping at Alba Antiques, or browsing the CDs at Carjul Records. The payoff at the end of the fifteen-mile jaunt is a dip in the Venetian Pool, one of South Florida's aquatic wonders.
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.
The trash-talking begins around the office water cooler. "Your players are so blind, they couldn't hit the broad side of chickee hut!" "My arthritic grandma can take you to the hole, do a 360-degree spin, and dunk!" comes the retort. Then it's agreed: The challenge will be settled on the court after work. When you reach the nearest lighted park, there are too many slick sixteen-year-olds. So try José Martí Park. The well-lit courts are rarely used, so you will have the time and privacy to settle your score. Sure there are some peccadilloes, such as the roaring traffic of I-95 and the occasional large freighter floating down the river. And maybe the backboards could use reinforcement. But the striped surface with a college-style three-point line is devoid of the usual cracks and slippery spots found on most outdoor courts. And the wonderful views of the downtown skyline can't be beat. Street parking keeps the cars in plain view. And if you need a little water recharge, the fountain occasionally works.
Ten Har-Tru courts immaculately maintained in compliance with Coral Gables zoning laws. A view of the Al Capone suite overhead. In the background a stand of pine trees and the expansive green lawn of a championship golf course. The Biltmore Tennis Center is a true racket paradise. Hacks and professionals comfortably coexist on crack-free courts, lobbing tennis balls over nets that never sag. Lights illuminate night play. Racket rental is available, as are private lessons. The center, which caters to hotel guests, is open to the public and is rarely overcrowded, even during the tennis prime time of Sunday morning. If you live in Coral Gables, the cost is a mere two dollars per hour. Those of us who can't afford a million-dollar home in the City Beautiful pay four dollars per hour, still acceptable for such fine facilities. Hours are 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. weekdays, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. weekends.
Enchanted Forest Elaine Gordon Park
Nicole Martinez
For the novice runner, a lap around the cool, milelong, tropical hardwood hammock trail sure beats going the distance on the beach. The sun won't pound on your neck while you search for the ever-elusive stretch of firm sand. And you won't have to avoid sunbathers or jellyfish. For the marathoner it's a place to loosen up and take in the surroundings before heading out for the nearby causeway. And while burning off your breakfast, you might see a soft-shell turtle plop into Arch Creek or spot songbirds in the shrubs near the bank. Or maybe you'll catch a heron pacing through the mangroves or an anhinga perched on a branch. Just make sure that while you're negotiating the sabal palms, firebush, and milkweeds, you don't trip and fall. That could hurt.
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®