These lakes are constantly buzzed by airplanes taking off and landing at Miami International Airport, but that doesn't seem to bother anglers who swear this is one of the hottest spots in South Florida for the feisty peacock bass. Not a true relative of the largemouth bass, peacocks are actually cichlids, a huge family of fresh-water tropicals native to Central and South America. Several species have become established here, and the peacock is among the most colorful and aggressive. They can range up to seven pounds. Fishing from shore in the park is prohibited, but there is a boat ramp here and free parking.
Why? After all, it's just a gym. Here's why: The faux glitz and glamour so annoyingly present at many of today's so-called health clubs is nowhere in sight here. And it's not missed a bit, thank you. The space is small but has everything a serious gym rat needs, from free weights and a variety of cardio machines to aerobic classes and fitness consultations. The clientele is primarily Miami Shores, so the place is devoid of those chemically enhanced herds roaming Miami Beach. No shimmering, multilevel spa-o-rama, useless computerized gadgets, tanning salon, gift shop, laser-light shows, or infomercial staff straight out of central casting. The membership rates are competitive: $160 for three months; $270 for six; $449 per year. And even with its limited space, M Power Project is never so packed that waiting lists are required for certain machines. People come, do their business, and leave. It's the way a gym should be.

Haulover is tops not just because it includes South Florida's only official nude beach. That definitely is a plus, but this is the best beach in Miami-Dade County because it has it all. At the southern end is Haulover Cut, a great place to fish and to watch pleasure craft come and go. It's also a favored spot for family picnics beneath the pine trees. In addition the southern tip offers a fine swimming area for youngsters; the rock jetty curls around to form a little cove of calm water. Haulover, which is maintained by the county, can boast long stretches of sand with very few people. Even on weekends it's easy to find solitude south of the lifeguard headquarters. Besides being a destination spot for people who hate tan lines, Haulover is also one of the few beaches popular with African-American families. Add to that ample parking at a reasonable rate (four dollars all day) and you have a clear winner.
If you think this particular blue ribbon is a perennial favorite, you'd be right. If you believe we choose it because of the coral grottoes, underwater caves, and glorious waterfalls, you'd be absolutely correct. And if you surmise that the porticos and loggias provide us with some much-needed shade during times of sun, then yes, you're in the know. But the real reason we pick this 820,000-gallon, spring-fed pool as the most refreshing place for Miamians to bathe is a caveat: No children under the age of three are allowed. Which means -- you guessed it -- there's no P in the V.

Your kids are going to scream either in delight or terror, depending on how they feel about swimming beneath the tentacles of a 21-foot-tall, water-shooting octopus. Located in the northeast corner of the Fontainebleau's property, adjacent to the boardwalk, the Cookie complex includes a 7000-square-foot wading pool, only a couple of feet deep, meant for small children. On the shallower side of the pool, two blue dolphins spit water into the pool. There's also a waterfall and a 260-foot spiral waterslide into another pool, and a lazy-river raft ride. A five-million-dollar project, Cookie's World took more than three years to complete, delayed when the building crew hit an old sea wall during construction. Cookie herself measures a whopping 75 feet by 95 feet and can be broken down into small pieces in the advent of a hurricane. But we kind of like the idea of a giant storm lifting the octopus and then dropping it on top of, say, city hall.

