BEST LEISURE ACTIVITY OTHER THAN CLUBS OR MOVIES

The beach

With winter 2003 one of the coldest and snowiest on record (tee hee!), one should not take for granted the ability to dip one's tootsies in the ocean or bay, with impunity, in the middle of February. Florida natives or long-time residents whose blood has thinned may well shun the sands until midyear, though the height of summer is our least favorite time to go -- scorching sun and bath-water temps are not so refreshing. Still we are blessed with weather that accommodates a beach excursion most any day (barring hurricanes). We recommend you stay through sunset, the better to appreciate the shifting shades of water and sky as day turns to night.

Robaina is a 41-year-old BellSouth service technician who slugged his way up from small-town politics to the state stage in November 2002. Whatever you think of him, he's shown some political savvy along the way. When he ran for mayor of South Miami six years ago he wooed the Police Benevolent Association, whose union muscle and manpower proved essential to victory. Once in office, he made sure not to languish in the parochial shadows. He promptly pushed a law requiring gunlocks on all guns in homes with children. So what if the NRA challenged it and won? Robaina's little city made headlines. In 2002 the National Civic League and Allstate Insurance Co. named South Miami an "All-America City," beating bigger neighbors like Miami Beach. When Carlos Lacasa announced he was vacating his House seat to run for state Senate, Robaina moved in, beating out an opponent in the primary and then taking 86 percent of the vote in the general election. Once in Tallahassee he landed on two important committees, transportation and health care. He's ambitious, young, and likes to mix it up. He'll be around for awhile.

Readers Choice: Alex Penelas

Indomitable party czar Barton G knows more than anyone the elements needed for a successful social gathering: a fabulous setting, plenty of tasty food, and endlessly flowing drink. Add to that a couple of aloof giraffes, a friendly chimp, half-naked dancing girls, a selection of disco stars, and teeming hordes struggling to get in and you have the ultimate affair, which he threw this past October to inaugurate his namesake Barton G the Restaurant. With military precision more than 800 guests arrived at a parking lot near the Miami Beach Convention Center, checked in, and then boarded shuttle buses that took them on a short jaunt to Fourteenth Street and West Avenue, formerly home to Gatti's and Starfish. Beyond the velvet ropes loomed one of this town's truly over-the-top bacchanals. Giraffes posed lackadaisically on the sidewalk like detached supermodels. Sabrina the chimp, dressed in a chef's uniform and toque, signed autographs and waved the crowd into a large air-conditioned tent filled with food stations. There, cooks made pasta dishes to order, served up miniature hot dogs, cheeseburgers, and lamb chops. Several bars offered a plethora of beverages. A cornucopia of cookies, cakes, brownies, and tiny candy apples beckoned by the door. The neighboring twinkly lit garden featured a similar setup. But back at the tent was where the entertainment dazzled. Dancers sporting feathery headdresses and not much else energetically kicked up their heels. The Trammps, Thelma Houston, Evelyn "Champagne" King, and Gloria Gaynor crooned their greatest hits under a glittering disco ball. Celebs such as Sopranos star Joe Pantoliano hobnobbed with the little people. Alas, close to midnight the spell was broken and the merrymaking had to end. But knowing the eatery's first anniversary is a scant five months away, we eagerly await what the brilliant Mr. G has up his sleeve for the next bash.

Size really doesn't matter. Nestled along the southern part of the marina, this little rental place gets more fun from less space. Boat sizes range from 22 to 25 feet. There are Catalinas for the faint of heart, Hunters for the more adventurous, and J's for the hard-core speed freaks. If you don't know what you're doing, take a class. Individuals and pairs welcome. After ten hours you'll have a certificate that will let you pilot a 30-footer in an enclosed waterway like Biscayne Bay, and try out your new skills.

