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.

It's a Friday evening in Mestre Delei Kacula's capoeira academy, and his students are preparing to enter the circle. Soon the deep drone of the berimbaus, traditional West African string instruments with a gourd at one end, begins, and the students scatter to form a ring. On a wall hang the portraits (poor renderings, to say the least) of capoeira's two greatest figures: the widely respected Mestres Bimba and Pastihna. Their sad faces seem to stare down on the busy bodies stretching and swaying, kicking and flipping on green matted floors. For capoeiristas, practitioners of this Afro-Brazilian martial art, being part of the circle is a big deal. Only those with axé, divine energy from Yoruban deities, ultimately succeed at the game. For Bimba and Pastihna capoeira was not just sport; for the wise men it was a jogo da vida, a game of life. Don't expect to receive many history lessons at this academy. And the axé part all depends on your favor with the gods. But here you'll learn the right physical skills, from the ginga to the salto de shango, and acquire enough prowess to at least take you half way into your journey. Until then, muito axé camará.
Curtis Park Sports Complex
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.
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®