Editor’s note: There’s a thing you hear people say sometimes about where we live, about how those vacationers out on the beach work all year to spend just a week here. Fifty-one weeks of nine-to-five, just for a bit of a place we get every day.
It’s a reminder of the awesomeness of a place where being a resident means a never-ending vacation. Sure, Interstate-95 is congested, and there’s King Tides and other problems that we’re just going to forget for a minute. Because what follows are some very good reasons – 17 for 2017 – to rejoice again in your home.
By Emily J. Minor, Eric Barton, Greg Carannante and Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub
City & Shore Magazine
Winter golf in Florida
A lot of golfers love Memorial Day because it’s the start of summer, which means the start of golf, which means the start of life as life should be. But Florida golfers don’t have to wait. Ever. This damn game we love to sometimes hate is a game of precision, chance, frustration, joy, patience, practice – and natural beauty. There’s really nothing prettier than a Roseate Spoonbill taking off into the sunset, unless maybe it’s a birdie on 18. From the perfectly manicured greens to the happy hollering on the back nine to the shop talk at the 19th hole, golfing in season is extraordinary. Thanks Florida. We love you and your 1,100 private and public courses. Some of the best courses, according to Golf Digest, are Trump National Doral’s Blue Monster, PGA National’s Champion, The Breakers’ Ocean, and the Biltmore Golf Course. Want something public? Try the city-owned Red Reef Executive Golf Course in Boca Raton. It has water views – both of the ocean and the Intracoastal – and it’s a gem.
—Emily J. Minor
The red-stitched glories of Spring Training
The month of March is pretty much the sweet spot of Florida winter. Sure, we intuitively know the miserable heat is not long off. But in March, there’s a little something called Spring Training, and we await this month in all its red-stitched glory. The St. Louis Cardinals and the Miami Marlins have trained at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter since 1998. This year, a new stadium will open, The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in suburban West Palm Beach, where the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros will train. And what this means is lots of baseball for 31 days straight. See the mighty Giancarlo Stanton up close and personal! Drink giant beers at 1 in the afternoon! Talk to strangers! It’s all good, and Number 8 sunscreen just might be all you need. We do, of course, share this thing called Spring Training. Tourism bureaucrats insist. But still, even after all these years, a few secrets remain. We know the gate where players sneak in around 9 a.m. (And we might even know the old guy who guards it.) We can easily find our way to the hidden practice fields. Once inside, we head straight away to the food booth with the good pulled pork. And parking? Oh, what a mess parking’s become. Progress, we detest thee. So we’ve saved a few sweet spots, just for us.
—Emily J. Minor
Amazing out-of-state friends/family by taking a dip in the pool
You know what you almost never see around here? One of those fabric tops that cover pools in the winter nearly everywhere else. Here, we don’t need pool covers – we need swim-up bars and waterfalls off faux rocks. We need public places to cool off at resort-style wetbars. Have you seen the never-ending pool party at the new Margaritaville on Hollywood Beach? How about the glass-surrounded stairwell that cuts right through the middle of the pool at the W Fort Lauderdale? And the lushly landscaped luxe pool at the Brazilian Court on Palm Beach? Spread a towel on the lounger, stick an umbrella in a drink and dip your toes, because this is a place never far from a pool – even if it’s in your own backyard.
Polo: Our divotal moment
Yeah, you can do it, just one more plate. Besides, you’ll work it off soon. Head back to the buffet, where maybe you’ve yet to hit the carving station or the many things doused in hollandaise. Grab another flute of champagne and head back to your table by the field. Be sure you’re picture-ready, because here at the International Polo Club (internationalpoloclub.com), it’s as much about the hats and sport coats. OK, it’s halftime, so head out to stomp the divots and work up an appetite for the dessert bar. Find the servers handing out more champagne. Pose for a selfie on grass as soft as fleece. Afterward, marvel at the cars up front at the valet, a veritable duPont Registry collection. Maybe the office or errands await tomorrow, but on this Sunday, it’s all champagne and cracked shellfish and the game of royalty.
The endless nature of the levees
The levees created South Florida. They look endless, stretching to the horizon, big earthen dams that hold back the River of Grass. On top of most of them are trails, made for running and hiking and mountain biking. Start at Markham or Everglades Holiday parks. For tens or hundreds of miles if you so choose, it will be just you and nature, for as far as you can see.
