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Miami's Wild Sides - By Land, Sea and River


By: Hal Peat

Blessed with year-round mild climates and unrivaled ocean access, America’s southernmost resort city is also a sought-after international recreation destination. Ranked the nation’s #1 Healthiest City by Natural Health Magazine in 2002, Miami caters to action-oriented visitors from around the globe with some of the world's top golf, tennis and sporting facilities. Add sparkling waters that are a magnet for boating enthusiasts, fishermen, divers and water sports aficionados to the equation and it is easy to see why Miami is a number one choice for active travelers of all ages and skill levels. But where to start? Miami’s streets are often busy, some of its attractions often attract crowds, and a few days can leave more to choose from than you have time to include, so knowing the active options in advance—and how to manage your time and movements—is essential Miami planning. Making the best use of what time you have by knowing where your points of interest are can help you save more of your energy for the activities this city offers.

Best ways to play along, above or beneath the waves

This is a city closely bound up with the sea it sits besides, and no doubt it’s also those waters and miles of sand beaches that draw many to it. You can get out on the water in a variety of ways in proximity to the city shores, whether it be jet skiing in Biscayne Bay or sailing Miami Harbor. On practically every beach you visit, you will find concessions operating water skiing; the leading beachfront hotels along Collins Avenue offer parasailing lessons, and many have jetski, windsurfing and other sport. If you are staying at a beachfront property, check ahead with your hotel concierge about available activities on their stretch of beach, or nearby operators that you can contact to reserve equipment or sessions from.

Different locations in and around Miami produce some very different conditions for water sport. Windsurfing, for instance: Biscayne Bay off Rickenbacker Causeway has winds that usually blow side-onshore, and the water stays fairly shallow, allowing even a beginner to walk his way back to shore if necessary. If you want to go further afield, however, continue toward Key Biscayne and spots like Hobie Beach, where operators like Sailboards Miami can provide you a two-hour lesson if you are new to the sport for about $70. After that, you can rent your own board by the hour. The drive down toward Key Biscayne is itself an experience as you gain a fantastic view of Miami’s skyline and closer by beneath you, the water’s surfaces alive with sailboats of all kinds, jet skiers, or just people fishing from the boats. The biggest collection of rental outlets for jet skis are to be found at Virginia Key on the way to Key Biscayne.

A focal point for water action of all kinds on the Key is at Crandon Park: this two-mile long public beach also has its own full service-marina and restaurants a short drive from the beach. Not surprisingly, since the city itself is also an easy drive, many people make a day of coming to this lovely but accessible area. The Park is also a launching spot for some of the kayaking and snorkeling outings organized by Miami-Dade Park and Recreation Department through its eco-adventure program. On some of these naturalist-guided trips, you kayak out to various underwater preserves and wreck sites off the Key and snorkel off to explore the diverse marine life that populates the dense sea grass beds, sand flats and wreckage; local inhabitants you might observe hereabout range from Spotted Leopard Rays to a Bottle-nosed Dolphins, soft corals, sponges, damsel fish to enormous Pufferfish, and Gray Angelfish. Other kayak and snorkeling expeditions you can do hereabouts will take you into fossilized mangrove reef areas formed by petrified black mangroves over 1500 years ago, or into the artificial reefs that have been created offshore to preserve and enhance the marine eco-systems. Check ahead to book for these easy to moderate adventures.

So you’re up for some deeper and lengthier underwater exploration? The scuba diving opportunities are also plentiful around Miami waters, thanks in large part to the profusion of man-made reefs. Various dive shops around town can get you out on organized weekend dives to the 10 designated offshore artificial reef sites, along with explorations of some offshore wreck sites. Actually, the Miami region has one of the largest artificial-reef programs in the world in addition to the natural sites. Fish flock to the more than thirty ships, tanks, concrete, limestone and other structures which have been sunk over the past 20 years off Miami's coast, as far south as Florida City and north to Sunny Isles Beach. Most are located just a few miles offshore, in less than 130 feet of water, providing great diving for all levels. One of the most popular routes is the Wreck Trek, located off Miami Beach, just north of the Art Deco District. Here, divers can explore the 85-foot tug Patricia, the 100-foot steel fishing vessel Miss Karline, and an old radio antenna welded into 19 pyramids.

Getting you on your way to either dive, surf, or windsurf adventure are plenty of well-equipped private operators around the city and its outer areas. South Beach Divers, for instance, is a renowned PADI Five Star facility located in the heart of South Beach and within walking distance to most hotels; this small but full-service shop provides diving gear and instruction from which you can easily receive your certification over the course of a weekend. They’ve also begun to cater extensively to the surfing crowd, with a full range of all the top surfboards and accessories; they offer surf lessons as well and there’s even a 24 hour surf report that is updated daily. If you already a die hard surfer able to take off on your own, you will find that while this coastal area of south Florida does not have the powerful waves and cross-currents to match those along the Pacific coast, there are still some respectable surfing conditions out there. Head just north of Miami Beach, where the swells at Haulover Beach and South Pointe Beach are the largest and most popular. A little closer to the city, some windy days can see five to seven foot waves roll in off the beach between First and Third Streets in the South Beach area

