There are many ways to get well acquainted with Miami's wet look. Choose your own adventure from the suggestions listed below.
Private rental outfits include Boat Rental Plus, 2400 Collins Ave., Miami Beach (tel. 305/534-4307), where 50-horsepower, 18-foot powerboats rent for some of the best prices on the beach. There's a 2-hour minimum, and rates go from $100 to $500, including taxes and gas. They also have great specials on Sunday. Cruising is permitted only in and around Biscayne Bay (ocean access is prohibited), and renters must be 21 or older to rent a boat. The rental office is at 23rd Street, on the inland waterway in Miami Beach. It's open daily from 10am to sunset. If you want a specific type of boat, call ahead to reserve. Otherwise, show up and take what's available.
Club Nautico, of Coconut Grove, 2560 S. Bayshore Dr. (tel. 305/858-6258; www.clubnauticousa.com), rents high-quality powerboats for fishing, water-skiing, diving, and cruising in the bay or ocean. All boats are Coast Guard-equipped, with VHF radios and safety gear. Rates start at $359 for 4 hours and $469 for 8 hours; prices go up as the boats get larger. You can also rent by the hour at $125. Club Nautico is open daily from 8am to 6pm (weather permitting). Other locations include the Crandon Park Marina, 4000 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne (tel. 305/361-9217), with the same rates and hours as the Coconut Grove location; and the Miami Beach Marina, Pier E, 300 Alton Rd., South Beach (tel. 305/673-2502). Nautico, on Miami Beach, is open daily from 9am to 5pm.
A Whole New World -- Every Columbus Day, Biscayne Bay becomes a veritable mob scene of boaters celebrating the discovery of another day off of work. The unofficial Columbus Day Regatta has become a tradition in which people take to the water for a day of boating, sunning, and, literally, the bare necessities, as they often strip down to their birthday suits in an eye-opening display of their appreciation for Columbus's discovery of the nude, er, new world.
Fishing licenses are required in Florida. If you go out with one of the fishing charter boats listed below, you are automatically accredited because the companies are. If you go out on your own, however, you must have a Florida fishing license, which costs $17 for 3 days and $30 for a week. Call tel. 888/FISH-FLO (347-4356) or visit www.wildlifelicense.com for more information.
Some of the best surf-casting in the city can be had at Haulover Beach Park at Collins Avenue and 105th Street, where there's a bait-and-tackle shop right on the pier. South Pointe Park, at the southern tip of Miami Beach, is another popular fishing spot and features a long pier, comfortable benches, and a great view of the ships passing through Government Cut, the deep channel made when the port of Miami was dug.
You can also do some deep-sea fishing in the Miami area. One bargain outfitter, the Kelley Fishing Fleet, at the Haulover Marina, 10800 Collins Ave. (at 108th St.), Miami Beach (tel. 305/945-3801; www.miamibeachfishing.com), has half-day, full-day, and night fishing aboard diesel-powered "party boats." The fleet's emphasis on drifting is geared toward trolling and bottom fishing for snapper, sailfish, and mackerel. Half-day and night-fishing trips are $40 for adults and $30 for children up to 10 years old, and full-day trips are $60 for adults and $50 for children. Daily departures are scheduled at 9am and 1:45 and 8pm; reservations are recommended.
Also at the Haulover Marina is the charter boat Helen C (10800 Collins Ave.; tel. 305/947-4081; www.fishmiamibeach.com). Although there's no shortage of private charter boats here, Captain Dawn Mergelsberg is a good pick, because she puts individuals together to get a full boat. The Helen C is a twin-engine 55-footer, equipped for big-game fish such as marlin, tuna, mahimahi, shark, and sailfish. The cost is $160 per person. Private, full-day trips are available for groups of six people per vessel and cost $1,350; half-days are $750. Group rates and specials are also available. Trips are scheduled for 8am to noon and 1 to 5pm daily; call for reservations. Beginners and children are always welcomed.
