Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Before drone strikes, cyber attacks, long-range missiles, and nuclear annihilation, wars were fought with cannonballs and other solid orbs of destruction. That mode of attack might help explain why more than 16 million bricks were used to build Fort Jefferson, and why the behemoth has never been completed. Construction of the "Guardian of the Gulf of Mexico" began in 1846; officials called it off in 1875 due to concerns that the sheer weight of all those bricks was too stressful for the tiny island and its water system, according to the National Park Service. Located about 70 miles west of Key West in Dry Tortugas National Park, the imposing structure is little more than a tropical ghost town these days. More than 160 years of storms and salty sea winds have taken their toll, but if you can get out to the small remote islands, you'll stroll around a one-of-a-kind artifact that would never be deemed feasible in these modern times.
READERS' POLL WINNERS
Sports & Recreation
Best Coach: Erik Spoelstra
Best Dolphins Player: Matt Moore
Best Heat Player: Dwyane Wade
Best Hurricanes Player: Lamar Miller
Best Marlins Player: Giancarlo Stanton
Best Park: Kennedy Park
Best People-Watching Spot: Lincoln Road
Best Place to Take Out-of-Towners: Lincoln Road
Best Sportscaster: Dan Le Batard
Pack up the bikes and head west to Shark Valley, where there are no sharks but plenty of sunbathing gators lounging around the 15-mile looping path. It's a nature-filled workout with ample views of pristine saw grass and loads of migratory birds from January to March. What's that, you say? Pedal-pushing your way past gators and birds is sooooo touristy? Well, there's also a decent chance of spotting one of the much-hyped Burmese pythons that are grabbing national headlines. Park ranger Eric Riordan says five of the suckers were removed from the park in December, including one that was 16 feet long. If that's not motivation to keep pedaling, what is?
Two minutes in West Lake Park is it all it takes to get away from the asphalt hell of South Florida sprawl. The trip begins with a light paddle down a serene mangrove tunnel — keep your eyes peeled for always-awesome manatees and some nice birds. When the trail empties out onto the lake, it's your choice. Let the boat float, and kick back to relax while soaking up the rays, or cut across the lake — a workout in itself on a windy day — and explore the mangrove-lined, color-coded trails. If it weren't for the not-so-distant skyline peeking over the trees, you might forget you're smack in between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Prices aren't bad either: Drop $15 to rent a canoe for one hour, $20 for two hours, or $50 for the whole day.
The next time you have guests from the Midwest crashing at your pad, there's a sure-fire way to show them Miami like an undercover narcotics detective with an affinity for fine Versace suits. Head to Bayside Marketplace and board the Thriller SuperCat 55, a cigarette boat with room for more than two dozen people that takes riders on a high-speed adventure via Government Cut. After jumping through waves and doing water doughnuts on Biscayne Bay, the Thriller slows things down for a very informative tour of Star Island. The captain provides Trivial Pursuit-style tidbits of information about the wealthy, famous people who own mansions there. For instance, you'll learn that Ivax Pharmaceuticals founder Phillip Frost imported 50 date palms from South Africa at $9,000 a pop to decorate the landscape of his and his wife's $55 million estate. You'll also discover that the neighboring house was used in the 1955 movie Guys and Dolls, starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra. It costs $35 per adult and $22 per child to ride the Thriller (or $32 and $19 if you buy tickets online).
Sure, you can take the youngsters to the latest mega-arcade or crowded water park, or trudge three hours in traffic to the beach. Or you can introduce them to the kind of place you once hung out before the days of Xbox 360 Kinect and Twitter. Take 'em skating! OK, strapping on a pair of skates and rolling around in a giant circle with music pumped in the background seems a bit outdated. But that doesn't mean it's not fun. It's also amazing exercise and a great way to tire out the kids from all that pent-up summertime energy. Super Wheels Skating Center, which has been in operation since 2009, has 20 HDTV sets, five giant screens, a large music selection, and a "live text" broadcast. There's also an enormous arcade with old-school favorites like air hockey, plus a snack bar where you can stuff your face with pizza, chicken wings, fries, and Dippin' Dots. But the enormous hardwood skating rink is where the real excitement is to be had. Friday is Cheap Skates Day, where you can rent skates for $7 from 3:30 to 6 p.m. and $12 after that. And Super Tots sessions for the little ones cost only $8 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Yeah, skating isn't what it used to be. But it's still a kick-ass time for the whole family.
Your foot pushes the pedal until the rumbling metal below stops you. Your hands grip the steering wheel. Your heart beats more times per minute than the wheels beneath you rotate. There's only one driver in front of you. You hate her. You love her. You want to beat her. Your eyes involuntarily twitch for a second toward the youngsters on the children's track. There are no kids in this lane — just adults behind serious machines. Marco Andretti and Helio Castroneves once trained on this track, and now you are determined to win. The third-place driver speeds up behind you during your momentary distraction. Luckily he falls behind after the next turn. There will be no more interference. You don't even notice as a plane from the nearby Opa-locka airport takes off to a destination that might as well not exist. There are only three elements in the entire universe that matter: you, her, and the finish line. She turns too wide! Now is your chance! You have only seconds to make it count. Crap! You turned too tight and hit the tire barrier. You blew it. But you'll be back. You will improve. You won't stop until you conquer the Miami GP Raceway.
