Okay, okay, the experts haven spoken, and even we, professional naysayers that we are, can't deny it: South Beach is one of the nation's best beaches. It possesses miles and miles of shimmering white sand, a travel-poster blue-green slice of the Atlantic Ocean, not to mention a herd of hard, sweaty, beautiful bodies absorbing the rays. Fine. But does going there have to entail fighting rush-hour-caliber traffic in every direction at every hour of the day, every day of the week, competing with a million motorists for what seems like the last open parking space on the planet, before having to lug your crap six blocks to the water? Nope. Go south, people, go south, far from the maddening crowds on Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth streets, and toward the relative peace of lower SoBe. Located across from a residential area, this prime stretch of sand and water caters to the serious beachgoer, there not to be seen but to soak up sun, not to watch but to wade. And you can usually find parking.
This 21-acre city park on Biscayne Bay is so darn dog-friendly it features a new fenced-in, leash-free pooch playground. The dog park, which opened February 15, is big enough for ball throwing or disk tossing, and there's plenty of room for romping from sunrise to sunset. When work is complete, the grassy canine confines -- sponsored by Ralston-Purina, the Miami Department of Parks and Recreation, and the Humane Society of Greater Miami -- will boast water fountains and pooper-scooper stations. If your pup tires of all the sniffing and humping, the rest of Kennedy Park is perfect for a leisurely, but leashed, stroll. Woodsy areas on the fringes are freaky with wild-animal smells, green expanses, and a boardwalk by the water. Pack a snack, bring a good book, find Fido a stick to gnaw, lie back, and relax.
Tired of dodging blue-haired ladies, aggro skaters, and pink poodles on Lincoln Road? Sick of nursing festering knee scabs and raw elbows, no doubt garnered when, on a nice leisurely skate, the asphalt below suddenly resembled a San Fransisco sidewalk after a level-nine earthquake? Must one drive to paved-over Kendall to Rollerblade without mortal fear? Not that we doubt you possess the ripping skill it takes to be a fierce Rollerblader on Miami's dicier streets, but perhaps for a change you'd enjoy some plush paths and posh scenery. On or around Twentieth Street and North Bay Road, the shady tree-lined streets begin to reveal how the other half lives (unless, of course, you are the other half). While wheeling by, get a load of the architecture and landscaping. How nice the street is -- nothing but smooth rolling ahead (take care crossing Alton Road; otherwise it's like buttah). By the time you reach La Gorce Island, you'll be relaxed, exercised, and probably a bit envious. Most important, you should still be in one piece.
Under a yellow umbrella on the 66th Street beach, a topless French woman serenely sits on her folding chair and reads a novel; nearby her naked toddler dumps sand into an orange plastic bucket of water. A little further up on 73rd Street, a curvaceous lady with a tattoo of an Aztec bird on her well-toned stomach plays paddleball with her boyfriend. She, too, is bare above and totally comfortable about it. At 75th Street a bleach blonde from Argentina stretches out on her back, defiantly facing the sun with her naked chest. Her skin is the color of dark chocolate. On the sand next to her sits a steaming cup of yerba maté, ready to drink. Approaching 77th Street five friends form a circle by the ocean -- some sit; others lie on pareos. Engaged in conversation peppered with laughter, the women free themselves from their bikini halters. Totally uninhibited and beautiful, they burst into songs by Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. All along this glorious swatch of sea and sand coexist throngs of families, children, bare-breasted women, and men who don't stare.

Point your waterborne migraine machine south toward those blinking red-and-white towers on the horizon. The warm water around pressurized reactor units three and four is perfect for your radical Jet Ski acrobatics. The yellowish-green foam floating on the surface flies so beautifully when you blast through at full throttle. Live your Waterworld fantasy. Run your screaming engine until it melts. Just remember, the FPL-owned power plant holds distinction among the best nuclear performers in the nation. Go on, get wild. We dare you.

