Quiet Waters Park

Quiet Waters plays host to the annual, tremendously popular Renaissance Festival. The park has its own ski rixen — which, if you're unfamiliar, is like wakeboarding minus the expensive boat — as well as a marina where you can rent boats. Splash Adventure is a children's "water playground," open seasonally within the park. The best part about Quiet Waters, though, is more the quiet than the water. With 430 acres to roam around in, you actually feel like you're out in nature in the middle of Deerfield's urban landscape along Powerline Road, and there are plenty of campgrounds. You can rent bicycles and pavilions, platform tents and teepees. There are also basketball courts and one of the few mountain bike trails to be found, built up with boardwalk-type ramps and maintained by park volunteers. There is nothing you could hope to find in a park that you won't find in Quiet Waters.

Cypress Creek Natural Area

Yeah, alligators are pretty badass, but there's more to Florida's flora and fauna than those leathery, prehistoric beasts. The trails at Cypress Creek offer a glimpse into seven of the state's ecosystems that are home to an array of creatures both great and small. Step over bobcat and deer tracks as you amble through an oak and pine canopy before wandering past Sandhill cranes and purple gallinules chilling in a marshy flatland. Routes are well-suited for beginners but varied enough to hold a veteran hiker's attention. The 2,000-plus acres — much of which was acquired and rehabbed by the county in the past 15 years or so — are blissfully underused. That said, don't be shocked if one of those gators (or a snake or two) crosses your path at some point in the journey. Parking and entrance are located north of Indiantown Road, about one mile west of Florida's Turnpike.

Riverbend Park

Looking for a killer place to launch a kayak? Go west, young man. It seems counterintuitive, yes, but the region's inland rivers, lakes, and streams are among the most beautiful bodies of water you're likely to encounter. An outing at Riverbend can be tailored to suit your style. An early riser who prefers solitude and a quiet paddle? Travel into the park's interior to explore the sloughs and lagoons that are home to a menagerie of alligators, mammals, wading birds, and fish. Looking for more of a party-on-the-water vibe? Follow the crowd out of the park proper and onto the Loxahatchee River, where you'll find eight or so miles of cypress-shaded twists and turns. Technically speaking, alcohol is prohibited, but the gators won't tattle if you crack a barley water or two, so long as you don't leave the cans behind. Daily rentals of single and tandem kayaks are available for reasonable rates at Canoe Outfitters of Florida, Riverbend's designated, on-premises livery.    

Hollywood Beach Broadwalk
Hollywood CRA

In between the bustling beachfronts of Fort Lauderdale and Miami is a sunny coziness to be discovered by joggers, diners, and amateur sand-castle architects (and the people who love them). The Hollywood Beach Broadwalk is a 2.5-mile stretch of mellowness, featuring a brick-paved pedestrian sidewalk bordered by the sandy beach on one side and an array of charming restaurants, cafés, shops, and inns on the other. The Broadwalk also features three oceanfront parks with playgrounds, a weekly produce market, and free performances at the Hollywood Beach Theater most nights. Park your car for the day and allow the free trolley to move you and the family up and down the Broadwalk and over to the lovely downtown area as well. There's lots to discover here and absolutely no hurry to do so.

A snorkel session along the jetty at Red Reef Park will remind any South Florida resident or visitor that it is absurd to associate glowing tropical fish and swaying coral with a desktop screen saver rather than the eye-popping live experience. Especially since this precious Boca Raton spot makes the underwater world of eels, seahorses, brain coral, and clownfish so easily available. All a curious mammal has to do is strap on a dive mask and wade in from the beach. In an instant, the noisy reality of I-95, office cubicles, and endless chatter vanishes and one is floating in a luminous dream. After a spectacular snorkel, a picnic at one of the park's pavilions is a nice way to gradually reenter the world of gravity and traffic lights. The parking fee of $16 to $18 is a small price to pay for such a therapeutic excursion.

This vista is positioned just right, so that an early-evening bike ride down A1A will bring you to the highest bridge in South Florida shortly after the road breaks away from the coastline, snaking its way west. If you time it right, arriving just as the Intracoastal Waterway below begins to mirror the fiery hues of the sky above, an end-of-day calm seems to come over all that is within your elevated view of Fort Lauderdale. A contemplative moment is to be expected. If you've brought a date, a kiss may earn you beeps from passing traffic (bonus!).

While bagpipers march down the street

The people get light on their feet

All decked out in green

A ridiculous scene

The sights on this day can't be beat!

Bank of America Plaza

Where there once was a pointed roof, there now is a glowing capsule at the tip of a cosmic rocket ship. Or it might look that way to those on quality hallucinogens after dark who are within a five-mile radius of the Bank of America Plaza. While some nights the newly added LED display is a cool, steady blue, other times it flashes rainbow cheerfulness like the cityscape equivalent of a Grateful Dead jam. Kudos to the city's fifth-tallest building for becoming the most magical to behold.

Deerfield Beach Pier

Your pal from the Midwest just rolled into town, and sun, sand, and surf are tops on his agenda. These are three attainable demands that can be met at a multitude of tourist traps, which your visitor will leave with a hearty sunburn and an assortment of T-shirts with cheesy slogans. Instead of opting for the predictable sights he's seen a million times on brochures, give your visitor a South Floridian slice-of-life experience. The newly remodeled 976-foot International Deerfield Beach Fishing Pier offers genuine Floridian charm. If you haven't been to the pier since its $5 million overhaul, you will be damned impressed too. With its new blue and crystal-white hue, it glistens against the blue of the Atlantic Ocean most majestically. If the guest is an early bird, go just before sunrise, walk the distance to the end of the pier, and marvel at the stunning sunrise that materializes before your eyes. At only $1 for sightseers ($4 for fishermen), it's one of the cheapest yet most stunning sights around. Afterward, grab some towels and a few beach chairs and sprawl out in Deerfield Beach's pristine sand — the cleanest and most expansive beach Broward County has to offer.

Everglades National Park
Rodney Cammauf / National Park Service

A journey into the country's "largest subtropical wilderness" shouldn't be this easy, but it is. Just an hour or so on Florida's Turnpike, and city dwellers are face-to-face with the legendary River of Grass. Hearty types can kayak, canoe, or camp overnight in the primordial soup, but there's plenty to satiate the casual day-tripper. The Anhinga Trail, just minutes inside of the 1.5-million-acre park, is a breeze to navigate. Nothing but paved paths and elevated boardwalks. Oh, and a shitload of alligators and prehistoric-looking birds. Drive deeper into the park — the crowd wanes with every passing mile — until you reach the pink Flamingo Visitor Center overlooking Florida Bay. Have a picnic in view of an active osprey nest, and scout the marina for manatees and sightings of the rare American crocodile. The cost for entry is $10 per vehicle and a little bit of driving, but the experience is beyond compare.

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