Yes, it says walking path, but this tiny key is the perfect place for a relaxing Sunday-morning jog. It's surrounded by water, so the view is consistently spectacular. The path is paved and dotted with lovely art, such as the massive, sensuous, impressive Tequesta sculpture at the mouth of the Miami River. There's also a free-form sculpture garden a few blocks down and a beautiful view of the Mandarin Oriental. Parts of the path are shaded, so it's comfortable, even in the summertime. Now that's a runner's high.
It's called Windsurfer Beach for a reason -- it's one of the easiest, safest places to windsurf in the nation. The Biscayne Bay water is warm, the winds are reliably swift but not scary, and it's shallow -- only a few feet deep. Just a tenth of a mile past the Rickenbacker toll plaza, right before you reach Virginia Key, make a quick right and head for the colorful sailboards; this is the home base of Sailboards Miami. For twenty years a small group of windsurfer dudes has operated a school out of a trailer. Nowadays the Sailboards crew, chiefed by master instructor Ovidio DeLeon and also including Nick Sternberg and Diego "Young Ripper" Femenias, is famous for its bold claim: Give us $69, two hours, and we'll make you a windsurfer -- guaranteed. With beautiful views of Biscayne Bay and downtown Miami, Windsurfer Beach offers a picturesque, convenient place to give this exhilarating watersport a first try. In winter, lessons begin at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and 3:00 p.m. every day except Wednesday and Thursday. In summer they start at noon, 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Advanced lessons are also available.
Paying a $1.50 toll on a highway can be fun. Seriously. Don't believe us? Then take the other route to the Keys. On Card Sound Road, after about ten miles of cruising through the never-never land of mangroves, you will come to what could be the world's cutest toll plaza. Forget the Florida Turnpike toll moment -- ten or twelve booths, the scramble for change, the worrying about the dude behind you (i.e., Am I in the SunPass lane? Does he have a gun?). No such worries at the Card Sound Bridge -- there's only one tollbooth. And there's no android change-giver here; there's a real-live human. You can actually talk to the guy. Suggested small talk: "Where's a good place to get conch fritters?" "Who's the weirdest guy to ever drive through here?" Take your time. You are in the middle of nowhere. In addition to the quaintness and mellowness, the thing that makes the Card Sound toll plaza worthy of recognition by the National Register of Historic Places is its signage. No green metal expressway placard here. The Card Sound sign reads, "Welcome to the Fabulous Florida Keys," in a cursive typeface that is a rare, perfectly preserved example of Sixties-style Florida Tourism Font. So vintage, so kitschy, such an appropriate gateway to the Keys.
You don't have to be a geography genius to realize that Florida -- with a not-so-majestic peak of 350 feet above sea level -- is incredibly vertically challenged. As states go, ours resembles a slice of Swiss cheese floating in water. So how, you may ask, is there any decent off-road biking in these parts, let alone a spot that reigns supreme? Answer: What Markham Park lacks in verticality it more than makes up for in technicality. Manufactured from fill leftover from when the park's lakes were first dredged, trail conditions range from rocky to hard-packed sand. And with a combined distance (novice, intermediate, expert, and pro) of roughly ten miles spread across some 90 acres, these trails ride like and resemble a mini version of the northern trail Razorback -- undeniably the best in the state. According to the weekend warriors who flock here en masse, Markham offers something for everyone: fast, flat sections punctuated by short technical climbs and technical descents, with some double-track roads for newbies. The climbs may not be long and the downhill drops not overly steep, but designers have cleverly thrown in water breaks, steps, logs, rocks, small ramps, and a host of other obstacles that place more of a premium on how well you handle your bike going down, as opposed to how fast you go. Seriously intense, dude! And upon spotting trail names like Middle Earth, you would totally be forgiven for thinking you were nowhere near the Sunshine State -- right up until the moment a swarm of mutant-size mosquitoes tries to eat you alive. Which reminds us: Bug spray is as essential as a water bottle. The park is open in winter from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; summer from 8:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Entrance fee is $1 per person ages five and older.
Anyone who drives in Miami-Dade for more than a week knows this category is fiercely competitive. There are so many chronically clogged roads. Strong arguments were made for South Dixie Highway; always a bitch, Biscayne Boulevard, north of downtown, is seemingly in a perpetual state of repair. But the worst, the most heinous, the road that seems to be the most sure-fire path to road rage is a roughly two-mile strip of Okeechobee Road in Hialeah. Exit the Palmetto Expressway near the Hialeah Raceway, head southeast, and enter a construction zone that should be treated like a Superfund site. There is no good time to drive past the malls and warehouses here. But the angst begins to set in when you recognize that on Okeechobee a traffic jam can occur anytime. Noon on a weekday, early Sunday morning -- no time is safe. Worst is when you realize -- as Camus did in The Stranger -- there's no way out. This stretch of Okeechobee, you see, is hemmed in by a canal. Which means once you're on it, you have only one means of escape -- a series of side streets to the north and west. If you're heading southeast, you're pretty much screwed until the Okeechobee Road Metrorail station, when life slowly improves.
