Best Hotel 2006 | Hibiscus House | People & Places | South Florida
The best area hotel is not a hotel at all -- it's a B&B, one of the few stalwarts of its kind to survive surrounded by sprouting condos and opulent resorts. Hibiscus House offers luxury on a small scale, trading the quiet ambiance of a palm-lined street in West Palm's Old Northwood neighborhood for the valet-lined drives that accompany the area's heavy-hitter luxury hotels. Owners Colin Raynor and Raleigh Hill maintain eight unique bedrooms, most with private porches and four-poster beds, and serve up a vast and elaborate breakfast every morning with china and Waterford crystal. The house, a 1922 historic structure in the land of vinyl siding and concrete-slab construction, is the kind of sprawling, multiroomed manse that populates Faulkner novels. It sits in a verdant jungle of a garden fringed with high palm fronds that provides each room with its own lush view. There's no concierge and no Swedish massage, but those would just interfere with the simple delights of staying in a unique and lovingly decorated home, far from the fetters of conspicuous consumption that chain the denizens of Worth Avenue to their monocles and bellhops. Best of all, a stay in Hibiscus House costs just $95 to $210, unheard-of affordability for an accommodation in West Palm Beach that both feeds you and swaddles you in simple elegance.
Argue all you want about whether Sears is "Where America Shops," but the vast parking lot at this long-in-the-tooth strip mall sits mostly empty. Not that Sears and a half-dozen other little businesses at this locale don't get business; it's just that there are so many cars bordering the shopping center, all bogged down in one of the worst designed intersections in Fort Lauderdale. First, there's all the traffic headed east on Sunrise from I-95, which meets the steady, tar-thick flow of north/south traffic on Federal Highway. In this intersection, they merge into one, with drivers who are jockeying into position or, worse, are clueless. Here's a suggestion: Let's get a couple of road engineers, give 'em slide rules and paper, and direct them to incorporate part of Sears Town to devise an intersection that's not a recipe for road rage and brain hemorrhage.
Less than a half-hour flight east lies Bimini, the closest foreign island to mainland America. This seven-mile-long sliver of the Bahamas offers a peaceful respite from the hectic pace of South Florida 50 miles away. You can split your weekend between hanging at the beach and biking and kayaking. The north end of the island is an intricate mangrove forest. In it is a natural phenomenon dubbed "The Healing Hole," which is a section of creek connected to a warren of underground tunnels. When the tide goes out, cold mineral water flows out of the tunnels that some believe has mystical healing powers. If paddling and self-healing isn't your bag, stick to the island's commercial strip, Alice Town, where you'll find saloons the likes of Compleat Angler and End of the World. There are a number of flight options to the island, but Lynx Air ( makes a weekend getaway simple and not too expensive. A round trip out of Fort Lauderdale airport for just under $200 leaves Friday afternoons at 12:30 and departs Bimini on Sundays at 2:15 p.m.
Cristian Costea
Hi, um, would you like to go out with me tonight? I don't know, what do you wanna do? I was thinking that, if you like steak and really good wine, we could go to the Council Oak restaurant at the Hard Rock. Oh, something more casual? Sure, well, there's the Jazziz bistro that's also part of the massive Hard Rock entertainment complex -- they play live jazz while you eat. I don't really like jazz either; I was just saying that to sound cultured. I know -- let's go have Mexican food and ride the mechanical bull at Tequila Ranch! You're not even hungry? OK, there's a comedian at the Improv there. Yeah, comedians can be annoying. Want to see a band at the Hard Rock Live? My ears hurt too. Do you like shopping? I'm broke as well... but if we play the slots, we might win something, and then we could go clubbing right next door at Pangaea and Gryphon or play pool at Knight Time Billiards or drink at Murphy's Law. What's that? You just want to get drunk at the poolside bar? Me too! Gosh, I just knew I would love you! We are meant for each other! Should we book a room?
Better-organized than the pagans, more regularly scheduled than the belly dancers, and more committed than wine enthusiasts, poets, or people with ADHD, Broward County atheists have a meetup group to be reckoned with. With 104 members and a weekly meeting that hopscotches around various pubs and restaurants in Davie, the group is part secularist society, part singles get-together, and part homegrown church substitute for the godless. Its members promote "logic and reason as basis for beliefs" and entice newbies with offers of "drink, some good food, and lively conversation." At their weekly non-Sunday meeting (usually held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays or Wednesdays), Broward Atheists form a lively community where potlucks are shared, anti-God (and anti-Bush) harangues are aired, and non-God-oriented group activities such as highway litter cleanups are planned. The group has even spawned its own website, While some might suspect that the Broward Atheists are merely a cover for closeted Democrats to mingle with like-minded folk without revealing their political affiliations, the atheists themselves say that they are simply creating a haven for freethinkers of all stripes in a land that's obsessed with God. But whatever their underlying motives, their success in the world of meetups is clearly unparalleled.
