Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino
Courtesy of Gulfstream Park
It's a Saturday in mid-April, eighth race of the day, and the small crowd is ready for the Hialeah Park races at Gulfstream. A few old-timers play to stereotype: linen suits, fedoras, and stogies, hovering over their racing forms at the rail. A handful of families drink Cokes and eat hot dogs, paying little attention to the track. Most of the action takes place inside, by the simulcast screens. The Wood Memorial is about to start, then the Arkansas Derby and the Blue Grass Stakes, all taking place far away from Gulfstream, and all with major significance in the racing world. Yet even on a day of low-stakes races, when all eyes are elsewhere, there is a quiet dignity to Gulfstream. Like a half-empty Yankee Stadium in September or Boston Gardens before -- well, before they tore it down. When the red-coated bugler steps to the winner's circle and announces the arrival of the horses for the race, dwindling attendance is momentarily forgotten. Statuesque palm trees sway in the infield. Even the massive condos lining Hallandale Beach look picturesque from afar. Then the horses are in the gate, the buzzer sounds, and the chase is on. Nickthehousebuster comes out strong but soon fades. Star of Rajab moves to the front, fighting off Shady Lawyer. The favorite, Actspectations, is nowhere to be found. A few stray shouts and grunts bounce off the empty chairs that line the grandstands. As the horses head down the stretch, Locked On makes his move, emerging from the pack and taking the race by a couple of lengths. A five-to-one shot, $10 on a $2 bet. Life is good.

AMF Davie Lanes
Never had a 300 game? No problem. At Davie Lanes almost anyone who joins one of their many bowling leagues is guaranteed a better average. Try the Fun League, where for 22 weeks you can play three games one night a week with a weekly payout of $100 per week. If that doesn't thrill you, try the Marlins League, in which bowlers receive tickets to two Marlins games, a team jersey, and a chance at a mysterious prize fund. There's also the Boomerang Bowlers League for gay and lesbian bowlers, plus the Have a Ball League, which used to be called the Lousy Bowlers League. If you prefer to throw your ball by black light, check out Extreme Bowling on Friday and Saturday nights. The décor at Davie Lanes could probably use a little updating, and its 32 lanes might pale in comparison to some of the newer, larger bowling centers, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more user-friendly place.
You lookin' for some action? You found the right place. This 16-table hall has offered hustlers from around the globe a shot at winning big for nine years running. Four billiards tables attract Brits and other Euro players, as does management's care of its wares. Balls are cleaned and polished after every game, and tables are wiped down and vacuumed as well. This bodes well for billiards lovers, because grungy balls mean shorter-rolling shots. A small bar in the corner offers a buck and a half beer specials Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and three booths by the door boast backgammon, checkers, and chess. Although some players stroll in with sticks valued in the thousands, there are also some available for purchase in the $50-to-$110 range. Or get one handmade by local cue-crafter Joe Picone, whose sticks are reputed to be so fine, players will wait up to a year to get their chalked hands on them. Beginners: Don't be daunted. You can use the smooth and utterly unwarped house sticks, and everyone's too enthralled with his or her own game to notice your lame shots.
Lord Nelson Pub and Eatery
Think of it this way: Lord Nelson himself threw "darts" in the form of cannonballs, and the 16-pounders flew into the French fleet, which is why he won the battle of Trafalgar and which may be why the British love this pub game so much. Owned and operated by a couple of expatriate British citizens who refuse to relinquish their citizenships, Lord Nelson's is a perfect place for the dart novice. The pub is spacious, the dart boards sit well away from the crowd in the comfortable expanse of the main room, and the pub provides the darts -- just ask at the bar. A couple of strips mark the throwing line, conveniently labeled "7-feet, 2-inches," the official game distance. And that's all that's official. Since the pub isn't on the local dart-league circuit, you can get in and learn over a couple of pints of Bass Ale or a hefty serving of shepherd's pie, bangers and mash, or fish and chips.
Once you've experienced Bathtub Reef Beach, you'll understand how it got its name and why it's the perfect place to bring kids (or not). Every day at low tide, water collects between the beach and the live Anastasia Worm reef that sits about 75 yards away, creating, yes, a natural bathtub to frolic in. (The waves keep their distance beyond the reef.) Anytime is a good time to visit, especially if you're looking for a small, intimate place with a newly regraded beach, new restrooms, a recently rebuilt dunes crossover and, as if that weren't enough, lots of free parking. Come to think of it, this could be one of the best beaches in the entire state.
Dania Beach
So what if some steel-and-glass-happy developer plopped a Goliath-size condo just outside the southern end of this beach? Don't look over there. Instead shuffle over the always clean and gold sand and stretch your terry towel under a chickee hut, or for a measly buck, stroll 920 feet due east into the Atlantic Ocean courtesy of the Dania Beach pier. A bait shop sells chum, pilchard, and sand fleas -- also cheese and crackers, gum, smokes, and soda pop. Watch the marble-eyed pelicans watching you as you flick your rented fishing pole over the pier's railing. Cast your lures and lines into jade waters, or maybe pop a quarter into one of a few stereoscopes stationed on the pier, and check out the cargo ships sliding across the horizon. If you're lucky you might spot a school of manta rays or, more often, manatees. For those who like to picnic, coolers and drinks on the pier and beach are allowed. If you prefer to eat out, a modest snack grill dishes out hot dogs and cold beer. Extra bonus: The pier's open 24 hours. This beach's unspoken credos remind us of Key West's: Say hello to strangers, pick up after yourself, and always carry a Koozie.
If variety is the spice of life, then the nine and a half-mile loop trail at Jonathan Dickinson is one flavor-filled hike. Wending along its way, the trail itself varies from loose-packed sand to dirt to downright bog (especially during the rainy season, from June through October). The path is well maintained by the Florida Trail Association, though, and while it's changing its geological makeup, the strand carries hikers through six different habitat zones, from open plains to a thick forest of vine-covered trees that seem to form a wall. Toward the end of the one-way loop, a lake comes into view, and the area is a good one in which to spot the occasional armadillo, alligator, or raccoon. About midway around the loop, a well and pump have been installed, but water from them needs to be thoroughly treated and filtered, so you might as well bring enough of your own clean H2O -- at least two quarts per hiker. As if more than nine miles isn't enough for a good day's trudge, a spur trail heads off some three more miles to a primitive campground, where wanderers will find another water pump and an outhouse. (Hey, we said primitive.) Camping overnight requires advance authorization from the park.
When they need a respite from the hubbub of the city, lawyers, journalists, and other downtown Fort Lauderdale workers zip into this health club inside the Auto Nation Tower, Broward County's tallest building. Enter through the marble-floored lobby and take the elevator to the seventh floor. Where else can you jog on an outside track with a sweeping view of downtown Fort Lauderdale, then dive into an aquamarine, heated outdoor pool? The sounds of the traffic and hustle and bustle seven stories below are a distant melody. For those who prefer their workout after hours, nightly yoga classes are also held on the outer deck, amid palm trees, a decorative pond, mood lighting -- and the stars. We love the state-of-the-art treadmills with individual TVs and the racquetball courts, but the little amenities are what really stand out. In the ladies' locker room, gals can hang up their suits in full-size lockers and relax in a hot or a cold Jacuzzi, without worrying about muscle men hitting on them. Management has thoughtfully provided every tool a professional needs to return to the office after an afternoon workout: blow dryer, moisturizer, iron, hair spray, bathing suit dryer. You can wait for your massage in a special room with a wicker couch and fresh flowers and make complimentary phone calls. Free coffee, newspapers, and razors, too.

