There's nothing better after you've smoked a tree than to be surrounded by them. West of Brickell, a soft mist lingers above the Roads. Just below sits one of Miami's best-kept secrets: Simpson Park Hammock. The Garden Center's coral-lined cottage entrance gives way to a true urban oasis, where a winding nature trail's seashell-lined path offers a blissful reprieve from the traffic roaring just a block away. There's silence — nothing but verdant humidity and rustling leaves. Miami's blue sky is engulfed by trees. In the distance, a family of raccoons rushes into red stopper bushes, shrouding the speeding Metrorail. Even sober, the place is magical.

Matheson Hammock Park
Photo by Chris Garcia / Courtesy of the GMCVB – MiamiandBeaches.com

Sometimes all you need is a blanket, a leafy tree casting some delicious shade, and a few minutes to contemplate life's great mysteries while munching on a bologna-and-cheese sandwich. That may sound like a simple enough demand, but with all the sweating crowds, echoing traffic, and endless uhntz-uhntz madness that defines Miami, finding some peace and quiet in the Magic City can be a daunting task. But there's a lush green oasis right in the middle of it all. In fact, it's the first county park in the 305: Matheson Hammock. In 1930, industrialist William J. Matheson handed 85 acres of tropical hammock to the county and asked it to create a botanical garden. Four years later, the county bought a huge adjacent stretch of land to create more than 500 acres of oasis on the waterfront. Today you can find all of your picnic essentials, from massive banyan trees to pavilions and the occasional squirrel. There's even a manmade atoll pool that empties and fills with the tides. There's plenty of grass to pitch a picnic lunch, but there's also a sandy beach with views of the downtown Miami skyline.

Just south of the trendy Upper Eastside, where Russian billionaires are plotting the next wave of luxury condo towers, an older Miami holds out. Banyans line the streets of the historic Morningside neighborhood, where snow-white ibises roam freely, heading east toward the spot where Miami's best-rounded park hides nestled along the bayfront. This is not a cleverly designed concert venue or a hole-in-the-wall pop-up park. Morningside is a space conscious of its natural surroundings. On weekends, families barbecue near loved ones renting kayaks and paddleboards. Basketball courts and soccer fields brim with bustling, sweating players. But for those slow Thursday mornings, there's also a quiet bench and a sunrise waiting over Biscayne Bay.

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Dog parks can be stressful for humans. You want to let your dog explore freely, meet new friends, and romp around. But how do you know if the other dogs there have been trained properly? What if they have fleas or aggression issues? These are the neuroses of a dog owner with severe attachment anxiety. But there's a place in Miami that can help — for a lot less money than the therapist's couch you probably need. Just over the Rickenbacker Causeway, next to the graffiti-covered Miami Marine Stadium, sits Hobie Island Beach. Cubans call it "Los Espinitos" because the beach is filled with mangroves popping up along the sand. It's not an ideal beach for people, but for dogs, it's a natural playground of adventure. Some dogs are afraid of water, flailing their paws as they try to walk across the swampy expanse. Others are natural-born swimmers. With the wind in their fur, dogs paddle across the shallow shoreline, discovering a new world — much to their relaxed owners' delight.

It's fair to enter most public restrooms, like all Keanu Reeves movies, with very low expectations. The vast majority are barely a notch above popping a squat on the roadside as honking motorists speed past and laugh. But if most public restrooms are the 47 Ronin-era Keanu bombs, the toilets at Village Green Park are Point Break. Perched in the emerald heart of the tony Village of Key Biscayne, this pit stop feels like an oasis you should pay for the privilege of visiting. Inside, the air conditioning cools, while soft lighting, floor to ceiling stall doors, and a fully stocked supply of toilet paper all whisper, "Serenity now." Walk in to this public restroom and you'll imagine Keanu himself saying it Matrix-style: "Whoa."

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The Underline is an ambitious plan to convert the path beneath the Metrorail into a ten-mile linear urban trail, designed by top architects and urban landscapers to be Miami's answer to New York's now-iconic High Line. But anyone who has run on the curvy trail today knows it's already great. The Metrorail's tall infrastructure casts a cooling shadow on the trail, and whizzing trains send a steady breeze down while your feet hit the pavement. Sea grape leaves and rock doves line the path beside you. And for now — before the starchitects and the glowing national media move in — it's a relatively seldom-used trail, making it perfect for a late-afternoon jog. Traffic rests at a stand-still along South Dixie Highway, but you're flying by. From Coconut Grove Station on SW 27th Avenue north to Brickell Station, it's a three-mile jog. And on your way back, you can treat yourself to a cafecito or craft beer from El Carajo — or simply take Metrorail back if it's that kind of day.

