Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
The crushed-rock-and-shell roadbed is straight and flat, running for 12 miles atop the L-40 levy, which separates the Everglades from this stretch of southern Palm Beach County. The dike road, which opened to bikers and hikers last October, connects the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center in the north to the south entrance of the refuge. A slight promontory in an otherwise flat landscape, the levy service road offers an expansive view of the seemingly endless river of grass, which stretches west to the bright blue horizon unchecked in its green sameness, save for a few stands of tall trees. The path, bordered on the east by thick mangroves, also offers close brushes with nature -- and plenty of bone-jarring abuse on the bumpy road. In the canal that curves along the edge of the Everglades just below the road, white egrets wade on gawky legs and dip their bills into the water as they hunt for food, unconcerned about passing bikers. But if you're cruising along at any decent speed, don't survey the scene for too long. The tight-packed dirt road is rife with washboard ripples and large chunks of rock that poke through the surface. This makes for a rough ride and creates the potential for a wipeout even on this benign-looking trail, which is bordered bucolically on either side by wild grasses and yellow and lavender flowers. With absolutely no shade, the road's white rock and sand glare brightly and amplify the heat of the day. This actually seems to be an attraction for the huge dragonflies that bask on the surface and flutter up as bike tires approach, continually flying into riders. Warning: There is no bathroom or potable water along the way.
Marlins fans are the most spoiled in baseball. A few years ago, Big Wayne built them a World Series champion on a huge mountain of cash and then yanked it away. Fans whined and cried. They wanted their multimillion-dollar stars back. Get real. A greedy garbage tycoon giveth and a greedy garbage tycoon taketh away. But a funny thing happened while the crybabies complained: A talented team was born. The rebirth of the Marlins began with a bunch of losses, miserable losses. But gradually, as time went on, certain young, hungry players began emerging as the real deal. Millar. Gonzalez. Wilson. Dempster. Floyd. Kotsay. And even as they were losing over and over again, true baseball aficionados were beginning to realize that this motley team had a chance to be (dare they even say it?) good. They have a nasty bullpen, a great infield, and a bunch of guys who can hit in the clutch. And now all the spoiled, bandwagoning pseudofans can take advantage of the best bargain in baseball: At every single home game, you can get four upper-level tickets, four dogs, four sodas, four bags of peanuts, and a game program for a mere $34. That's a ticket and a good ol' baseball meal for $8.50 apiece. Break it down and this is worth $68 (at the inflated concession prices at such venues). They also throw in a discount card for food at IHOP, which sponsors the deal. Sure, it's the upper level, but you're still in the park, soaking up the atmosphere, root-root-rooting for the home team, and not caring if you ever get back. The same basic offer, if you're unlucky enough to be a Braves fan, runs $49, or some 40 percent higher. The 4 for $34 will be a great bargain until John Henry breaks up this new team -- and if he does that, then we'll all really have something to complain about.
This local chapter of the Hare-and-Hounds- style chase is no different from any of its global counterparts. (The races originated in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1938 and has followers worldwide.) It's a drinking group with a running problem. Every weekend, bands of Harriers and Harriettes chase hares (or follow marks of flour) on three- to six-mile trails throughout the county in search of exercise, camaraderie, and -- most important -- good beer. Terms such as down-downs, poofter (and poofterism), run books, theme hashes, and nymphomaniacs are frequently used among members. Too bad you have to know one to become one.
Catching a quick bite in this quaint park on the New River, locals can become a tourist attraction. While you're gnawing on a sandwich, visitors to Fort Lauderdale may well wave and point as they float by on any number of tour boats that pass. The small park sits on a lot between two waterfront homes on the north side of the river, just a couple blocks south of Las Olas Boulevard. Only one full-fledged table occupies the site, but picnickers can lounge on a scattering of surprisingly comfortable metal benches, which are strategically placed in shady areas along a serpentine brick pathway. Heck, the lawn is so well manicured, it's even safe to put down a blanket without sitting on an ant colony. Most weekdays park patrons include moms and little ones, business people with takeout food, a few folks dropping fishing lines, and a guy who's usually there with his huge pet parrot (who always wants a cracker -- or whatever you have). The view of the serene river and the mansions across the way is periodically interrupted by the aforementioned tour boats and by ostentatious yachts headed out for daytime luxury cruises while you're on your one-hour lunch break.
