Big Cypress National Preserve
There's a great South Florida wonder between Miami and Naples, and we're not talking about the skunk ape. He's gotta be somewhere in Big Cypress National Preserve, that great, big national park in Miami's back yard. Every year from late November to April, the national park service offers ranger-guided tours through a variety of wilderness activities in the area. And they're all free. Our favorite is the wet and wild swamp walk, a muddy trek through sometimes waist-deep gator water. You'll get mud-soaked and wet just like the early Floridians exploring the amazing diversity of plant and animal life. Also awesome is the guided canoe trip. You'll fly through a mangrove tunnel, propelling your vessel via monkey-bar arm swings through the low branches. All equipment is provided; you just have to make a reservation by phone or in person at the Oasis Visitors Center, 50 miles west of Miami on the Tamiami Trail.
The Miami Herald is not the venerable newspaper she used to be. The digital age, employee buyouts and layoffs, and the real estate meltdown have left her ragged and battered. She's even fallen to fifth place among the largest dailies in the state. (Great Alvah Chapman's ghost, Batman!) Yet more often than people give her credit for, the Herald shows her old feistiness for dogged reporting. Our favorite was the March 28 Sunday front-page sordid crime tale penned by reporters David Smiley and Arthur Jay Harris. The duo retraced the evidence and witness statements that pointed to serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer as the man who kidnapped and subsequently decapitated 6-year-old Adam Walsh in 1981. Before he was murdered in prison in 1994, Dahmer told Hollywood Police detectives that he was in South Florida when Walsh disappeared, but he denied killing the boy. Smiley and Harris interviewed several witnesses who firmly believe Dahmer was the killer. The story eerily describes how Phillip Lohr saw a "man carrying a struggling, freckled child out of Sears' toy department exit" and putting the kid inside an illegally parked blue van that matched the description of a vehicle Dahmer was driving at the time. Smiley and Harris detail how cops did not follow up on a tip from two truck drivers who saw Dahmer fumbling with a bucket next to his blue van, which was parked on the side of the road off Florida's Turnpike. The creepiest anecdote was the revelation by Terry Keaton, who was 10 years old around the time Walsh disappeared. Keaton recalled that one week before Adam vanished, he was almost kidnapped by a man he now claims was Dahmer. Keaton's quote: "In my heart, I truly believe that was the guy who tried to get me that day.''
The Kampong
Many attractions in Miami are so crowded, as Yogi Berra once said, no one goes there anymore. That's why a trip to the Kampong in Coconut Grove is so darn special. Once the home and gardens of Dr. David Fairchild (the botanist behind nearby Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden), the Kampong is a serene swath of lush tropical greenery and old Miami history. It's the only location outside Hawaii included in the National Tropical Botanical Garden. What's more, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Alexander Graham Bell all stayed at the Kampong house, one of the oldest domiciles in Miami. But most Miamians have never heard of the house and gardens. They're tucked away behind a thick hammock of banyan trees and a limestone wall. Also, the place is open only Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. That means regular working drones will have to wait until their next self-imposed mental health day to visit. Self-guided tours cost $5 to $15.
John Dufresne is one of those great authors who write a lot about writing. And not just in his classic how-to books, such as Is Life Like This?, a step-by-step guide to writing a novel in six months, with chapters ingeniously broken into week-by-week advice for the aspiring wordsmith. No, even Dufresne's excellent fiction often treads into the meta territory of exploring the process itself. Take his latest work, 2008's Requiem, Mass, about a novelist named John who abandons his latest literary effort to write a memoir about his childhood in Massachusetts. If that sounds an awful lot like Dufresne's own upbringing, it is, yet he uses the structure of a novel to expand beyond self-reflection and to tell a touching, absurd, and ultimately beautiful story about the fictional author's life and his struggle to write it. So it should come as no surprise that Dufresne is awfully reflective about the process of putting words to the page. He has churned out two decades of great writers as a creative writing professor at Florida International University and travels the country teaching writing seminars to emerging authors. Every other Friday, Dufresne even holds free workshops at FIU to coach any young Hemingway who makes the drive. Dufresne not only writes magnificently but also makes other authors better every day.
