In 2012, authorities used 600 tons of limestone boulders to build an 800-foot-long underwater snorkeling trail over two acres on the south side of the Blue Heron Bridge. Six to ten feet deep and marked off from boat traffic by buoys, it's enough to be adventurous yet not too intimidating. The underwater rock trail was built with little ledges and crannies in which sea critters love to hide. On a calm day, you might encounter squid, octopus, spotted rays, tarpon, starfish, and even cute lil' seahorses. Free parking, outdoor showers, picnic tables, and a lifeguard make this a near-perfect place to while away a beach day.

Everglades National Park
Rodney Cammauf / National Park Service

Warning: Do not try this at home. Now, with that out of the way... swimming with alligators is probably the biggest wildlife thrill out there. We know. Earlier this year, New Times went along with Hal Kreitman — AKA the Haligator — as the former chiropractor paddled around the water with a pack of hungry gators. This was Kreitman's thing, and he was offering to take people along with him for a fee, calling the adventures "wildlife photo shoots." It was intense, watching him park kisses on the noses of wild reptiles. The initial investment in this kind of thrill-seeking might be just the gas out to the 'Glades, but the cost comes down the line. If you try it, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will come after your ass. A few weeks after our story ran, Kreitman was busted by Fish and Wildlife agents and charged with a felony for playing with the gators. So swimming with alligators may be thrilling, but it's gonna cost you some lawyer's fees after the fact. Kreitman is fighting the charges against him.

Flamingo Gardens

Want to chase around some albino peacocks, feed a fish to a pelican, or adopt a disabled box turtle? If so, look no further than Flamingo Gardens — a wildlife preserve that exists to rehabilitate and support injured animals. This is the best place to see Florida wildlife up-close and personal and also to make a difference in preserving our great state's animal habitats. It has the largest collection of native Florida animals, 3,000 species of rare and exotic plants, and some of the largest trees in the state. Many of the birds and other wildlife have been hit by cars or are just too dependent on humans to be released. But some of them, like the otters Fast Eddie and Patches, are doing their part to repopulate their species. Since 1989, Flamingo Gardens has helped release dozens of otters into the wild through a breeding program. This is made possible by an $18 entry fee and by unique fundraisers like the adopt-a-flamingo program ($50 to sponsor one). Warning to new visitors: Even though they're not fluffy in that traditional way, these critters are addictive. You might whimper because you can't take Winnie — the disabled turtle who used to live in a Winnebago — home. You will, however, get the assurance that with such great care, the little critter won't be eaten by alligators.

Perhaps the only downside to living in sunny southeast Florida is that despite our miles and miles of beautiful coastlines, they all face east. While this makes for some awe-inspiring sunrise-watching, most of us are more lucid during the sun's big evening performance, exit stage west. That doesn't mean we're out of luck when it comes to viewing sunsets. It just means we have to find a way to put some of that ocean water west of us. (Hint: It's called a boat, people.) Solution: the Cast Away the Day Sunset Cruise aboard Spirit of Lauderdale, a 50-foot catamaran with 1,500 feet of deck space, a shaded bar and lounge, and plenty of cushy seating. After navigating the Intracoastal Waterway — and for once enjoying the schadenfreude of being on the boat that stops auto traffic on the drawbridge — you're out onto the Atlantic Ocean. Once the Spirit of Lauderdale is in optimum solar-event-viewing position, complimentary Champagne will be doled out to those of legal age. Warning: It might in this moment occur to you that you should buy a boat.

Funky Buddha Brewery
Photo by Doug Fairall

It's a summer afternoon. You peep out the window and see gray skies. Suddenly, the rain pours down in buckets, blasting away that beach-barbecue idea you had moments ago. Suck it up and spend the day on the couch, or liven things up and head to the perfect place for amusement and superb craft beers. This popular hangout has ever-changing new-release brews on tap to keep adventurous palates devoid of boredom. Aside from the award-winning hops and artisan selection, you can enjoy a game room featuring bocce ball and cornhole, plus board games and cushy couches. Sporting events are broadcast on the large TVs, giving sports lovers something to watch. The friendly bartenders here are a special breed and knowledgeable beyond belief about how your beer is made. Try striking up a conversation, and get schooled on the whole brewing process. Be sure to check out the yoga events and special tours of the brewery. Bottoms up!

Chances are that the best place to make new friends is not on your living room sofa, karaoke night when you're wasted, or Facebook. If you are brave enough to come out to a local dance club, then your odds are a lot higher. One, you are forced to interact with new people you've never met. Two, you're in a fun environment. Three, you're in a judge-free zone, because everyone is learning a new skill. Swing Out South Florida has an all-ages social swing dance every Monday from 7:30 to 11:15 p.m. The night starts with a beginner lesson at 7:30, followed by an intermediate lesson at 8:15, then a social dance from 8:45 till close. Your first visit is always free, and it's just $12 after that. With an average of 70 to 100 locals coming out every week (and visitors from all over the country), you're bound to get a new job through networking, meet your future mate, or make a new best friend. A few tips to increase your success: chew minty gum, wear deodorant, and smile!

swingoutsouthflorida.com

Cat ladies gone saintly! This all-volunteer animal-welfare group works to eliminate the cycle of overpopulation of the cat species. It identifies feral cat colonies, then traps, neuters, and releases the kitties back into their families — or gets the cats adopted. Every cat it takes in gets up-to-date shots and is tested and treated for diseases. The group also goes above and beyond what most ordinary shelters can pull off by keeping cats in foster homes rather than in cages while they are being cared for. Paws treats about 150 cats per year and has even been credited with eliminating entire cat colonies.

pawssouthflorida.org

Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft have virtually killed the taxi industry. Those big yellow things you see on the road are no different from wild tigers: Their numbers are dwindling, and soon they'll be a thing of the past, something we'll point to in history books, telling our children about. Those were the days — when we used to watch the meter rise from the back seat, we'll tell them as they Twitter away on their iPhone 98s. But there is one taxi in Fort Lauderdale that you can't order on your cell phone. It's big and yellow, but you won't find it on the road. The Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi has been stewarding the masses through Fort Lauderdale's waterways for years, and there's no better way to get to know the Venice of America than on the water. Plus, it takes you to some of the best drinking spots in Lauderdale. It's like having a designated driver, except this DD won't guilt you into helping it move by reminding you about that time you threw up in the back seat.

watertaxi.com

Atlantic Avenue and Swinton Avenue

If you took Las Olas Boulevard and added a tablespoon of wealth, a dash of Caucasian, and a handle of vodka and put the whole darned thing in a blender, you'd have Delray Beach's posh Atlantic Avenue. The tiny strip of road is the heartbeat of the burgeoning city. And there is perhaps no better place for people-watching. By day, you can sit back and watch the elderly shuffle around in Birkenstocks as they pop in and out of boutiques, credit cards in hand. And with the beach within earshot, you're bound to get a few shirtless, glistening bods waltzing by, ripe for ocular judging. By night, the young and drunk take control of the streets. Hundreds of brightly colored polo shirts weave in between intoxicated selfies. It's wonderful. Think The Walking Dead meets Ralph Lauren.

Markham Park

Hey, man. You wanna know a supercool place to smoke a bowl and, like, totally also, like, look at the stars and contemplate the multiverse? Oh, wait. What was I saying? Yeah. Get some of your finest chronic and head over to Markham Park. It's 40 bucks a night for a campground site with picnic tables and a barbecue grill and an open field where people fly remote-control planes. It's trippy as hell, bro. You might need to make a reservation during the high season... heh heh, high season!... but, it's totally worth it. Because there's nothing like getting baked and watching tiny planes fly around.

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