Urban implies something in the city, and in a couple counties where beaches form the eastern boundary, we thought a favorite beach stroll might have been cheating a little. The Riverwalk, however, keeps to the city definition -- being set in the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale and all -- while offering a slice of nature to go along with the trodding. The red-brick promenade meanders along the placid New River for a couple of miles, starting at a marina just west of the Seventh Avenue bridge and working its way east past the Broward Center For the Performing Arts, historic Himmarshee Village, and the Las Olas Riverfront entertainment complex before terminating at a spot behind the Hyde Park Market. In fact a giant arrow has been strategically painted on the side of the grocery store, directing walkers to the heart of the Las Olas Boulevard shopping and dining district just around the corner. But there's plenty of shopping, dining, and imbibing available along the Riverwalk itself. A convenient detour away from the river's cool breezes and views, the Riverfront complex offers a chance to catch a movie, grab a bite or a refreshing drink from one of several restaurants, or step into a tobacco emporium and pick up a stogy to puff as you stroll the tree-shaded sidewalk. And on the first Sunday of every month, the picturesque walkway is crowded with revelers enjoying the SunTrust Jazz Brunch, which features several stages of live music and food offerings at river's edge.
It's a Saturday in mid-April, eighth race of the day, and the small crowd is ready for the Hialeah Park races at Gulfstream. A few old-timers play to stereotype: linen suits, fedoras, and stogies, hovering over their racing forms at the rail. A handful of families drink Cokes and eat hot dogs, paying little attention to the track. Most of the action takes place inside, by the simulcast screens. The Wood Memorial is about to start, then the Arkansas Derby and the Blue Grass Stakes, all taking place far away from Gulfstream, and all with major significance in the racing world. Yet even on a day of low-stakes races, when all eyes are elsewhere, there is a quiet dignity to Gulfstream. Like a half-empty Yankee Stadium in September or Boston Gardens before -- well, before they tore it down. When the red-coated bugler steps to the winner's circle and announces the arrival of the horses for the race, dwindling attendance is momentarily forgotten. Statuesque palm trees sway in the infield. Even the massive condos lining Hallandale Beach look picturesque from afar. Then the horses are in the gate, the buzzer sounds, and the chase is on. Nickthehousebuster comes out strong but soon fades. Star of Rajab moves to the front, fighting off Shady Lawyer. The favorite, Actspectations, is nowhere to be found. A few stray shouts and grunts bounce off the empty chairs that line the grandstands. As the horses head down the stretch, Locked On makes his move, emerging from the pack and taking the race by a couple of lengths. A five-to-one shot, $10 on a $2 bet. Life is good.
Never had a 300 game? No problem. At Davie Lanes almost anyone who joins one of their many bowling leagues is guaranteed a better average. Try the Fun League, where for 22 weeks you can play three games one night a week with a weekly payout of $100 per week. If that doesn't thrill you, try the Marlins League, in which bowlers receive tickets to two Marlins games, a team jersey, and a chance at a mysterious prize fund. There's also the Boomerang Bowlers League for gay and lesbian bowlers, plus the Have a Ball League, which used to be called the Lousy Bowlers League. If you prefer to throw your ball by black light, check out Extreme Bowling on Friday and Saturday nights. The décor at Davie Lanes could probably use a little updating, and its 32 lanes might pale in comparison to some of the newer, larger bowling centers, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more user-friendly place.
