Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Motors have ruined boating. There was a time when taking to the sea meant adventure — just you and your vessel, fighting nature together, working as one to tame that violent lover known as the ocean. Gone are those days. Now you just hit a button and let technology do all the work while Jimmy Buffett sings you a song about a hot dog or something. Damn you, Buffett. But all is not lost! There is still a way to capture that primal feeling of oneness with the water, to wave goodbye to land, just you and a paddle, floating inches above the water, staring manatees right in their cold, dead, vegetarian eyes. The kayak. A piece of technology seemingly tailor-made for South Florida's canals. And there is no better place in Broward to recapture your inner seaman than Middle River. Launch off at George English Park (it's free, though the iguanas will try to intimidate you) and begin your journey. Paddle north for a more residential and serene route. Feel free to judge everyone's backyard along the way. Or go south toward the bustling Intracoastal, where you'll experience wide-open canals and, if you go far enough, waterfront bars. But drink responsibly, and keep your head on a swivel. We've lost good people to sneaky pelicans.
At daybreak, before the Maseratis and the Duck Tours clog A1A, before the sand temperature matches that of the coals on the grill, before the throngs of socks- and Teva-wearing tourists kick sand on your towel, Fort Lauderdale Beach is yours. You know it's worth waking up early for the sunrise, so by 6 a.m., you've already staked your claim in the sand, glowing pink from the morning's first rays. Here, there is more space for your volleyballing and picnicking than anywhere else, with courts and benches and grills you've already claimed for the day. Here, you know the tricks to finding the best parking (which has been made infinitely easier with a years-long parking project now complete). Here, there may be rules, but you know how to break those rules, because this is your beach. So have another mimosa and let your dog fetch some driftwood. At least until the lifeguards show up.
Parks, we've got a few here in the Sunshine State — 161 state parks alone. But while plenty of states can boast of plenty of parks — some with giant redwoods and others with grand holes in the ground — in Florida, we have more of one thing than almost anyone else: beaches. So it only stands to reason that one of our best local parks would include a beach. The park is named after John U. Lloyd, who served as the Broward County attorney for more than 30 years — which isn't a particularly poetic origin story, but Johnnie was the guy responsible for securing the land for our public use, so he deserves to be commemorated. The park offers more than just miles of perfect South Florida beach with pavilions and picnic tables. Activities include fishing, surf casting, canoeing, swimming, boating, and kayaking. Enjoy the wildlife, including the manatee sanctuary at Whiskey Creek — just do not ride, touch, pet, or otherwise molest our precious sea cows.
Not all dogs are created equal. Some fit in handbags. Others stand taller than their owners. And some may very well consume as much chicken as their owner on Wing Night. At Happy Tails Dog Park, all dog's creatures — especially those in need of a good run — can frolic together in harmony in this five-acre mecca designed for man's best friend. There's an agility course where your Westminster-in-training terrier can practice his high jump. There's a huge pathway that Master can walk along while Fido plays fetch. And the park is divvied into weight-restricted sections to keep your two-ounce chihuahua away from the Rottweilers. A home-run slide in poo is rare here. Not only does the park provide bins and bags for the inevitable but visitors actually use them. And the only time you'll have to pay to get in is during Doggiepalooza, an annual event typically held in January where $1 gets you access to every kind of pet product you've never heard of but suddenly have to buy. Who knows? You might even adopt a friend for your man's best friend.
Surfing is a state of mind, they say. It's not so much a destination but a journey of the soul. But you do actually have to go to a destination to surf. No need to drive forever and wind your way to some secret spot when there are miles of coastline smack in the middle of the city. So wax up the deck and get riding here off A1A between Belmar Street and Viramar Street. This spot can get littered with tourists from time to time, but the way the wind kicks up and the waves rush in toward the shore, it's worth fighting them for parking. When a tropical depression hits, it's all yours.
You live where other people dream of taking their vacations. Sure you have to go to work during the weekdays and sitting in I-95 traffic with a broken A/C in the long summer months is sucktastic. But toss on a pair of rubber flip-flops and stroll down to a beachside bar and you're on instant vacation. If you're looking to get more away from it all in the middle of it all, there's the Coastal Hammock Trail at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. Smack in the middle of Fort Lauderdale, the park is literally "an oasis of tropical hammocks." Not the kind you lounge in with a daiquiri but the kind built over hundreds of years by cypress trees. For an entrance fee of just $2 to $4, here you'll find the few old-growth trees east of 95 that weren't ripped out for rabid development. That's because this pristine natural area was once part of Birch's estate. The park now is the destination for urban kayakers because of the milelong freshwater lagoon, but the Coastal Hammock Trail — another of the four distinct habitat "communities" within the park — is not to be missed either. The trail is a "native maritime tropical hardwood hammock ecosystem" offering signs along the way explaining the native vegetation. It's the perfect walk for the afternoon nature lover because it's conveniently located, and the entire trail is only a 20-minute walk. Afterward, you can visit the beach by taking the pedestrian tunnel that runs under A1A.