Best Surf Spot 2014 | Fort Lauderdale Beach off A1A between Belmar and Viramar Streets | Sports & Recreation | South Florida

Surfing is a state of mind, they say. It's not so much a destination but a journey of the soul. But you do actually have to go to a destination to surf. No need to drive forever and wind your way to some secret spot when there are miles of coastline smack in the middle of the city. So wax up the deck and get riding here off A1A between Belmar Street and Viramar Street. This spot can get littered with tourists from time to time, but the way the wind kicks up and the waves rush in toward the shore, it's worth fighting them for parking. When a tropical depression hits, it's all yours.

Motors have ruined boating. There was a time when taking to the sea meant adventure — just you and your vessel, fighting nature together, working as one to tame that violent lover known as the ocean. Gone are those days. Now you just hit a button and let technology do all the work while Jimmy Buffett sings you a song about a hot dog or something. Damn you, Buffett. But all is not lost! There is still a way to capture that primal feeling of oneness with the water, to wave goodbye to land, just you and a paddle, floating inches above the water, staring manatees right in their cold, dead, vegetarian eyes. The kayak. A piece of technology seemingly tailor-made for South Florida's canals. And there is no better place in Broward to recapture your inner seaman than Middle River. Launch off at George English Park (it's free, though the iguanas will try to intimidate you) and begin your journey. Paddle north for a more residential and serene route. Feel free to judge everyone's backyard along the way. Or go south toward the bustling Intracoastal, where you'll experience wide-open canals and, if you go far enough, waterfront bars. But drink responsibly, and keep your head on a swivel. We've lost good people to sneaky pelicans.

Ebyabe via Wikimedia Commons

You live where other people dream of taking their vacations. Sure you have to go to work during the weekdays and sitting in I-95 traffic with a broken A/C in the long summer months is sucktastic. But toss on a pair of rubber flip-flops and stroll down to a beachside bar and you're on instant vacation. If you're looking to get more away from it all in the middle of it all, there's the Coastal Hammock Trail at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. Smack in the middle of Fort Lauderdale, the park is literally "an oasis of tropical hammocks." Not the kind you lounge in with a daiquiri but the kind built over hundreds of years by cypress trees. For an entrance fee of just $2 to $4, here you'll find the few old-growth trees east of 95 that weren't ripped out for rabid development. That's because this pristine natural area was once part of Birch's estate. The park now is the destination for urban kayakers because of the milelong freshwater lagoon, but the Coastal Hammock Trail — another of the four distinct habitat "communities" within the park — is not to be missed either. The trail is a "native maritime tropical hardwood hammock ecosystem" offering signs along the way explaining the native vegetation. It's the perfect walk for the afternoon nature lover because it's conveniently located, and the entire trail is only a 20-minute walk. Afterward, you can visit the beach by taking the pedestrian tunnel that runs under A1A.

Trampolines were an exercise fad in the '80s. Every kid's mom had one sitting out in the garage completely unused. And a large percentage of those kids who lived in South Florida set it up next to the pool to use as a springboard. A percentage of those kids were grounded for life after jumping off the roof onto them. The trampolines at SkyZone are nothing like those, but for '80s kids who lived through such dangerous high jinks and now have kids of their own, the nostalgia will still be sweet. Fans of reality TV will also enjoy the fact that the Fort Lauderdale location was featured in the season finale of Undercover Boss. SkyZone claims to be the original trampoline park, with the Fort Lauderdale spot adding the boast of being the largest in South Florida. Let the kids tire themselves out or go childless for SkyFitness classes, and bounce those unwanted pounds away. See? Every trend comes full circle.

Diving with sharks is not for the faint of heart, and it's not for the faint of wallet either. But then again, there are some things in life you shouldn't bargain-hunt, and haggling with the guy who may soon be pulling you from the literal jaws of death is probably not a good idea. Wouldn't want him to choose that moment to renegotiate! OK, so Force-E leads dive trips to Bimini specifically to see hammerheads, but it's not actually all sharks down there. The company leads wreck dives and spearfishing classes as well as short and sweet beginner dives to look at fish and reefs and turtles. You live in South Florida near a patch of the most beautiful ocean in the world, and you should take advantage of it. Force-E has been a family-run business helping locals and tourists explore our underwater sites since 1976. Owners Skip and Kathy Commagere met while diving in the '70s and today are the proud owners of three Force-E locations, in Riviera Beach, Boca Raton, and Pompano Beach. They both sell and rent equipment and have 15 certified instructors on staff. Join up with the Force-E crew for one of their group dives, beach cleanups, lectures, lionfish hunts, or other events.

