Whatever Tio's lacks in selection, it makes up for with a knowledgeable staff. Walk in and ask for a moderately priced champagne, and they'll direct you to the Domaine St. Michelle, on sale for seven bucks. Sure they've got all your old favorites -- Johnnie Walker, Captain Morgan, and Stoli. The wine and beer choices are decent, and there are even kegs for sale. But it's the imported hard stuff that sets Tio's apart. We're talking several types of Russian potato vodka, including a triple-distilled, wild-berry variety made by Luksusowa, plus more than 50 types of tequila, gin, and liqueur from around the world. Best of all, if you happen to be flush, plunk down cold hard cash on the counter for a ten-percent discount. Not in such a hurry to leave? Spend the afternoon watching TV with the proprietors and supping on sandwiches at the in-house deli, which stocks Boar's Head cold cuts.
Standing in the midst of Elva's Nursery, the plants seem to go on forever. Both inside and outside, the rows stretch from bougainvillea to bonsai to baby roses to staghorn ferns and coffee trees. Well over 100 species can be found on about twenty acres of land. The selection also extends to garden accessories, the tremendous assortment of which is testimony to Miami's multiculturalism. In addition to the benches and tables that come in metal, wood, and stone, there is a little something for every race, culture, and ethnicity. Statues of the Virgin Mary standing both free and encased are prominently displayed in front. Inside, stone black angels face Buddhas and miniature statues of Confucius. Dignified native Americans are not far from Aztec sun calendars. For those who are just thankful to celebrate the good fortune of all this natural greenery and sunshine, there are stone manatees, giant sea horses, and ceramic farm animals.
Stone Age Antiques
Photo by Lou Hammond
In the midst of the marine industries on the Miami River lies the junker's mother lode. Weird and unusual salvage from the land and sea is stuffed, stacked, and crammed into every nook, shelf, and cranny of Stone Age Antiques. What didn't fit there is hung from rafters and walls. Among the booty: rusty cannons that date from the 1700s; deep-sea-diving suits with copper and brass bubble helmets; a harvest of huge green glass floats that marked fishing nets in Asia; enough portholes to outfit a cruise ship; and spooky reproductions of sailing ship figureheads. The difference between Stone and someone who can't throw away cardboard toilet-paper tubes is that Stone has an eye. He has culled through the flotsam and jetsam that have floated his way over the past 30 years. In addition to the nautical artifacts, there are stacks of fancy rusting metal bed heads; stuffed llamas; an 1899 bell from a church in Troy, New York; reproductions of African masks; old metal store signs; B-movie posters; and much, much, much more. Because there is so much, this is a place that will make you slow down and open your eyes. Just be careful not to break anything as your jaw drops.

The small towns dotting the Tuscan countryside are renowned for many reasons: their medieval cityscapes framed by hilly terrain; the Renaissance art found in their churches; their truffles and olives; and last but not least, their wines. The vintages from Montereggiano differ from those of Montepulciano, not to mention those of San Gimignano, make no mistake. But enough geography -- what does this matter to you? Next time you're heading to a dinner party and want to pick up some good vino, no need to track down a specialty store. Walk into this Amoco on Biscayne (no, really) and walk out with a full-bodied red from San Gimignano or a chilled white from Montepulciano, bottles you often can't find in a wine store, much less a convenience store. So Tuscan is not your style? There also are good quality but affordable vintages from Chile, France, Australia, South Africa, Argentina, and, of course, California. Why such fruitfulness here, you ask, on this unassuming stretch of one of Miami's less attractive boulevards? Who knows ... but who cares? Just as long as they keep stocking great wines from the best regions in the world.
Dadeland Mall
Dadeland Mall
Your granite horse fountain no longer reaches toward the heavens, but your obelisk with a capital D beckons huddling masses to spend, spend, spend. You put Kendall on the map when you first opened more than 40 years ago and set the standard for frivolous buying sprees long before ATMs and credit cards made spending convenient. You survived recessions, a gas crisis, inflation, and cocaine-cowboy shootouts in your parking lot, and still you look well. The booming economy of the Clinton years has been good to you. Your promenade, tiled in cool blues and whites, features kiosks of the finest coffees, sunglasses, and caviar. But looking to the future, your prosperity once again is challenged. As consumer confidence wanes and the bubble of the new economy bursts, competition raises its ugly head. The supersize Dolphin Mall, a tract of discount outlets that opened in March, seeks to tap into your well. Next year the Village of Merrick Park in Coral Gables will do the same. But you've seen other malls, full of shine and fury, come and go. You've beat out the Bakery Center and its new incarnation, Sunset Place. You thrived while the once praised Omni declined into downtown decay. Even with your double cinema gone, you make the once-hip CocoWalk look like just another mob scene with bad parking. You continue to lure and lull the people with your ever-expanding free parking lots and your own entrances and off-ramps from the Palmetto. You're going to make it, after all. You're Dadeland, the granddaddy of Miami malls.
