BEST PLACE TO JOG 2003 | Virginia Key to Key Biscayne | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
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.

During the day, Shark Valley is a great place to rent bikes or take a tram on the fifteen-mile looping paved road through the sawgrass wetlands of the Everglades. At night, though, a different world emerges. On a clear evening the stargazing is spectacular, and the vast openness of the savannah beckons as an alluring respite from urban congestion. After official closing hours, admission to Shark Valley is free -- and legal. Of course the parking lots and concessions are closed at night, so you'll need to bring your own bicycles and park along the entrance road at Tamiami Trail. Bring a flashlight and be prepared -- you may encounter a large gator stretched across the road, soaking up warmth from the pavement.

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

Miccosukee Casino & Resort photo
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.

A two-and-a-half-hour trip across the Everglades (take Interstate 75 for the fast trip; Tamiami Trail for the scenic ride) gets you to Lee County and Sanibel Island. There you'll find the 6000-acre refuge, named in honor of two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and pioneer conservationist Jay Norwood Darling. The mixed estuarine habitat includes open water, mangrove islands, mud flats, freshwater ponds, and hardwood hammocks. It can be explored by canoe and kayak (rental information: 941-472-8900), foot, or to a lesser degree car. The refuge will not disappoint birders, amateur or otherwise. In addition to the more common roseate spoonbills, ibis, herons, egrets, ospreys, and hawks, threatened birds such as bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and wood storks are also at home here. Many others pass through during spring and fall migrations, attracting birdwatchers from far and wide. (Roughly 238 species have been counted.) In the water you can spy alligators, American crocodiles, loggerhead turtles, manatees, and more -- 32 species of mammals and 51 of reptiles and amphibians. All of it well worth the drive from Miami.

Spread over five waterfront acres in a quiet residential neighborhood, Parmer's is not a resort as commonly understood. There's no golf course, no spa, no restaurant. But that's a good thing. It means the people who drive down to the Keys and choose Parmer's are there for the right reason -- to relax and enjoy the beautiful setting. In fact the grounds alone are reason enough: lush landscaping, numerous aviaries containing colorful tropical birds, a pleasant swimming pool, and waterfront amenities such as kayaks and other fun floating things, boat docks, grills, and picnic tables, some at water's edge under pavilions. Lodging is distributed in a way that avoids congestion and ranges from standard motel rooms to spacious suites. All rooms feature a porch or deck and many have full kitchens stocked with all needed utensils, which leads us to this specific suggestion: Bring your own food and drink and dine alfresco by the water. Fresh seafood for the grill is available from several nearby fish markets, and a Winn-Dixie is just minutes away. Daytime possibilities run the gamut from visiting Key West to snorkeling at the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary to kayaking into the Lower Keys wilderness, which begins about a half-hour's paddle from Parmer's. Rates begin at $85 for a motel room and top out at $250 for a luxurious two-bedroom suite -- very reasonable by Keys standards.

Readers Choice: Key West

The city deserves praise for replacing the pool at Flamingo Park. It was out with the old and in with a brand-new facility in an historic-district-approved pastel shade of yellow. Admission fees are just $1.25 for adults, a mere 75 cents for children (with a kiddie pool for the wee ones), and it's open every day until 7:30 p.m., late enough for a post-work dip. For those who want to do their laps in peace, the pool offers adult swimming five days a week from 6:30 to 9:00 a.m. (Tuesday and Thursdays you'll have to wait until 9:00 a.m. and then wrestle for space with youngsters). An enhancement to the lives of nearby residents, most of whom do not have pools, it's a great option for anyone -- be they locals, out-of-towners, or day-trippers -- who trek to the nearby sands only to discover their plans for an ocean dip have been thwarted by jellyfish or riptides or other such nuisances.

Also known as "outflow boundaries" in meteorology jargon, gust fronts are those dramatic and refreshing winds that blow in from nowhere just before thunderstorms break. Though they only last five to ten minutes, the mighty gust fronts can provide intense moments of ion-charged exhilaration to us sweaty slogs who toil in Miami's soupy subtropical climes. When you see thick black clouds lining the horizon, don't necessarily take cover. Consider running outdoors, opening your arms, and shaking your hair free as the rain-cooled winds are pulled down from on high. (Trust us, Channel 10 weatherman Don Noe does this in his garden.) To intensify the experience, throw in a little primal-scream therapy. You'll feel invigorated and enlightened -- and without any chemical hangover.

If you can't get high on this court, you'll probably get stuffed. But leave your feet too long for an ill-advised dunk (if you can do that sort of thing) and your hindquarters will get with the pavement quicker than an NBA player gets with a stripper. These are the courts at Concord Park on a daily basis. More ground rules for Concord newjacks: Showoffs are treated to elbows and hand checks; little jits who don't pass can forget running the point; and everyone must jump for rebounds because taking plays off can get you replaced by one of the 50 ballers who usually brush the sideline. Unlike many other courts, Concord rims are single, like the pros and college players use. The backboards may not be glass like indoor courts, but if we were nominating auditoriums and gyms, Concord would still be a match. In the face of South Florida weather, Concord also holds up -- it's elevated so water drains off, and the markings are highly visible so nobody's calling any phantom bounds. Of course a neighborhood court doesn't stand on a reputation of sturdiness or aesthetics; it's the actual games that count. They gotta be clean and competitive. The games at Concord are both.

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Best Of Miami®