Broward’s ethnic passport
Perhaps the Portlands and the San Franciscos and the Bostons might claim a trendier food scene. But out west in Broward County, a veritable United Nations of food awaits. There’s authentic southern Indian at Woodlands, where most every woman wears stunningly pretty saris. It would be hard to find better Caribbean roti than at Shalama’s Halal Roti Shop. The Vietnamese crowds that gather at Saigon Cuisine, especially when they feature bands and big wedding parties on the weekends, are proof that it’s the real thing. Ask someone from Korea for their favorite spot, and they will likely to tell you Gabose, where bulgogi roasts on charcoal grills in the center of your table. Fill up for a week with the bandeja paisa, the unofficial national dish of Colombia, at El Balcon de Las Americas. Or maybe you’re in the mood for dim sum, found at Toa Toa or Silver Pond or Hong Kong City BBQ. If there’s a foreign food you desire, it’s there, out west in Broward, a collection of ethnic dining that ought to make any city envious.
Early morning at the Morikami
Later, when the sun burns away the cool morning, the crowds will show up. Strollers and hollering kids and people yelling across the lake about lunch plans. Now, though, right when the Morikami Museum first opens, it’s all yours, and the few others who show up right at 10. Follow the path around the lake, with its windless reflection of the gardens, 188 acres of solace. Peer into the rock garden, recently raked in concentric circles surrounding a rock in the center, like a miniature island; somehow, there are no footsteps from the rake lines to the edge of the rocks, as if the breeze made the pattern overnight. A waterfall sends gentle rapids over river rocks. Over by the bank of the pond, where the slash pines have left a soft bed of needles, sit cross-legged to take in this, amongst it all, a little slice of Zen.
Taking the top down
There’s a simple way to make something special out of a mundane commute, or a Sunday morning drive along A1A, or a Saturday night, rolling up to the valet stand like you’re Bono. Flip a latch or push the button or reach back to the lever that holds the ragtop in place. Here comes the breeze off the Intracoastal, the smell of fresh-baked bread as you pass Gran Forno, the sun turning into a strobe light through the live oak branches. Did you see that kid just wave at the Jaguar? That girl smile your way in the Cascada? The punk at the stoplight wanting to race the Mustang? Maybe you were imagining it, but it’s easy to see things a bit rosier when there’s nothing but sky above.
An endless sports paradise
If you fancy trying a new sport, becoming an expert in some new passion, there’s arguably no better place to begin. All-year good weather means endless sports. It means meetups for yoga and tai chi, some at breweries and beachfront parks. Groups of bicyclists head off-road at Dyer Park and crowd the bike lanes of Weston and bounce between craft brew bars. Courts host tennis and pickleball tournaments for every player age. The waterways beckon to surfers and paddleboarders, and kite boarders blast along waves on windy days. And what’s next for you? We’ve got it here, no doubt.
Neverending fresh produce
As farms nearly everywhere else freeze, we’ve got the best heirloom tomato you’ve ever put on a bacon sandwich. It was grown down the street at Swank Specialty Produce. In January. Then there’s the micro-greens from Harpke Family Farm, just west of the airport. Or PATCH, the Dania Beach farm that’s trying all kinds of vegetables. Or take a road trip to Plant City and pick strawberries to fill a year of breakfasts. In the middle of winter, every fresh vegetable you could want, from just down the road.
Festival Season has always just begun
Up north, when the weather turns nice, suddenly everyone wants to go outside again, and festivals pop up to fill the need. Here, though, festival season never ends. Any weekend all year, even in the sun of summer, there’s a park filled with vendors and bands and another excuse to party. You know the highlights: The Las Olas Art Fair (Part 1, Jan. 7-8; Part 2, March 4-5); SOBE Food and Wine Festival in February, Boca’s Festival of the Arts in March, Sunfest in May, Tortuga on the beach in April, and Christmas on Las Olas to kick off the holidays. Need a reason to go outside? It’s always festival season.
Music al fresco
For a music lover like me, there are few sounds sweeter than a tune wafting on the sea breeze of a South Florida evening. But al fresco concert-going is even sweeter now, when the air is perfumed with the contentment of our subtropical privilege. Two venues merit special attention – the big new kid on the beach, Fort Lauderdale’s Tortuga Music Festival; and the local granddaddy, Pompano Beach Amphitheatre. The decades-old “Amp” could well be the most comfortable place to take in an outdoor show – especially when the weather cools down. Its 3,000 seats provide good sightlines and sound – there’s no festival seating! – and its stage has seen its share of solid acts that target Gen Xers or boomers.
