Venetian Pool
Photo courtesy of the GMCVB
If you think this particular blue ribbon is a perennial favorite, you'd be right. If you believe we choose it because of the coral grottoes, underwater caves, and glorious waterfalls, you'd be absolutely correct. And if you surmise that the porticos and loggias provide us with some much-needed shade during times of sun, then yes, you're in the know. But the real reason we pick this 820,000-gallon, spring-fed pool as the most refreshing place for Miamians to bathe is a caveat: No children under the age of three are allowed. Which means -- you guessed it -- there's no P in the V.

Your kids are going to scream either in delight or terror, depending on how they feel about swimming beneath the tentacles of a 21-foot-tall, water-shooting octopus. Located in the northeast corner of the Fontainebleau's property, adjacent to the boardwalk, the Cookie complex includes a 7000-square-foot wading pool, only a couple of feet deep, meant for small children. On the shallower side of the pool, two blue dolphins spit water into the pool. There's also a waterfall and a 260-foot spiral waterslide into another pool, and a lazy-river raft ride. A five-million-dollar project, Cookie's World took more than three years to complete, delayed when the building crew hit an old sea wall during construction. Cookie herself measures a whopping 75 feet by 95 feet and can be broken down into small pieces in the advent of a hurricane. But we kind of like the idea of a giant storm lifting the octopus and then dropping it on top of, say, city hall.

Don Carter's Kendall Lanes
It's open late -- till 2:00 a.m. weekdays and 3:00 a.m. Friday and Saturday. It has a bar and a grill. It sports a cluster of billiard tables in the middle of the room, center of the action, and video games bleeping in the corner. Surrounding it all, on either side, are lanes upon shiny lanes, 72 in all, with by-now-standard computerized scoring and comfy swivel chairs, appealing to the dedicated and the dilettante alike. And every bowler gets a free pair of socks with shoe rental. So if you find yourself barefoot at 1:00 a.m., itching for entertainment, dying for a beer, and desperate for fries, you now know where to go.
La Ley Sports Complex
Built in 1990 with more than $13 million of taxpayers' money, this beautiful little stadium was to be the spring-training home of the Cleveland Indians. But before the tribe could move in Hurricane Andrew did a number on the place. After the 1992 storm, the City of Homestead spent several million dollars more to rebuild the stadium. By then, though, the city's chance at Big Show glory had passed; since then no Major League Baseball team has seriously looked at moving south. Now the stadium sits mostly empty, eating up $129,000 a year in maintenance costs. In hopes of easing the financial burden, the city has issued a request for proposals to anyone who wants to lease, manage, or buy the stadium, along with its five adjacent practice fields, batting cages, clubhouses, laundry and whirlpool facilities. But in the meantime the stadium is available for rent: $300 for a day game, or up to ten times that if you want to play under the lights and have the concession stands up and running. Oh, and did we mention seating? Molded plastic seats for 6500 of your closest friends. Contact Homestead parks and recreation director Kirk Hearin at 305-247-1801, extension 265.

Everyone knows that to find decent surf you have to drive north to Sebastian Inlet or fly south to Barbados. Locally the crowds congregate around First and Second streets in Miami Beach. But the truth is that nothing breaks along South Florida beaches without a storm swell. And when there is a strong swell -- especially from the northeast during winter -- you should check out 23rd Street, right in front of the Roney Plaza. A somewhat-permanent sandbar approximately 30 yards offshore pumps up a northeast swell something sweet. We've seen it overhead and hollow at the same time First Street is undifferentiated mush -- make that undifferentiated mush with way too many people in the water.

