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.
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.
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.

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®