Best Hike/Palm Beach County 2000 | Jonathan Dickinson State Park | Sports | South Florida
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.
When they need a respite from the hubbub of the city, lawyers, journalists, and other downtown Fort Lauderdale workers zip into this health club inside the Auto Nation Tower, Broward County's tallest building. Enter through the marble-floored lobby and take the elevator to the seventh floor. Where else can you jog on an outside track with a sweeping view of downtown Fort Lauderdale, then dive into an aquamarine, heated outdoor pool? The sounds of the traffic and hustle and bustle seven stories below are a distant melody. For those who prefer their workout after hours, nightly yoga classes are also held on the outer deck, amid palm trees, a decorative pond, mood lighting -- and the stars. We love the state-of-the-art treadmills with individual TVs and the racquetball courts, but the little amenities are what really stand out. In the ladies' locker room, gals can hang up their suits in full-size lockers and relax in a hot or a cold Jacuzzi, without worrying about muscle men hitting on them. Management has thoughtfully provided every tool a professional needs to return to the office after an afternoon workout: blow dryer, moisturizer, iron, hair spray, bathing suit dryer. You can wait for your massage in a special room with a wicker couch and fresh flowers and make complimentary phone calls. Free coffee, newspapers, and razors, too.

What makes this rectangle of tropical lushness with a paved loop exceptional? Its prominent location facing Fort Lauderdale's beach and its relative obscurity for a park in a city. (You can bet some green space-hating developer sees lost millions every time he looks at it.) Pull in off Sunrise Boulevard and park for $3.25, or walk in for $1. The 1.9-mile loop offers a quiet, frequently shady refuge from heavy traffic. The park is sandwiched between the beach and the Intracoastal Waterway, and the loop sports a long view of big boats and homes on the inland shore. Beautiful people frequently work out on the loop, so the scenery is humanly as well as naturally appealing. You can Rollerblade or bicycle, and dogs on leashes are welcome too. You'll find trails to hike, picnic tables in quiet places, and a canoe-rental service for those who want to paddle the lake. Got a sedentary wastrel in your party who wants to do nothing? Stick him or her on the shore of the inland waterway under a tree and let him or her sleep. For runners who care, the loop is hill-free, and after the workout you can walk out on the beach for a swim and a shower.

Named after Chris Evert's dad, Jimmy, who coached here for decades, these city-owned courts are a testament to municipal beauty and utility at prices affordable to most, if not all. That's what we like about public tennis courts -- everybody can get in to play. This facility in Holiday Park, surrounded by palms, flowering plants, and verdant expanses of grass, includes 18 "hard-true" courts (a tidy dirt surface that qualifies as clay) and three asphalt courts. The best way to get court time is to show up. You'll find showers and a lounge, and you can arrange lessons from a pro if you need them. A stringer works on the premises if you need your racket restrung from blasting serves, and the help is as pleasant as any country-club fawner. The place is clean, well managed, and open seven days a week, morning to night.
NEWSFLASH! SNIPE EXIST! And you, too, can go snipe hunting, which is no joke, unless you think it's a joke. Most land west of U.S. Highway 27 is public, managed in part by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. You'll find about 672,000 acres of excellent habitat for migrating waterfowl such as the snipe, a fast-flying, small bird that's hard to shoot and makes excellent eating. In the southern end of the huge area, you'll need a boat to hunt. But in the northern end, and in the Holey Land/Rotenberger tract in Palm Beach County, you can wade in the water to hunt. We prefer that, since boats have to be thoroughly camouflaged and waders get to move quietly. Other waterfowl include the blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, and the rare Florida mallard (also called the mottled mallard). The long waterfowl season extends from the week before Thanksgiving through the third week in February. Deer and hog populations remain low after Hurricane Irene, so don't plan to get a permit this season to hunt them.
Freshwater or salt, catch-and-release or catch-and-eat? Questions, questions. Florida is about saltwater, so we'll answer by sending you to sea. For convenience, quick access to the ocean, and virtually certain catches, try the 65-foot Flamingo. This boat beats the competition in part because of its size -- you have more room to move than you'll find on the 45-footers, and you'll have more stability at sea. So you're less likely to spend your time throwing up during a small-craft advisory. You'll also find free parking at the nearby Radisson Hotel, always a plus on the beach. It's a short boat ride out to a perennial hot spot -- three parallel reefs loaded with fish. The reefs range from a few hundred yards to a mile offshore, so you spend your time fishing, not boating. What about gear? Well, you have to show up only with what you want to eat and drink. Among the likely catch: king mackerel, amberjack, and grouper. Good luck!