Not every duffer can afford to attack the Blue Monster at Doral, or even that all-sand monstrosity out there dreamed up by Greg Norman. Many golfers can't even afford to play a relatively modest municipal course, what with greens fees starting at $50 or more. No, golfers like us cast our lot at the low end of the sport. That's why one of our favorite courses is the nine-hole circuit at Greynolds Park, owned and operated by Miami-Dade County. For very nominal fees we get to enjoy nine fairly well-maintained holes, the most challenging of which is the par-five seventh: 521 long yards, with a bend to the right midway through. The green is an elevated island surrounded by sand traps. It looks easy, but believe us, it's proved impossible to par. The last time we played there, the double bogey on seven was all that kept us from the best score of our lives. Our entire lives! The course is open seven days. Here are the fees for Miami-Dade residents under age 62 (seniors get a discount): Till 2:00 p.m. it's $9.91; after 2:00 it's $6.63 (tax included); because they are renovating the greens, however, fees are $6.63 all day until around August 1. They also offer a special after 10:00 a.m.: $16.99 for two people and one electric cart.
Drive time from Miami is almost exactly the same as to Key West. But the similarities stop there. Captiva does not cater to inebriated college kids staggering down its main tourist drag. Captiva doesn't even have a tourist drag. The closest thing to Duval Street you'll find on this barrier island west of Fort Myers and north of Sanibel is a dusty little path called Andy Rosse Lane, which dead-ends at the beach and the venerable Mucky Duck pub and grill. A cluster of restaurants and shops dot the lane, but there's nothing approaching a Key West saloon. That's not why people vacation here, or build waterfront mansions here. Captiva is captivating because it is quiet, relaxed, civilized, and hemmed by a wide, inviting beach. Another attraction: The shoreline faces west, across the Gulf of Mexico, which means every day you can saunter down to water's edge and watch the sun set. The light shows are often spectacular. Aside from the South Seas Resort (941-481-3636), a sprawling complex occupying the north end of the island, there are only a small number of hostelries: 'Tween Waters Inn (941-472-5161), Jensen's on the Gulf (941-472-4684), Jensen's Twin Palm Marina (941-472-5800), and the Captiva Island Inn (941-395-0882). Demand is high, supply is limited, and therefore rates can be pricey, though summertime is reasonable. But you're not staying for a month; you're just popping over for a quick getaway, a weekend retreat to restore your soul. Captiva is worth it.
Admit it. You don't go up to Broward unless you have to. No shame in that. Broward people won't visit Miami on a dare. Maybe you fly out of the airport. Maybe you've driven north to catch concerts at the recently shuttered Sunrise Musical Theater. Maybe you're unlucky enough to work off I-75. So entrenched is the divide between the two counties that a pleasure trip into Fort Lauderdale is actually a decent escape. Seriously, it can be a good day. From downtown glide the canals on the Water Taxi, heading toward the ocean while you calculate the immense wealth it took to build the waterfront pleasure palaces. Walk the brick sidewalk of A1A, dodging Rollerbladers while noting the slightly raw feel of the crowd. (That spring-break feel never fully disappeared.) The beach is always nice, even when it's a thin strip of sand. Walk back up Las Olas Boulevard, an attractive shopping drag not yet contaminated by the Gap and Victoria's Secret. Often an art fair is under way. Continue west on the Riverwalk, which winds past a pretty good art museum on its way to a funky strip of bars and passable restaurants. Have a full meal. Order another round of drinks. Take your time. Home is only half an hour away.
When this Fort Lauderdale favorite recently opened up shop down our way, the owners chose its location wisely: the Miami Beach Marina. From here you have a wide variety of navigational options, unlike many other rental operations. You can spin through the vastness of Biscayne Bay, cruise the waterways and cozy canals behind gorgeous luxury homes, or head out to the open Atlantic, where the chop will test your riding skills. East Coast Water Sports features brand-new 2002 machines and charges $65 for a half-hour. If you want more time, they can arrange a discounted rate -- but be sure to ask first. The burgeoning popularity of personal watercraft has been accompanied by a nasty reputation for discourtesy and danger. East Coast's experts recognize the problem and know that ultimately it's bad for business. So listen to their instructions and you'll learn to have fun responsibly and safely.

This twelve-mile ride is far from the well-beaten tourist paths, which is precisely the point. Unless you live in one of these vibrant neighborhoods, you may not be familiar with their charms. Here's your chance. Begin at the Torch of Friendship on Biscayne Boulevard at Third Street, in Bayfront Park. Head north on Biscayne (beware the traffic squeeze between American Airlines Arena and the I-395 overpass). At the old Sears Tower (site of the new performing arts center), turn left one block to NE Second Avenue. Head north to 29th Street (Enriqueta's Sandwich Shop, a "Best of Miami" multiple winner, is on the corner) and turn left or west. Now you're in the Puerto Rican enclave of Wynwood, home to the old Fashion District (south of 29th Street) and a burgeoning art and design neighborhood. Many new residential lofts and art galleries are opening among the warehouses and thrift shops. Continuing west, you'll pass under I-95 and enter Allapattah (the name comes from the Seminole word for alligator), a neighborhood first settled in 1856 by William P. Wagner, whose 40-acre spread included the land now occupied by Miami Jackson High School. At NW Seventeenth Avenue pedal up to La Mia Laundry's cafecito window for an espresso jolt. Here 29th Street ends its uninterrupted westward march, but you should continue west, wending your way through the neighborhood streets till you reach NW 22nd Avenue. Turn left or south through the heart of Allapattah to Twentieth Street, where you'll find El Camello, a former gas station transformed into an outdoor lunchstand. (You'll know you're there when you see the rotating camel.) This is the perfect spot for a $1.99 breakfast, fruit shake, or coco frio. Now bike east on Twentieth Street back to Seventeenth Avenue. Go south on Seventeenth and cross over the Miami River. Look down to the south bank and behold Sewell Park (see "Best Public Park for Santería Rituals"), a lovely pit stop accessible from South River Drive off Seventeenth Avenue. Continue south on Seventeenth to the epicenter of Little Havana, where, on SW First Street between Seventeenth and Sixteenth avenues, you'll encounter a wonderfully rustic restaurant called Yambo. Take note: Yambo is Nicaraguan, not Cuban. Here's what our restaurant critic had to say: "Yambo offers one of those 'out-of-country' experiences that alone is worth the price of admission." Take time here for lunch and a cold cerveza, then push on to a unique museum just a few blocks north and west. The modest house at 2319 NW Second Street is the former Miami home of little Elian Gonzalez. Today it is a museum, open Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (free admission). After reliving that turbulent chapter of Miami history, go east on Calle Ocho, through the historic center of Little Havana, to upscale Brickell Avenue. Turn north on Brickell and be sure to stop at the Miami River bridge and pay your respects at the mysterious Miami Circle, which someday (we hope) will be fully accessible and smartly developed as the cultural treasure it most surely is.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®