Oleta River State Park

It's not always easy to connect with Mother Nature when you're sitting in your Civic in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Federal Highway, your necktie cutting off your circulation as you head to work at your Brickell high-rise. But take a quick ride up I-95 and you'll hit Oleta River State Park. Florida's largest urban park feels anything but urban. Hell, it could be Colorado, if Colorado had mangrove forests and sandy beaches. There are countless ways to spend a day (or night) at this sprawling green oasis. Take two wheels on the park's heart-pounding, gut-wrenching, off-road mountain-bike trails; bring your S.O. on a romantic nighttime kayak tour; rent a SUP on a summer afternoon; spend the night in an air-conditioned cabin; sun yourself on the sandy beach. It's a one-size-fits-all park — a lush wellspring of outdoor recreation that's well worth the $6 entrance fee.

Martell Park
Photo by Dan Evans

Most people have never heard of this hidden canine oasis, but it's worth finding. Nestled next to the Blue condo tower, the waters of Biscayne Bay, and the Julia Tuttle, it has a quality of stillness. This is a small park, but there are few people here — it's usually just you and a couple of other dog walkers. So it's easy to let your pups loose and relax on one of the well-placed benches in the shade under the broad canopy of trees. A few words of advice: Make your way here before or after rush hour — so as to avoid that horridly depressing sight of so many poor Miamians sitting in a hot standstill. This is a very quaint but still metropolitan place to run the hounds.

The Standard Spa, Miami Beach
Adrian Gaut/The Standard Spa

There's nothing standard about the Standard's pool. It features an underwater sound system so you can enjoy a relaxing swim to the beat. There's also an arctic plunge with 50-degree water that will stimulate your circulation and metabolism. Or you can really relax in the Roman-waterfall hot tub with an almost-too-hot-to-handle temperature of 103 degrees, topped off with an eight-foot waterfall. It's perfect to relax those sore muscles. But wait, there's more! Just around the corner is the mud lounge, where you — or someone you're comfortable with — can cover your body in different kinds of muds as you bake under the Miami sun like a piggy. And after you're done detoxing, there are high-pressured hoses to blast the dirt off you while you receive a hydro-powered massage. Best of all, you don't even have to book a room. The Standard offers day passes ($75 Monday to Thursday, $125 Friday to Sunday) that allow you to enjoy all of this plus the indoor DIY spa treatments. It's basically a pool and spa day rolled into one. Well worth the price, if you ask us. There's also a monthly membership program. Call 786-245-0860 for details.

South Pointe Park
Photo by Bruno Fontino / Courtesy of the GMCVB – MiamiandBeaches.com

Miami Beach has endless options on the sand, but if you're looking for a favorite that's close to the South Beach scene, South Pointe Beach is hard to beat. Although you can't swim in the waters in Government Cut, you can paddle about anywhere north of the pier. And on the sand, you'll find tranquil areas to sunbathe. Or maybe not. But you will find the most attractive bathing-suit-clad bodies anywhere in the Western Hemisphere. If you need more entertainment, nearby Nikki Beach provides a nightclub experience right on the sand, while a short walk away, Smith & Wollensky provides a fabulous brunch with views of the departing cruise ships.

Jugofresh

Ashley: OMG, Blaire, so you know how I'm all into juicing and yoga, right? JugoFresh, that juice place we always go to during our lunch break, is hosting a free monthly yoga class, Yoga del Barrio, and it's smack in the middle of the 'Wood. You should try it out with me!

Blaire: Sounds interesting. Is it, like, yoga for artsy people?

Ashley: Kind of... I mean the sesh definitely has that yoga-studio feel to it. The only difference is you're wearing spanky pants and doing the downward-facing dog in front of a bunch of onlookers in the Wynwood Walls. Now that you mention it, it kinda makes you look like a piece of artwork.

Blaire: Um, what do you mean, Ash?

Ashley: It's a community-flow yoga class, so you're twisting and stretching your body in all these different angles. To outsiders, it must seem like there's some sort of performance art going on.

Blaire: I guess... But I'm not really a yogista.

Ashley: Relax, Blaire. Dawn B. — she's the instructor, by the way — is a pro. She keeps her eye on you while you do all those teepee twists and sun salutations, so you won't mess up your back or anything.

Blaire: So when's the next class?

Ashley: It's the third Wednesday of every month at 6:15 p.m. All you need to do is show up and bring your own mat, like that floral one you have in your room. Trust me, you'll thank me later.

Blaire: They say meditation is the best exercise. I guess I'll try it out.

Here's the bad thing about Naples: Nothing happens there. Here's the good thing about Naples: Nothing happens there. So when you need a complete break from Miami's nonstop lifestyle, your best bet is just a two-hour drive across Alligator Alley. Even the things that do happen are geared toward relaxation. The town claims more golf holes per capita than anywhere else in the world. Its ten miles of beach are far quieter than those found on the East Coast. And the Gulf of Mexico is a completely different type of boating and fishing experience. Sure, there're some decent restaurants here (check out Fifth Avenue in Old Naples) and even a bit of nightlife (pay a visit to Mercato, sort of their version of Midtown Miami — except beware of cougars), but basically Naples is the place you go for a weekend to live like an 80-year-old retired Republican from Ohio. Which, as a Miamian, is sometimes exactly what you need.

