Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
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!)
Now, this stunt will require preparation and a friend or two to document it. First, search the internet and purchase a chicken suit. Once your order arrives, tell your friends to meet you at Anglin's Fishing Pier. Put on your chicken suit and let your adrenaline slowly boil over. Go to the pier and run down it like a goddamned chicken boss. Jump.
What it lacks in amenities, Fort Lauderdale's Esplanade Park makes up for with three assets: location, location, location. You have to thank long-gone city planners who were visionary enough to set aside green space in the center of downtown, steps from Las Olas Boulevard and facing the New River. The grassy lawn is good for picnicking and makes a great waterfront perch for watching yachts parade by. The Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Museum of Discovery and Science, and an IMAX theater are all within walking distance, and the park is a popular spot for events and concerts, including regular jazz brunches and the annual New Times Beerfest. Once you've sufficiently chilled out, follow the brick path into the Arts and Entertainment district for a quick bite or a cold beer.
Readers' choice: Hugh Taylor Birch State Park
Military Trail Nature Area features 20 acres of open greenery perfect for an afternoon run, a meditation session, or a much-needed break from reality. The trail highlights old Florida history, as it was built to act as an access road for soldiers in the mid-1830s, during the second Seminole War. It's also known for having one of the rarest plant communities in Broward, with scrubby flatwoods, pine and oak trees, and even a few bald cypresses. With barely any palm trees, you might even feel like you've stepped out of Florida for a hot minute.
The beach is fun. The beach is great. But getting to the beach can be a major pain in the ass. You have to lug around chairs and coolers, along with your bottle of sunscreen. And wallet. And keys. And radio. Then when you get to the beach, you have to step onto the searing-hot sand as you navigate oily bodies to try to find a spot. Then you need a towel to lie on and an umbrella, unless you're one of those people who likes to slowly broil to death. Then you have to get back up to go buy food on the Broadwalk when you're hungry or when nature calls. It's a goddamned chore. But it doesn't have to be — because Hollywood North Beach Park is right there to alleviate the pain-in-the-ass production that is a day at the beach. It has a bevy of benches with grills, so you can just bring your own food to cook. It's also shaded by trees, so no umbrella is required. There's also a restroom. The park even has the Turtle Cafe, if you should get a hankering for a hot dog. Best of all, it's literally steps from the beach. The park also extends across A1A, where you can watch the boats, fish, have a picnic, or just people-watch. You can either park at the meters or inside the park itself for $8 on weekdays ($10 on weekends). If you arrive after 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, the price drops to $6. We knew you'd love a deal.
Readers' choice: Fort Lauderdale Beach
Flashes of neon blue, orange, and yellow dart in and out of your foggy peripheral vision. A school of grunts appears on your left, and it's getting awfully close. Wait, is that a sea turtle? No, just a coral. Darn. You settle for chasing after the little pufferfish that just swam by and pretending you're an extra on the set of Finding Nemo. The past few weeks have had you itching for some Vitamin Sea, and the Twin Ledges moorings never fail you. Located an easy two miles north of the Port Everglades inlet, these 16 mooring buoys are teeming with marine life, and the visibility is typically good. Blue and yellow angelfish, parrotfish, lobster, and yes, the occasional sea turtle have no qualms with letting you drop by for a visit every once in a while. Don't forget to grab your GoPro and get to snapping. #snorkelselfieDegrees/Minutes N 26 7.750 W 80 5.460
Degrees/Minutes/Seconds N 26 7 45.000 W 80 5 27.600
Readers' choice: Red Reef Park
This boat ramp on the Riverwalk is ideal for putting in a kayak for a jaunt along the Tarpon River and an afternoon picnic. Paddle past Esplanade Park, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, and miles of scenic shoreline. Nearly 200 years ago, Seminole Indians here attacked the home of William Cooley, one of Fort Lauderdale's first settlers. According to historians, Cooley wasn't at home, but his wife and children were slaughtered. Many consider this the beginning of the Second Seminole War and what led to the construction of the three forts that gave Fort Lauderdale its name. Some people claim that the park is haunted; there are rumors of women and children screaming late at night. But we've only ever witnessed a clan of friendly ducks quacking.
Can't say we'd blame a kid for taking a self-appointed mental-health day to dodge the rays of Common Core pulsing through Florida classrooms. Any beach will do for swimming or playing volleyball, but Hollywood, with its bustling Broadwalk strip, has the added thrill of being busy enough that you may have to dodge a grownup who knows you. If a truant officer asks what you're up to, though, you can easily unleash a foreign accent and pretend you are visiting from Australia or Kazakhstan — a passable excuse on the tourist-laden beach. Then continue merrily on to ogle Speedo-wearing visitors, who will surely photobomb all your selfies. Just make sure Mom and Dad aren't checking Instagram tonight.
Yes, "tootling" is a thing. A thing preferably done with 12 ice-cold cans of whatever your captain is drinking. Who doesn't like a good tootle down Dania Cutoff Canal, through Pond Apple Slough, and back out to the Intracoastal Waterway? Here, you'll find manatees mingling with schools of mullet, record-setting tarpon devouring blue crabs, Great Blue Herons, ibises, and prehistoric-looking iguanas (that may or may not taste like chicken) shitting all over Hell's Half Acre. Rumor has it a roofer saw a bull shark swimming up a canal in Riverland not long ago. While that may be fiction, the alligators lurking in the mangroves are not (RIP, Mr. Cuddles). Since we all know "boat" stands for "break out another thou$and," the best way to get on the water is to find a friend with a boat. If you haven't found your captain yet, there's always the Jungle Queen.
This vintage motor lodge, painted in an array of tropical pastels, was lovingly redesigned and restored some ten years ago under the cool, sharp eye of legendary fashionista Barbara Hulanicki, whose U.K. clothing store was an icon of London's Swinging Sixties and whose nickname — Biba — was appropriated for the hotel. The rooms are smallish, but the ambiance is expansive: a playful pastiche of retro modern fixtures and furnishings inside, a good-sized pool, and lounging areas in a Caribbean-style setting outside. Set at the edge of West Palm Beach's South Dixie arts and antiques district, it's a short stroll from the Norton Museum, and some of the area's most innovative chefs ply their trade nearby. With rooms starting around $75 (sans taxes and fees), it's affordable too.
Readers' choice: The Breakers Palm Beach
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.