Let´s make a list of things we adore: a lemony-colored, wafer-thin omelet that practically dissolves on the tongue; a gooey slab of camembert with a nice Chardonnay; an eclectic, visually appealing range of hors d´oeuvres served just before dinner; chanteuse Edith Piaf; and artist Claude Monet. After French President Jacques Chirac had the gonads to refuse to endorse the U.S. invasion of Iraq, some very rude people, who likely think themselves patriots, called places such as Alliance Francaise to complain. For Pete´s sake, people! This Francophile club gives French lessons and little parties to promote the culture! Could you be more rude? And then Palm Beach County Commissioner Burt Aaronson, sensing the pulse of our emotionally gung-ho electorate, called for a boycott of French wine and cheese. Hey, Burt, kind of selective on your French imports, aren´cha? Send back egalit! Out with fraternit! ¨No, operator, I need to clarify your return policy on 227 years of libert. Operator?¨ Oh wait, never mind, Burt; that was the Patriot Act.
Since 1969, this family-owned, ten-acre naturist park on the edge of Davie has been home to the bare-assed -- those who want to feel the breeze blow and the sun warm their skin without interference. Used to be a happening place, before Miami-Dade officially allowed nude sunbathing at Haulover Beach, before Europeans started going topless on South Beach, and before places like Paradise Lakes on Florida´s West Coast in Pasco allowed well, you know. This place doesn´t have lots of pizzazz. It´s just a circle of mobile homes surrounding a swimming pool, a small restaurant, a community center, and tennis courts. It´s not the least bit intimidating. Your local gym has more body self-consciousness. This is about r-e-l-a-x-i-n-g, not mirror-gazing. Single women or couples are allowed a couple of visits to check it out. The cost is $20 per couple and $10 for single women. After those initial stays, you have to join the club to partake of this slice of public nakedness in the midst of more private suburbia.
In the 1950s, that famous buttoned-down, Eisenhower-era stiffness let loose in the phenomenon of the tiki bar. At the time, they were ubiquitous. All things Polynesian seemed foreign, so it was OK to delve into a world of rhythmic hips and almost fleshy tropical blossoms. Even in the backyard, tiki torches burned. Since 1956, Mai-Kai has been serving this Polynesian fantasy on a deluxe plate. While other spots on the tiki circuit slowly went under, this one persisted. Tiki culture lives on there underneath thatched roof huts, surrounded by lush tropical vegetation, with rain falling over the windows while you sit inside transported. The 51 tropical concoctions, with names like the Zombie, Black Magic, and the Jet Pilot, served by sarong-clad, as they say, maidens, helps set the mood. The stage shows are awesome. Pricey at about $45 a person for the whole shebang, but check out the special drink nights, and call for floor-show-only nights. If you´re there for drinks and they have room, you can sometimes be seated for the show for an extra $9.95.
There is better food, films, coffee, and scenery here than on any other stretch of Broward County road. This strip offers a full night of refreshments, entertainment, and nature. Best of all, there´s no need to burn a lot of gas, even if you drive a monster SUV that seems to get feet rather than miles to the gallon. Start on the south side of Sunrise at the Federal Highway intersection for an early-evening treat at Fantasia´s of Boston. The coffee drinks are good, but it´s the desserts that tantalize, calling out in sugary ecstasy from the glass case that lines the counter. After you feast, go next door to see an independent film at the Sunrise Cinemas at Gateway. The Gateway specializes in great movies that no one else shows, like the latest by Pedro Almodvar or My Big Fat Greek Wedding. After you´re done at the theater, go a block east to the Gateway Shopping Center, where you can choose between Sukho Thai or Heart Rock Sushi for dinner. Before you leave the parking lot, stroll to the back corner for a cappuccino at Archives Book Caf, a combination bookstore/coffeehouse/antiques shop. Then venture a couple of blocks east and read a little next to the New River on the back patio of Borders Books and Music. Next, cross the Intracoastal Bridge, but drive slowly so you don´t miss the raccoons that line up in front of Birch State Park. In a couple more blocks, you´ll arrive at the beach. Swim, walk, or just stare out at the breaking waves. Now that´s a South Florida night to remember. And you can do it as often as you want.
It wasn´t long ago that downtown Lake Worth´s only positive attribute was that it was near to West Palm Beach and Delray Beach. Now the downtown nestled around Lucerne and Lake avenues draws from the areas that used to look down their municipal noses at little Lake Worth. The past six months are indicative of its progress; a couple of headliner businesses have opened, and plans have been germinated for more activities. New to town is Brogue´s on the Avenue, an upscale pub with mahogany and brass delivered from Ireland; and Lake Avenue Chocolates, which retro-designed a pioneer storefront to its original splendor. Downtown hops twice a month for Evenings on the Avenue, and there are plans for a Saturday-morning green market and brown-bag lunch lecture series.
