One minute, you're lying on the beach. The next minute, you're staring down a barracuda. And you aren't even breathing hard. Red Reef Park is the couch potato's answer to underwater adventure. It's definitely more exciting than another rerun of Jacques Cousteau but hardly more taxing. The artificial reef that attracts everything from barracuda to clown fish to triggerfish to puffers is only ten to twelve yards from shore in about ten feet of water. Located at the southern end of the park, the rocks were originally hoisted into place to protect swimmers. The new additions soon attracted fish and other sea life, and -- voilà! -- a not-to-miss South Florida destination was born. The spot isn't hard to find. Just look for the bodies lying on top of the water, snorkels pointed skyward. Grab your own snorkel and fins and join them. Short of buying an aquarium, it's the easiest way to see tropical fish up-close and personal. And you don't have to clean the water, change the filter, or feed them. Just kick and enjoy.
Even if you can't do forward loops in 30-knot winds or catch sick air while hanging from your kitesurf sail, you can still come to 16th Street for a great time -- as long as the wind is blowing, that is. This forgiving site offers ocean conditions fit for both intermediate and advanced wind addicts. The inlet pier and the hefty reef 200 yards offshore minimize the shore break and reduce the swells, allowing even the most flat-footed sailors to venture out. And for the fear-challenged, on big days there is still some nasty whitewater for radical moves. Conditions are best when the winds are northerly and northeasterly with medium waves. But south and east winds are generally doable as well. Parking here, like most beach locations, is a pain in the neck but manageable. Beware the wicked parking-meter attendant who loves lurking around the corner and dispensing tickets. Also, watch out for boat traffic coming out of the inlet and for careless wave runner-drivers on weekends. There are plenty of grassy rigging areas and a spacious, mostly deserted area to launch one's kite. Showers and rest rooms are nearby.
It's another one of those subtropical days. You're hot, hot, hot. Your kids want out. Don't fall apart. Head for Castaway Island, where $5 will buy you or anyone else who's more than one year old admission to the coolest place in South Florida. (Babies get in free.) Opened in 1998 at a cost of $1.5 million, the island offers six slides, a water cannon, H2O-fed palm trees that will drench you, and a baby pool with even more amusements. Last year 140,000 people visited the playground, which is located in the middle of TY Park just west of I-95 and Sheridan Road. It's closed from November through mid-February but wonderfully wet the rest of the year. During the summer, when crowds get serious, the place is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and authorities limit you to two-hour sessions. But don't fret if you want to stay longer. There's an artificial lake and beach where you can cool your heels while you wait to reenter. And hey, there's one of those old-fashioned playgrounds with jungle gyms and slides just a few hundred yards away.
Funny how Fort Lauderdale's oft-trumpeted status as "the Venice of America" doesn't apply to the vast majority of its residents. All that the miles of canals mean to the working-class crowd is an annoying wait for drawbridges to close. Yachts are for the rich, and even a nice bass boat will set Bubba back a too-substantial chunk of change. But proletarians can taste life at sea -- sort of. The expensive and limited Water Taxi service morphed into Water Bus in November 2001, adding stops and slashing fares for all-day passes to $5. Three-day passes cost twice that, a week goes for $20, and a month costs $35. Seagoing all year long will set you back $99, with discounts for students, senior citizens, and the disabled. And don't complain about the fleet. Some of the old, yellow, 26-foot open boats that seat 27 are being replaced by air-conditioned 42-footers that carry 72. They putter past the swank condos, elegant mansions, and upscale businesses along the New River and Intracoastal Waterway from 9 a.m. to past midnight every day. Most of the 20 stops between the Riverfront shopping center in downtown Fort Lauderdale and Oakland Park Boulevard on the Intracoastal coincide with bus stops. So climb aboard, squint your eyes, and imagine your public-transit comrades as guests aboard your little yellow yacht. Maps, schedules, and fares are available at all stops, on the boats, and at
Some experiences just can't be topped, and a canoe trip on the Loxahatchee River in northern Palm Beach County is one of these. With a friendly and reasonably priced canoe livery just feet from its scenic banks, a long or short trip down Florida's oldest designated Wild and Scenic River is a sure-fire way to remember why we all moved here in the first place. In just a day, you can paddle the watery, sometimes narrow, winding, coffee-colored path that opens majestically as it makes its way through Jonathan Dickinson State Park to the pickup point, where a bus will haul you back to your car. Along the way, you can stop by the abandoned fish camp of renowned Trapper Nelson, the Wildman of the Loxahatchee, who was found dead of a gunshot wound in 1968. Murder or suicide? No one knows. If you're up for only a couple of hours in a boat, paddle to a small spillway, have a picnic, and head back upstream. The current is gentle enough for the most confirmed couch potato. If you've been putting off a trip, don't wait. Thanks to an inexplicable action of the all-powerful South Florida Water Management District, the cypress trees that provide a cool canopy for canoeists on hot days are rapidly disappearing. Hurry before water managers destroy yet another of South Florida's irreplaceable treasures.
The fisher people who gather daily on this quarter-mile-long wooden pier have snagged snook, cobia, jack, bonita, mackerel, kingfish, tuna, and even an occasional tarpon, confides pier master Charles Hamilton. But all of that is nothing compared to the creature that glided by one day and brought all the lines cast into the briny blue up short. There, off the city-owned pier, the waves darkened as a 40-foot-long whale shark glided by. The whale shark is vegetarian, so swimmers weren't in danger. But fish like that make good stories. And good stories make good fishing. "I wasn't here, but I heard about it," says Nicholas Wax, conveniently proving the point. Wax antes up the $2 charge to fish just about every day. Asked for insider info on the top fishing spot locally, the 12-year-old angler doesn't hesitate. "Right here!" he just about shouts. For a stroll out over the Atlantic Ocean, where blustery breezes buffet and the 25-foot-deep sea mesmerizes, the two bucks to fish -- or 50 cents for just watching -- is piddling pocket change.