Big Cypress National Preserve

There is a good handful of reasons you should make the 75-mile trek across the state to reach Big Cypress, but you want to know the best one? Wait for it: river otters. Have you ever seen river otters in the wild? They're like lanky puppies sliding around lithely up and down the streams, making funny noises, and having more fun than you will ever understand. Add to that the fact that Big Cypress' wild terrain has a way of connecting you with a much older sense of this part of the world, the sort of environs we would have known centuries ago. The Florida Trail passes through here, so the hiking can be glorious (during the winter months, of course, because the mosquitoes are deadly). Try the Tamiami Triathlon, which involves hiking here, bicycling at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park, and paddling at Biscayne National Park. A free punch card is available at the main desk.

Despite its seaside locale and tropical temps, Miami can feel like nothing more than an urban jungle, jam-packed with high-rises, snarled traffic, and concrete. But drive far enough down SW Eighth Street and you'll enter another world: the Everglades. Everglades Safari Park has served as a gateway to Florida's glorious iridescent "River of Grass" for more than 40 years. This sprawling mecca of airboat rides and animal education is where the National Park Service sends bigwigs for a breezy spin: John McCain, Joe Biden, Ludacris, even the Kardashians have caught a ride. Hop on one of the boats and sail across the endless stretch of still water and open sky. Feel the sun on your skin, the wind in your hair, and watch the world rush by at 30 mph. You'll see spatterdock, duck potato, pond apple, and sawgrass; great egrets, grackles, and gators. Back on land, you'll get schooled in all things alligator and their awe-inspiring attributes — no "wrestling" shows, no cheap tricks. No matter what, you'll leave with a new reverence for Mother Nature and the majestic nature of our own backyard. Nothing could be further from your white-knuckled morning commute.

Lincoln Road Mall
Photo courtesy of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau

Miami is filled with interesting characters. There's that guy who rides around on a motorized bicycle, that man on the Metrorail jammin' on his violin, that dude who walks around Hialeah carrying a banjo and Stetson hat — the list goes on. But if you really want to keep entertained for hours, there's Calle Ocho. Every year in March, the mamis and papis of the Magic City crowd SW Eighth Street with their skin-tight white shorts, Cuban-flag bikini tops, chancletas, 305 pride tats, and gold teeth for the largest block party in the country. Fashion aside, you'll find middle-aged Cuban men shaking a pair of bright-yellow maracas, dancing with a mailbox; guys wearing a snake around their necks; ladies twerking in the middle of the street to reggaeton; impromptu conga lines; Celia Cruz doppelgangers; and even lonely lovers walking around with a blow-up doll. It may happen only once a year (the 2015 Carnaval Miami is scheduled for March 15), but with so many people to gawk at, you'll be set for the next 364 days.

The Barnacle Historic State Park

To many a college kid, the Grove brings back memories of drunken shenanigans, hookups, and binge drinking. But nestled somewhere among Sandbar, Mr. Moe's, and a canopy of live oak trees lies a piece of overlooked history — the Barnacle Historic State Park. Built in 1891 by yacht designer and Coconut Grove pioneer Ralph Middleton Munroe, this is the oldest house in Miami-Dade County still standing in its original spot. Originally from New York, Munroe got his first taste of the Magic City while vacationing here in 1877. Like most first-timers, he fell in love with Miami but, of course, had to return home to carry on business. Munroe married his first wife, Eva, in 1879 and had a baby girl. A few months after the birth of their daughter, Eva contracted tuberculosis. In hopes of recovery, Munroe left his daughter in New York and sailed south, bringing his wife, her sister Adeline (who was also diagnosed with TB), and brother to the warm SoFla climate. The four lived on Biscayne Bay until 1882, when Eva died. Upon his return to the Big Apple, he learned his daughter had also died. That's when Munroe decided to leave the city and make his home on the bay his permanent residence. The commodore bought 40 acres of bayfront land and a yacht, The Kingfish, for $400. Prior to constructing the Barnacle, Munroe built a boathouse on the same land in 1887, where he lived until the main house was completed. About three years later, he went on a sailing trip and met his second wife, Jessie Wirth. He put a ring on it in 1895, and the two began their life at the Barnacle. Originally, the house was an octagon-shaped, one-story structure raised off the ground on wooden pillars. It was built with salvaged lumber from the bay's shipwrecks. But two kids and 13 years later, in 1908, the house was lifted and a new first story was built below. The Munroes called the Barnacle home for the remainder of their lives. In 1973, a relative donated the landmark to the good ol' state of Florida. So the next time you're out in the Grove, party like it's the 1900s and check out the oldest house in the 305.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®