For a serious fishing charter, Captain Charlie Hotchkiss's Sea Dancer (tel. 305/775-5534; www.seadancercharter.com) offers a first-class experience on a 38-foot Luhrs boat complete with tuna tower and air-conditioned cabin. If you're all about big game -- marlin, dolphin, tuna, wahoo, swordfish, and sailfish -- this is the charter for you. Catch and release or fillet your catch to take home. The Sea Dancer also offers two fun water adventures, including a 6-hour Bar Cruz, covering the finest watering holes in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, or a Sandbar Cruz, where the boat drops anchor out by Biscayne Bay's historic Stiltsville where you'll swim, bounce on a water trampoline, and play sports -- all in the middle of the bay. Auto transportation is available to wherever the boat may be docked. Rates are $700 for a half-day and $1,100 for a full day and $500 for the specialty tours. Tours are also available to Bimini. Call for pricing.
Key Biscayne offers deep-sea fishing to those willing to get their hands dirty and pay a bundle. The competition among the boats is fierce, but the prices are basically the same, no matter which you choose. The going rate is about $400 to $500 for a half-day and $600 to $900 for a full day of fishing. These rates are usually for a party of up to six, and the boats supply you with rods and bait as well as instruction for first-timers. Some will also take you out to the Upper Keys if the fish aren't biting in Miami.
You might also consider the following boats, all of which sail out of the Key Biscayne marina and are in relatively good shape and nicer than most out there: Sonny Boy (tel. 305/361-2217; www.sonnyboysportfishing.com), Top Hatt (tel. 305/361-2528), and L & H (tel. 305/361-9318; www.landhsportfishing.com). Call for reservations.
Bridge fishing in Biscayne Bay is also popular in Miami; you'll see people with poles over almost every waterway. But look carefully for signs telling you whether it's legal to do so wherever you are: Some bridges forbid fishing.
A Fisherman's Friend -- The Biscayne Bay area is prime tarpon fishing country and a pretty good spot for a lot of other trophy sportfish: snook, bonefish, dolphin fish, swordfish, and sailfish. For a fee, local guides are happy to show you the hot spots and make sure you reel one in. One such guide is Captain David Parsons (tel. 305/968-9603; www.fishingmiamiflorida.com), who owns a great 36-foot boat, Hakuna Matada. He knows where the fish are biting and will take you from Biscayne Bay to the Atlantic Ocean in search of the best catch of the day for $700 for four people (swordfish can be caught at nighttime only; those trips are also $700), including rods, gear, and bait. All you bring is food/drink. Captain Parsons also leads trips to Bimini for those who want to explore the fishing in the Bahamas.
Don't miss a chance to tour the islands on the back of your own powerful watercraft. Bravery is, however, a prerequisite, as Miami's waterways are full of speeding jet skiers and boaters who think they're in the Indy 500. Many beachfront concessionaires rent a variety of these popular (and loud) water scooters. The latest models are fast and smooth. American Watersports, at the Miami Beach Marina, 300 Alton Rd. (tel. 305/538-7549; www.jetskiz.com), is the area's most popular spot for jet-ski rental. Rates begin at $60 for a half-hour and $109 for an hour. They also offer fun jet-ski tours past celebrity homes for $119 for the first hour and $60 for the second.
The Blue Moon Outdoor Center rents kayaks at 3400 NE 163rd St., in Oleta River Park (tel. 305/957-3040; www.bluemoonmiami.com). The outfitters here give explorers a map to take with them and quick instructions on how to work the paddles and boats. They also operate very scenic 4-hour guided tours through rivers with mangroves and islands -- fewer than 10 people on the tour costs $45 per person; more than 10 people costs $35 per person. Their signature tour, a 3-hour kayak and mountain bike tour exploring the park and trails costs $75 for two to four participants, and $65 for five or more. Without the bike tour it's $20 less. These must be booked in advance. There are also separate bike and kayak tours that last 2 1/2 to 3 hours and cost $55 per person. Hourly and half-day rentals are available for single, tandem, and canoe. Prices range from $18 to $45. Guided eco-tours are also available with advance reservation for $45 to $55 per person. A full-moon kayak tour includes a bonfire on the beach. While you are on the paddling route, make sure to stop at the Blue Marlin Fish House for some smoked fish. They also rent mountain bikes. Open daily from 9am to sunset. Special event tours at night are also available.
