It's a little intimidating to walk into a store past tarantulas and scorpions situated right at the front door. But, after passing the creepy crawlies, you'll be dazed by the variety of creatures on display at Underground Reptiles. Poison dart frogs of the brightest blues and yellows, green iguanas, and yellow- and brown-striped baby leopard geckos fill cages on shelves throughout the store -- and those are the most common varieties. Besides the crunchy crickets and wiggly wax worms being sold for food, there's also a back corner where the dangerous serpents are kept, venomous snakes in secured terrariums. Want an odd feeling? Peer at the black mamba from only three feet with just a thin barrier of plexiglass protecting you, then turn around to see a cute half-dollar-sized baby tortoise. It was strangely unsettling when we did it. But cold-blooded critters are sometimes joined by their mammalian kin at Underground -- hedgehogs, sugar gliders, and other rare mammals. For the showstopper, there's a python big enough to eat your dog. The store will even bring out a slew of slithering friends for your kids' birthday party. Sssseriously.
The trendy stylists at the Strand can save you from yourself. Like, when you go to get yet another round of blond highlights, they can stop you. Talk some sense into you. Have a style intervention. With a cool razor-cut or a complementary all-over color, they can take you from 2001 straight into the present. Hip, superstylish, and yet really, really nice, they will work with your hair texture and personal vision to make you look as if you just floated off the pages of a fashion magazine. It doesn't hurt that, when you enter the salon, a host will offer you a glass of wine -- even at 11 in the morning. Take a seat in one of the comfy leopard-print sofas and flip through giant stacks of magazines or check out all the fun art on the walls. You can get thermal straightening, waxing, and manicures here, and the salon bills itself as the place for hair extensions. Prices are moderate -- with men's cuts costing $30 and up; women's, $50 plus. The only Catch-22, says one client, is that "Once you're drunk from all that wine, you'll end up buying some of the really cool handmade jewelry that they sell."
Once upon a time, the only things you needed to get to the big leagues were hopes, dreams, maybe a homemade bat, raw ability, desire, and a father who forced you to switch-hit from the time you were in diapers. My, how the times they have a-changed! The five-tool player of tomorrow probably smears mink-oil paste into his palm-padded glove before donning metal cleats, polarized sunglasses, and an Under Armour T-shirt just to take some cuts in the batting cage. Or he nestles a bat weight on a Big Barrel Plasma to get his speed up before cranking up the ol' batting machine and slapping the horsehide into the outfield. All of the aforementioned are abundant at Batter's Box (the Coral Springs shop has the batting cages, $2.25 for 20 pitches at a range of speeds), which is perfect for aspiring Cabreras, Sosas, and Jeters or just looking good through the beer inning.
The half-taunt on the front window says, "If you bought a bike here... you would have made that light," as if the indignity of sitting at the railroad crossing at Prospect and Powerline could be any worse. It's a funny jibe from a place that suggests by its very name that all bikers, from hot-shit punks to weekend-leather posers, are welcome inside. Funny thing, because the cozy, family-run shop in the light-industrial area does accommodate all kinds, including the tykes who can fire up a cassette of, say, "Iron Giant" while you browse the bikes or hammer out the details of a repair job in the shop out back. The owners, Bill and Ona Bustos, have a reputation as "decent and honest," as one customer literally on the street (on a Kawasaki, was it?) described them. The website could use updating, but at least it links to the contents of 23 parts and accessories catalogs for quick shopping.
It can be expensive to buy rubber. And, no, we're not talking about variety packs of contraceptive measures. Tires, baby, tires. These days, a set of four brand-new, off-the-production-line radials can set you back close to $1,000. That's a lot of dough, especially if you don't want to sink a ton of money into your ride. But Friendly Tire in Margate has the economical solution: used tires. Located in an industrial park near U.S. 441, Friendly Tire carries radials in all makes and sizes and does a brisk business. It's often busy any day of the week, because the service is (as the name implies) friendly and the tires are great deals, ranging from $17 to $22 per tire for an average tire size. And that includes installation! Although the tires are used, they have been inspected by Friendly Tire's staff, and many are roadworthy for tens of thousands of miles more. But be warned: You won't find an air-conditioned waiting room with the latest US Weekly. In fact, you have to wait outside as Friendly Tire's staff changes your tires. But that's no big deal. You go to Friendly Tire for a great deal on reliable radials.
