Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
The photographers of Florida's postcard industry could go on holiday after taking a few snaps at this piece of scenic Boca Raton coastline, its white sands constantly beaten by waves of crystal-clear saltwater. Sure, the shutterbugs would have to go elsewhere for the novelty postcard shots of obese sunbathers and hot babes, as South Beach Park is rarely crammed with people. It may not have the easy access to bars and restaurants of the same-named beach in Miami-Dade, but neither is it littered with empty bottles and cigarette butts. If you're longing for a vista that might inspire you to write something on the blank side of that postcard and make a faraway friend jealous, this is the spot for you.
Readers' Choice: Delray Beach
Nestled right off Mile Marker 37, about an hour from Key West, you'll find a little piece of paradise called Bahia Honda State Park. The three beaches that make up the park stand under the shade of the old Flagler Railroad and look out over crystalline, snorkel-friendly waters. Bahia Honda is the perfect place to just chill on the sand with your toes in the water. And if you're feeling adventurous, you can hike along the Silver Palm Trail or ride along the winding bike path. The Bahia Honda Bridge is a great place for pictures or for spotting the nurse sharks that swim underneath the railroad. The park also offers kayak rentals and boating excursions. Overnight lodging is available for campers if you don't want to go back home right away. Park entry costs $8 per vehicle.
Anyone who's tried surfing in South Florida knows they don't call it Lake Atlantic for nothing; the only thing tubular in this town is the New River Tunnel. But fewer than three hours north, on the Central Florida coast, there exists a rustic slice of surf-town heaven. Start north at Cocoa Beach and score a cheap waterfront room on Airbnb (well, cheap by Fort Lauderdale standards). Wake up early, rent a board, and surf the sunrise. Plan it right and you can be packed up and in Indiatlantic for a late-afternoon lunch. There are tons of surf spots all along the coast — in Melbourne, Sebastian, Fort Pierce — all within an hour of each other (or less!). For those of us who are used to sitting in traffic at the Golden Glades Interchange for 45 minutes a day, that's nothing. Surfline.com offers a pretty good detailed guide (and beach cams) that will explain which spots — like the Streets — are good for beginners and which, like Hangers, have hazards like underwater pilings. Pit stop at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge and Ulumay Wildlife Sanctuary, which will make you forget the chaos that exists a few hours south. Grab a board and a brew and spend a weekend slowing down. Just, uh, ignore the sharks.
What, pray tell, makes a great pool? Who can describe the Platonic Ideal of the Pool? Should the water be salt-treated or chlorinated? What is the perfect chair-to-umbrella ratio? Kids or no kids whizzing in the water? For us, the slam dunk is simple: a lazy river. Any pool with a lazy river equals automatic badass. The Pelican Grand on Fort Lauderdale Beach offers exactly this sort of entertainment. The hotel's lazy river loops languidly around the pool proper, which is situated just steps from the sand. The hotel provides inner tubes so you can take a relaxing tour down the lazy river. Oh, and that pool proper ain't no slouch — a no-frills peaceful blue lagoon with steps leading down to the waves.
Readers' Choice: The W Fort Lauderdale
Parks were created because even before modern "green" movements to preserve the environment, humans innately craved natural space in the middle of civilization. Most parks these days, however, feature unnatural, brightly colored plastic playgrounds set atop artificial, shock-absorbent turf. But nature still reigns at Tradewinds Park & Stables, a huge 626.7-acre retreat and one of the few places in South Florida where you can ride horses. The park has the usual amenities: jogging path, picnic shelters, athletic fields, and playgrounds. You can fish, rent a bounce house, walk the Cypress Trail Boardwalk, and play disc golf all in the same day. But the stables also host kids' summer camp programs and equine-assisted therapy for the disabled. There's an educational farm where you can learn about Broward's agrarian past as well as model-steam-train rides. And, of course, there's always Butterfly World; this park within a park is a breathtaking botanical garden that breeds butterflies and is home to the country's largest free-flight hummingbird aviary.
Readers' Choice: Quiet Waters Park
There's one part of music festivals that sucks: the bathrooms. Whether you're squatting in a hot porta-potty or waiting in a poorly ventilated concrete fortress for 30 minutes, small bladders and big concerts don't mix. But this year, West Palm Beach's SunFest music festival revolutionized the concert toilet with its VIPee restrooms. If you have $5 and a stomach full of Coors Light, you will thank the heavens for this development in concertgoing technology. The bathrooms featured wood floors and individual stalls, but by far, the best part of the VIPee toilets was the mind-blowing foot-flush feature. Basically, it's an attachment at the bottom of the toilet that lets you flush with your foot like a brilliant little gas pedal. Once you pay to get in, you receive a wristband and can return anytime nature calls. Plus, a portion of the proceeds from the VIPee bathrooms went to the Palm Beach County Food Bank. VIPee, we'll see you in 2016.