Almost hidden in the downtown maul of electronics and shoe stores is a sportinggoods retailer that caters to South American visitors -- like everyone else downtown -- but also remains attractive to locals with an athletically active bent. A family-owned business, Miami Fantasias sells everything the weekend warrior might need, from fishing poles to Ping-Pong paddles, tennis rackets to heart monitors, and even that spear gun you might have been eyeing (nervously). Miami Fantasias excels most notably as a dive shop. New certification classes start every Monday. Dive trips on one of the store's three boats depart from Miami every day. Longevity in cutthroat downtown is one indication of the store's ability to satisfy its customers. Founded in 1978, Fantasias has grown into a thriving business, today employing more than 45 helpful, consumer-oriented employees. Jog in. Dive in. Ping-Pong paddle in. Just get in.
The modifier "costume" implies that the jewelry either is gaudy or blatantly fake. And true enough, in many cases it is one or the other. But this high-end Lincoln Road boutique, which carries everything from children's toys to silver platters, features an extensive jewelry department where neither is true. In other words you can buy jewelry with real pearls but strung on wire, so the prices are in line. Other necklaces and bracelets may be real gold but set with sparkling crystals instead of expensive precious stones. Some earrings are vintage, gleaned from estate sales; some rings look as if they could be from garage sales; watches might look old but are completely new. Several things you can count on: fashion, fashion, and more fashion. Whether the trend is illusion necklaces or chains with pendants, 24 Collection will have them. We should all be costumed so well.
Why does the miracle of new life have to leave you feeling like you won the egg-eating contest in Cool Hand Luke? Take comfort in sheathing your gravid form in snappy capri pants in any shade you like. Shirts, skirts, and dress styles in this spacious Miracle Mile shop run the gamut from fun, flowery, and slightly retro-Sixties to understated and elegant. There's an old-fashioned standing scale on which you can confirm your worst fears, and a small box of children's toys placed strategically near the dressing rooms. Plus Mimi and her crew offer helpful appraisals and advice on everything from bras to cocktail dresses.
Your best friend is getting married, and you want to do your part to make it a special and memorable occasion. How about paying for beautiful multicolor butterflies to be released at just the right moment? At Butterfly Mystique, located deep in the Redland, a dozen individually packaged butterflies that arrive by one-day FedEx can be as cheap as $75. But don't let the ease of express mail deter you from visiting the place itself. That way you won't miss the vivarium tour, where one can walk among hundreds of butterflies. The tour costs five dollars for adults and four dollars for children. To keep the critters flapping happily, a wide variety of butterfly-attracting plants are for sale as well. They also have an insect shop called the House of Bugs where scorpions, tarantulas, and ladybugs can be seen and purchased. A mobile insect exhibition even takes the creepy crawlies on the road for shows. And the back of Butterfly Mystique's yellow-and-white-striped trailer reads: "Bugs not drugs."
Next to a building painted in eye-battering yellow and green, Mr. Pocketbook's bright yellow sign lures you in: "Bags $2.99 & up." Inside, a sea of vinyl, leather, and fabric awaits -- everything from the stylish leather handbags that would set you back $60 in the mall, to more affordable knockoffs of high-end brand names like Fendi and Coach, to "el cheapo" cloth and plastic varieties that spill off tables at the flea market. The store also stocks luggage, as well as children's backpacks adorned with cartoon characters. Open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Mr. Pocketbook encourages bulk shopping, offering deep discounts (a third of retail prices) when you buy a dozen or more bags. And you can mix and match your quarry from any of the boxes and still pay wholesale for each. Those opting to buy fewer purses also can save a little, especially if they're lucky. One saleswoman notes Mr. Pocketbook's prices can fluctuate, depending on the day and "how my boss is feeling."

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®