Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Walk into Let's Scrap! on any given day and there they are: mesmerized kids measuring, cutting, gluing, painstakingly putting together pages of photographs, text, stickers, paper cutouts, ribbon, glitter. Filling volumes that document almost every stage or event in their still-short lives, the little ones are creating scrapbooks, a grand tradition they've now dubbed "scrapping." It's a task that requires hours of rapt attention and careful labor, hours that could occupy your children and give you that much-needed time-out. Albums, paper, scissors, glue, and all the decorative doodads can add up to real money, but scrapping is priceless: a creative, constructive hobby that keeps youngsters away from the potentially negative (as in brain-dulling) influences of TV, video games, or the Internet, and safely removed from possibly bone-breaking activities such as extreme sports. Good news for kids who aren't very crafty: Monthly classes cover chalking, stamping, and picture tinting. But the best news for weary parents at the end of their rope: Mastering the finer points of scrapping takes a really long time.
More a jumping-off point to any number of fishing holes, Flamingo, at the south end of Everglades National Park, provides access to hundreds of catching spots. Rent a canoe and paddle through the webs of mangroves while looking to hook a snook, outsmart a mutton or mangrove snapper and, bam, dinner's almost ready. Rent a "real" boat and glide into Florida Bay for spotted seatrout, redfish, or the fierce, inedible fighters called tarpon, which usually flash by near Flamingo's marina. Drive or boat a few miles to the north and put out a line for bass or tilapia in the freshwater rivers and bays. The park provides a beautiful verdant and teal setting for all that angling. And the sunset over Florida Bay is no more tangible but endlessly more pleasurable than the lunker that got away.
Homestead is equal parts agricultural business headquarters, quaint tourist town, and Old South country village. Any guesses which category a shop called A-OK Fish 'n' Bait falls into? You can purchase most any kind of bait here: spinners and shiners, grubs and topwaters, even live shrimp. But the real treasure is the conversation. Homestead anglers get their goods here (not from the Orvis Website), and they're known to tell a tale or two. Stick around, and you might learn something about fishing in South Florida. Some of what you learn might even be true.
Experienced anglers know to check them for live baits, but the public is generally unaware that in clumps of yellow-brown seaweed exist miniature aquariums waiting to be unveiled. Sargassum floats (thanks to spherical growths full of carbon dioxide) on the ocean currents. Early summer, when the water is calm and the sargassum gently drifts in, is the perfect time to show youngsters the marvelous bounty of the sea. Grab a clump of weed off the surface (sunken or dark brown weed is too old) and shake it over a bucket of ocean water. Like jewels from a pouch, out spills a variety of tiny creatures: juvenile versions of bigger fish that use the weed as a nursery. Crabs, shrimp, sea horses, nudibranch (called sea slugs), and other adult creatures also inhabit the weed. The most interesting resident is the sargassumfish, which looks exactly like a piece of weed until it flops away as you draw near. Sargassum's many wonders should keep the children occupied until their skin turns red and they volunteer to call it a day.
Here's one very enjoyable way to experience this 975-acre jewel of a county park, the lasting legacy of the Matheson family: On a weekend morning, load up the bikes and drive to Key Biscayne and the public parking lots on either side of Sundays on the Bay. (Parking here is free.) Unload the bikes and head to Crandon Boulevard. Just south of Sundays' entrance is a street crossing. On the far side a bike path meanders for nearly two miles through the Bear Cut Preserve, an ambitious and successful reclamation project. You'll move through palm thickets lush with ferns before reaching an intersection. Turn left to a recently opened observation deck overlooking Bear Cut and the vast Atlantic. Double back and continue past the intersection and through more wild greenery. Eventually the bikeway opens onto Crandon Park proper. Just beyond the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center, turn onto the concrete promenade that separates beach from parkland. The ride along this path is a journey through multiethnic, polyglot Miami, as all variety of families will be gathered under shade trees and pavilions for birthday parties and barbecues, music and impromptu dancing. Keep to the left and the famous white sands of Crandon's beaches appear as if on a postcard. At the promenade's southern end you'll come upon a cluster of charmingly restored rental cabanas. Turn right to enter the expansive children's area, featuring a carousel, cushioned skating area, and several water attractions. The Gardens of Crandon Park (last year's winner of this award) lies at the edge of the parking area. Consider this your turn-around point, but before returning, take plenty of time to explore the gardens, where many surprises await. After a picnic lunch on the garden's grounds or at one of two concession stands, survey the park's interior, where you'll find more family areas, a full-size running track, athletic fields, and baseball diamonds. Yes, it's a lot to take in, but it's a big and beautiful park -- Miami's best.
While many would say the Venetian Pool at 2701 De Soto Blvd. in Coral Gables is the obvious winner, there's another spring-fed swimming hole in Miami-Dade that deserves attention and attendance. The 35-acre lake that serves as the centerpiece of the Larry and Penny Thompson Park boasts white sandy beaches and three water slides that are open on weekends throughout summer. Not only do bathers have more space to play around in, but bored landlubbers can make use of paddleboats or fish from the pier. There's much more to the park than just water activities. Camping, bridle trails, hiking paths, and playgrounds are spread over 270 acres. An almost secret treat in South Miami-Dade, and, as pools go, a natural source of wonder and fun.
You've gotta have balls to play the tenth hole at this course, formerly known as the Links at Key Biscayne, and still known as Key Biscayne Golf Course, Crandon Park Golf Course, and Crandon Golf Course (all the same place, we promise): With water on both sides and frequent gusts of wind, the most seasoned pro risks lobbing a couple of shots into the school of barracuda swimming the ocean shallows. To make the par five even trickier, the Crandon crew keeps the grass short and the green fast. Zip. Zing. Splash! There goes another one just like the other one. But for all the damage to your ego, the challenge can prove invigorating and the view breathtaking. With the Miami skyline to one side and what looks like the whole expanse of the Atlantic Ocean on the other, you won't mind losing a Titleist or two. Okay, three.