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.
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.
It doesn't take very long on Rowdy Bend before our busy metropolis melts away. Located three miles north of Flamingo, it's a great place to fully appreciate the coastal Everglades. As you pass through open-salt prairie and canopies of shady buttonwood, the stresses of traffic and a hundred daily incivilities lose their weight. Soon rabbits scampering ahead on the trail, deer concealed in the woods, and birds of brilliant incandescent colors absorb your attention. When after 2.6 miles you reach wide-open coast, it's hard not to feel like the first human to lay eyes on this stunning landscape of sand flats and islands. A word of warning, though: Unlike earlier explorers, we have the benefit of bug spray, and it is highly advised in these parts. If five-plus miles roundtrip is too much, Rowdy Bend shares its sublime destination with the 3.2-mile-long Snake Bight Trail.
Bird Bowl
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.

Heading east toward Snake Bight from the marina at Flamingo, the park's southern outpost, a paddler can pretty much be guaranteed a rewarding experience. Once past the small village for employees, it's wilderness for as far as you'd care to travel. Along the shore, on the ground and in the tall mangroves, teeming flocks of birds congregate -- herons, egrets, white pelicans, roseate spoonbills, even the occasional flamingo. The silty water usually prevents clear viewing of sea life, but it is abundantly evident nonetheless, from leaping mullet to racing bonefish and cruising rays. Go far enough east, and if you are very lucky, you might even see an American crocodile lounging on the sand. But even if you're not, you'll still enjoy solitude, silence, and nature the way it's meant to be. The park concessionaire rents kayaks and canoes at the marina, though it's wise to reserve in advance, especially on weekends (941-695-3101). It's also smart to check the tides (www.saltwatertides.com). High tide is best for close-up viewing along the shore, and low tide can literally leave you stuck in the mud. Prevailing winds are from the southeast, which helps on the return leg of your trip.

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.
There will likely be a moment, perhaps as you pass through a mangrove forest into bright sunshine, when canoeing in the Upper Keys will qualify as pure, unadulterated bliss. It might happen when you've bailed out and are happily snorkeling among the coral, or while you're listening to a naturalist describe the flora and fauna of Lignumvitae Key. To access the beauty of this fragile environment, simply drive to Key Largo and put in at the end of Garden Cove Road adjacent to the North Key Largo Hammock State Botanical Site for an easily manageable day trip. You are now situated between Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge to the north and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park to the south. The latter also offers a good launch spot, with the added bonus of showers and facilities. (If you head south from Garden Cove, beware bigger craft passing through the channel.) Follow the Atlantic's tidal flats as they give way to clear-water creeks full of snapper and snook. For individuals nervous about going solo or lacking equipment, Florida Bay Outfitters (305-451-3018) rents gear and leads half- and full-day trips in the area and further south.

Kennedy Park
Courtesy of the GMCVB
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.
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®