Best Beach 2009 | Dania Beach | Sports & Recreation | South Florida

It's not flashy; it's just the Florida dream. There aren't any massive, marble-laden, mammon-memorializing monoliths jutting into the sky nearby. It's a working-class beach with a picturesque old pier, a food shack (the Dania Beach Bar & Grill), and a nice strip of sand that stretches far enough that, if you so desire, you can always find an isolated spot near the sea grass for you and yours. That's really all you need, but if you want to catch some shade, get under the chickee huts at Frank Adler Park, where the kids can hit the playground. Up north a piece is John U. Lloyd Beach State Park, where the barbecue grilling is fierce under the slash pines. And if that's low-rent, we're happy for the squalor.

Miami Dolphins fans haven't had much to cheer about since Don Shula decided to hang up the clipboard. The list of coaches to patrol the sidelines since then looks like this, in descending date and professional football coaching ability: Jimmy Johnson, Dave Wannstedt, Jim Bates, Nick Saban, and Cam Cameron. When Bill Parcells was brought in to turn the franchise around, one of the first things he did was hire Tony Sparano from the Dallas Cowboys to whip this team into shape. Sparano did way more than that in his first season, guiding the Dolphins to a ten-win improvement, a division title, and a playoff berth. Sparano changed the face of the entire NFL when he introduced the "Wildcat" offensive package. A few weeks later, almost every team in the league had its own option package, and every defensive coordinator had a whole new problem on his hands when dealing with the Dolphins. The upcoming season is sure to be brutal for the Dolphins, but after last year, there's no reason to believe Sparano can't lead the team into a new era of respectability and realistic championship hopes.

It is a strange land that holds a castle of theories. For this castle is said to be carved from 1,100 tons of oolitic limestone and built by one man. This man weighed only 100 pounds. He stood barely over five feet tall. He used no large machinery. But this castle has walls more than eight feet high and a tower of more than two stories. This castle is furnished — with beds, chairs, tables, and fountains — all made from coral. And in considering the many theories of how this man came to build this coral castle — as you move beyond the castle's walls and gates — you will find that its diminutive builder, Edward Leedskalnin, was a secretive man. Through the coral castle's audio tour, you will hear his queer tale. Ed started building his castle for his 16-year-old fiancée, even though she left him along the way. They never wed, and he would spend nearly 30 years building the castle as a monument to her. You will learn that it will never be revealed how this place came to be, but you will agree with the icon signed by Ed, a Latvian native, at the entrance. It reads: "You will be seeing unusual accomplishment."

Dogs are an ease to please. A couple of acres of rolling green space on which to gambol. Freedom to relieve one's self on one's own schedule. That, and the chance to practice the species' appallingly crude greeting ritual: bum sniffing. The Barkham at Markham Dog Park sports more room and better-kept grounds than the area's other dog parks, where an hour of fun usually requires a bath at home. For when us bipeds need a trot, there's a fitness track in both the park's big dog and little dog sections. A pavilion makes this one of the few parks where you can have a picnic and unleash your dog. Plus, with the Everglades bordering the park to the west, this is real country air. It's a glorious way to spend a spring Sunday afternoon, and the exertion is liable to make that mutt a little less obnoxiously peppy through the evening.

Here is a football star for the YouTube Generation — and not just because Joey Porter's 17.5 sacks made for a slick highlight reel. The Dolphins linebacker, who answers to "Peezy," gives football's most colorful interview. After Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself in a nightclub, Porter went on ESPN not only to defend Burress but to defend guns. After he made the Pro Bowl, Porter appeared on Fox Sports to say he couldn't wait to get in the face of a teammate, Denver's Brandon Marshall, who had called Porter "soft." When Porter was in town to play the Dolphins, he stopped by his alma mater, Colorado State, and couldn't resist running into the end zone to give a player a leaping chest bump, even though it would cost his old team a 15-yard penalty. If you're a Fins fan, you live with those antics because Porter's aggressive style electrified the Dolphins defense. Besides, no matter how seriously some of us take football, it is entertainment. And even Porter's fiercest critics must admit: The guy's fun to watch.

It was two minutes and twenty-four seconds that changed MMA fighter Mike Brown's career forever. That was the amount of time it took Brown, an undecorated high school wrestler from Maine who had been fighting only since 2001, to dismantle Featherweight Champion Urijah "California Kid" Faber. Going into that fight last November, Brown was a huge underdog to Faber, who is the face of World Extreme Cagefighting and was on a 13-win streak. No one in the fighting world knew much about Brown, who relocated to Coconut Creek to train with world-class fighting group American Top Team. Yet somewhere around the two-minute mark in round one, people realized just who Mike Brown was. The New England native launched Faber into the air and brought him slamming back down to the mat. Then, in one quick, cat-like maneuver, Faber jumped up to his feet just in time for Brown's powerful right hand to collide with his chin. And the rest is history. Since then, Brown has defended his position as the number-one featherweight in the world against top contender Leonard Garcia, who met an end similar to Faber's. Just ten seconds into that bout, Garcia got brutalized by Brown's deceptively fast right hook. There's sure to be a Brown versus Faber rematch in the works, but you can bet this time, people will know just who our SoFla homeboy is.

Is this even a question? Seriously.

Ebyabe via Wikimedia Commons

Whether you're a long-distance runner, an amateur jogger, or a power walker who's sick of doing laps around Aventura Mall, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park is the best place to get your groove on. This two-mile path is loaded with things to keep your mind off the fact that, for some reason, you're running without being chased. Located on Sunrise Boulevard at A1A, the heavily shaded path at Birch State Park runs along the Intracoastal Waterway and is always populated with runners, bikers, rollerbladers, and couples just looking for some fresh air. The paths are wide enough that it never gets too crowded, the ocean breeze keeps the temperature down, and the beach is only a few hundred feet away when you want to give up the exercising ghost or continue for a long run down Fort Lauderdale Beach.

If gondolas are the way to experience Venice, Italy, then the kayak is the way to experience "the American Venice." Evening is the time to launch. Glide soundlessly over water made silver by the moonlight. On those nights when the moon is absent, the lights of Las Olas mark the shore. And even in this economy, when the entertainment district is a shadow of its former self, the revelry still looks Gatsby-an from the water. And considering all the huge homes lining the Intracoastal, the kayak is the best means for getting a peek at how the top 1 percent lives. The Atlantic Coast Kayak Co.'s Isles of Venice trip usually takes place once a month and begins around sunset. Guides will make sure you don't get in the way of a cruise ship or caught in a current and swept out to sea, which would be a drag.

Have you ever seen a stressed-out monk? They simply don't exist. To be practiced in the art of meditation is to be able to banish — for as long as you like — the multitasking, short-attention-span culture that has only grown more demanding since the economic downturn. A daylong course at the Drolma Kadampa Buddhist Center teaches first-timers the art of meditation of Mahamudra Tantra — defined in Buddha's teachings as having a single mind of both bliss and wisdom. It costs $35 — a small price to pay for learning the ability to unclutter your mental hard drive and find a lasting tranquility. The center also offers chanted meditations, or "pujas," at no charge for those who find that group settings are better for getting close to nirvana.

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