You lookin' for some action? You found the right place. This 16-table hall has offered hustlers from around the globe a shot at winning big for nine years running. Four billiards tables attract Brits and other Euro players, as does management's care of its wares. Balls are cleaned and polished after every game, and tables are wiped down and vacuumed as well. This bodes well for billiards lovers, because grungy balls mean shorter-rolling shots. A small bar in the corner offers a buck and a half beer specials Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and three booths by the door boast backgammon, checkers, and chess. Although some players stroll in with sticks valued in the thousands, there are also some available for purchase in the $50-to-$110 range. Or get one handmade by local cue-crafter Joe Picone, whose sticks are reputed to be so fine, players will wait up to a year to get their chalked hands on them. Beginners: Don't be daunted. You can use the smooth and utterly unwarped house sticks, and everyone's too enthralled with his or her own game to notice your lame shots.
Think of it this way: Lord Nelson himself threw "darts" in the form of cannonballs, and the 16-pounders flew into the French fleet, which is why he won the battle of Trafalgar and which may be why the British love this pub game so much. Owned and operated by a couple of expatriate British citizens who refuse to relinquish their citizenships, Lord Nelson's is a perfect place for the dart novice. The pub is spacious, the dart boards sit well away from the crowd in the comfortable expanse of the main room, and the pub provides the darts -- just ask at the bar. A couple of strips mark the throwing line, conveniently labeled "7-feet, 2-inches," the official game distance. And that's all that's official. Since the pub isn't on the local dart-league circuit, you can get in and learn over a couple of pints of Bass Ale or a hefty serving of shepherd's pie, bangers and mash, or fish and chips.
Once you've experienced Bathtub Reef Beach, you'll understand how it got its name and why it's the perfect place to bring kids (or not). Every day at low tide, water collects between the beach and the live Anastasia Worm reef that sits about 75 yards away, creating, yes, a natural bathtub to frolic in. (The waves keep their distance beyond the reef.) Anytime is a good time to visit, especially if you're looking for a small, intimate place with a newly regraded beach, new restrooms, a recently rebuilt dunes crossover and, as if that weren't enough, lots of free parking. Come to think of it, this could be one of the best beaches in the entire state.
So what if some steel-and-glass-happy developer plopped a Goliath-size condo just outside the southern end of this beach? Don't look over there. Instead shuffle over the always clean and gold sand and stretch your terry towel under a chickee hut, or for a measly buck, stroll 920 feet due east into the Atlantic Ocean courtesy of the Dania Beach pier. A bait shop sells chum, pilchard, and sand fleas -- also cheese and crackers, gum, smokes, and soda pop. Watch the marble-eyed pelicans watching you as you flick your rented fishing pole over the pier's railing. Cast your lures and lines into jade waters, or maybe pop a quarter into one of a few stereoscopes stationed on the pier, and check out the cargo ships sliding across the horizon. If you're lucky you might spot a school of manta rays or, more often, manatees. For those who like to picnic, coolers and drinks on the pier and beach are allowed. If you prefer to eat out, a modest snack grill dishes out hot dogs and cold beer. Extra bonus: The pier's open 24 hours. This beach's unspoken credos remind us of Key West's: Say hello to strangers, pick up after yourself, and always carry a Koozie.
If variety is the spice of life, then the nine and a half-mile loop trail at Jonathan Dickinson is one flavor-filled hike. Wending along its way, the trail itself varies from loose-packed sand to dirt to downright bog (especially during the rainy season, from June through October). The path is well maintained by the Florida Trail Association, though, and while it's changing its geological makeup, the strand carries hikers through six different habitat zones, from open plains to a thick forest of vine-covered trees that seem to form a wall. Toward the end of the one-way loop, a lake comes into view, and the area is a good one in which to spot the occasional armadillo, alligator, or raccoon. About midway around the loop, a well and pump have been installed, but water from them needs to be thoroughly treated and filtered, so you might as well bring enough of your own clean H2O -- at least two quarts per hiker. As if more than nine miles isn't enough for a good day's trudge, a spur trail heads off some three more miles to a primitive campground, where wanderers will find another water pump and an outhouse. (Hey, we said primitive.) Camping overnight requires advance authorization from the park.