Island View Park
By the mangrove bushes at the southern edge of the park runs a little catwalk. Beneath the catwalk are the fast-running waters of Biscayne Bay. A low bridge just to the south blocks boat traffic, while the currents bring baitfish through. Waiting for the baitfish are any number of lunkers, snook, tarpon, snapper, sea trout. And you're standing over it all, literally and figuratively atop the food chain. A beautiful green park behind you, the colorful winding bay in front of you, and all kinds of possibilities beneath you.

You can bet a hand brake this bike path never would have been allowed in a hardwood hammock. In the Seventies developers dug a large swath of land off the MacArthur Causeway. When their plans for an Epcot-like trade center were abandoned, the State of Florida stepped in and bought the 1043-acre site. Opened to the public in August 1986, the Oleta River State Recreation Area became Florida's largest urban park. Although the land itself was preserved -- a good thing -- much of its native vegetation had been destroyed. A bad thing -- unless you're an Australian pine or a mountain biker. The fast-growing invader tree overtook the cleared berms and gullies left by developers. And mountain bikers scored big with more than eleven miles of narrow trails through which to bump, roll, curve, whip, and make hairpin turns. Here riders can race through dense woods thickly carpeted with pine needles, past stands of pampas grass with their feathery plumes, overlooking mangrove preserves and lagoons. Some purists say the bike trails at Markham Park in Sunrise surpass these, but tack this on to Oleta's allure: a 1000-foot-long sandy beach on Biscayne Bay, several covered picnic pavilions, fourteen primitive cabins, kayaks and canoes for rent, and a couple of miles of paved trails for Rollerbladers and less rugged two-wheelers.

Now that Bill Clinton is out of the White House, he'll probably spend a lot more time golfing in South Florida, and you can be sure one of his priorities will be improving his approach to the sixth hole at the Biltmore. Hole number six is deceptively difficult, playing 401 yards from the blue tees, 383 from the white tees, and 350 from the ladies' tee. Although the fairway is straight, a water hazard runs down the left-hand side and then cuts across the fairway in front of the green. An L-shape sand trap also awaits you in front of the green, leaving little room for error. But even once you reach the green, your work isn't done, as its two-tiered expanse offers more uncertainty. The mental challenge the sixth hole presents is yet another component of its appeal. Golfers know as they near it that it will be the first of a difficult three-hole series likely to make or break a player's entire round. Staying focused, and not letting the water hazards turn you paranoid, makes this a signature hole worthy of even the former president's utmost, ah, powers of negotiation.
On a spring morning, eight o'clock or so, sun still low in the pale sky and the traffic on Twentieth Street only beginning to get noisy, the track is a peaceful proving ground. It is Curtis Park's well-maintained central attraction (there also is a great basketball court and a swimming pool). Two banks of stadium seats rise on the track's eastern and western sides, all the better to observe afternoon and nighttime track-and-field competitions among nearby schools and clubs. And above the seats rise the old shade trees that have beautified Allapattah for decades; they enfold the park, shielding but not removing it from its very urban setting just north of the Miami River in the middle of a seamy, down-at-the-heels garment district.
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.
With its calm waters, lifeguards on every corner of the beach, and depths that don't exceed nine feet, it's pretty safe to say this manmade atoll pool, open daily till six or seven, is the only playa in town where kids can frolic in the sand unattended. Tidal action from bordering Biscayne Bay flushes the pool's warm waters naturally, keeping them clean and bacteria-free (assuming the bay happens to be, too). Meanwhile parents who've paid the four-dollar-per-car entry fee might as well stick around and enjoy some time to themselves, roaming the park's nature trails or grabbing a bite at Matheson Hammock's Red Fish Grill. There also are a snack bar and picnic pavilions nearby, so you can stay within earshot should Junior need you. But before dropping off your offspring, make sure they're well equipped with sunblock, that they know how to swim (duh!), and that they're all beyond six years old. Although the park doesn't prohibit unsupervised older kids, for the record, they don't recommend it either. As one employee cautions, "This is Miami, after all."

There's something inherently interesting about watching people in transit, in the very process of movement, change, adaptation. And people around food? Always revealing. This is one of seven La Carreta Cuban restaurants in the Miami area, though this particular location has blended in to its airport setting by being a self-serve, overpriced, eat-and-run-and-fly cafeteria. The whole mundane panorama is here to be entertained by (or ignored, depending on how the trip's going). Someone is always rushing in and out, almost falling asleep, almost hysterical; travelers from all over the globe -- shuttle drivers, mechanics, airplane crews. Anglo pilot orders the classic Cuban beef dish ropa vieja from Latin server: "I'll have the old clothes, por favor." Server doesn't miss a beat.
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.

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®