In a town in which park often is synonymous with ball field, and in which much of the public green space is rendered inhospitable by a lack of shade, Morningside Park is a revelation. Indeed it may be one of Miami-Dade's few "big-city parks," the kind envisioned by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted when he created New York's Central Park as an escape from the noise and nervousness of urban life. Located in the historic residential neighborhood of the same name, Morningside Park runs for five blocks along Biscayne Bay and features not only tennis and basketball courts, a playground, a baseball field, and a municipal pool, but also picnic benches, walking trails, and (of all things) trees. Lots of trees. It's a perfect place for curling up with a good book under a banyan, teaching the kids how to ride their bikes, or just staring out over the water.
The best place to see hundreds and hundreds of birds of dozens and dozens of species doesn't have to be on the most obscure, hard-to-reach passage in South Florida. No, the very short, very accessible, very easy Anhinga Trail, just four miles inside the park, offers the most spectacular sightings around. Especially in drought years -- as this most certainly is -- and in winter, there may be no other half-mile in the entire nation that winds through such densely populated bird territory. The trail is a wide, wooden platform raised above the marsh, so alligators are no real threat to you, even if they are to the birds. Heron, egret, anhinga, and thousands of their cousins dive for fish in scattered pools that result from the dry season (in summer the marsh is flush with a layer of water, and the animals -- feathered, scaled, and shelled -- have no need to congregate so closely to feed). To intent eyes it is obvious the birds know they, too, could soon be dinner; they are supremely sensitive to any movement of a reptilian neighbor. On some perches the riot of color from the winged ones resembles a glorious splash of confetti thrown on a bush. Some species are native, but many others have migrated from the cold, landing in a bird -- and birdwatching -- paradise, if only for the season.
This isn't so much a park as it is a small oasis. Located on a canal and squeezed between two residential lots on a quiet, secluded street, this little patch of green can't really accommodate more than a dozen or so people at a time. Luckily it's usually empty (who else but the neighbors would even suspect it's there?). The perfect place for an intimate outing, the park features a couple of picnic tables, a grill, some benches, a sandbox and a tot lot for the kids. Pets are not allowed, but if you're an animal lover, keep an eye out for the ducks that make their home in and around the canal.

Many jiu-jitsu schools claim some connection to the Gracie family, a legendary clan of Brazilian fighters whose unique martial arts style continues to reign supreme in famous no-holds-barred confrontations, such as the Ultimate Fighting Competition (UFC). But South Florida has only one school with official accreditation from Helio Gracie himself, founder of the sport and father of an entire family of world-class fighters. Brazilian jiu-jitsu's mix of judo with simple and effective ground-grappling techniques proves incredibly effective against larger and stronger opponents. Small, soft-spoken instructor Pedro Valente, who was a student of Helio Gracie, makes this point painfully clear. At first glance he is unlikely to inspire fear in an opponent, yet his submission hold can bring down just about any once-aggressive rival. Valente's method for strategic conquest, while certainly not easy, is a lot less strenuous than, say, pumping major iron. And for what? Beefcakes, beware: Think twice before picking on some little guy. He just may have been trained at Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Ouch!

These days hipsters are eyeing Miami's Sixties motels with new appreciation for their soaring space-age appendages and extravagant neon lettering. Florida-tourist chic is stylish again. Can shuffleboard's comeback be far behind? This sociable sport once drew scores of visitors to the Sunshine State. People even considered the proximity of courts when hunting for a place to live. In those days, though, it was considered sluttish for a woman to wear slacks. Today in Florida, shuffleboard is mostly a sport for retirees and Canadians, and a decreasing number of them seem to have the shuffling bug. The Griffing Senior Citizens Center, one of the few spots here that still maintains an old-style shuffleboard complex, boasts 24 courts, with green-canvas tenting over wooden benches for shade between shots. The center recently resurfaced twelve of its courts. Membership costs an old-fashioned ten dollars per year, and you don't even have to be a senior. Learn what it feels like to get your butt whipped by an old guy and impress your friends with the sport's esoteric terminology, like snuggle, play the kitchen, and set a St. Pete.

Graceful dreadlocked dunkers, court hustlers, and boys as skinny and loose as spaghetti noodles make pickup basketball a thing of fierce beauty at this Miami Beach park. The action is brutal, the competition rough, and the two outdoor courts are lit at night, a prerequisite for basketball in steamy South Florida. Flamingo Park usually is packed with game. For that reason, some players prefer to hoop it up at Miami's José Martí Park (351 SW Fourth Street), where there usually are vacant courts, which also light up at night. But for action Flamingo rules. The play is sloppy sometimes, and the crowd gathered around the edges lets the players know it. But sometimes it's brilliant. When that happens, there is a moment of appreciative silence. Then the disrespecting begins again.

Best Place To Dance In Your Speedos For A Cause

The Winter Party

Don't worry that gyrating in those curve-hugging microbriefs you indulgently purchased during the holidays will make you look like a floozy. At the Winter Party (which is held in March) you can writhe on the beach with a throng of thong-clad dudes until the sun goes down and support equal rights at the same time. Since its 1993 inception, this circuit party, which attracts about 3000 revelers from around the world during tourist season, has helped support the Dade Human Rights Foundation, sponsors of SAVE Dade and half a dozen other groups and programs that fight gay, lesbian, and transgender discrimination throughout the county. So go ahead, shake your booty and shake small-minded bigots out of the trees.
The Ancient Spanish Monastery
Courtesy of the Ancient Spanish Monastery
Along a winding stretch of West Dixie Highway, in the condo and strip-mall enclave of North Miami Beach, sits the oldest building in North America, a twelfth-century monastery originally erected in Segovia, Spain, and moved to South Florida in the mid-Twentieth Century by newspaper magnate and yellow journalist William Randolph Hearst (the same guy who brought us the Spanish-American War). Not as popular a tourist destination as, say, Vizcaya, and still a functioning house of worship (Episcopalian), the monastery's stone cloisters and parterre gardens continue to offer refuge from worldly pressures. Admission is five dollars, but look at it this way: Eight hundred years ago, it would've required a vow of celibacy.
Tugboats and freighters cruise by on the Miami River as you butterfly and breaststroke in the City of Miami's José Martí pool. Overhead the dramatic arch of the I-95 overpass, humming with the fierce pace of city life, reminds you just how far from the rat race you really are. Just minutes from downtown and Brickell Avenue, this pool offers a great lunch-hour escape. Pool hours are 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, with an adult lap swim until 3:00 p.m. Call for weekend hours. Admission to the pool is free, and the locker rooms are clean. Swimming lessons also are offered here. When you're done bathing, the adjacent park provides a respite for you to meditate as you dry off and watch the world go by. Now you're ready to dive back into real life.
Fashion mavens and wannabes now splash and lounge where Esther Williams once fluttered and kicked in lavish synchronized-swimming numbers. Decades later the faux tropical lagoon remains the coolest place to be seen cooling off in Miami. A shallow ledge hugs the pool's Moroccan-style curves so you can immerse yourself in this chlorinated oasis without mussing your hair. Dive into the deep end or stand beneath the waterfall while sheets of water pummel your back. Sneak in after dark for a late-night dip -- you'll think you fell into paradise. Hotel guests swim for free any time; visitors pay fifteen bucks and are ejected after seven at night.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®