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Written by Christian Cipriani -- BT Contributor   
May 2013

Some tips for making the most of Miami’s most oppressive season

TPix_Urbania_5-13his year it was on a Sunday, and earlier than usual. Humid air hit me in the face, and an unmistakable film touched my skin, forcing me to use one of my least favorite words -- “moist.” We had crossed the line from winter to summer. There is no spring. One day I’m in a cardigan, the next I’m breaking a sweat between the elevator and the car.

Summer in Miami can be a desperate existence, darting from one air-conditioned sanctuary to another, hiding from our very beautiful, very brutal sun. And if you’re living life in the concrete jungle, fighting traffic and ready to boil over, you need local escapes to relieve the pressure.

Here is my humble list of essential getaways:

Shark Valley A fellow cyclist once described this place to me and I thought she was joking. What do you mean alligators just lie on the road as you cycle around them? But it’s true. Head about 20 miles into the Everglades along the Tamiami Trail and on your left will be Shark Valley, part of Everglades National Park.

Inside you’ll find a paved, 15-mile loop just for walking, biking, and tram tours, and it’s one of the most remarkable things you will ever see. Make no mistake: The Everglades are hot in the summer. But the heat and sunbathing alligators you inevitably meet along the way are infinitely less dangerous than biking on Miami’s death-trap city streets.

Out there, on a quiet stretch of pavement, it’s possible to feel an almost narcotic sensation of peace and isolation. At the halfway point you can ascend a concrete observation tower that looks down onto gators, fish, and turtles, and take in 360-degree views of this crazy swamp we call home. Shark Valley, 36000 SW 8th St., Miami; 305-221-8776; www.nps.gov.

Monkey Jungle Sometimes you just need to get away from people. For that, head to Monkey Jungle. I might be biased, but I love monkeys so much I might get one instead of kids. I don’t care if this old gem of a primate zoo is small and expensive (about $30 a head); it’s worth every penny. This is where monkeys run free and humans are caged. Drop a few raisins in a hanging dish and watch a black-capped capuchin discover the pulley.

You can also find plenty of spots where they’ve dug under or yanked back the fencing, allowing for a more hands-on exchange with man’s closest relatives. I suggest splurging on a true face-to-face encounter, and experience the pure joy of feeling dozens of feather-light squirrel monkeys turn your body into a jungle gym. No pun intended. Monkey Jungle, 14805 SW 216th St, Miami; 305-235-1611; www.monkeyjungle.com.

Gold Coast Railroad Museum Zoo Miami is great, but right next door is a less frequented, far more unusual attraction. The Gold Coast Railroad Museum makes me feel like an overexcited ten-year-old. They have trains. Real trains. Tons of them. And they’re all linked together and seemingly untouched since the day they went out of commission. You can literally climb aboard at one end and walk through history, each train car dense with a feeling of ghostly nostalgia. It’s one of those places you can’t believe exists here in South Florida. Added bonus: The people running the museum absolutely love what they do. Gold Coast Railroad Museum, 12450 SW 152nd St, Miami; 305-253-0063; www.gcrm.org.

Phil’s Berry Farm I admit I haven’t been here yet. I normally brave the line at Knaus Berry Farm for their Dunker-made cinnamon buns, but they shut down for the summer, and Phil’s sounds like a worthy alternative. I actually got married next door at the Cooper Estate, and they gave my wife a free milkshake while she was getting ready. Now that’s good karma.

If you’re looking to get out of the city this summer, and milkshakes, sweet monkey bread, handpicked produce, and fresh air sound attractive, Phil’s Berry Farm is where you want to be. And if you’ve never been to the Redland, prepare to forget everything you know about what a strawberry can be. Phil’s Berry Farm, 13955 SW 248th St., Homestead; 305-905-2284.

34th Street Beach If you don’t have a boat -- or even better, and more Miami, a friend with a boat -- the beach is where you’ll most likely end up on a summer weekend. But finding the perfect beach with guaranteed parking is a challenge taken up by many and mastered by very few.

I’ve committed myself to numerous beaches over the years, from Fort Lauderdale all the way to the tip of South Pointe Park, convinced that I was on to something. But in my quest, I’ve come to the Socratic realization that knowledge simply reveals how much I have yet to learn. That said, I’m currently parking in the public lot at Collins and 34th Street. It’ll do for now.

 

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