The Hugh Taylor Birch State Park makes a day at the beach, well, a day at the beach. The entrance fee is $3.25 per carload and $1 for bikes and pedestrians. That´s cheap for a shady respite from the sun and access to a tunnel that crosses beneath busy A1A to the beach. There´s a mile-long loop on the paved road through the park and a couple of trails through hammocks and a new tidal wetlands area that is being restored. Pack a picnic, grill some meat, go for a walk, and when you feel like a swim and a spell in the sun, you can cross A1A from the park on the west side through a tunnel and emerge onto the beach. On the Hugh Taylor side of the tunnel are bathrooms, snack machines, and an ice-cold water fountain. And hey, if you´re feeling pummeled by the heat, you can spend some time underground.
Developers salivate over this small neighborhood just northeast of downtown Fort Lauderdale. So naturally, home values have skyrocketed, which has led to a feeding frenzy. Cozy bungalows have been torn down to make way for McMansions or, worse yet, crammed parcels of townhomes. Strip malls are pressing in from the west. Still, there´s one forward-thinking development smack in the middle of this transfiguring hell: a new traffic circle at the intersection of Sixth Street and 14th Avenue. Maneuvering east-west through this neighborhood requires dealing with a quagmire of pointless stop signs, but this roundabout is a sane idea to keep traffic rolling. Now if we could just send the speculators packing down this unconstrained road.
The key to proper scenic motoring is the absence of other vehicles. Think about it: If you´re concentrating on defensive driving and cursing the typical maniacal South Florida driver, how can you enjoy the scenery? The Heritage-Park excursion is a five-mile pastoral loop off the beaten track -- in fact, most of it´s off the tar. Part of the fun is navigating the water-filled potholes that dent graveled Park Lane. This is, after all, agriculture country and home to Clintmore Heritage Nursery, Heritage Farms, Indian Trails Native Nursery, and Lions Nursery. Old Florida growth abounds here, but the nursery fields provide a floral fullness that Mother Nature didn´t have time for. Heritage Boulevard intersects Highway 441 about a mile south of Lantana Road.
The rooms are, let´s say, intimate, and the plumbing has a clunky, antique, pre-war look, but the Colony has ambiance in spades. The buttery yellow building with burgundy trim almost demands that passersby on Atlantic Avenue step in for a look around. Have a house-specialty Bloody Mary on the shady front porch as a ceiling fan turns lazily and you view the passing crowd. (The redhead in the cool white linen top and slacks over in the corner -- could that be a Rita Hayworth apparition?) Then chill out for a few moments in the rattan-furnished lobby, or wander into one of the vividly painted meeting rooms, where bougainvillea-pink walls and an aquamarine ceiling can put anyone in a party mood. Guest rooms may be small, in the 1920s style, but they´re damn comfortable, looking more like a guest room in somebody´s well-kept old house than a hotel. The dresser is mahogany, floors are the original polished Dade County pine, the beds are covered in soft bedspreads and comforters, and the watercolors on the walls are originals. The walls of the bathrooms are white ceramic tile, and the shower and the pedestal sink, lovingly preserved, work as well as they did when the place was built in 1926. You could say the Colony´s beach club, a couple of miles away, is inconveniently located, but it has the same Jazz Age elegance as the hotel, along with a footstep-shaped saltwater swimming pool. And unlike the beachfront hotels in town, the Colony is right in the midst of Delray Beach´s bubbling dining and nightlife scene. Rates range from $75 off season to $245 for a suite in season.
You´re tired of living in a place where the oldest architecture is a strip mall built in the 1950s? Well, soak up the past and shed this use-it-up-and-run South Florida culture by hopping on Alligator Alley and heading to Everglades City on the other coast. And we don´t mean the Pacific. There, you must stay in the Rod and Gun Club, which was built back in 1840 by fur traders. In the 1920s, mogul Barron Collier bought the place and turned it into his own private club, where he hosted a few obscure fellows like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Ernest Hemingway. Now, nobodies like us can stay there for a mere $105 a night plus tax. As you sit on the grand veranda or in the restaurant with its rich, polished wood as the Barron River (yeah, the guy had an ego) flows nearby, you can feel the history. That´s right, Dorothy: You´re not in Sunrise anymore.

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