The sea is cool and relatively calm, and visibility is clear on a Saturday in March. The coral reef in this 5.3-square-mile sanctuary is vibrant with life, thanks to twenty years of protection from spearfishing, coral collecting, and lobstering. A diverse marine society -- sea turtles, sharks, barracuda, tropical fish, crustaceans, and eels, just to name a few -- roams this surreal city of colorful coral architecture. There are rock ledges up to 35 feet tall, large sea fans swaying slowly with the tide, and staghorn coral that resemble fantastic castles -- all visions from a dream. Bahia Honda State Park offers trips twice daily on a glass-bottom boat. For $24.95 you can snorkel for about an hour and a half. Gear costs extra.
As light begins to fade from the sky, jump into the sea and indulge yourself in a mind-altering experience that would make Timothy Leary proud.

Plunge into the warm water and imagine that Yemaya, Santería goddess of the ocean, is pulling you safely to her bosom. Let the waves suck you up and shoot you forward while jets of water tickle your ribs. Tumble head over heels toward shore in a bubbling froth of spume. The sea reflects the blazing light show as the sun sets. Look to the horizon and envelop yourself in a swirl of light and color. Let a white crest of water slap you senseless, then float with the current and call out to the seagulls.

To capture the full effect, stay in the water until stars appear in the deepening blue twilight. Watch the clouds change from gold to orange to pink within minutes. Take a breath, shout, become one with the universe. The experience will open doors of perception without killing any brain cells.

If you're a surfer, this is not exactly news: There is no surf here. Or virtually never is there surf here. With the exception of the occasional surge of storm swells during hurricane season, about the best anyone can hope for is a muscular easterly wind kicking up sloppy but surfable sets now and then. Under those conditions Third Street (and a bit to the north and south) is the best spot. The south side of the Haulover Cut jetties offers an (unpredictable) alternative. A sleeper of a location is 23rd Street, where a fairly stable sandbar can pump up some decent surf when the swell is from east to northeast. Otherwise you'd best get in the car and head for Juno Beach, in Palm Beach County. Or better yet, down to Barbados, where those in the know go.
So you think you were quite the pinball wizard way back when? Maybe you've even been bragging about just how good you were? Of course you have -- because in this day and age you can't find a pinball machine anywhere. Okay, maybe there's one or two crammed into a few dismal bars, local arcades, and bowling alleys -- but even Dave and Buster's only has three. Well now it's time to put your tokens where your mouth is, Tommy. Boomers has two arcades, with at least five pinball machines in each. You can bust the silver ball from 10:00 until 6:00 a.m. on weekends (2:00 a.m. during the week), and the action includes everything from old-school flippers to the latest hybrids, not to mention hundreds of arcade games that will take you on a trip into your legendary past. Remember that time in the Eighties when you made it to the fourth level of Tron? Boomers has it all: They've got Q-bert, for chrissakes! And if you go on a Tuesday, you get unlimited game play for only ten bucks -- just about what you'll need to earn back that rad reputation.

Raised not 50 miles away, and sadly, as of last year, she could still count on one hand the number of times she'd been to the national park and its surrounding wild areas. Since then, though, she's been making up for lost time, exploring what she soon could be missing. She's bumped along Loop Road with only the vultures for company; airboated the vast River of Grass with the gators; set up a tent at land's end in Flamingo; kayaked along shore with the seabirds; watched from a canoe, near the shrieking rookeries, as the moon rose while the sun set; visited the Miccosukee Village with its bare wooden planks jutting into the swamp and scanned the museum's black-and-white photos of the land from back when it actually was a three-million-acre native wilderness. She's been overtaken by a sullen sense of peace. She's bought the $25 pass that allows unlimited entrance throughout the year. She knows it's late, that the parched ecosystem is shrinking and shriveling, that the invasive melaleuca trees are flourishing, that many threatened and endangered species are struggling to survive, that there is about one bird for every ten that roosted there a century ago, that the government will spend eight billion dollars over the next several decades trying to fix its manmade mess, that activists and scientists are skeptical of this plan, that eight billion dollars is one expensive Band-Aid, and that right this very moment, still, it is all unbelievably lush to her eye.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®