South Pointe Park
Photo by Bruno Fontino / Courtesy of the GMCVB – MiamiandBeaches.com
The theme song from The Muppet Show bops from your cell phone with polyphonic glee and wakes you from a lazy Sunday afternoon nap. It's your hookup. Excellent. By 4:20 p.m. you are holding the perfect sack: The dewy-sweet, skunky aroma wafts from the snack-size Ziploc bag filled with herbal refreshment. Fluffy with cotton-candylike crystals and little red hairs. Awesome. You pull a few tubes, call your buds, and roll a bone for the road before catching the South Beach Local down to the park. Everything is perfect: the temperature, the breeze, the smell of barbecue in the air. You play with a few dogs and contemplate tossing a Frisbee but decide to chill on the rocks and toss stones into the waves as the sun changes from orange to red. The clouds blush shades of pink as the cruise ships begin blowing smoke, gliding through Government Cut and out to sea. People wave from the deck -- the honeymooners, families, and retirees. You wave back and snap a photograph of the mammoth beast of floating buffets and ballrooms. "Man," a buddy speaks after what seems like an hour of silent meditation, "I am so hungry." You nod and remember that Joe's Take Away is stumbling distance from the park. The last pink and purple ribbons streaking across the horizon fade to indigo as you pull yourself away from the shore and head toward what will surely seem like the best meal you've ever had. Sweet.
A liquor store painted with beer-case-toting flamingos seems an improbable place for politically inspired poetry. All the same, there it is in black plastic letters on the M&M Package Store sign facing Le Jeune Road. Recent gems have included "Borrowed More $$$ Than All Previous Presidents Combined / Fiscal Responsibility Redefined" and "Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld Real Axis of Evil Fomenting War and Plutocratic Upheaval." Local politicians haven't been spared either. "Sweep Miriam Alonso out of office with the same broom she flew in on," the sign proclaimed when Alonso, a former county commissioner, was facing corruption charges several years ago. Store owner Robert Gewanter tries to put up a new message each week, but sometimes he can't. There's a business to run, you know. Gewanter says the signs are an amusing way to promote civic discourse. "Only once did anyone ever threaten me with a lawsuit," he comments.
With a diversity in wildlife rivaled only by watering holes in the Serengeti, the bicyclist or tram-rider on the fifteen-mile Shark Valley loop is almost guaranteed a stellar showing of Everglades fauna: Roseate spoonbills, wood storks, and great blue herons delicately pick their way through shallow pools and pose serenely in branches. Spotted gar, red-belly turtles, and anhingas swim beneath the water's amber surface. Cormorants decorate the tram road's watchtower like gargoyles, and short-tail hawks soar overhead. The king of this jungle, however, is the American alligator, Alligator mississippiensis, whose green-gray bulk is draped over every muddy bank and drainage pipe that can offer him some sunshine. Beware of this dweller of murky puddles: He may seemingly ignore the fluttering and prancing of the wildlife around him, honed by millennia of evolutionary adaptation to expend as little energy as possible (he navigates canals swimming, propelled by the merest flick of the tail) but the gator is no slow fuddy-duddy of a predator. "Never get closer than fifteen feet to an alligator," warn signs and brochures. "If it hisses or opens its mouth in defense, you should back away even farther." A nice reminder, rendered totally unnecessary at the first glimpse of sharp, crooked teeth. Bike rental is $6 an hour; tickets for the tram are $14 for adults and $8 for children.
Commuters destined for downtown or South Beach from the airport area (including Miami Springs, Virginia Gardens, and Hialeah) can travel sixteen blocks in less than two seconds. The intersection of NW 36th Street and Le Jeune Road (with State Road 112 directly overhead) is among the busiest on Earth, and the two standard eastbound routes are a commuting catastrophe. With a "right turn only" sign funneling overused NW 36th Street into one lane at a particularly busy point, and ongoing construction in multiple locations, it too has become useless. As for 112 (known in parts east as I-195), it's jammed by an expensive toll facility and includes a confusing-as-all-get-out merge into I-95 (bear north to go south) for those hoping to eventually reach downtown. The secret: After passing Le Jeune on 36th Street, just before the Club Pink Pussycat, turn right onto NW North River Drive (known as the "Aluminum Trail" because it's lined with recycling depots). This relatively low-traffic four-laner angles and turns into NW 20th Street (just don't turn anywhere), which goes almost all the way to the bay.
This route, which was part of the trail for the Everglades Bicycle Club's Snowbird Century this year, takes you on a tour of some of South Florida's most unique areas. Begin your trek near the Fruit and Spice Park at 24801 SW 187th Ave. and ride north to 232nd Street, where you'll need to make a left. Enjoy the Homestead scenery as you pedal to 217th Avenue, where you should turn south. As you travel down this avenue, you'll pass the Schnebly Redland's Winery (30205 SW 217th Ave.), but you should probably wait until the return trip before stopping there, otherwise you might not get much farther. Keep heading south until you reach 392nd Street; go west. At 232nd Avenue take a left and you'll be in the Southern Glades Wildlife and Environmental Area. Riding through here, you can glimpse native Everglades birds and other animals, so be sure to have that camera phone ready. While you're down this way, take a look at the former test site for the world's largest solid rocket motor. The land was owned by Aerojet when it was testing the motor for NASA, but the company sold the site in the Nineties. You can still see the giant silo where the rocket was fired. Once you're well rested, turn north on 232nd Avenue and begin the ride home. Don't forget to stop at Schnebly's this time around, and try some of the tropical fruit wine like the mango or passion fruit versions, but don't "taste" too much or you might not find your way back to the car.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®