Hugh Taylor Birch State Park
Ebyabe via Wikimedia Commons
What makes this rectangle of tropical lushness with a paved loop exceptional? Its prominent location facing Fort Lauderdale's beach and its relative obscurity for a park in a city. (You can bet some green space-hating developer sees lost millions every time he looks at it.) Pull in off Sunrise Boulevard and park for $3.25, or walk in for $1. The 1.9-mile loop offers a quiet, frequently shady refuge from heavy traffic. The park is sandwiched between the beach and the Intracoastal Waterway, and the loop sports a long view of big boats and homes on the inland shore. Beautiful people frequently work out on the loop, so the scenery is humanly as well as naturally appealing. You can Rollerblade or bicycle, and dogs on leashes are welcome too. You'll find trails to hike, picnic tables in quiet places, and a canoe-rental service for those who want to paddle the lake. Got a sedentary wastrel in your party who wants to do nothing? Stick him or her on the shore of the inland waterway under a tree and let him or her sleep. For runners who care, the loop is hill-free, and after the workout you can walk out on the beach for a swim and a shower.

Named after Chris Evert's dad, Jimmy, who coached here for decades, these city-owned courts are a testament to municipal beauty and utility at prices affordable to most, if not all. That's what we like about public tennis courts -- everybody can get in to play. This facility in Holiday Park, surrounded by palms, flowering plants, and verdant expanses of grass, includes 18 "hard-true" courts (a tidy dirt surface that qualifies as clay) and three asphalt courts. The best way to get court time is to show up. You'll find showers and a lounge, and you can arrange lessons from a pro if you need them. A stringer works on the premises if you need your racket restrung from blasting serves, and the help is as pleasant as any country-club fawner. The place is clean, well managed, and open seven days a week, morning to night.

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