If you want lions and tigers and bears, oh my, then you're better off at Dreher Park Zoo in West Palm Beach or Lion Country Safari. But if it's local flora and fauna you crave, then you can't beat this massive preserve in south central Palm Beach County. It's all that remains of the northern portion of the Everglades, and more than a dozen categories of endangered and threatened species live there, including the American alligator and the extremely rare snail kite. There are also lizards, frogs, snakes, raccoons, armadillos, otters, bobcats, deer, and fish, although the refuge's big draw, especially in winter, is its dazzling array of native and migratory birds. Two main nature trails are available, a marsh trail with an observation tower and a boardwalk through a 400-acre cypress swamp, as well as a five-and-a-half-mile canoe trail. Be sure to take binoculars and, because insects are a big part of the park's population, bug spray.
We give this place four paws up! The 2.5 acres of fenced-in park is built exclusively with mutts (or purebreds) in mind. It offers obstacle courses, wading pools, water fountains for dogs, and cleanup bags for, well, you know. Canines romp on the main grassy area while their owners sit and watch the frolic from the shade. For dogs more agile of body and mind, there is a complete obstacle course with cement tubes to run through, jumps, ramps, and weave poles. The pooch park is the idea of a local veterinarian who saw the need for dogs to get off those doggone leashes and run. Although relatively quiet during the week, the park can get crowded on weekends, so watch out for the big dogs. Woof.

Ignore the "Family" in the name. If you're seeking a friendly, comfortable environment to take the kids, try Hollywood Billiards or Kiss Shot Billiards in Jupiter. Gold Crown is an uninviting, dimly lit decades-old pool hall west of Young Circle that just happens to attract some of the meanest shooters ever to chalk up a pool cue. On any given night, you might find such pool luminaries as Danny Diliberto or Toby Sweet lounging at the bar, or picking up a game of one-pocket. Most nights the house man is John Foster, one of the top nine-ball players in the state of Florida. If you're looking for a money game, there's almost always one to be had. Just sidle up to the table nearest the cash register (the table recently fitted with a new felt cloth), and see who's looking for action. The 11 Gold Crown tables here are old and worn but still have smoother rails and more dependable pockets than most tables half their age. In other words the cliché holds true for pool tables: they don't make em like they used to. The omnipresent billiard dogs adorn the walls, as do black-and-white photos of pool greats such as Willie Mosconi, Minnesota Fats, and Abbott and Costello. From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day you can play all you want for $5. Go early and hone your stick skills. Maybe then you'll be ready for the regulars.

Markham Park
Spread across 666 acres at the edge of the Everglades, Markham is a park apart from the congestion and development of Broward County. Labradors bound up grassy slopes, solitary fishermen patiently eye their poles, families gather on wooded campsites. The impressive list of facilities includes a target range, astronomical observatory, model-airplane field, boat ramps and rentals, and mountain bike and equestrian trails. But the nostalgia of Boy Scout outings and wilderness trips and backyard barbecues is what gives this park that "peaceful, easy feeling" the Eagles sang about back in the '70s, when Markham Park opened.
John Prince Park
Lake Osborne composes almost half of John Prince Park's 726 acres and contributes to its bucolic character. Knotted ficus trees -- bent trunks supported by spindly fingers, aerial roots brushing the hair of visitors below -- evoke visions of J.R.R. Tolkien's gnomelike hobbits. A five-mile bicycle path winds around the park and over the lake, 20 Fit-Trail stations have diagrams for an exercise-by-numbers effect, and wood fences line roads of pitted white powder. Even the potholes are charming.
The best place to fish for whopper saltwater species like marlin is from a boat -- way offshore in deep water. But if you don't own a boat and don't want to pay a charter fee, the next best bet for snagging saltwater fish is a pier. And from the back door of the bait shop at water's edge, Anglin's Fishing Pier extends more than 870 feet into the Atlantic. It's open 24 hours a day, so anglers can show up whenever they feel like it, which is what the fish seem to do. When the breeze is blowing west or onshore, the water gets clear and the fish can see where they're going so they don't come in close. A nice northwest or southwest wind, however, keeps the water murky and the associated currents will bring in pompano, mackerel, bluefish, and snook (at least while they're in season). Early morning during an incoming tide is the best time to land fish here, and dusk to midnight isn't bad. Tarpon may lurk near the end of the pier just before dusk, and snapper and shark can be caught at night. Latching onto any of them requires not only timing but the right equipment, which can be rented or purchased at the bait shop. Admission to the pier costs $2 to $3. And if the fishing's slow, the Pier Restaurant is right there for a cup of coffee, a snack, or a fish sandwich.

