Best Place to Take Out-of-Towners 2016 | Hollywood's Dog Beach | Sports & Recreation | South Florida
Photo by Yesenia Hernandez

Let's be real: Out-of-towners come to South Florida to hit the beach. Everything else (except maybe the drinking) is secondary. So are you really going to take Aunt Sally or Uncle Gene or Beefsteak, your old college roommate, on a gondola ride through Fort Lauderdale? They want the sun, and there's no better place to soak up some rays than Hollywood's Dog Beach. Why? It's in the name, people. It's both a dog park and a beach. It's a beach and dog park. What's not to get? You're welcome.

Your senses heighten as warmth from the sun caresses your body, you breathe in the salty air, and think, "Man, this Publix sub tastes amazing." It's quieter here than at the other beaches, so you're thankfully not interrupted by a crying toddler or the blaring of Daddy Yankee. Looking 50 feet away at the closest stranger's towel, you devise a plan to take a quick catnap and absorb a little bit of vitamin D before climbing the rocks and exploring for little crabs. The sound of the waves breaking against the rocks is steady and soothing. Even if your nap goes longer than planned, it's "Whatever, dude," because at least now and here, life is good.

Photo by Chung Lun Chiang/Flickr

Ah, people-watching: It's the best free entertainment available. Anyone committed to this hobby must head to Sawgrass Mills Mall to take in the crowd in all its splendor. Each wing of this vast marketplace has a distinct personality, yet they all come together in both of the enormous food courts. People are literally dropped off by the busload every few hours at the "Blue Dolphin" and "Yellow Toucan" entrances wearing the same brightly colored jerseys and backpacks, ready to spend every last dollar. Head to "The Oasis" section to eyeball the emerging species of modern tweens, dressed head to toe in Hot Topic gear, sulking until their moms come to pick them up. Eyeball the Gap to watch middle-aged women delight over nabbing the last pair of jeans on the front table. Another solid option is to grab some Ben & Jerry's and post up at a bench to watch the kiosk people get shot down over and over again when they ask if they can straighten shoppers' hair or give them facemasks. Victories and defeats — they're all on display in this microcosm of the human condition.

Walk into this charming tea shop and owner Maureen Ruggeri will take care of you. Opened on the full moon in September 2012, Eat the Tea focuses on tea's mystical healing powers. Ruggeri studied teas and their uses across cultures and throughout history and considers hers to be elixirs. She has blends labeled "brain," "skin," and "stomach," for the body parts they aim to heal. The shop earned its name because Ruggeri believes that eating leftover tea leaves and fruit chunks —anything from rose petals to orange peels and calendula — is awesome for one's health. Ruggeri purchases her ingredients from as far away as Japan and Taiwan. Her store is bright and accented with a string of fairy lights and a big storefront window. The walls are lime green, with crooked paintings and colorful tapestries. Ideal after a thunderstorm, when you can shake the droplets off and cozy up on the couch for the rest of day. If rose petals and orange peels don't wholly satiate your appetite, Ruggeri has vegan sandwiches and meals for you too.

It's kind of tough to find a spot to watch the sun sink during the twilight hours, what with us living on the East Coast instead of the West. But you don't necessarily need to live in Naples or Tampa to appreciate a gorgeous sunset — you just need to be on a beach chair with a cool drink in hand. Fort Lauderdale Beach is primo territory for that. Sure, you won't see the orange ball actually drop below the horizon — but you can catch the blue sky slowly turn a gorgeous lavender as specks of stars begin to appear, all while feeling the sand between your toes.

Courtesy City of Hollywood

In South Florida, a backyard pool is every child's dream. But pools are expensive, and the upkeep can be tedious.. Driftwood Community Pool, which opened in 2004, is as welcoming as a home pool with the convenience of your neighbor's. (Somebody else can check the danged chlorine.) There are swimming summer camps, swimming lessons, and meets here. In the summer, children kick on noodles and play Marco Polo. Australian pines and palm trees provide some shade in one pocket of the water. Unlike other community pools, Driftwood has a beach entry, a slope that slowly descends from zero to four feet, making it handicap-accessible too. In the winter months, it stays heated at 83 to 86 degrees.

