For most people around here, a rural bike ride starts with a car trip. If you're going to load up the bike and drive, you may as well drive far enough from the city to make it worthwhile. That's where the Loop Road comes in. Almost any time of year, under almost any conditions, it's a treat. Roughly four miles along the Tamiami Trail beyond Shark Valley (Everglades National Park 25 miles west of the turnpike), the Trail angles northeast. At the bend an unmarked road intersects and runs to the south. That's the Loop Road, so designated because roughly 22 miles later it hooks up again with the Trail. Drive till the pavement ends at a National Park Service educational facility. Now you can unload the bike and head out. If it's been raining, you'll take a mud bath. Otherwise it'll be a relatively smooth ride. Along the way (and you don't have to do all 22 miles) you'll encounter some glorious swamp scenes -- deep pools, gators, fish, thick vegetation, and of course lots of cypress trees. You'll also probably come across a fisherman or two, and catch a glimpse of a rugged hunting lodge here and there. Mainly, though, you'll have the road to yourself. Bring plenty of water, insect repellent, and a pump or patch kit or both.

Dad always beat the sun up, even on weekends when he didn't have to hustle down to the factory, the office, that mysterious place where he spent the day while you went to school or day care or maybe stayed home with Mom. Even on weekends he was up early, to fix the car or take the dog to the vet or mow the lawn. Except on certain days, a Saturday usually. Then Dad would shake you awake an hour before dawn, eggs and home fries and (for him at least) coffee already prepared: "Eat up, boy, and let's get going." Sound a bit sexist or old-fashioned? If you have young children, rest assured this experience, regardless of specifics, will live in memory for at least 40 years. A simple cane pole with six-pound-test line, a bobber, and a tiny hook, the last baited with little pieces of balled-up bread, works just fine. About five miles past Krome, on the north side of the Tamiami Trail, is a sufficient pond, marked by cement picnic tables. But go a few more miles and, on the south, you'll begin to notice pond after pond, some nearly dry but others flourishing with water plants, turtles, snakes, and plenty of fish. The ponds aren't as lively as they were four decades ago, but that's hardly the point here. Select one with plenty of water and as little foliage as possible. You'll be alone because these are not the best fishing holes in the River of Grass. But the little ones should still be able to catch a bream or tilapia: the bobber twitching, then dropping fast, pull on the rod, drag in the fish. You'll never forget these mornings. Nor should you. This is when a five-year-old begins to realize that a parent is the most important teacher in life. And you can even eat the bream.

Dad always beat the sun up, even on weekends when he didn't have to hustle down to the factory, the office, that mysterious place where he spent the day while you went to school or day care or maybe stayed home with Mom. Even on weekends he was up early, to fix the car or take the dog to the vet or mow the lawn. Except on certain days, a Saturday usually. Then Dad would shake you awake an hour before dawn, eggs and home fries and (for him at least) coffee already prepared: "Eat up, boy, and let's get going." Sound a bit sexist or old-fashioned? If you have young children, rest assured this experience, regardless of specifics, will live in memory for at least 40 years. A simple cane pole with six-pound-test line, a bobber, and a tiny hook, the last baited with little pieces of balled-up bread, works just fine. About five miles past Krome, on the north side of the Tamiami Trail, is a sufficient pond, marked by cement picnic tables. But go a few more miles and, on the south, you'll begin to notice pond after pond, some nearly dry but others flourishing with water plants, turtles, snakes, and plenty of fish. The ponds aren't as lively as they were four decades ago, but that's hardly the point here. Select one with plenty of water and as little foliage as possible. You'll be alone because these are not the best fishing holes in the River of Grass. But the little ones should still be able to catch a bream or tilapia: the bobber twitching, then dropping fast, pull on the rod, drag in the fish. You'll never forget these mornings. Nor should you. This is when a five-year-old begins to realize that a parent is the most important teacher in life. And you can even eat the bream.

This partly hidden bayfront park underwent extensive renovations but remains, fortunately, something of a mystery to the public, which tends to neglect the outstanding space. Not for long, though. As soon as all the condos scheduled for development along the neighboring Biscayne Boulevard corridor are completed, crowds will become the issue. Until then, this park remains the choice for a quiet day of tugging kite strings as your balsa and paper contraption glides over shimmering bay waters and the verdant expanse of the park itself. If the winds are light, you can try out the new tennis and basketball courts or soccer fields. Just stay out of the way of kiters.

This partly hidden bayfront park underwent extensive renovations but remains, fortunately, something of a mystery to the public, which tends to neglect the outstanding space. Not for long, though. As soon as all the condos scheduled for development along the neighboring Biscayne Boulevard corridor are completed, crowds will become the issue. Until then, this park remains the choice for a quiet day of tugging kite strings as your balsa and paper contraption glides over shimmering bay waters and the verdant expanse of the park itself. If the winds are light, you can try out the new tennis and basketball courts or soccer fields. Just stay out of the way of kiters.