Even Yosemite's great cliffs aren't much more of a stretch than the 4000 feet of climbing surface you'll find inside Coral Cliffs, where Florida's subtropical, flatter-than-Kansas geography doesn't matter a whit. Owner Robert Christenson used to climb in Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada, and he learned two things: one, that it's safer to climb 4000 feet of rock wall if it's only 25 feet high (that's the height of his climbing wall, which has a rotating and variable surface offering climbs that range from beginning to advanced), and two, that he prefers the beach to the mountains. That's why he moved to Florida. But his shop includes everything you need for the real thing -- harnesses, carabiners, and rope (it's Sterling Dynamic in 50 to 60 meter lengths), shoes made by 5.10 and Boreal, and all the other climbing stuff. There's also basic instruction in how to belay, and in the skills of lead climbing, crack climbing, and others.

Whether you're the Brian Boytano of the pavement or decked out in more pads than an American Gladiator, this one and a half-mile stretch of beach is the perfect place to strap 'em up and wheel. The ride begins just south of Garfield Street at Hayes Street, where, if you don't own your own wheels, you can rent some at Sun and Fun Cycles and Rollerblades. You are rewarded on this path with a clear, unobstructed view of the sand, water, and sunbathing bodies for added motivation. We suggest first heading into the wind to get the exercise aspect out of the way. The 25-foot-wide path is relatively smooth and gives you plenty of room to stay clear of other bladers and walkers. This particular stretch is an area where wheels of all kinds coexist peacefully. Usually a friendly ring of a bell or an "On your left/right" provides ample warning of other bodies in motion. Groups of tall palm trees scattered along the way fronted by patches of swaying sea oats remind you of why it's great to live in South Florida and why the motels and time-shares on the west side of the pavement are full of tourists admiring your native color. Cool off with a quick dousing of the head under one of the many showers along the way and then make the turn and ride the breeze back. Mother Nature befriends you this time with a gentle push from behind and a smooth return ride. At Garfield Street you can relax with a slice of pizza at Angelo's Corner or get a soft-serve cone to cap off the day.

Best Place To Spot Urban Wildlife (Reptiles)

Snyder Park

As you enter keep to the right and wind around the shore of the large lake in the center of the park. If you want, wear earplugs to protect yourself from the roar of jets taking off and landing at the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, which is barely a half-mile south. The noise doesn't appear to have scared off much of the animal population, which you'll notice as soon as you depart the pavement and head off into the thicket on the well-marked series of nature trails. You'll see raccoons of all sizes scampering about unconcerned -- probably because so many stupid visitors ignore signs warning against feeding the wildlife. On the lake's north shore, just before the road dead-ends, you'll see a wooden shelter and a sandy volleyball pit. On sunny days this sandy area is home to a butt-load of lumbering iguanas, some small, slender, and bright green and some upward of two feet in length. Depending on their temperament, they'll hang out and eyeball humans suspiciously or they'll noisily turn tail and scamper up the nearest tree. Bring insect repellent, as even the big lizards can't eat all the flying bugs near the lake.

Best Place To Spot Urban Wildlife (Birds)

Rose Drive

From downtown Fort Lauderdale, take Andrews Avenue south to Davie Boulevard, and park at the gas station on the northeast corner. Or better yet, ride a bike. Proceed east on Rose Drive, and listen for a sound that resembles a cat's meow -- only a lot louder. The sound is coming from four pairs of peacocks that roam the turf near the Broward County Bar Association's verdant grounds and have taken up permanent residence on the lawns and roofs of nearby residents. Arrive when a couple is in the throes of courtship, and you'll witness males sparring over the affections of a female or puffing up their purple plumage in a spectacular display. The peacocks seem quite content and comfortable in these surroundings, and even the neighborhood's roaming felines give the big birds their space and can often be spotted crouching nearby, eyeing the gaudy critters with great interest.

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