Yes, you can pay $50 or more to go out on a boat, don a mask, and swim with the fishes. But why, when you can glide 200 yards out from the beach near the charming old Anglin's Fishing Pier and see coral reefs and sealife that's just as good -- for free. Mornings, before the surf is up and boat traffic starts buzzing, swim out to the first buoy south of the pier, then angle southeast for another 100 yards. Fifteen feet down, you'll find a colorful reef of star and green cactus coral, with fan coral for decoration. Abundant lobsters, parrotfish, harlequin bass, squirrelfish, sergeant majors, and coral shrimp dart in and out of the coral caves. Be on the lookout and you'll see spotted moray eels and octopuses. Small (harmless) nurse sharks will add excitement. If you don't have your own gear, rent mask, snorkel, and fins for $10 -- be smart and spend $7.50 more for a safety dive flag -- from the nearby Deep Blue Divers on A1A and Commercial. (Call the shop at 954-772-7966 for info on water conditions.) When you've sated your appetite for watching fish, swim back to shore and eat some at any of the open-air restaurants off the pier and wash the salt off your lips with a cold brew. It's the real Florida.

Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino
Courtesy of Gulfstream Park
You can't even get into a concert these days for much less than $20 or $30. So when you consider that a show by an act like Cheap Trick or Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is included in the $3 admission fee every Saturday and Sunday at Gulfstream Park, the economics are evident. Also included for that measly two bucks is parking, a race program, and -- oh yeah -- a full day of high-caliber thoroughbred horseracing. All of the dough you're saving, of course, is fodder for betting on the ponies or for spending at the track's restaurants or well-stocked snack bars and cocktail counters. And in addition to the concerts, another track perk is Showtime at the Inside Track Room, a free live program during which patrons learn how to wager, held every Saturday and Sunday at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m.
Hallandale's North Beach is the beach that trespassing regulations forgot. It's bad enough that hotels, motels, and estates claim most of the Atlantic shoreline in Broward and Palm Beach, but after dusk most parks are gated, heavily policed, or too populated for you to strip down in safety. Amid this prohibition North Beach's laissez-faire attitude and its relatively clean beach (seaweed and debris are swept from the sand daily) are refreshing and available. Despite the water tower painted like a beach ball, North Beach keeps a low profile by moonlight. Lifeguards are off duty, police presence is minimal, and the few couples parked in the beach parking lot can't glimpse your bare bum through the natural barrier formed by a sand ridge topped with brush. The risk of discovery, of course, only increases the thrill (and the goose bumps). Linger on the water's edge if you dare or dart into the surf, tossing a "last one in's a rotten egg" over your shoulder. The salty chill of the sea, the constant rocking of the waves, and the watery reflection of the stars make even the fanciest private pool seem too staid for the true nature-loving skinny-dipper.

Tired of going to the two-court spot closest to home and finding hacks swatting the ball back and forth on both of them? Sick of playing on the same tired surface? Don't have a ready partner but want to swat some tennis balls anyway? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, try Holiday Park, where they serve up tennis the way it oughta be, with clay or without, hold the waiting. And it's centrally located off Federal Highway just south of Sunrise Boulevard. There are 21 beautifully maintained courts at the park (eighteen clay, three hard-surface), and the cost for singles play is $3.50 an hour to play on clay, $2.50 on a hard surface. Pocket change. It's a buck extra if you're from outside the Fort Lauderdale city limits, so we suggest that if you have one, show a driver's license that has "Fort Lauderdale" on it. If you're having problems finding a tennis partner, you can spend an intimate hour with a tennis machine for $10. (Use of the machine can be had all year for $75.) The park also offers memberships, leagues, and other events for those who just can't get enough of the old back-and-forth.

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