If the kids haven't joined PETA yet, start with Virginia Key's old-fashioned Miami Seaquarium and its killer whales, manatees, dolphins, and sea lions. Then for a real contrast to the typical tourist trap, find your way to Jimbo's by following the road directly across from Seaquarium's parking lot. A crew of salty regulars soak up the sun with an old movie set as their backdrop. Although it's technically a bait shop, Jimbo's is famous for its smoked fish, cold beer, and crusty characters playing bocce and philosophizing.
The beaches at Virginia Key and Key Biscayne qualify as some of Miami's best, and though Virginia Key's are officially closed and provide no lifeguards, die-hards can still swim and sun there. The less daring can head for Key Biscayne's Crandon Park and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Recreation Area. The Crandon shoreline is sublime, but don't overlook the hidden treasure: the old county zoo, now called the Gardens at Crandon Park, a serenely beautiful landscape of ponds, wildlife, and lush vegetation adjoining the southernmost parking lot.
At the island's tip is Bill Baggs, named for a former outspoken editor of the defunct Miami News. Still recovering from Hurricane Andrew, which knocked down thousands of Australian pines, the park has been replanted entirely with native species. All the amenities have been rebuilt as well, and now the airy Lighthouse Cafe offers splendid ocean views to match its outstanding seafood soup. The actual lighthouse (South Florida's oldest standing structure) survived the hurricane, was recently restored, and is open for tours every day but Tuesday and Wednesday. A beachside concession rents sea kayaks, hydro-bikes, and sailboards for those who want to get physical.
Bill Baggs closes when the sun sets -- just in time to make your way back to Bayside Seafood Restaurant. This thatched-roof, open-air hangout can be found by following the road for the old Miami Marine Stadium on Virginia Key. The simply prepared fresh seafood is reasonably priced. The fish sandwiches aren't bad either. But the mosquitoes can be. Just ask the staff for some insect spray. They're prepared.
"After declaring that 'any father who lets his daughter turn pro at fourteen should be shot,' he entered fourteen-year-old Venus in her first pro tournament just before the Women's Tennis Association raised the age of eligibility. Although he says, 'I'm holding the reins tight until she's eighteen,' he insists Venus made the decision to go pro herself.
"He preached the importance of education and a normal life for his kids while pulling them out of school and enrolling them in a tennis academy in Florida. He criticized controlling parents while supervising everything from Venus's forehand to her interviews to her trademark beaded-cornrow hair style. He lambasted parents for 'prostituting their daughters' by turning them into marketing commodities, then negotiated the contract with Reebok, rumored to be worth two million dollars."
One more sample, this from an article on Mike Tyson's reinstatement to boxing:
"We cannot resist a peek into the lives of our national bad boys, lives seemingly dictated by uncontrollable urges and self-destructive searches for risk. During Smut Summer '98 we watched President Clinton and Tyson squirm on TV, read about Clinton's grand-jury testimony and Tyson's psychiatric tests, and found out that the president and the former heavyweight champion weren't really two of the strongest men in the world.
"Those were illusions we can live without. The antihero is harder to revere, but easier to forgive.
"Tyson read Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment in jail. He figures he has paid his price. Everyone deserves a second chance. Okay, maybe a third or fourth.
"But in Tyson's case, when will we stop counting?"