Best Place to Birdwatch 2006 | Grassy Waters Preserve, South Side | Sports & Recreation | South Florida
Several miles removed from the suburban sprawl of eastern Palm Beach County is Grassy Waters Preserve, a 20-square-mile chunk of Everglades land untouched by development. Needless to say, it's a bird watcher's heaven. The preserve runs across both sides of Northlake Boulevard. And while you can catch plenty of the feathered beasts at either location, the south side is where it's at. Simply take a stroll down to the Charles W. Bingham Wilderness Pavilion, find an empty spot on the boardwalk, and put those binoculars to work. You'll get an eyeful of the Everglades' finest (ospreys, spoonbills, herons, egrets) as well as the sense of calm that comes with standing over our beloved River of Grass. If you're a newbie who's looking for pointers, take part in master naturalist Kurt Gebhart's Birding Swamp Tromp program. It's a good introduction to the lifestyle of South Florida's true natives.
A giant billboard on Sample Road claims that this sprawling butterfly sanctuary in Coconut Creek has been "voted South Florida's #1 Attraction." That, coupled with the whopping $18.95 it costs for an adult's entry into its netted inner sanctum, puts Butterfly World squarely in the tourist-trap category. Happily, the three acres of aviaries deliver on the hype with hordes of iridescent moths waiting to swipe a hopeful proboscis at any passing Hawaiian shirt. There's a core of solid science to the place: Founder Ronald Boender dreamed of combining his butterfly hatchery business with a tourist-friendly interface, and as a result, the complex has a laboratory, hatchery, museum, and research facility on the premises. But like any tourist trap worth its snuff, Butterfly World has thoroughly mixed spectacle with scholarship: There's a gift shop (which sells live butterfly pupae along with the expected stuffed animals and kitsch), a simulated rain forest complete with waterfall, exotic birds ranging in size from hummingbirds to macaws, and one of the largest collections of hanging passion vines in the world. Which means that Butterfly World is well-equipped to make both armchair lepidopterists and their bored hangers-on happier than Monarchs on milkweed.
We like our swimming pools on two levels, thank you. The pool at the Westin Diplomat features a top level, with water spilling over the sides (travel agents call this an "infinity edge"), a submarine porthole with a swimmer's-eye view of the lower level, and more than 100 feet of glassy-surfaced water, which is a lap-swimmer's dream. Then there's the bottom, which crosses underneath the infinity pool and is more than twice as long. The spillover from above feeds a pair of head-rattling waterfalls, and you can look up through that porthole to see swimmers ogling you from above. The hotel still hasn't taken our advice and connected the two levels with a spiraling water slide (you have to use a landlocked stairway to go from one level to another). But the total effect is still mind-blowing. One big drawback: You have to be a guest at the hotel to use the pool. We like to get Mom and Dad to stay there when they visit, so we can claim a name and room number when we ask for one of those fluffy towels they hand out.
Come on -- the beach is way too obvious. Instead, how about indulging in an age-old pastime that, thanks to a legal loophole, remains somehow technically aboveboard in Florida. For decades, hippies living in the Gulf Coast states have known in which fields to find the hallucinogenic psilocybe cubensis 'shroom, which tends to grow right around the fragrant patties deposited by grazing cows. It's an elaborate ritual, finding the white-capped mushrooms after a heavy rain, avoiding gopher holes, rattlesnakes, roaming bulls, armed farmers, and the like, clipping the little blue stems with scissors, creeping back over the fence unseen... but since the fungus is so literally among us, Tallahassee can't really bust everyone who has them growing on their property. So having a small amount of fresh 'shrooms isn't a crime. Drying them out, however, is (so is trespassing), so it's sort of a stealth activity. That fresh mushroom taste isn't for everyone, though.
When poker skyrocketed in popularity a few years ago, games sprouted around South Florida like mushrooms. Poker fans can pick up games anywhere from pubs to megacasinos. Amateur players delight at the large number of games around town, but old, salty poker dogs aren't so thrilled. Where to go for a more authentic experience? The forgotten halls of Dania Jai-Alai's Cardroom are as real as you can get around here. The tables are small and intimate, live simulcast betting is a glance away, and jai alai balls crack against concrete in the background all night. The players know the game all too well and keep a close eye on their cards. Every day but Monday, from noon to midnight, games of Texas Hold 'Em, Seven-card Stud, and Omaha Hi/Lo keep the cards turning. But there isn't the crush of the bigger gambling palaces, with a hundred waiting players queued up to take your place. As soon as a table fills, it's a mini-tournament. On the weekends after 5 p.m., no-limit Texas Hold'em cranks up. But the real night to play is Wednesday, when the beer flows for a buck a cup and $1 chicken wings fill paper bowls.
One of only two shuffleboard courts in Broward County used for official Senior Games play, Hollywood's shuffleboard facility is where the aging Québecois masters of the sport come to practice. And unlike most deserted shuffleboard venues in the area, Hollywood is both well-maintained and packed. With the aura of a temple, the 36 covered courts in the heart of downtown hum nonstop from morning to siesta with the soft swooshing of cues on concrete and gentle French bantering, just as they have for the past 75 years. But don't be intimidated -- the loyal snowbird clientele is eager for non-Francophone guests to slap down $2 for a day of play alongside them (all equipment included). There's plenty of space to go around, and they say it'd be nice to have more "English players." Just be sure to get your shuffleboard fix before summer -- the courts close when the players flock back to Canada in April and stay shut until September.
This might stun anyone who automatically associates Sistrunk with blight, but this park just east of the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center has some of the nicest basketball facilities in Fort Lauderdale. The two well-surfaced courts are penned in by black chainlink, with plenty of space inside the cage for diving out of bounds. The backboards, breakaway rims, and canvas nets are in great shape and are held up by arching concrete supports that won't shake like the usual metal poles. Just outside the fence are playground equipment, bleachers, and a restroom with water fountains. Parking is about 20 yards north of the courts; to the south is a wide pond. This feels like the danged suburbs. Game on.

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