Best Weekend Getaway 2012 | Cape Canaveral and Cocoa | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times

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.

Photo courtesy of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau

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.

There's only one reason we admire drug dealers, Saudi princes, and Russian Internet billionaires: their choice of pets. While we're out walking the Chihuahua, they're hanging out with lions, tigers, and ligers. Sure, cleaning up after a 400-pound carnivore that could kill you with a swipe of its paw poses some unique challenges, but admit it: Hanging out with a tiger — even for a day — would be totally boss. Quit dreaming, put on your favorite red tracksuit and gold chains, and rent a tiger from the Zoological Wildlife Foundation. It's a private zoo that rents out all kinds of wild animals, from alligators to camels to leopards. The creatures come with their own handlers (who have, we assume, some kind of dart gun just in case). Prices vary by size of the animal — and how exotic (and dangerous) they are. And yes, there are cuddly tiger cubs as well as awesome full-grown specimens for rent. It just depends on whether you want to play nice or go for the full Tony Montana effect.

Dadeland Mall

Watching people is cool. Everyone does it, but because it's a mildly creepy activity, most do it in silence. That's why Dadeland Mall is perfect for the peepers. You can watch a flood of humanity to your heart's content with nearly perfect anonymity. At almost 1.5 million square feet, it's not the largest mall in Miami, but the sheer numbers of shoppers walking through the doors ensure the parade wandering past will be more diverse than the aliens hanging out at the Mos Eisley Cantina. Since President Obama just loosened travel restrictions for citizens of Brazil and China, expect to soon see an even more diverse crowd grasping at their slice of the American pie. The mall has several areas with comfy couches and chairs to kick back and watch the ebb and flow with a latte in hand. Just be sure to stay focused: Fall asleep on those couches, and security will have your ass.

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.

Just north of the east-bound entrance to the Venetian Causeway is a living, lush example of urban planning at its finest. In the midst of towering condo high-rises, Margaret Pace Park is an eight-acre haven whose volleyball, tennis, and basketball courts; soccer fields; outdoor gym; running paths; covered playground; and eye-catching artistic elements stretch right out to an expanse of sparkling blue water. Load your basket with watermelon slices, sandwiches, and salads and take your pick of one of the handy picnic tables or a cozy plot on the grass. (Tip: Check your landing zone if you choose the latter option — some of the dog owners who frequent the park are less than considerate about poop scooping.) The on-site restrooms are easy to find and usually reasonably appointed. The only difficulty you might have is prying your kids' white-knuckled fists off the playground equipment when your alfresco dining is over. You might also find it hard to give up your noble status after you settle into one of the colorful mosaic "thrones" by the water. Don't forget to pack a Frisbee or football — there's plenty of field to spread out on, although chances are you'll have to share. There's always a lot of activity at this idyllic, eclectic city park.

In general, Florida's disdain for law and order can lead to some pretty scary chaos. (Just check out the assault weapon arsenal in the trunk of our Buick.) But sometimes Miami's libertarian tilt is refreshing. With few exceptions, you can pretty much let your dogs roam free in parks around the Magic City, even if it's technically illegal. And there is no greater little slice of dog heaven than Pinetree Park, a Miami Beach haven on Pinetree Drive just north of 44th Street. There are two fenced-in dog runs here, but why put Fido in a ghetto when the entire park is basically Lollapalooza for pooches? Just pick a park bench and let your dog do his thing with the butts and the sniffing and the lifting of the leg. Oh, and Pinetree ain't a bad place for humans either. It overlooks the water, and large trees make it shady and cool. Because the vast majority of dog owners in this part of town are vigilant about picking up poop, you can set down a picnic blanket without fear of finding an unwelcome surprise smashed on its underside.

Photo by osseous / Flickr

'Sup, humans. Princess the Chihuahua on the mike, here to represent the Haulover Dog Park. Yeah, you heard me. My name is Princess, mofos. You probably think that's real funny. But let me assure you that beneath the bling'ed-out collar and bows my caretakers insist I wear, I am one tough Miami bitch. Disrespect, and I'll cut you. Humans seem to think Haulover is just a hangout for naked people — which, dude, even I think human nudists are weirdos, and I am naked all the damn time. Anyway, in the dog world, Haulover is the hottest joint. The place is enormous, yo! I know Jack Russell puppies who can't run the whole way across it without panting. You've got your wet bar for dogs and humans, some picnic tables in the shade, and apart from that, it's just wide-open space. Haulover is separated into two fields, one for large pooches and one for small pups, but pretty much everyone hangs out in the big-dog section. Haulover Beach is open to canines and their humans on Saturday mornings. Man, you have not lived until you've faced the ocean head-on. I'm bein' straight here: I was born to run beside those waves. The smell of the seaweed, plus the smell of the saltwater, plus that wet-dog smell? When I turn in a circle and lie down for the last time, I hope that's where my soul goes. Whoa, man, that shit just got real.

Courtesy of Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department

Greens, fairways, sand traps, blah, blah, blah. The exact dips, bunkers, and hills vary from course to course, but for the most part, many golf courses look like pretty standard seas of grass. Of course you can get your club on at any of these spots, but for a golf course that's an experience all its own, you owe it to yourself to play the links at Crandon Golf, Key Biscayne's slightly wild island paradise. It's only ten minutes from downtown Miami, but it feels like you've ducked out of civilization, what with the mangroves, wildlife, and tropical foliage that define the course. The seventh hole is known as one of the "greatest holes in golf," demanding that you send a zinger careening over the bay. At the signature 18th hole, take a few moments to absorb the incredible view of downtown (slow-play rule be damned!). This course isn't for newbies, however. It's considered one of the most difficult (and beautiful) par 72s in the state. If you feel out of your league, you could always skip the game and simply admire the course while you chow down on some great empanadas at the Links Grill.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®