Readers' choice: The W Fort Lauderdale Hotel

The lure of the road can be daunting. You want to get away, but packing your car and planning a route becomes a disheartening chore that ruins the mystique of adventure. Solution: Pick a place close enough that you don't have to spend your mortgage on gassing up yet far enough that you feel like you've left town. Port St. Lucie fills the bill, with everything you love about living in Florida, like pretty scenery and nice restaurants, yet worlds away from the rushed South Florida vibe. Savannas State Park offers a pretty backdrop to get your canoeing, kayaking, and hiking on, and the Heathcote Botanical Gardens will make you feel like you got lost in an Amazonian-like oasis. Port St. Lucie also boasts golf courses and tennis centers and hosts the New York Mets during spring training. And of course, there are the beaches, beautifully devoid of silicone and thongs.

Here's our advice the next time you want to take your sweetheart on a nice little weekend getaway: Keep it simple. And by "keep it simple," we mean, go to the frickin' Keys, man. And when we say "frickin' Keys," we mean Islamorada. In our humble opinion, it's the best key of all. Key Largo is too close, while Key West is drowning in tourists and way too far. But Islamorada is right smack in the middle, where Florida stops being all Florida-y and begins morphing into an otherworldly paradise. Most folks just drive right through Islamorada without understanding that they're passing some sweet spots like Anne's Beach or the Islamorada Beer Co. brewery. Islamorada has places to wind-surf and kayak, gorgeous scuba and snorkeling spots, serene wildlife nature tours, and a couple of pretty state parks. Oh, and there's also a dope-ass lighthouse in the middle of the ocean! None of the other keys can claim to have a dope-ass lighthouse in the ocean. In other words, Islamorada has everything people look for in a keys experience without the crowds, cheesiness, or price gouging.

Photo courtesy of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau

Ask any real Floridian about alligators and you'll hear an epic story about how an alligator showed up one day to swim in the backyard pool while Grandpa was grilling barbecue chicken. Or that time when a family of gators stole someone's lunch at Lake Alice. Alligator stories are one of the many things that set the old-timers apart from the recent transplants. For those who don't have a legit story yet, it's time to head to Everglades Holiday Park and get to business. At this quiet nature preserve, you can encounter those gnarly beasts by airboat or simply by walking around. You'll have plenty of photo ops and finally get that perfect Facebook cover photo you've been seeking all your life. Just don't get too close. (Gah!)

Being a soccer fan is like being part of a club that no one quite understands, particularly in America. Non-soccer fans don't understand the gorgeous nuances of the beautiful game. They don't get why you can't use your hands. They think it's just guys running around for 90 minutes. They don't get ties. ("They're un-American!") They don't get points-based rankings. ("That's just weird!") They don't get what a table is. ("Isn't that for eating and putting stuff on?") And they certainly don't get why you love it so damned much. What you need is a community — a group of like-hearted diehards who love fútbol just as much as you, and totally understand why you wake up at 7 on a Saturday morning to watch the English Premier League. You can find such a community at Fox & Hounds, a British American pub (that's right, "pub"). This joint is so entrenched in soccer, it will open just for those early-morning games, regardless of time. Then it'll stuff your fútbol-supporting face with fish and chips, steak and kidneys, and even Scotch eggs. And, of course, beer. Lots and lots of beer. It even has a dartboard where you and your mates can play during halftime. Fox & Hounds caters to other sports lovers, to be sure — it has plenty of TVs in the place. But its first love will always be for the beautiful game and its year-round matches, international and otherwise. And the atmosphere here is perfect to watch those matches with your brothers and sisters in soccer.

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