As the city spills ever outward, formerly rural residential land becomes densely populated suburban sprawl. This particular traffic nightmare -- about a mile east of Metrozoo -- is a maze of too-short turn lanes spilling stopped traffic onto busy SW 152nd Street, traffic lights at seemingly random intervals, horn-honking motorists, and general craziness that makes people wonder whatever happened to their once-idyllic neighborhood.

We don't know about you, but we've been around these parts long enough to admit to a kind of airsickness and bone-tiredness of all this Starbucks-KFC-Subway-Howard Stern-no money down-fatal accident on the Palmetto-¡tu eres comunista!-we'll pay you to drive this SUV-live on the scene of a drive-by shooting-South Florida ambiance. And sometimes we dream of getting back to a quieter time. When that mood strikes, we're likely to pay our five bucks and slip into the oldest building in North America -- William Randolph Hearst's twelfth-century Segovian monastery (which still operates as an Episcopalian church). Past the gardens and stone cloisters, and onto a smooth oak bench. Aaahh ... starting to feel human again.

When a guy can afford to donate his salary to charity, you know he's loaded. Arriola, Miami's blue-eyed angel of death -- er, city manager -- made off with a cool $42 million when he sold Avanti/Case-Hoyt, his family's printing business, two years ago. Since then he's done a magnificent job of flaunting his wealth. First he joined Merrett Stierheim's team trying to straighten out the public-school system (salary: one dollar), then quit in a huff, but not before insulting Stierheim by calling him a "horrible leader" who "doesn't respect women, or blacks, or Hispanics." More recently Arriola publicly insulted the reform-minded chairman of the county's Public Health Trust, attorney Michael Kosnitzky, labeling him a "cancer" in that organization. Then he accepted Miami Mayor Manny Diaz's offer to become city manager and loudly proclaimed he'd donate his six-figure salary to the United Way, but not before unceremoniously, gleefully, firing several veteran city officials. Is this what it means to be filthy rich?

The South Beach flesh market might be a little intimidating for a woman of a certain age. You can only visit so many malls. And sunbathing at the beach does bring up the ugly specter of skin cancer. The perfect answer to entertain and impress a visiting matron, an activity that will in fact make your mother feel like a queen, is to partake of a proper English tea at the Biltmore. Several courses are involved, beginning with those little watercress sandwiches with the crust cut off, followed by tender scones, clotted cream, and chocolate-dipped fruit. Plus your choice of a series of fine teas, all in the elegant grandeur of a landmark hotel. Everything but the fog. At $18.82, plus tip, it's a bargain. Available from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. Call ahead to make reservations.

At the Eden Roc it's always the Fifties, baby. Just like it oughta be. You walk into the lobby, with its staircase floating down from the mezzanine, fluted rosewood columns, and ornate terrazzo floors. Spin in a circle. So much open space it's breathtaking. You can almost see Sammy Davis, Jr., tapping across the floor toward Harry's bar, where Frank Sinatra is ordering a martini and chatting up Liz Taylor. The Roc opened in the mid-Fifties, a creation of purest swank from the mind of daffy architectural genius Morris Lapidus. After Hollywood left, though, the 349-room hotel was sold and renovated many times, resulting in a creeping horror of Seventies and Eighties-era notions of style covering the old splendor. In 1999 new owners pumped millions into a makeover that essentially restored the grand dame to her original self. And we like her, yes we do.

Unfortunately, with the closing of Drama 101, competition for this award has dwindled further. But fortunately we still have Mad Cat. This troupe led by Paul Tei dares to be different. It doesn't always work, but that's what experimentation is all about. Mad Cat also has done a great service for Miami in attracting and developing that elusive "younger" audience. From Tin Box Boomerang, written by young local Ivonne Azurdia, about two Mexican-American sisters living in a trailer park; to Shoot, about three young girls and gun culture; and Azurdia's eerie reworking of Edgar Allan Poe in Portrait, this theater has offered up challenging, relevant, and resounding works. On the fringe? Way. And stay there.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®