South Florida has worked hard earning its reputation for making noses shapelier, chests bigger, and chins tauter. Culture, schmulture -- give us the lipo, Botox, and scalpel any day of the week. But it's hard to keep up with the Joneses when you're a working-class stiff just trying to save enough cash for a trip to Disney World. Thankfully, credit card companies feel your pain and are now offering credit cards specifically tailored toward plastic surgery. For example, Capital One's card provides loans of $1,500 to $25,000 for up to 60 months. Interest rates vary from 1.9 to 23.9 percent. GE Consumer Finance offers a card called CareCredit that also provides the financial high road to higher brows.
Tired of shelling out hundreds of dollars every year to Microsoft for a buggy Windows operating system ($299) and Office suite ($399) that crash at inopportune times? Let the men and women at Florida Linux User Exchange (FLUX) show you an alternative: Linux, a free (free!), open-source PC operating system developed by a community of programmers from throughout the world. Once the operating system of choice for the world's geekiest geeks, Linux has matured into a true, user-friendly Windows replacement -- complete with point-and-click interface and plug-and-play compatibility. Plus, a variety of other Linux-compatible software packages -- such as Microsoft Office replacement OpenOffice (free!) and Adobe PhotoShop competitor the GIMP (free!) -- have allowed Linux to become a do-any-task alternative to Bill Gates' clunky but ubiquitous operating system. Compared to Windows, Linux is a virtual Fort Knox -- immune to all Windows viruses and worms. Interested in switching? Just hook up with FLUX, whose members are more than happy to help computer novices and geniuses alike. FLUX meets at 6:30 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at Nova Southeastern University in Davie. "We are a pretty friendly bunch and always welcome new faces," says Adam Glass, one of a small group of people who founded FLUX in 1997. "The presentation topics range from basic to advanced," Glass says. "Some are given by FLUX members and others by technical experts who are visiting South Florida." So if you're ready to finally dump Bill Gates, pack up your computer and head to the next FLUX meeting. They'll help you get up and running with Linux in no time -- and, of course, no charge.
The past year was filled with so many memorable utterances perfectly reflecting the place and time in which we live that choosing a winner is pretty tough. First, there was Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper, who earlier this year threw a hissy fit during a City Commission meeting about those opposing plans for building the 66-acre Village at Gulfstream Park. With a straight face, the mayor of the most overdeveloped, strip-malled, condo-canyoned town in the county howled, "Hallandale finally has an opportunity for crucial economic development." Then there was this honey from Randy Johnson, a state representative shilling for a law that would penalize municipalities for failing to trim trees in front of billboards for the sake of beauty. "Tourism," he declared, "depends on billboards, not on trees." But the winner has to go to that most quotable of public officials, Hollywood Mayor Mara Giulianti, who keeps alive the dream of squelching government by and for the people. In an effort to expel a synagogue from a residential area, the City Commission met behind closed doors to avoid any public debate and "pre-decide" its vote. Earlier this year, a transcript of that meeting was made public through a lawsuit filed by the congregation. Giulianti instructed her colleagues: "Let me ask each person, because we don't put it on the agenda for us to decide until we know we have some kind of consensus. Otherwise, we have an argument until 6:30 in the morning and a whole bunch of people getting up and talking about it."
Every Florida driver has been held up by boat traffic. It's frustrating, sticking to your sweaty seat as some millionaire in a yacht stops traffic for miles. That's why the swing bridge in Sailboat Bend -- one of only 14 in the United States -- turns the gridlock into a refreshing pause. To open, the manually operated bridge is spun on its center pivot, and the span moves (slowly) 90 degrees to let boat traffic pass. Not many boats ply this short stretch of the river, and when they do, they pass by quickly. Watching the levers and gears turn on this old (built in 1927) bridge is far better than waiting for a glimpse of the Jungle Queen's upper deck through a cloud of bus exhaust. It's a slice of slow-paced, old-school history in a town that's nothing if not fast and new.
It's Broward traffic's version of the perfect effing storm: An I-95 exit that runs straight to the county's biggest condo canyon on A1A, along the way passing a Wal-Mart, Gulfstream Race Track, a Publix plaza, two Winn-Dixies, and more Walgreenses than you can shake an empty prescription bottle at. One exit to the south is Ives Dairy Road, an artery so overburdened, its off-ramp jams the freeway even on weekends and affects Hallandale Beach Boulevard as well. The stoplights here are mistimed, leaving huge swaths of the westbound lanes empty while SUVs honk at one another to advance into the intersections at congested green lights. Things were really bad for the past seven months of 2005, when the Florida Department of Transportation set about carving up the road, forcing lane closures. After a brief tourist-season hiatus, the orange cones will be back through late fall, with high temperatures drawing the good people of Miramar and Pembroke Pines to the beaches. Oh, and the construction? FDOT is merely improving the appearance of the road and medians, not increasing the road's capacity, unless you count the bike lanes planned for the truly suicidal among us.

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