We're talking about way up at the northern tip of the park near Bear Cut, the swift-moving channel that separates Key Biscayne from Virginia Key. This is the very essence of serene. Outside of adventurous nudists and the occasional school science class trolling for sea specimens, few people explore this last vestige of Miami's natural coast. Get there early on a bright morning and you'll think you've stepped into a travel brochure, shuffling through virgin sand and splashing in crystalline water. Looking to the east you'll see nothing but open sky and ocean. Turn your gaze northward and you can pity the poor souls trapped in traffic or attached to cell phones in the big city. But move quickly if you want to enjoy the place. Fashion photographers increasingly use the beach's vistas and lush backgrounds, and the county parks department recently completed a boardwalk that will deposit too many visitors.
Scientifically speaking, the highest density of toplessness in this urbanized region has been recorded at the official nude beach at Haulover Park. Using the latest global positioning satellite technologies, our researchers have determined this is still the case. But in science, as in art, quality and quantity are two entirely different forms of measurement. In the field of toplessness, gender and relativity also come to bear: Quality is determined not only by the observer but also by the observed (i.e., the topless). Our field-survey crews recently detected high rates of female toplessness along the southernmost reaches of South Beach, especially vectoring east from Third and Fourth streets. Smaller populations were observed as far north as the Eighteenth Street vector. One survey team also monitored a high concentration of chemically enhanced male toplessness somewhat south of that location on the sands east of the dilapidated Victor Hotel. For the topless who prefer solitude, our field experts recommend the northeastern curve of the beach at Key Biscayne's Cape Florida State Park, far from the gaze of scientific research.

This trail doesn't really have a name. In fact it's barely acknowledged by park officials. But if you stop at the visitors' center on your way in and ask for a map of the Long Pine Key Trail (bicycles permitted), you'll receive a photocopied, hand-sketched diagram on a single sheet of paper. Here's what to do with it: Drive nine miles from the park entrance and look for a dirt road on the left (south) side of the park's main thoroughfare. The intersection, marked by a stop sign for drivers re-entering the main road, is the beginning of the Long Pine Key Trail. Park there or drive on to Pine Glades Lake, about a half-mile, where you'll find an unimproved parking area. The hike-and-bike trail formally begins at a nearby gate. Less than a mile ahead the trail forks, with the main branch continuing straight. Take the smaller fork to the right. (Bicycles prohibited.) In time you'll exit the pinelands and the vistas will open wide as you enter the savanna. Here you'll experience the Everglades' vastness and subtle beauty like nowhere else -- broad plains of sawgrass punctuated by hardwood hammocks shimmering like distant islands, the sky a dome of richly saturated blue highlighted by brilliant white clouds, hawks circling high, screeching in the distance. It's as if you've intruded on a hidden and private world. Roughly three miles ahead the trail turns sharply and runs parallel to an old canal carved from the oolite bedrock. In the dry season expect to encounter alligators. Herons and egrets fish the banks throughout the year. You can continue all the way to the junction with a paved road (it leads to the Daniel Beard Research Center), just prior to which a side trail heads north and hooks up with the Long Pine Key Trail. The loop back to Pine Glades Lake adds up to roughly thirteen miles. Some people may find the canal portion of the trail somewhat tedious. If so, consider following it for a mile or so then doubling back, retracing your path. Total distance will still be roughly thirteen miles but you'll get a double dose of the magnificent savanna. Bring plenty of liquids and insect repellent.
The paradoxical poetry of the name comes from the proximity to Mt. Trashmore, the alpine pile of refuse that looms up from the landscape at the edge of Biscayne Bay. With that in mind, it might be a good idea to visit when the wind is not coming from the southeast -- as it usually is. The ripe aroma of rot can be overwhelming. But you know what? The birds don't mind. In the flooded fields south of the mountain are a vast variety of wading birds and ducks. Recent sightings reported on the Tropical Audubon Society Website (www.TropicalAudubon.org) include American avocet, greater flamingo, northern shoveler, ring-necked duck, and white pelican, along with more everyday species such as great blue heron, tricolored heron, and kingfisher. Watch overhead for bald eagles and wood storks. And Mt. Trashmore itself is almost always topped with swirling black-and-white clouds of vultures and gulls. Directions: Take the 112th Avenue exit from the Florida Turnpike Extension. Turn right to SW 248th Street. Turn right and go past Mt. Trashmore on the left. Just outside the entrance to Black Point Marina, park off the road and cross to the south side of the canal. Walk west until you see the marsh on the left.
Want to know what a "Dead Rat Tree" looks like? Want to know how the "Old Man Palm" and the "Shaving Brush Tree" got their names? How about strolling through a simulated rain forest or watching iguanas bask in the sun? You can do all this at Fairchild Tropical Garden, as well as find the perfect spot for a quiet picnic. The best way to get an overview of the garden's 83 acres (and learn tons of fascinating plant trivia) is to hop on a guided tram tour. They depart on the hour. After the tour, which will leave you back at the main gate, you can grab your blanket and picnic basket and take a long, leisurely walk on shady paths or through wide-open stretches of grass dotted with native and exotic botanicals until you find a little patch of serenity to call your own. Sit under a tree on the banks of one of Fairchild's lakes, sink your toes into the cool, spongy grass, and relish the only sounds breaking the silence: chirping birds, rustling leaves, lizards scurrying through the underbrush. But leave your charcoal at home. No grills permitted. And just as well, really. Once you stray from the visitors' center, there's virtually nothing artificial to come between you and a splendid day amid nature's wonders. Open daily 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is eight dollars for adults, four dollars for children ages three to twelve, and free for members and children under three.
Hard-core mountain bikers will understand why Oleta has won for the third straight year. It's by default. There isn't any real competition in Miami-Dade County. (Amelia Earhart Park has drawn too many complaints about reliability and availability to be a contender.) So that leaves Oleta, which isn't bad at all, given that South Florida mountain bikers must do without actual mountains. It's just that it's so crowded. And it's inconvenient if you happen to live down in Kendall or Pinecrest. (Many bikers are irked at the lack of any sanctioned tracks in South Miami-Dade. To get an eyeful check out Roger Sunderland's mountain-bike Website and click on Snapper Creek under the listing for Miami-Dade: http://members.aol.com/ cyclerog/page4.html.) On the plus side, Oleta is well organized and maintained, and it gives novices a chance to get the hang of the sport. Helmets required, a rule that is enforced.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®