It's open late -- till 2:00 a.m. weekdays and 3:00 a.m. Friday and Saturday. It has a bar and a grill. It sports a cluster of billiard tables in the middle of the room, center of the action, and video games bleeping in the corner. Surrounding it all, on either side, are lanes upon shiny lanes, 72 in all, with by-now-standard computerized scoring and comfy swivel chairs, appealing to the dedicated and the dilettante alike. And every bowler gets a free pair of socks with shoe rental. So if you find yourself barefoot at 1:00 a.m., itching for entertainment, dying for a beer, and desperate for fries, you now know where to go.
Built in 1990 with more than $13 million of taxpayers' money, this beautiful little stadium was to be the spring-training home of the Cleveland Indians. But before the tribe could move in Hurricane Andrew did a number on the place. After the 1992 storm, the City of Homestead spent several million dollars more to rebuild the stadium. By then, though, the city's chance at Big Show glory had passed; since then no Major League Baseball team has seriously looked at moving south. Now the stadium sits mostly empty, eating up $129,000 a year in maintenance costs. In hopes of easing the financial burden, the city has issued a request for proposals to anyone who wants to lease, manage, or buy the stadium, along with its five adjacent practice fields, batting cages, clubhouses, laundry and whirlpool facilities. But in the meantime the stadium is available for rent: $300 for a day game, or up to ten times that if you want to play under the lights and have the concession stands up and running. Oh, and did we mention seating? Molded plastic seats for 6500 of your closest friends. Contact Homestead parks and recreation director Kirk Hearin at 305-247-1801, extension 265.

Everyone knows that to find decent surf you have to drive north to Sebastian Inlet or fly south to Barbados. Locally the crowds congregate around First and Second streets in Miami Beach. But the truth is that nothing breaks along South Florida beaches without a storm swell. And when there is a strong swell -- especially from the northeast during winter -- you should check out 23rd Street, right in front of the Roney Plaza. A somewhat-permanent sandbar approximately 30 yards offshore pumps up a northeast swell something sweet. We've seen it overhead and hollow at the same time First Street is undifferentiated mush -- make that undifferentiated mush with way too many people in the water.

Not every duffer can afford to attack the Blue Monster at Doral, or even that all-sand monstrosity out there dreamed up by Greg Norman. Many golfers can't even afford to play a relatively modest municipal course, what with greens fees starting at $50 or more. No, golfers like us cast our lot at the low end of the sport. That's why one of our favorite courses is the nine-hole circuit at Greynolds Park, owned and operated by Miami-Dade County. For very nominal fees we get to enjoy nine fairly well-maintained holes, the most challenging of which is the par-five seventh: 521 long yards, with a bend to the right midway through. The green is an elevated island surrounded by sand traps. It looks easy, but believe us, it's proved impossible to par. The last time we played there, the double bogey on seven was all that kept us from the best score of our lives. Our entire lives! The course is open seven days. Here are the fees for Miami-Dade residents under age 62 (seniors get a discount): Till 2:00 p.m. it's $9.91; after 2:00 it's $6.63 (tax included); because they are renovating the greens, however, fees are $6.63 all day until around August 1. They also offer a special after 10:00 a.m.: $16.99 for two people and one electric cart.
Drive time from Miami is almost exactly the same as to Key West. But the similarities stop there. Captiva does not cater to inebriated college kids staggering down its main tourist drag. Captiva doesn't even have a tourist drag. The closest thing to Duval Street you'll find on this barrier island west of Fort Myers and north of Sanibel is a dusty little path called Andy Rosse Lane, which dead-ends at the beach and the venerable Mucky Duck pub and grill. A cluster of restaurants and shops dot the lane, but there's nothing approaching a Key West saloon. That's not why people vacation here, or build waterfront mansions here. Captiva is captivating because it is quiet, relaxed, civilized, and hemmed by a wide, inviting beach. Another attraction: The shoreline faces west, across the Gulf of Mexico, which means every day you can saunter down to water's edge and watch the sun set. The light shows are often spectacular. Aside from the South Seas Resort (941-481-3636), a sprawling complex occupying the north end of the island, there are only a small number of hostelries: 'Tween Waters Inn (941-472-5161), Jensen's on the Gulf (941-472-4684), Jensen's Twin Palm Marina (941-472-5800), and the Captiva Island Inn (941-395-0882). Demand is high, supply is limited, and therefore rates can be pricey, though summertime is reasonable. But you're not staying for a month; you're just popping over for a quick getaway, a weekend retreat to restore your soul. Captiva is worth it.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®