Need a racquet strung? A partner? Just want a quick pickup game? Looking for something for the kids to do this summer? The tennis center at George English Park is the answer to the prayers of every Wimbledon wannabe (or wannabe Richard Williams). Open six days a week (from 2 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday) and located along the Intracoastal Waterway north of Sunrise Boulevard, the complex includes seven hard courts. It has everything a tennis player could want in friendly, unpretentious surroundings. The $4.25 per person ($3.50 for city residents) charge during peak evening and early Saturday morning keeps the place clear of the lets-argue-every-point-loudly losers who too often haunt public courts. Also, the summer camps for kids give every parent a chance to raise the next Venus or Serena Williams without having to become as crazy as the Williams's sisters' ever-present father. Now that's real love.Jimmy Evert

Tennis Center

Eddie Jones may have averaged close to 19 points, but he's still just the Best of the Rest. Pat Riley built this thirtysomething team around his center (focal glomerulosclerosis be damned), and the coach has clung tenaciously to an offensive and defensive style that plays to Mourning's strengths. In December, that strategy made Riley look stubborn, inflexible, and not very smart. By March, Riley had turned a collection of has-beens, almost-kinda-weres, and flat-out bums into an actual team with a chance to make the playoffs and had silenced those who were calling for the coach to retire. While the playoff push eventually petered out, the Heat wouldn't even have come close unless the complementary players had finally meshed around their superstar. Zo, in turn, battled through illness (to which his immunosuppressant drugs make him more susceptible), pain (for which he can take no anti-inflammatories, thanks, again, to his kidney medicines), fatigue, and a near-total turnover of his teammates to finally reach a Winter Groove.
Two words: clay courts. One of the few public tennis centers where the rabble can play on a surface generally reserved for the gentry, Howard Park is a hidden gem. Long ignored by West Palm Beach recreation planners, it's a 60-plus-year-old facility where the infamous Bobby Riggs once swung a racquet. And it recently got a face-lift to match the resurgence of the surrounding neighborhood, which is just across Okeechobee Boulevard from CityPlace. The center was once in the midst of crack houses. Even folks wielding tennis racquets feared to tread there. Now it's a magnet for Jag- and Rolls-driving tennis nuts from Palm Beach, as well as those with less substantial pedigrees and more ordinary wheels. Majestic banyan trees that were probably little more than shrub height when the center opened in the late 1930s provide shade. Along with seven clay and two hard courts, there's a quaint stadium with a clay surface where Riggs and lesser-known competitors once played. Tennis director Mike Boone says an elderly visitor once told him she was in the middle of a game when news hit that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. "What was the reaction?" Boone recalls asking her. "Oh," she replied. "We finished the set." And 61 years later, they're still playing tennis with equally unflappable intensity.Howard Park
OK, the 18 holes at the Diplomat may not be the best golf course qua golf course in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Its 6728 yards are lined with shady banyan trees, and designer Joe Lee lavished water on 16 of the holes -- including a tricky island green on the second one (no, you don't have to wade to your putt; there's a bridge). But what makes the Diplomat really special are the amenities. A GPS system on every golf cart gives a color picture of each hole, points out the hazards, and gives exact yardage to the cup. Touch another button and up pops a menu for the country club's Tack Room Bar. A waiter will whisk your repast straight to your cart. After a long, hard day of strenuous golfing, you can relax with a massage at the spa. Best of all, just across the Intracoastal Waterway is the Westin Diplomat Hotel, 39 stories of overindulgence. Hotel guests get one round of golf (plus as much practice as they like) for $125 weekdays, $159 weekends.

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