Biscayne National Park
If you live anywhere near the center of Miami-Dade County and you find yourself overcome with the urge to go snorkeling, we suggest you head to the rock jetty at the southern tip of Miami Beach. (Metered parking available at South Pointe Park.) When the water is relatively calm, the north side of the jetty offers surprisingly good snorkeling, especially out toward its end, in deeper water. Lots of colorful reef fish, some barracuda, the occasional moray eel, even a shark now and then. But for the real thing -- namely, snorkeling on beautiful coral reefs -- we once again recommend Biscayne National Park. The big advantage: Only one snorkel boat per day, carrying a maximum of 49 people. No other commercial dive boats are permitted to operate within the park's watery boundaries. That sure beats John Pennekamp Coral Reef and State Park in Key Largo, which is so crowded you'll see more people than fish. The Biscayne National Park snorkel boat departs daily at 1:30 p.m. For $32.95 you'll get all the equipment you need (including wetsuit if desired), more than one hour in the water, and a delightful cruise to and from the reef. Reservations are recommended, especially on weekends.
The staff at this sprawling facility takes meticulous care to ensure that the courts are top quality. No wonder. This is the site of an internationally recognized professional tennis tournament, the newly rechristened NASDAQ Open, which brings top-ten players and their entourage to town each year. Venus and Guga and Anna and Andre may battle and preen here for a fortnight, but management maintains the courts at professional levels all year. Even though Crandon's seventeen hard courts are exposed to the unforgiving South Florida sun, the surfaces are free of cracks. The lines are well marked. The nets are not dotted with holes, and they never droop. If you're one of those players who depend on bad calls or a little help from a sagging net, this may not be the place for you. But if you're an advanced player and want to adjust your game to the same surfaces as the pros, Crandon's courts are a must. Eight clay courts are also available. So you've always wondered what playing at Wimbledon is like? Rent one of the two grass courts, always firm and trim. For the ultimate tennis fantasy, take your best-hitting partner to the stadium court, where for eight dollars per person you can live out your grand-slam dreams. Hard-court play is three bucks per person hourly, five per person hourly at night. The grass and clay courts are available for day use only at six dollars per hour.
Fancy a game of cricket or 301? Check out the lounge in this otherwise unprepossessing hotel in the welter of bustle and noise just upwind from the jet runways. For several years the serious dart scene revolved around another bar nearby. But the scene has moved. So what happened to those players who carry their own feathered missiles and can fire three arrows into triple nineteen faster than you can get your wallet out to pay for the beer? They are often right here, where you'll find five regulation dart boards. And if you need advice or a game, look for weekend bartender Jesus Cabrera or regular Paula Burdelsky Flohr, a former state champion. Bull's-eye!
During the daytime it's often only the breeze that stirs the nets hanging over the two full courts, not jumpers. With the sun overhead, it is just too hot on these shadeless slabs of asphalt green. And besides, the players are in school or at work. But once the sun starts to slide down, activity picks up in a hurry. South Miami parks department supervisor Lorenzo Woodley oversees leagues for players from ages six to adult. But there is plenty of pickup action here, too, after 5:00 p.m. daily. Charlie Miller got his game here, as well as enough moxie to survive Bob Knight and star for Indiana University. You wanna run? Lace 'em up.

Everglades National Park
Rodney Cammauf / National Park Service
With all the water around these parts, there are plenty of places to paddle. Everglades National Park is best, though, because -- duh -- it's a national park. No high-rise condos blocking the horizon. No screaming beerheads in go-fast boats about to swamp you. No polluted water seeping in from city streets. We're talking pristine. That means virtually any spot in the park where you can launch a canoe you'll encounter serene natural beauty unmatched in South Florida. Stop at the visitor's center at park headquarters and ask as many questions as you can. The rangers will help you select a route to fit your skills and interests. Rental canoes (and kayaks) are available at Flamingo, the end-of-the-road settlement 34 miles from the park entrance. From there you can paddle out on Florida Bay or up the Buttonwood canal toward vast Whitewater Bay. They'll also rent you a canoe stashed at Nine Mile Pond, a delightful trail featuring a variety of waterscapes, eleven miles up the road from Flamingo. If you have your own canoe, you already know this and more about the dozens of great paddling adventures that beckon throughout the park.

We'll save for another time our recommendations for a paddle that highlights natural beauty and wildlife. This is urban kayaking at its gritty best. Launch at the public boat ramp on Watson Island, access to which is obscured by construction of the new Parrot Jungle. (It's on the east side of the island between the Miami Yacht Club and the Miami Outboard Club.) Circle north around Watson, carefully cross the Intracoastal, follow the shoreline south toward downtown Miami, then head upriver and get ready for adventure. As people like to say, this is a working river, and the activity increases the farther upstream you go. The action constantly changes, so it's impossible to predict exactly what you'll see, but you can be guaranteed some close encounters with a wide variety of cargo vessels, from tramp steamers to surprisingly large modern freighters, next to which you'll feel really tiny. (The entire river is a no-wake zone, so all these encounters are gentle.) Also guaranteed: a fascinating look at residential life along the river from a perspective you'll never get on dry land. There's much more of it than you might imagine, and it's very colorful. Pack a picnic lunch and take it ashore at lovely Sewell Park, just upriver from the Dolphin Expressway overpass. You won't get sick from having river water splashed on you, but it's a good idea to rinse off when you get home.

These lakes are constantly buzzed by airplanes taking off and landing at Miami International Airport, but that doesn't seem to bother anglers who swear this is one of the hottest spots in South Florida for the feisty peacock bass. Not a true relative of the largemouth bass, peacocks are actually cichlids, a huge family of fresh-water tropicals native to Central and South America. Several species have become established here, and the peacock is among the most colorful and aggressive. They can range up to seven pounds. Fishing from shore in the park is prohibited, but there is a boat ramp here and free parking.
Why? After all, it's just a gym. Here's why: The faux glitz and glamour so annoyingly present at many of today's so-called health clubs is nowhere in sight here. And it's not missed a bit, thank you. The space is small but has everything a serious gym rat needs, from free weights and a variety of cardio machines to aerobic classes and fitness consultations. The clientele is primarily Miami Shores, so the place is devoid of those chemically enhanced herds roaming Miami Beach. No shimmering, multilevel spa-o-rama, useless computerized gadgets, tanning salon, gift shop, laser-light shows, or infomercial staff straight out of central casting. The membership rates are competitive: $160 for three months; $270 for six; $449 per year. And even with its limited space, M Power Project is never so packed that waiting lists are required for certain machines. People come, do their business, and leave. It's the way a gym should be.

Haulover Beach Park
Photo by osseous / Flickr
Haulover is tops not just because it includes South Florida's only official nude beach. That definitely is a plus, but this is the best beach in Miami-Dade County because it has it all. At the southern end is Haulover Cut, a great place to fish and to watch pleasure craft come and go. It's also a favored spot for family picnics beneath the pine trees. In addition the southern tip offers a fine swimming area for youngsters; the rock jetty curls around to form a little cove of calm water. Haulover, which is maintained by the county, can boast long stretches of sand with very few people. Even on weekends it's easy to find solitude south of the lifeguard headquarters. Besides being a destination spot for people who hate tan lines, Haulover is also one of the few beaches popular with African-American families. Add to that ample parking at a reasonable rate (four dollars all day) and you have a clear winner.
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®