Rick Medina had amassed one of the largest private videogames collections in the area. The collection included hundreds of rare items, including hard-to-find consoles and arcade games. But videogames — like DVDs, guitars, and the gullible — are meant to be played. So he set out to open an old-school arcade. The result is Arcade Odyssey. There you'll find tons of machines you'll remember pouring countless quarters into during your childhood (Mortal Kombat II, Terminator pinball) and several rare games imported from Japan or that were never mass-produced (check out The Act: An Interactive Comedy for one sweet example). Because Medina's collection is too large for the space, a handful of different games are rotated in about every month. A warning, however: If you stop by, we can't promise we won't be hogging the 1992 X-Men six-player cabinet. If you're lucky, there might be room for you as Dazzler.
You know the Raleigh Hotel's pool even if you've never been by the art deco classic on Collins Avenue. You know its iconic yet indescribable shape — Is it a fleur de lis? A heraldic crest? — because it has starred in movies, on television, and in countless ads and magazine spreads ever since bathing beauty Esther Williams made it famous in the 1950s with her mermaid photo shoots. Today the pool still has everything. Tropical landscaping shades the hot sun, and its shallow edge is perfect for pedicured toes to lightly splash. Comfortable chaise longues invite poolside naps with a mojito. Not a guest at the hotel? Here's a little secret: Well-behaved and discreet locals are rarely asked to leave and treated like pariah scum, as other SoBe hotel pools are wont to do. Simply keep ordering $16 cocktails as your "rent," pass the SPF 50, and look like you belong.
Far too many Miamians limit their weekend getaways to two categories: south to the Keys for drinking and debauchery or north to Orlando for rides and G-rated fun. Why not consider a weekend that combines the two? Just hop north on I-95 about 200 miles and you'll land in the quaint artsy village of Cocoa. Filled with art galleries, restaurants, and local shops, Cocoa is a cross between Coconut Grove and Mayberry. The buildings are pink and cozy, stores sell everything from acrylic paintings of grouper to handmade Christmas ornaments made from seashells. Across the Intracoastal Waterway lies the totally different vibe of Cocoa Beach. You might know the name from old I Dream of Jeannie episodes, because this is where astronaut playboy Major Nelson lived. Today it's known for great waves, with thousands of surfers hanging ten, visiting the original Ron Jon Surf Shop, and sipping rum runners on the pier. Top off the weekend at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex ($45 for adults, $35 for children). Part science museum and part amusement park, it captures the first thrill of space travel — and subsequent tragedies of missions gone wrong. The center's shuttle simulator looks much more realistic than the Mission: Space ride at Disney World, but the real treat is in the nearby U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, where an authentic G-force trainer is open. What better way to shake off last night's drinks than simulating four times the force of gravity? It's the most awesome ride in Florida since the Space Shuttle program was scrapped.
When Aunt Hazel and Uncle Joe visit, the last thing they want to do is hit trendy SoBe clubs. Since when does paying 20 bucks for a rum and Coke equal Miami fun? We have a better suggestion: Take them to the Redland. Start at Coral Castle. This strange moonscape of a structure on South Dixie Highway in Homestead was once the home of Edward Leedskalnin, a Latvian immigrant who spent nearly 30 years building the shrine as a honeymoon palace for his child bride and their potential offspring. There were a couple of small problems with that idea: (1) Coral furniture (including a bed and rocking chairs) is not comfortable, and (2) the child bride jilted his crazy ass, which also means they never had kids. Be that as it may, Coral Castle has a creepy and cool vibe. For $15, it's probably the world's best monument to ADD. Then head down the road for a strawberry shake at Robert Is Here, Dade's best fruit stand, or at least the only one with a petting zoo out back and local honey and gator jerky for sale. Shake in hand, zip over to Everglades Alligator Farm, where 2,000 alligators sun themselves and airboats venture out into the swamps. Finally, end the afternoon at Schnebly Redland's Winery, where $10 will get you a winetasting of sweet elixirs that aren't made with grapes. Instead, the winery uses fermented tropical fruits such as lychee, mango, guava, and carambola. Avocado wine! Believe it. As the sun sets on the sun-drenched farmlands and your visitors nap on the ride back to Miami, you can rest easy having shown them Florida the way it was before iPads and Pubbelly — kitschy, buggy, and a little sweet.
Everyone loves monkeys. Not those giant chimpanzees that come at you with teeth bared and rip your face off. We're talking those little squirrel monkeys with the tiny people hands and long fluffy tails. Sadly, between flinging feces and climbing on drapes, they don't make the best pets. Enter Monkey Jungle, where you're caged and the monkeys roam free. Really! As you stroll through a maze-like mesh-covered walkway, the monkeys surround you (hint: don't stand directly beneath one). They reach out their wee monkey hands and point to their mouths. You place some raisins in a metal cup (the gift shop just happens to sell raisins and peanuts — get the raisins) and — wow! — a clever primate pulls up the chain, grabs the raisins from the cup, and asks for more! You'll never tire of watching them nod their freakishly adorably humanoid heads in satisfaction upon eating dried fruit. Admission is $29.95 ($23.95 for children), but a Florida resident annual pass is only $39.95 ($29.95 for children). Considering how much time you'll spend staring at monkeys once you have one, that works out to pennies a day.