So close yet so far from the commercial frenzy of upper Biscayne Boulevard and Aventura, Greynolds Park is an oasis of green and calm from the minute you turn off West Dixie Highway. Designated picnicking areas, some with barbecues, abound. For a quieter, more contemplative time, consider a shady spot near the West Lake or one of the tables tucked away in clearings, the latter of which makes for an idyllic setting for sun-dappled, winter-afternoon nuptials. Should you need to burn off the eats, the park is crossed with paths, open fields beckon Frisbee players and kite flyers, and playgrounds are on hand for the smaller fry. And of course, duffers in the crowd can hit the links at the golf course. Operating hours at this county park are 8:00 a.m. to sundown. Admission is free on weekdays and just four dollars per car on weekends and holidays.

Readers Choice: Crandon Park

Everglades National Park
Rodney Cammauf / National Park Service
Over the years we've recommended nearly all the viable hiking trails accessible from the park's southern entrance. The Long Pine Key trail network and especially its unnamed but gorgeous offshoot just beyond Pine Glades Lake (details from the main visitors' center). The five-mile round-trip Rowdy Bend trail just north of Flamingo (don't bother with the nearby but monotonous Snake Bight trail). The Christian Point trail (four miles round trip) also near Flamingo. The Coastal Prairie trail (thirteen miles round trip) that begins at the western end of the Flamingo camping area and features an array of landscapes. Each trail has its charms and challenges, depending on the season and time of day. But here's something new. The park recently reopened its Mahogany Hammock trail, which wanders through one of the most lovely hardwood hammocks you'll ever see. But the boardwalk loop is only a half-mile long. So we suggest you park your car at the Mahogany Hammock turnoff from the park's main road and walk from there. Your passage will carry you into the vast sawgrass savannah, whose subtle wonders are impossible to appreciate from a car. Traffic on your asphalt trail will run from very light (weekdays) to moderate (weekends). Your reward at the end is the new boardwalk loop and the inviting coolness of the hammock. A round trip hike from the main road and through the loop is just under five miles.

Manatee-watching may not be as consistently rewarding as birding. Often the only sign of the massive creatures are the concentric circles of water swelling upward from their underwater path. But if you keep an eye on the canal leading from Black Point Marina to Biscayne Bay, you'll see a snout poking above the water to snuffle in some of that fragrant Mt. Trashmore air before going back under. Occasionally a manatee's entire bulk will be visible, a sight worth whatever wait it takes.

The Biltmore's world-renowned, crescent-shaped pool is a record-holder. At 700,000 crystalline gallons, it ranks as the largest hotel pool in the continental United States. It is frequently used as a backdrop for movies, fashion spreads, and video shoots. The old grandstand bleachers, once used for popular aquatic shows, have been replaced with private cabanas and lush landscaping of palms, bougainvillea, and hibiscus. Its diving platform has been converted into a waterfall, tucked under the awesome sight of the hotel's Spanish tower. The 23,000-square-foot pool continues to delight hotel guests and sneak-in visitors who enjoy swimming in a man-made space with the feel of the sea.

This is a park within a park, and it has an identity all its own. In 1980, when Metrozoo pulled out of its 30-acre facility at the south end of Crandon Park, it left behind cages, pathways, several large ponds, meandering lagoons, and a colony of iguanas. Years of neglect transformed the place into a wild jungle populated by a variety of waterfowl and a vastly larger colony of iguanas, some of which grew to enormous size. A group of devoted park advocates, led by the tireless Valerie Cassidy, took it upon themselves to transform the old zoo once again, but this time into a magnificent garden. They formed the Gardens of Crandon Park Foundation and went to work raising money and mucking around in the dirt. Slowly they redeemed the landscape and diversified the waterfowl population. The iguanas continued to thrive. Eventually the county, which owns the property, acknowledged its responsibility and joined the foundation's volunteers in refurbishing the grounds. The results have been nothing short of spectacular. Today it is a wonderful place for a stroll, a bike ride, or a picnic. The birds alone are worth a visit -- not to mention the iguanas. You'll recognize Valerie Cassidy by her trademark yellow BMW, always parked under a tree near the entrance. Take a moment to thank her.

Round women, short women, sleek and tall women. Women with foreign accents. Iowa girls with sensitive skin, glistening pink through a coat of sunscreen and barely believing they're lying on hot sand while their friends at home shiver under layers of scarves and sweaters. Brazilian goddesses all brown and slick with oil, their hair in braids or free in the wind, chatting in Portuguese and barely noticing the soccer guys in Speedos who pass by them smiling. Hard-body health-club chicks, silicone mamas, young mothers basking on blankets in the warm glow of winter in Miami. As if conspiring with the sunlight and the wind and sea, these women overwhelm the senses. A gathering of womanhood on the beach, like the heroines in a Fellini film, at ease with their bodies and their strength, liberating their breasts from the yoke of society, defying age and gravity. They inspire any first-timer to join them topless in the sun at the edge of the Atlantic.

Jogging is an introspective activity for loners. You don't need friends to jog. You don't need to coordinate your schedule or talk to anyone along the way. It's just your stamina and your thoughts and your path. Of these three, the path is about the only thing you can really control, so best to make it a good one. Park on the far side of the big William M. Powell bridge and head out toward Miami Seaquarium. The white-rippled waves and brisk breeze might help you rev up those endorphins. You can hang a left at the Seaquarium and take a long loop through Virginia Key or continue straight to Crandon Park (cut across the road at Sundays on the Bay to hook up with the park's nature trail). Either way you'll find plenty of outlets, like the brush and dunes of Bear Cut preserve, to cut your midlife angst to pieces. Kick up some dirt behind you and let your mind wander freely.

Since management at Flamingo's tennis center changed last year, using the courts has become a more pleasant experience. A new team of pros associated with the Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton have been reshaping the tennis programs, adding clinics, maintaining competitive ladders for all levels of play, and improving Flamingo's seventeen clay courts (many of those nasty lumps have been smoothed out). A very welcome improvement indeed.

Readers Choice: Sans Souci Tennis Center

As long as you're going to do something decadent like play bingo or eat fried alligator, you really owe it to the kids to let them experience similar overstimulation. Like everything else in the shiny new Miccosukee complex, the child-care center -- known as Club Egret -- is big (8500 square feet), brashly colorful, and unabashedly designed for having a good time. Before you head out to your rendezvous with fortune, just drop off the darlings (in the care of competent professionals) and they probably won't want to leave even when lady luck says goodbye. All the fun stuff is here, including jungle gym with slide, trampoline, bouncing balls, blocks, jump ropes. But no gambling.

Arch Creek Park was created around a natural limestone bridge formation that once was part of an important Indian trail, first used by the ancient Tequestas then by the Seminoles. Legend has it that the limestone had the power to absorb any dark, destructive impulses that may have infected a tribesman, leaving him purified and refreshed. So if you're feeling stressed, consider a walk through this lovely park. Arch Creek's native hardwoods, pines, shrubs, and vines -- not to mention its limestone formations -- can restore to the soul what office chairs, incessantly ringing phones, and glitchy computer screens have mercilessly drained away.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®