There's something wonderfully mischievous about going swimming without so much as a millimeter of lycra between you and the water. There's something even better about doing it at night, and at a very public locale. A good place to disrobe and experience the all-American thrill of skinny-dipping is on Fort Lauderdale Beach, just north of the Yankee Clipper Hotel (1140 Seabreeze Blvd., Fort Lauderdale), where it's just dark enough to be inconspicuous, yet there's enough light for you to see any bad guys who might come your way. Or, for that matter, officers of the law.
Sloan's
Christina Mendenhall
Sloan's is an amazing sensory experience, with its hot-pink walls, giant lollipops, miniature choo-choo train, 47 flavors of ice cream, and toys, toys, toys! But the most amazing part is the bathrooms -- which have clear glass doors that look right in to the throne. When you venture in and turn the door handle, however, the glass fogs up and becomes completely opaque. An investigation by the Travel Channel -- which named this the tenth best bathroom in the entire world -- revealed that the door is actually made of two panels of glass. Sandwiched between the panels is a mixture of polymer and liquid crystals. A constant electrical current keeps the crystals in line and the glass transparent. But when the door handle is locked, the current is stopped, the crystals fall, and the glass looks clouded. For a cheap thrill, you can spend all day playing with the bathroom door. Better yet, take a friend, feed them a couple of bottles of water, and get a kick out of showing them the way to the loo.
Six years ago, kiteboarding was in its infancy. There were no magazines about it, no DVDs, no lessons. Pioneers just went out to the beach, tried to harness the wind, and got slingshot hundreds of yards down the beach in the process. That's when East Coast Kiteboarding's owner, Damien Wright, went to Maui to give it a try. "It took me about eight months to ride upwind," he says. "That's a long time." But he got hooked on the sport, which he describes as "wakeboarding, flying, and snowboarding" all wrapped into one, and started his traveling kiteboarding school, which now offers lessons from West Palm Beach to Miami. Kiteboarders have been clocked going 55 knots per hour (although the average speed is closer to 20), and waves can work like ramps, sending kiters 20 or even 40 feet in the air. There is a danger element, though. Says Wright's wife, Jen, who teaches with him: "You can put yourself or somebody else in the hospital." Lessons will help newbies learn to control their kites and perform self-rescues. At East Coast Kiteboarding, it costs $120 for a beginner lesson on land or $599 for a weekend camp that should get you up and riding -- but, as Damien puts it, "If you think of the $30,000 it costs to buy a wakeboarding boat, it's cheap." Beware: Jen says, "Once you get past the initial learning curve, you'll spend every day looking at the wind, just waiting for it to pick up."
Boom times have wreaked havoc at most dollar stores, where prices have crept up ten, 20, even 30 ticks above the promised 100 cents. Still, it's quality that really counts, even at around a sawbuck, and quality is where Dollar Heaven earns its halo. Four bits and change grants you access to three long aisles of crazy bric-a-brac, including a surprisingly comprehensive tool selection and a respectable array of spices. Jewelry? You've got the finest plastic imports from Mexico. Cookware? The best that China has to offer. Children's toys? Hoo, Mama -- it's Christmas. A tank of helium brooding in the corner for the occasional balloon inflation and displays of essential oils are just some of the extras thrown into the mix that a plain old Family Dollar will always sadly lack. And to top it off, every purchase comes with an inevitable sassy remark from Dollar Heaven's owner, who lives for the small pleasure of teasing his customers. He won't let you out the door without an observation about your purchase, but he is always patient with the now-commonplace dollar-store question: "But really, how much?"
Jezebel
Jezebel isn't just for '40s sock-hoppers and vintage couture queens anymore. The venerable vintage clothing store, which in previous incarnations was also called the Stock Exchange, has kept Fort Lauderdale in funky duds for 15 years. But the managers couldn't keep their enthusiasm for quirky inventory entirely tethered to clothing, which means the store's rabbit-warren interior is lined with bizarre tchotchkes that beat out the schlock in the beachside tourist shops any day. No sno-globes or shot glasses here; at Jezebel, some of Florida's more unlikely stuffed animals jostle for space with neat stacks of prewritten to-do lists, imaginative soaps, and some of the coolest hats you'll see outside of a milliner's. Because Jezebel began life trafficking in used threads, many of its gifts, like the Fiesta-ware silverware, take their cues from bygone eras. And the entire backroom is still dedicated to a carefully chosen selection of vintage clothing at reasonable prices. So the next time cold-weather friends and relatives set up camp on your fold-out, ensure that they won't return north with the usual tacky knickknacks that tourists shell out for in their complacent, sun-warmed stupors. Just steer them toward the mermaid riding the lobster right near the beach off Federal Highway, and Jezebel will take care of the rest.

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