MIAMI — This year's Super Bowl is in Miami, but all South Florida wants to play.
The region's three international airports give visitors the flexibility to try a variety of beaches, restaurants and social scenes on the mainland and south into the Florida Keys, said Rodney Barreto, chairman of the South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee.
"It's not a bad place to be entertained while you're waiting for the big game," he says.
More than 70,000 ticket-holders are expected to attend the game, while more than 40,000 extra people will likely show up just for the parties and extracurricular activities, Barreto said. Many will extend their trips to include the Pro Bowl, also being played in Miami, on Jan. 31. Here's a sampling of what they'll find across South Florida:
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FOOTBALL FESTIVITIES: The big game doesn't kick off until 6 p.m. on Feb. 7, but the pre-gaming starts days earlier. A Feb. 3 fishing tournament in Miami, organized by the host committee, honors Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper, free-agent NFL defensive lineman Corey Smith and former South Florida player William Bleakley, who died last year when their boat overturned off the coast of Florida. Former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson hosts the Billfish Bowl, Feb. 4-6 in Key Largo; the sailfish tournament, http://www.billfishbowl.com, benefits Gridiron Greats, an organization helping retired football players with their medical costs.
The NFL Players Choir will perform in "The Super Bowl Gospel Celebration" at the Adrienne Arsht Center on Feb. 5; http://www.superbowlgospelcelebration.com. A free concert with fireworks is scheduled on the beach next to the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel on Feb. 6; scheduled acts are Barenaked Ladies, O.A.R., and Robert Randolph and The Family Band. But you don't have to come to Miami to catch The Who's performance. The band will provide televised halftime entertainment during the big game.
Only VIP tickets remain for the Taste of the NFL fundraiser for hunger-relief groups on Feb. 6 in Fort Lauderdale. Taste of the NFL invites one chef from each city with an NFL team to cook with the help of an alumni player; http://www.tasteofthenfl.com/. A "Super Sunday Brunch" is planned Feb. 7 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood.
Tailgating is welcome at LandShark Stadium, though fan parking is limited because of security and other activities set up outside the stadium. Of course, Miami will try adding a little glamour. Morton's The Steakhouse is offering platters of filet mignon sandwiches, lamb chops, shrimp cocktail, mini-New York cheesecakes and other gourmet options for tailgaters who don't want to cook; order the platters for pick-up at the restaurant's Coral Gables, North Miami Beach and downtown Miami locations. Donald Trump's International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles Beach will send a personal chef with tailgating guests as part of its "Tail-Great" package.
SIGHTSEEING: Let's be honest: People come to South Florida to see and be seen. Score an outside table at one of the restaurants on Lincoln Road in South Beach and watch shoppers, dog-walkers and beach-goers traipse by. Lounge chairs for rent on the beach offer a comfortable view of Miami Beach's best-known tourist attraction: people wearing next to nothing. NFL cheerleaders will show off their, um, skills in a beach competition Jan. 29 in Fort Lauderdale; http://www.battleofthebeauties.net/.
For a more family-friendly sunbathing session, stretch out near the lighthouse in Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne, an island just off downtown Miami. The Venetian Pool in Coral Gables — http://www.coralgablesvenetianpool.com/ — offers cool serenity; the swimming pool is a historic landmark carved out of coral rock and features caves, stone bridges and waterfalls.
A water taxi along the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale offers an alternative to area's congested roadways; fares and schedules available at http://www.watertaxi.com. The route is lined with mulitmillion-dollar yachts and mansions belonging to high-powered executives, celebrities and socialites.
Locals and tourists swarm beneath the neon hotel lights on beachfront Ocean Drive in South Beach. A less glitzy strip of hotels and motels is worth a drive across the causeway downtown: the MiMo Biscayne Boulevard Historic District, http://www.mimoboulevard.org/. "MiMo" is short for Miami Modern, an architectural style from the 1950s and 1960s. Their futuristic shapes can look shabby now, but the neighborhood is home to hip cafes and independent boutiques.
Missing the theme park experience of central Florida? Ride the wooden roller coaster, go-carts, bumper boats and other rides at Boomers! in Dania Beach — http://www.boomersparks.com/park/dania/index.html.
NATURAL FLORIDA: Winter is the most comfortable time of year to visit the Florida Everglades. The best way to traverse its swamps and sawgrass is by air boat. Tiny Coopertown — with just eight residents — is a tourism hub with air boat tours, a restaurant that serves Everglades delicacies such as frog legs, and an exhibit housing more than a dozen live alligators; book a tour at http://www.coopertownairboats.com/. A tram carries visitors around a paved, 15-mile loop at the Shark Valley Visitors Center in Everglades National Park — http://www.sharkvalleytramtours.com. Bicycles can also take you around the loop, but beware the speed bumps — those are alligators sunning themselves next to the pavement.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida also calls the Everglades home. Details about the tribe's air boat tours, motocross course, RV campground, traditional village and casino gambling are available at http://www.semtribe.com/.
An entire state park lies underwater off Key Largo. Snorkeling, scuba and glass-bottom boat tours launch daily from John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, http://www.pennekamppark.com.
Take advantage of Florida's year-round growing season at the fruit stands and produce markets in between the historic sites in the rural Redland area around Homestead; maps for a self-guided tour are available http://www.redlandriot.com/.
OTHER SPORTS: Is the big game not enough? The Florida Panthers host the Calgary Flames in Sunrise on Feb. 5. The Miami Heat host the Houston Rockets on Feb. 9. The University of Miami men's basketball team hosts Georgia Tech on Feb. 10 in Coral Gables. Women pick up the pigskin during the Kelly McGillis Classic Flag Football Championship, beginning Feb. 7 in Key West; yes, the event is named for the "Top Gun" actress, http://www.iwffa.com/kellymcgillisclassic2010.html. Horses jump hurdles and riders compete for almost $6 million in prizes during the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington; http://www.equestriansport.com/wef.html. Check out Mark Spitz's starting block from the 1972 Olympics and other memorabilia at the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale; http://www.ishof.org/. Compare your best catches with the records at the International Game Fish Association museum in Dania Beach; http://www.igfa.org/about/museum.aspx. It shouldn't be hard to find a golf course or a tennis court — this is South Florida, after all.
IF YOU GO
SUPER BOWL HOST COMMITTEE: http://www.southfloridasuperbowl.com/. The game takes place Feb. 7.
MIAMI TOURISM: http://www.miamiandbeaches.com
FORT LAUDERDALE TOURISM: http://www.sunny.org/
FLORIDA KEYS TOURISM: http://www.fla-keys.com/
PALM BEACH TOURISM: http://www.palmbeachfl.com/