Best Place to Witness a Fender Bender 2011 | Boys Farmers Market | People & Places | South Florida

Mention to someone in the know that you're planning to stop by the Boys for the first time and he'll likely let you in on two things: 1) The meat, cheese, bakery, and produce sections are out-of-control good; and 2) watch the hell out. The Tetris-like parking lot is overflowing with land yachts commandeered by people who are far too focused on getting inside for a hunk of fresh mozzarella or lamb steaks to pay attention to such trivial matters as rear-view mirrors, strollers, pedestrians, or how to avoid a low-speed collision. And heaven help you if you get between one of those vehicles and the last remaining spot in sight. You're better off parking elsewhere and hoofing it to the entrance. Once inside, you'll be facing a similarly hazardous situation as shoppers wield their carts like battering rams through the tight aisles, with the occasional appendage acting as collateral damage. A harrowing ordeal, yes, but that cheese selection really is quite divine.

Boca Raton was recently named the 12th rudest city in the world, and there's a pretty good shot that every Boca resident will end up on Glades Road. It's a stretch of road where you're most likely to hear obscenities being hollered at the passing elderly. Don't be fooled by the Whole Foods, monstrous Barnes & Noble, and tree-lined campus of Florida Atlantic University. This is a stretch where the middle finger is the appropriate "I'm sorry" gesture.

Several years ago, the "last house" was built in Coral Springs. In other words, every lot big enough to hold a house had been used. Even this western suburb's parks are well-developed, highly engineered centers of human activity, from the carefully manicured baseball and soccer fields to the running trails with workout stops every tenth of a mile to the chlorinated pools with Crayola-colored plastic slides and watchful lifeguards. But tucked behind one such bustling public pool at Cypress Park on Coral Springs Drive (known everywhere else in Broward County as Pine Island Road) is Cypress Hammock/Orchid, a small but breathtaking nature trail. You won't find any pictures of it online. You won't even find a description of it on — though the site will tell you all about the eight tennis courts, the playground, concession stand, grills, tables, restrooms, meeting rooms, and picnic areas that make up most of the park's 16 acres. But if you can avoid the pool and keep on the sidewalk, walk right on past the tennis courts on your right and the pro shops on your left and go just past where you think the park ends — and you will find something special. A boardwalk seems to hover a few feet above a prehistoric jungle of ferns. The pop and squeak of people playing tennis can't be heard here. The roar of the pool slides and swimming kids does not penetrate. Other than the call of the occasional bird, you are suddenly in a silent primeval oasis in the middle of Coral Springs. If you stop halfway along the trail, stand perfectly still, and let the humidity soak into your clothes, hair, and skin, you can imagine what this area was really like before we came along. And if all that nature freaks you out, don't worry — there's a concession stand 30 feet away.

There are about a hundred miles of beautiful sandy beaches stretching from the northern border of Palm Beach County to the southernmost point of Broward County. But alas, no dogs are allowed. Sure, sure there's that stretch of beach in Fort Lauderdale that allows dogs three days a week, but that just doesn't scream "We love dogs!," does it? If you're sick of the scene at Canine Beach, you will find a doggy water paradise on 24th Street in Pompano Beach. The city officially calls it Exchange Club Park, but you won't find signs pointing your way in to this secluded, locals-only spot. The small city park meets up with a bend in the Intracoastal that flows with crystal-clear water from the inlet nearby. Here, your furry friend can splash out into the water at will — no hourly restrictions, no special registration fee. Just mind the park hours, make sure your dog has all her shots, and be a good canine neighbor.

Heritage Park, all 88.5 acres, used to be owned by Fred Peters, the shoe scion who basically designed Fort Lauderdale's original western suburb, Plantation. Then it was an agricultural testing ground for the University of Florida. But in 1984, it became what it was always meant to be — a beautiful oasis in the middle of suburban Florida. It's there that nearby residents can jog or walk around the huge lake — which is always stocked with plenty of birds to watch and paddleboats to rent. Numerous and huge picnic areas dot the lake and are popular for large family reunions and company retreats. For the kids, there's a huge playground that'll keep them happy for hours. That's the beauty of Heritage Park — everything there is big. Mostly it's just a big open space in the middle of bustling suburbia. And that's a heritage that Plantation and its founder, Fred Peters, can be proud of.

Despite what seems like developers' best efforts, there are still a few great, open stretches of land in South Florida, and one of the true gems of southeast Palm Beach County is this expansive wildlife playground. In no other context but in referring to the Everglades could the word primordial become a cliché, but how else to sum up a flat, unpolished parkland where visitors are allowed to wander out into the marshes with nothing separating them from the cold reptilian clutches of a gator but their own wits and a good pair of running shoes? Nature is a fickle beast, and there's no guarantee you'll always spot a gator, but the chances are better than good. There are no tourist-trap bells and whistles, just a fascinating and (occasionally frighteningly) up-close look at the way our state looked before "progress" moved in.

Courtesy of the W Fort Lauderdale Hotel

Walk out the fifth-floor glass doors and into the pool area at the W Hotel on A1A, and euphoria is the only way to describe the sensation. The enormous pool expands in all directions, and if you squint, it's hard to decipher where the pool ends and the panoramic ocean view begins. The best part is that in the offseason, the W opens its doors to the public for "Salvation Sunday" pool parties, weekly from 12:30 to 8 p.m. It's the ideal location to sip a bloody mary and mingle at the white, shiny bar with others who feel living in South Florida calls for at least an afternoon per week of vacation-like activity. Curl up on one of the world's cushiest lounge chairs, bake in the sun, and then take a dip in the pool. Ahh, that's better.

The public parking ends quickly on Palm Beach. In front of Charley's Crab, the parking trails off, and to the south, ocean access is blocked from the road by a formidable seawall. Start on the beach south from the parking area and a secluded beach stretches for five miles, all the way down to Lake Worth. Only the mansions across A1A have access from locked gates, so it's rare to find anyone on this wild beach. Less maintained than the public-access beaches, here the sand juts in and out, pulled naturally by the tide. Eddies form, and natural pools swirl. Limestone rocks sit exposed, asking for someone to step carefully across their spiny surface. Pick sea grapes from the trees that line the road, and on summer mornings, watch sea turtles hatch. It's just you and a seemingly endless stretch of sand, just like it used to be.

Turn off your iPhone. Cross the long boardwalk to the beach, and enjoy a rare stretch of sand unblemished by condos or highway traffic. Slip a kayak into the gentle, cool water of the Lake Worth Lagoon. Paddle softly past the mangrove trees, keeping your eyes peeled for the spindly, regal body of a blue heron or an egret hiding in the branches. In the luscious quiet, you can hear the buzzing insects and spot the occasional silver fish jumping out of the water. The trees look prehistoric at low tide. White trunks and branches, wild and tangled, give a glimpse of an era before humans soiled this place.

A neighborhood park shouldn't be an all-inclusive, Disney-like affair, a city unto itself; it should be a stopping-off point, a quick breath of fresh air in the heart of a community. It should be good for a few hours of reading, some basketball, or as a place to tie your kid's shoe while the dog tries to knock him over. Riverside Park isn't fancy. It's a neatly maintained strip of old trees, a playground, a basketball hoop, and tennis courts encircled by leisurely one-lane roads. Approach via the restored Palm Avenue swing bridge at one corner; all around are residential neighborhoods to explore on foot when the park has served its purpose and it's time to move on.

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