In its fifth go-round April 7-9, Tortuga Fest has found a sunny international spotlight with its seaside setting and A-list country headliners. A portion of the tickets goes to marine conservation – and many are already sold out. Only one VIP package remains: the $999 Regular VIP, with amenities like complimentary drinks and private bathrooms. Please visit theamppompano.org or tortugamusicfestival.com
Making a journey out of a destination
Tonight, just for a change, don’t take the car. Hop in a water taxi down to Le Tub in Hollywood. Or maybe take the free water trolley down the New River from a show at the Broward Center to dinner at Big City Tavern. Deerfield’s Admiral will take you on a mansion cruise. Maybe rent a city bike for a ride along the beach. At the end, a ride-sharing Uber or Lyft can bring you back, you in the back seat, taking in that view on the bridge across the Intracoastal. Right then, you realize that here in paradise, sometimes getting there is just as fun as the destination.
Bailey Hall’s onstage renaissance
“Hip. Smart. Engaging. Authentic.” Bailey Hall’s motto, headlining its website and informing its programming, could easily add another attribute: Eclectic. One of the area’s most appealing and comfortable venues, the performing-arts theater on Broward College’s Davie campus is basking in an onstage renaissance that complements the building’s recent renovation. And diversity – stylistic as well as cultural – is a hallmark of the Bailey Hall Presents season, the first completely curated by director Dr. Daniel Barnard. As a prime example, Barnard points to the big name on the bill, Eliane Elias (Jan. 27), a Brazilian jazz singer/musician whose Made in Brazil won last year’s Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album. Only a week in advance of her samba stylings, the schedule travels 180 cultural degrees all the way to Mars for “Exploring the Red Planet with NASA Engineer Kobie Boykins” (Jan.19). Visit baileyhall.org for more info
Billy Crystal, January snowbird
Billy Crystal is like the rest of us. Come January, he wants to be in South Florida. This year the funnyman’s got a couple of great reasons: He’s kicking off his national tour at the Arsht Center in Miami on Jan. 21 and schlepping up I-95 the next night to the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, before continuing up the coast to five other cities in the state. “It’s warm, it’s January, so I’m not gonna be in the middle of South Dakota in January,” he said during a Jimmy Kimmel Live appearance just after the election. “So we picked Florida to start, because it’s a key state. It could determine the whole tour.”
Billed as “Spend the Night With Billy Crystal,” the performances in part follow a talk-show format.
“There’s standup and ‘sitdown,’ which gives me great freedom to tell stories, show film clips and talk about my life and career and the world as I see it,” he says. “The most fun I’ve had onstage in a long time.” Crystal certainly has enough to talk about in those back and forths on stage with comedian and actress Bonnie Hunt: a five-decade comedy, TV, flm and stage career, not to mention five books and nine stints as host of the Oscars. Mahvelous. Tickets start at $59 from arshtcenter.org and $61.50 from kravis.org.
Want a good reason to get out and enjoy a stroll on a lovely South Florida evening? The FAT Village Art Walk would be an inspired – and inspiring – choice, even if the weather isn’t lovely. “We’re sort of like the mail – rain, hail, sleet or snow,” says Doug McCraw, the mastermind behind FAT Village and its Art Walk, which draws hipsters and non-hipsters alike to the downtown Fort Lauderdale area on the last Saturday of every month except December. From large galleries to smaller venues, about 20 of the village’s spaces open up to exhibit for the pet-friendly Art Walk, which also features a good selection of food trucks, a few music venues and free parking and trolley service. This month’s Walk has the added allure of hosting the finale party of the inaugural Underground Lauderdale Fashion Weekend, Jan. 26-29, which will have fashionistas breezing in to the W Hotel on Fort Lauderdale Beach for events like a Nicole Miller runway show hosted by fashion icon Rachel Zoe. On Feb. 24, the night before its Art Walk, McCraw says Flagler Village will also host an event of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Please visit FATvillage.com for more info.
What makes this time of year even more interesting to a gardener? The annual Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition (TPIE), Jan. 18-20 at the Broward County Convention Center, billed as a showcase of the latest trends in foliage, floral and tropicals. The bad news: It is only open to the nursery trade. The good news: Many of the exciting new varieties shown here will show up soon in local nurseries. Last year Deroose Plants’ Nepenthes “Lady Luck,” an attractive hybrid with burgundy red pitchers filled with secretions to attract and digest insects, was the Favorite New Flowering Plant and Deroose Coffee Arabica shown in coffee mugs won for the Favorite New Product. Costa Farms’ Aglaonema ‘Pink Dalmatian,’ billed as one of the easiest houseplants to grow with attractive dark green leaves decorated with bright pink speckles, was honored as the Favorite New Foliage Plant. Get ready to plant new varieties!
—Charlyne V. Schaub