Legend has it that a pot of gold sits at the end of a rainbow, and fact has it that at the south end of the winding 25-mile Metrorail system, a commercial wonderland awaits. Riding Metrorail isn't something most Miamians do for fun, but that public transit commute can be a joyride if you stop at the Dadeland North station and run into the open arms of that colorful Britto character. The train deposits you at Dadeland Mall, home to 185 shops and restaurants, including the state's largest Macy's. The shopping is awesome, but driving to the mall is a headache, and trying to find parking (or your car afterward) is the reason Amazon is doing so well. Forgo everything that is crappy about the experience; let Metrorail do all the hard work, sit back, and take in the beautiful sights of suburban Miami along the way.

(Cue Weird Science theme. A stern-looking old man in a white lab coat enters the room and turns on a projector.) "Zee science eez clear — crystal clear! Traffic, eet eez very, very bad for your health. Just 30 minutes of breathing highway fumes triggers eentense stress, vee have found. Scientists in Boston say older people suffer memory loss and other problems when regularly soooobjected to car congestion. So yez, my friends, the traffic, eet eez killing you. And nowhere in Miami eez killing you faster than the Palmetto Expressway between NW 41st Street and the Dolphin Expressway. How do I know? Science, dummies! Zee researchers at American Highways Users Alliance croonched zee numbers and found zat zees eez zee worst, most bottlenecked roadway in Miami. Drivers lost 1.4 million hours and suffered $30 million in wasted time on zat road just last year. As a scientist, I can confirm: Zose are big numbers! So stay off zee Palmetto. Do eet for your health."

They came by the dozens March 1. They rode $5,000 titanium road bikes and rusted beach cruisers, über-hip monochrome fixies and rented Citi Bikes. And huge grins crept across their faces as they pedaled past the bayfront and — at last — back onto the gently arcing bridge that marks the eastern boundary of the famed Venetian Causeway. For nearly a year, the historic link between South Beach and downtown Miami had been closed while crews worked to repair a decaying bridge, leaving cyclists with a Sophie's choice of dodging high-speed traffic along the MacArthur and Julia Tuttle causeways if they wanted to make the journey. But now the Venetian is back, and so is the crown jewel of Miami bike routes. A fully marked, separated bike lane takes cyclists through the mansion-studded Venetian Isles, past turquoise waters and gleaming yachts. Whatever kind of bike you're rocking, it's worth hopping onto and cruising across the Venetian. And enjoy it while you can — it will close this fall for several more weeks of repairs. And enjoy it while you can — it will close this fall for several more weeks of repairs.

Changes in Miami's landscape are often dramatic. Lincoln Road was once a slum. Wynwood was neglected and crime-infested. And Northeast 79th Street at the northern edge of the MiMo District was a derelict stretch of blighted buildings. Lincoln Road is well on its path toward becoming the next Bal Harbour, and Wynwood is a global hipster enclave, but 79th Street's rejuvenation has been quieter and more remarkable. Beginning at the former immigration building on Biscayne Boulevard at NE 79th Street, where a 324-unit development including a hotel is underway, and continuing to the glorious JFK Causeway, which spans the bay, a line of restaurants and bars has recently sprung up like sprouts in spring. The old dependable is Boteco, a delightful Brazilian joint where you can get some feijoada and dance the samba. The old dependables are Boteco, a delightful Brazilian joint where you can get some feijoada and dance the samba, and Mina's Mediterraneo, a classic Middle Eastern place that has a great brunch and live music too. Then there's Tap 79, where the beer is fresh and exotic. A new bar, the Anderson — run by the mad geniuses behind the Broken Shaker — slings first-class cocktails. Then there's Marky's Gourmet/The Russian Store, where you can get everything from chocolate to fine caviar, and Schnitzel Haus, the kitschiest spot in town for a legit German meal and a towering glass of Hefeweizen. After eating, head across the bridge to Pelican Harbor, where you can boat or just live the nautical life.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®