You can rent sailboats and catamarans through the beachfront concessions desks of several top resorts, such as the Doral Golf Resort and Spa.
Aquatic Rental Center, at northern Biscayne Bay in the Pelican Harbor Marina, 1275 NE 79th St. (tel. 305/751-7514 days, 279-7424 evenings; www.arcmiami.com), can also get you out on the water. A 22-foot sailboat rents for $85 for 2 hours, $125 for 3 hours, $150 for a half-day, and $225 for a full day. A Sunfish sailboat for two people rents at $35 per hour. If you've always had a dream to win the America's Cup but can't sail, the able teachers here will get you started. They offer a 10-hour course over 5 days for $400 for one person, or $500 for two.
Scuba Diving & Snorkeling
In 1981, the U.S. government began a wide-scale project designed to increase the number of habitats available to marine organisms. One of the program's major accomplishments has been the creation of nearby artificial reefs, which have attracted all kinds of tropical plants, fish, and animals. In addition, Biscayne National Park offers a protected marine environment just south of downtown.
Several dive shops around the city offer organized weekend outings, either to the reefs or to one of more than a dozen old shipwrecks around Miami's shores. Check "Divers" in the Yellow Pages for rental equipment and for a full list of undersea tour operators.
Diver's Paradise, of Key Biscayne, 4000 Crandon Blvd. (tel. 305/361-3483; www.keydivers.com), offers one dive expedition per day during the week and two per day on the weekends to the more than 30 wrecks and artificial reefs off the coast of Miami Beach and Key Biscayne. You can take a 3-day certification course for $499, which includes all the dives and gear. If you already have your C-card, a dive trip costs about $100 if you need equipment and $60 if you bring your own gear. It's open Tuesday through Friday from 10am to 6pm and Saturday and Sunday from 8am to 6pm. Call ahead for times and locations of dives. For snorkeling, they will set you up with equipment and maps on where to see the best underwater sights. Rental for mask, fins, and snorkel is $60.
South Beach Divers, 850 Washington Ave., Miami Beach (tel. 305/531-6110; www.southbeachdivers.com), will also be happy to tell you where to go under the sea and will provide you with scuba rental equipment as well for $65. You can rent snorkel gear for about $20. They also do dive trips to Key Largo three times a week and do dives off Miami on Sunday at $120 for a two-tank dive or $85 if you have your own equipment.
The most amusing and apropos South Beach diving spot has to be the Jose Cuervo Underwater Bar, located 150 yards southeast of the Second Street lifeguard station -- a 22-ton concrete margarita bar that was sunk on May 5, 2000. Nicknamed "Sinko De Mayo," the site is designed with a dive flag roof, six bar stools, and a protective wall of tetrahedrons.
Many hotels rent windsurfers to their guests, but if yours doesn't have a watersports concession stand, head for Key Biscayne. Sailboards Miami, Rickenbacker Causeway, Key Biscayne (tel. 305/361-SAIL ; www.sailboardsmiami.com), operates out of two big yellow trucks on Windsurfer Beach, the most popular (though our pick for best is Hobie Beach) windsurfing spot in the city. For those who've never ridden a board but want to try it, they offer a 2-hour lesson for $79 that's guaranteed to turn you into a wave warrior, or you get your money back. After that, you can rent a board for $25 to $30 an hour. If you want to make a day of it, a 10-hour prepaid card costs $240 to $290. These cards reduce the price by about $70 for the day. You can use the card year-round, until the time on it runs out. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 5:30pm. Make your first right after the tollbooth (at the beginning of the causeway -- you can't miss it) to find the outfitters. They also rent kayaks.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.