Not all outdoor activity on water has to be done right out in the neighboring Atlantic, of course—this is a city with its own urban and suburban waterways and canals to paddle through: Miami-Dade Parks also has canoe trips that explores some of the more interesting wildlife aspects of these: for instance, with a trip into the historic Oleta River which forms the eastern boundary of Greynolds Park. The trip includes a stop at a tropical hardwood hammock and Tequesta Indian midden in East Greynolds Park. Another canoe outing takes you through the Coral Gables Waterway--the same historic canals that gondoliers once used to ferry guests from the Biltmore Hotel to the bay for a day at the beach. Relive this experience where you may see a surprising amount of wildlife. If you have the time to go further afield, then you might look into the canoeing available on a day trip to the Everglades or Loxahatchee River preserves which are just about an hour’s drive from the city. Flamingo, deep in Everglades National Park is another great spot for naturalist-led adventures as well as world-class fishing on Florida Bay. The eight mile stretch of Loxahatchee River that begins in Riverbend Park meanders through cypress trees, while otters, turtles, and alligators are all resident in the waters here. More than a third of Everglades National Park is made up of marine areas and shallow estuaries, and that means thousands of acres of shallow water flats, channels, and mangrove keys in which to fish for the plentiful snapper, sea trout, redfish, bass and bluegill.

Land adventuring by foot, bike, or on blades

If you’re in the Everglades area for the canoeing or other water action, why not take advantage also of the extensive biking trails in the area? In fact, Everglades National Park allows biking along the main park roads, on the Shark Valley tram road, on the Old Ingraham Highway, on Long Pine Key Nature Trail, and on the Snake Bight and Rowdy Bend trails at Flamingo. Much of it gives you plenty of miles to pedal on: Miami-Dade Parks’ 14-miles bike hike along the Long Pine Key path traverses pineland and prairie habitat. Keep an eye out for alligators slumbering along the sides of many of these trails--they may be more alert than they seem. And if you’re a competitive-minded biker up for an local event while visiting Miami, then mark your calendar and get ready for the MS 150/Breakaway to Key Largo Bike Tour which heads south every year at the end of April, starting from the Miami Metro Zoo and ending up down in the Keys.

For those who have to really limit their Miami sport and fitness to the immediate areas of town, there are still some excellent outfits and hotspots to get going with, either outdoor or indoor. You might not think of Miami as a place to vertically challenge yourself for instance, but you can actually do so in style at the Fitness Complex of Eden Roc Resort (day memberships available) has a great 28 foot high indoor rock climbing wall, the only indoor rock climbing on Miami Beach. Also in town is the Rock Climbing Center of Miami, which offers safe indoor climbing with plenty of variety--there are 10,000 square feet of textured walls, with routes up to 60 feet in length; there is top rope climbing, bouldering, lead rope climbing and more—and the instruction available makes it great for beginners as well as experienced climbers. Making the most of your time outdoors while absorbing Miami’s human and architectural sights is also simple with the 30 odd miles of white sand beaches. Before you set off, remember to use sun block so you don’t return with a painful burn—something you need to do even during the winter months here.

Tropical Park is also the headquarters site for Miami Runners Club, the third largest runner’s organization in the country. Within the Park there are up to 10 miles of paved running courses laid out by the Club. Enjoy some of the scenery of one of the city’s toniest old neighborhoods with a run along the 8.5 mile South Bay Bike Path that passes through Coconut Grove. Around the two mile point, there is a mile-long bike path that leads into Matheson Hammock Park and in turn connects to a 1.5 mile trail through some 100 acres of mangrove wilds. And if you really want to tie in your running to a competitive event in this part of the world, then consider the Rums of Puerto Rico 5-K that takes place in June along the sands of Miami Beach. The after party with its food is an event in itself, and if you are not so disciplined as to be running again on your own the next day, the plentiful rum on hand is another highlight beyond the finishing line. The other very SoBe active thing is of course, rollerblading along world-famous Ocean Drive, which can tend to be more about the body statement than the skating form you display. If you have no skates with you then rent them from Fritz's Skate, Bike & Surf or the Miami Beach Bicycle Center, then cruise the path that hugs the drive. The best beachside skating is the section from 5th through 15th streets, where the other plus is the cafés across the street that make a break convenient.

For the more traditionally athletic-minded, there are some 180 public tennis courts covering the range of surfaces from clay to grass, and the prestige of playing at the Key Biscayne Tennis Association; the state-of-the-art Crandon Tennis Center hosts the NASDAQ-100 Tennis Championships each March, while the rest of the year its immaculate courts are open to the public, along with innumerable other well-kept tennis venues throughout Miami. Finally, if you are one of those who refuse to leave the gym behind at home, then get a taste of how Miami does it at the brand new Sports Club/LA opened in the new Four Seasons complex in South Beach; among the amenities here are over 30 different fitness and recreational options ranging from a 10,000 square-foot weight-training gym, three group exercise studios, a 100-piece cardiovascular center, and even a destination “cityspa” with all the massage and treatment varieties that can revive and reenergize you before or after a night on the town or any other of Miami’s day-time adventuring. * * *

 

 

 

 

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