Between early January and the end of March a farmers' market fills the circle in front of city hall, where bells chime the time in the maligned city Merrick built. Coral Gables has many an asset. The market includes a farmer named Richard Lyons who speaks Latin, or at least offers up genus-species names instead of "yeller flower," and other friendly experts in their fields happy to chat; informational displays; high-end edible goodies including exotic and organic veggies, heirloom tomatoes, imported oils and pasta, stone crabs for ten dollars per pound, real key limes, labneh spread (which mainly contains milk and salt but still tastes fine), jams and preserves of canistels, sapodilla, mango, tangerine. Winter's best, but natives used to the heat can travel anytime to the allegedly anal community's main drag, along which an entire day disappears into a beau monde of window shopping for Lotto-ticket dreamers. Bring meter quarters and park on a side street at the west end of the Mile (called Coral Way outside the Gables). Go over to the two corner fountains and walk east. Peer into three coiffure shops, five outlets offering fancy bric-a-brac, fourteen jewelry stores, four formal men's and fourteen women's clothiers, four potion shops. See the famous Miracle, a two-tiered cinema turned live theater. Check out wigs, health food, shoes, leather goods, baby stuff, art, and, yes, of course there's a Starbucks. And all that's a mere fraction of the mile. You might want to visit one of the ten restaurants before moving on to the next block.

Between early January and the end of March a farmers' market fills the circle in front of city hall, where bells chime the time in the maligned city Merrick built. Coral Gables has many an asset. The market includes a farmer named Richard Lyons who speaks Latin, or at least offers up genus-species names instead of "yeller flower," and other friendly experts in their fields happy to chat; informational displays; high-end edible goodies including exotic and organic veggies, heirloom tomatoes, imported oils and pasta, stone crabs for ten dollars per pound, real key limes, labneh spread (which mainly contains milk and salt but still tastes fine), jams and preserves of canistels, sapodilla, mango, tangerine. Winter's best, but natives used to the heat can travel anytime to the allegedly anal community's main drag, along which an entire day disappears into a beau monde of window shopping for Lotto-ticket dreamers. Bring meter quarters and park on a side street at the west end of the Mile (called Coral Way outside the Gables). Go over to the two corner fountains and walk east. Peer into three coiffure shops, five outlets offering fancy bric-a-brac, fourteen jewelry stores, four formal men's and fourteen women's clothiers, four potion shops. See the famous Miracle, a two-tiered cinema turned live theater. Check out wigs, health food, shoes, leather goods, baby stuff, art, and, yes, of course there's a Starbucks. And all that's a mere fraction of the mile. You might want to visit one of the ten restaurants before moving on to the next block.

Anyone can skate Ocean Drive, but it takes a real thrasher to backflip off a ten-foot ramp and land, grinding, on a rail. Monday is BMX night and Saturday draws crowds, but every other night Control Skate Park is in the business of letting skateboarders and rollerbladers jump quarter-pipes, half-pipes, or simply (ha!) slide down rails. The indoor park features a toyland of cool stuff made by 25-year-old owner Matt Cantor. An all-day session costs seven bucks and entitles customers to jump anything and everything in the place. During February, Control expanded by adding a second warehouse, doubling the size and making way for a "beginner" course to ease neophytes in. Because 'blading here can get aggressive, novices will be grateful not only for the extra room, but for the chance to expand their rollerblading skills by rolling with more experienced thrashers.

Anyone can skate Ocean Drive, but it takes a real thrasher to backflip off a ten-foot ramp and land, grinding, on a rail. Monday is BMX night and Saturday draws crowds, but every other night Control Skate Park is in the business of letting skateboarders and rollerbladers jump quarter-pipes, half-pipes, or simply (ha!) slide down rails. The indoor park features a toyland of cool stuff made by 25-year-old owner Matt Cantor. An all-day session costs seven bucks and entitles customers to jump anything and everything in the place. During February, Control expanded by adding a second warehouse, doubling the size and making way for a "beginner" course to ease neophytes in. Because 'blading here can get aggressive, novices will be grateful not only for the extra room, but for the chance to expand their rollerblading skills by rolling with more experienced thrashers.

Coconut Grove's jewel of a public space, David T. Kennedy Park, accommodates people-accompanied dogs on leashes with verdant paths through palm groves and ad-hoc soccer sessions (dog chases ball, kids laugh). The northeast corner of the park provides the ultimate, though, with a lovely fenced area where dogs are welcome to ditch those leashes (and their owners) to engage in dog life with the pack of canines cavorting there. Vigilant humans keep the area free of refuse, and the antisocial behavior of the occasional lumbering wolf hybrid or illegal pit bull is dealt with politely but firmly through peer coercion. After the four-pawed running around like crazy and sniffing butts and breath comes exhausted panting. Soon you and your pooped pooch reunite, all wags, wet kisses, and muddy-paw pouncing upon your clean white T-shirt. Sit with your furry best friend on one of the park's many benches, where the bay winds blow, and imagine what the mutt must be thinking: "That chihuahua acted so macho until he saw me" ... "What a dork that white mongrel was" ... "When do we eat?"

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®