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.

These inner-city courts at the crossroads of Allapattah, Wynwood, and Liberty City once were parched and cracked. Thanks to donations from the Ericsson Open tennis tournament, the neglected center recently has come back to life with a million-dollar facelift. New nets and repaved and painted courts currently open only till noon, but with plans to extend hours to seven o'clock each night, promise great matches without a wait. Bring the kids for affordable tennis clinics. After a couple of sets, relax in the clubhouse, also part of the renovation, or watch others play from the comfortable stadium seats.
Candles, shmandles. Wine, shmine. Italian gardens, Biscayne Bay, and moonlight, baby, plenty of moonlight. Now that's romantic. And it all can be yours October through March, when Vizcaya throws open its gates to visitors on nights when the moon is full. After a brief history lesson on the origins of the property, guides take small groups on a tour of the grounds. Stop and linger by a fountain. Sneak a kiss under the statue of Cupid, near the north gate. Ten bucks gets you and a friend in. Of course five bucks would get you in alone. Cheaper, but not as romantic.
About four miles past the Shark Valley entrance to Everglades National Park, the Tamiami Trail (SW Eighth Street) makes a sharp bend to the northeast. Just at that point (look for a small church) an unmarked road peels off to the south and then veers eastward. This is the Loop Road, so named because it curves around to rejoin the Trail some 22 miles later. In between, however, lies an adventure, and you don't need an off-road vehicle to enjoy it. The first couple of miles are paved and punctuated by the homes of Miccosukee families. A little further along is a scattering of more rugged houses occupied by loners and weekend hunters. At the site of a secluded National Park Service environmental-education center the pavement ends and the real fun begins. From here the road is hard-packed dirt, which is quite passable except after heavy showers. It is dirt, though, so expect dust. Also expect a few fishermen, along with some of the most lovely scenery this side of a Clyde Butcher swamp photo. The south side of the road is the wet side, and it pays to get out and stroll now and then to take in the lush vegetation, deep pools, lazy gators, and cypress groves. Pack a lunch, bring a folding chair, relax. During the warm months, be sure to bring insect repellent.

First get everything else out of your system. Have a few beers at the Rabbit Lounge. Play some video games at the arcade. Shoot some pool on one of Bird Bowl's eighteen tables. After you've tried it all, now try slipping your fingers into a bowling ball and letting it roll down one of this alley's 60 lanes. The sound of crashing pins just might get you hooked. Before you know it you'll be carrying a bowling bag and competing in one of Bird Bowl's sponsored leagues.

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®