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Best Of :: Sports & Recreation

Best New Bike Path For Masochists

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.

Best Major League Bargain

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.

Best Group to Run With

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.

Best Picnic Spot

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.

Best Urban Walk

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.

Best Place To Gamble
Gulfstream Park

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.

901 S. Federal Highway, Hallandale Beach, 33009

Best New Bike Path For Masochists: Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge


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