Your friends, family, and acquaintances will find their way to the beach. Just tell them to head east. But to make it through the urban sprawl to the oasis that is Butterfly World, they might need a guide. On ten acres of botanical gardens, you will find more than 20,000 butterflies representing 50 species — and they will not be afraid to rest on your shoulder. A wide variety of hummingbirds is on display also, and if you're feeling generous, you can buy a cup of nectar to feed the charming Lorikeets (just be advised not to wear a new shirt, as these birds ain't too proud to relieve themselves on you). Admission for adults is $26.95, but the website has a $3 coupon. If leaving Butterfly World brings tears to your eyes and sadness to your heart, it does have a fantastic plant shop where you can take home vegetation that will attract butterflies to your front stoop.

It's easy to forget that Fort Lauderdale is only a 90-minute drive to a different ecosystem. At John Pennekamp, the first undersea state park in America, you'll see fish of every size, shape, and color. For $29.95 (plus an $8 park entry fee per vehicle and equipment rental if you need it), take a relaxing boat ride to one of the most pristine snorkeling spots imaginable, then hop in the clear blue waters. The variety of fish and coral at a depth of only a few feet is incredible. Of particular note is the rainbow parrotfish, whose name is a misnomer, because the spectrum of colors on its scales puts to shame both rainbows and parrots. Snorkeling isn't the only way to enjoy the park: Glass-bottom boat tours, scuba dives, kayak trips, and powerboat rentals are options as well. Reservations are advisable for one of the four daily tours (especially on weekends), and it's always smart to call ahead about weather and to see if those pesky jellyfish are out.

Less than a three-hour drive from Broward County past Lake Okeechobee and west through the town of Arcadia, you cross Peace River. The name comes from the peaceful conditions of the flow of water, making it no trouble to paddle upstream through water that's reddened by the shallow conditions. If you bring your own canoe, you can park at many different spots along the river and paddle your way back. Otherwise, you can rent canoes from Peace River Campground or Canoe Outpost (with the price of rental dependent upon how long you choose to feel the Peace) — included in Canoe Outpost's rental price is bus service, so you need to paddle only one way, then hitch a ride back to your car. Campgrounds line the river to make it a true all-weekend experience you will never wish to forget. Live oak trees with the breeze whistling through their Spanish moss will serenade you. Turtles basking in the sun will wave hello. Stationary alligators will glare menacingly at you. But the greatest attractions are the rope swings you will come across. Who are the heroes who climb toward the sky and latch a knot on the tree's highest branch so that we river rats can feel brave for a moment?

Courtesy of Pelican Grand Hotel

What's better than a four-star beach resort with a heated pool just a stone's throw from the lapping waves and sun and sand? Why, a four-star beach resort with a heated pool just a stone's throw from the lapping waves and sun and sand... with a built-in lazy river! There are resort pools and resort pools... and then there's the Pelican Grand's pool. Located just a few steps from the beach, the Pelican Grand's pool sits languidly in the middle of a man-made oasis, complete with soft adjustable lounge chairs nestled in the shadows of swaying palm trees. The classically shaped heated pool dominates the center of the area, and its always-clean crystal blue water is a welcoming sight for those in desperate need of some serious chill time. But if you want to dip even deeper into the chill zone, there's the Pelican's lazy river snaking its way around the row of palm trees, looping toward the spa and back again toward the pool, in an infinite relaxing loop. So grab a cocktail, then grab an inner tube, and meander your way around paradise until you've taken chill mode to its fullest.

Hear us out on this one. Sailboat Bend is more than a residential neighborhood; it's an eclectic community in the historical district of classic old Fort Lauderdale. Here at the far west of Las Olas Boulevard, away from the chichi shops and art galleries, new minicondos sit next to dilapidated, vacant houses and beautifully restored historic homes. This is where you'll find craft-beer mecca Riverside Market and the more recently opened Chimney House Grill as well as artists' lofts and the 1310 Gallery. This is old Fort Lauderdale at its finest, within walking distance of Himmarshee and Riverwalk, and the people-watching is grand. We won't say it's one of those neighborhoods where everybody knows your name, but they certainly know everyone's dog's name. Packs of hipster cyclists (a nomer we don't throw around lightly) patrol the streets, looking ironically ominous with their ironically pulled-up hoodies and their ironically high ape-hanger handlebars. Art students wander from the 1310 Gallery to Riverside Market for their homebrews, and one particular neighbor has his driveway set up like a "welcome center" complete with comfortable seating; he blasts Marvin Gaye while waving enthusiastically to everyone who passes by. If anyone ever says that Fort Lauderdale is only for tourists, that it has no soul, take him down to Sailboat Bend for a bike ride — ironic or otherwise.

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