Jennine Capó Crucet burst onto the literary scene last year with a voice as fresh and welcome as a whiff of strong Cuban espresso. In her debut collection of stories, fathers spend weekends under their cars, aunts parade like the pope in their new sedans, girls meet predate disaster while removing facial hair, and the parish church is not haunted by Catholic saints or even Yoruban deities but by that patron saint of working-class Cubans, Celia Cruz. The 11 stories in How to Leave Hialeah offer a funny, touching portrayal of growing up in two worlds: one inhabited by working-class exiles tied to the past, the other by their pill-poppin', hard-rockin' offspring. That the universally recognizable characters happen to be Cubans living in Hialeah makes the stories all the more familiar. (You can hear the shuffle of dominoes and smell the fumes on the Palmetto Expressway.) Capó Crucet took off a decade ago for the Ivy League and now lives with her husband in L.A. But don't believe the title. In her heart, she never left.
Lotus House Women's Shelter
Anytime it pours in Overtown, the gutters teem with a rapid flow of discarded crack stems, broken glass, empty heroin bags, cigarette butts, tall cans, and blood spilled on hard concrete. Welcome to reality. Give thanks that Lotus House has offered about 130 homeless women and children a year's respite from the storm and an opportunity to build a vessel to sail our troubled waters. This safe port protects them from abusive relationships and keeps them off drugs, off the streets, out of jail, and in the arms of a supportive staff and loving community. The ladies receive job training and placement, classes in art and computers, and help dealing with the dire situations endemic to life in one of the poorest neighborhoods in America. Wife beaters be damned — the ladies of Lotus House will not see you in Hell; they'll be too busy making their way up the high road to a brighter future.
Parrots always creeped us out a little. It's like, "Dude, you're an animal — why the hell are you talking to me?" If we wanted to hear the opinions of a being with a walnut-size brain, we'd turn on cable news. And then there's the parrot's long-standing relationship with pirates. Not cool. So, anyway, we were pretty happy when Parrot Jungle left Pinecrest. Because the 22-acre plot is a beautiful spot, full of lush tropical vegetation and wandering trails. And with the sleazy birds having been evicted, the park is now free of charge. Plus a petting zoo, botanical garden, and splash fountain make Pinecrest Gardens one of the county's best parks for children — or marijuana-addled adults. It's open sunrise to sunset.
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Perrine Wayside Dog Park
Here at New Times, we think every pooch — from the mangiest of mutts (we're looking at you, Pabst, winner of 2009's Ugliest Dog Contest) to the purest of breeds — has the right to choose its very own spot to frolic, fart, and fetch. So, with that in mind, we wrote this description of the grrrrreatest dog park in Miami-Dade in language that only canines (and, quite possibly, Cesar Milan) can understand. While you're barking this out for your favorite four-legged fleabag, have fun trying to debunk our top-secret code: Bark, bark, yelp, woof? Perrine Wayside Dog Park! It's bow-wow-wow! Ruff, ruff, large central POND (!!!), splash, pant, you can SWIM in! Woof, ruff, bark, sniff others' butts without a leash! Bad leash. Good boy! Cat! Where, cat, where?! Sniff, sniff! Aw, no cat, just small dog in a roped-off area for little dogs so that big dogs don't mistake Chihuahua for cheeseburger. Cheeseburger, good. Cheeseburger want! See Frisbee overhead. Now want Frisbee! Chase Frisbee in spacious area, lush with plants to sniff and pee and sniff and pee on again and again, ruff, woof, scratch, chase tail, and sanitary bags available for when puppy makes pebbles! Lick, lick, go on WALK (!!!) around POND on a TRAIL. Do not get dirty! Hose on hand, so you may get B-A-T-H if you get muddy. Grrooowl... Whimper. No like bath. Wet. Mad. Do I want cheeseburger? Yes! Tail wag! Lick, lick, lick your face, try to lick your mouth, no mouth, lick cheek. Lick, lick! I love you! I love cheesebur — oh, cat!
Fontainebleau Miami Beach
Courtesy of the Fontainebleau Miami Beach
The hottest pop singer in the world performing at the most over-the-top hotel in Miami had scenesters in a tizzy as they fought to score tickets to this unprecedented New Year's Eve soiree. The Fontainebleau hosted the most in-demand NYE party on the international circuit with more than $1 million in presales. (Rumor has it that Lady Gaga herself picked up a cool $300,000 for 20 minutes of warbling.) Gaga's poolside concert didn't disappoint either. Beginning her show at midnight, the pop icon made four costume changes, stripped to her skivvies and fishnets, sang five songs (including "Bad Romance"), and electrified the 3,000-plus crowd. Celebs in attendance included young Hollywood types such as Chace Crawford, JC Chasez, Stacy Keibler, Kevin Connolly, Hayden Panettiere, and Frankie Delgado. While the afterparty continued at LIV, Lady Gaga decided to jump into the pool with her BFF, former Miamian Perez Hilton, instead of clubbing it. For that, we fell in love with her even more.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®