Coral Gables Women's Club
These high-ceilinged, oolitic limestone and exposed-wood ballrooms (built in 1937) are a steal on Sundays and weekdays, when the Woman's Club rents for $650 (including chairs and tables) and the adjacent, slightly larger, Junior Woman's Club goes for $750. Fridays and Saturdays cost a bit more, but you still won't find a better deal this close to all the Gables tony shops and restaurants. The Woman's Club, a registered historic site, is also a short drive from the airport and nearby hotels.

Goldmasters is a great pawn shop because it's only partly pawn shop. The store also retails jewelry and somehow manages to shed the fouler aspects of the average casa de empeño. The store has a pretty good jewelry selection and good service, but the best things about the store are those qualities it doesn't have: the air of desperation, junkies pawning the family TV again, cynical and mean-spirited characters sneering from behind the counter. So if you have to hock Grandma's necklace because the Hurricanes didn't cover the spread, do it at Goldmasters, where you'll feel more like an average shopper and less like the degenerate gambler that you probably are.

For the third year in a row, New Concept wins kudos for its already large -- and growing -- selection of films that are not plentiful elsewhere. For one, as much space is devoted to foreign fare as new arrivals (and within the newbies is a subset of foreign flicks). Cinephiles particularly appreciate the grouping of works by distinguished directors such as Kurosawa, Fassbinder, Passolini, and the like. New Concept also stocks a hefty number of independent and gay-themed titles, many of which Miami-based film lovers are resigned to viewing on the small screen since such movies often are only shown at festivals or via limited theatrical distribution. You can also find the Hollywood hits as well as adult product appealing to various persuasions, which you ain't never gonna get at Blockbuster.

BEST PLACE TO BUY BRAZILIAN BIKINIS AT A BARGAIN

Brazilian Fashion

Ever since the girl from Ipanema wore one, inspiring Antonio Carlos Jobim to compose the international hit song, the skimpy two-piece from Brazil has endured as the sexiest swimwear fashion statement there is. A variety of minimalist styles have emerged over the years -- from the tiny tanga, which consists of about an ounce of fabric, to the triangular halter and the boomerang. Each summer the new styles seem to turn more revealing. By offering maximum exposure, the Brazilian bikini has blurred the line as to what should constitute nude sunbathing. But though more skin means less fabric, in most bathing-suit boutiques, particularly those in South Beach, the Brazilian label also translates into muito dinheiro. Not at Brazilian Fashion. Quality, affordability (bikinis go for $28), and an array of styles and colors to choose from make this Brazilian-owned store stand out on the retail runway.

This is the Alhambra of local shopping malls. Village of Merrick Park could put CocoWalk in its back pocket. It is a step up from Aventura Mall, and you're outside. Located a stone's throw from South Dixie Highway and Ponce de Leon Boulevard, the Village is a three-level, open-air fortress containing 115 "designer boutiques," which means stores full of a lot of high-quality stuff that a lot of thought went into. Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom's hold down the fort. Beyond merchandise, the Village also has towering palm trees, a kid-friendly fountain, and one adult sanctuary, the Elemis Day Spa. Bring plenty of money, for shopping is nothing without money. Even if you have none, you can still feel that sense of well-being the high-rollers do here. Abundance, style, quality, and glamour abound. Maybe someone will invite you to enjoy some pricey cuisine from chef Norman Van Aken's Mundo or chef Peter Hansen's Pescado.

Looking for smut in a clean, well-lit place? Miami Playground leads the pack of porn palaces for the second year running. This family-run, triple-X emporium near MIA rents and sells hundreds of DVDs and videotapes featuring all (legal) ages, proclivities, and sexual exploits. If you haven't seen that rare chicks-with-dicks or ultimate gang-bang video, this may be the place to find it. The playground recently expanded to include more video booths and an adjacent boutique that sells leather, lace, and latex kink wear, as well as a wide variety of sex toys.

Original maternity gear from one of Miami's brightest stars, Debbie Ohanian. When pregnant women make the trek to this store from Boca Raton and New York City in order to buy clothes, you know you have yourself a winner. By appointment only, Ohanian offers her clientele personalized service not found at any other maternity retailer. Plus she serves a killer cup of java. "I would come every week if I didn't live so far away," says Alissa Goldman, a bubbly Boca Raton resident who was making her second trek to Ohanian's private showroom. In addition to helping her customers select styles, Ohanian will recut the clothes until her clients are satisfied with the fit. Ohanian enjoys the feedback from people like Goldman. "Their comments help," she says. "It's almost like a consumer study." Ohanian has also branched out, selling her line in more than 100 retail stores around the nation, not to mention accounts in Ireland and Singapore. Average prices for Meet Me in Miami couture range from $40 to $100.

While hard-line Cubans still own the political section -- a map of Cuba from 1902-1958 (when history of the island apparently stopped); the "secret" lives of Castro and the Sandinistas; a biography of the benevolent Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet -- the rest of the store is exemplary. It has ten titles of Jorge Luis Borges side by side with translations of Perry Mason. There are also cooking, fishing, and song books, including one of Carlos Mejia Godoy, the Sandinista songwriter -- oops! Browse a little more and find self-help (Deepak Chopra), Spanish legal dictionaries, and test-rep books (mostly in English). For the gringos and gringo-wannabes, there's also an English section. If you're just beginning to learn Spanish, try the political section -- it's about a third-grade level.

Located in a nondescript strip mall for the past seventeen years, this small shop is easily overlooked -- but shouldn't be. Its interior is packed floor to ceiling with all the superhero-related collectibles one expects from comics' "golden age," right up to the current "collectors' age" (because a mint-condition Superman Action Comics #1 from the days your granddad was a kid could put your child through college). Also you'll find trading cards of sports stars and cartoon characters, action figures, eye-popping Day-Glo superhero T-shirts, and a full assortment of contemporary comics. But like all the best superheroes, this store has a secret identity. Ask nicely, and mild-mannered proprietor Glenn Lightfoot will slip into the back room and emerge minutes later as Bargain Bin Boy, savior of comic-book lovers who actually want to read the things rather than collect them. Instead of today's average $2.25 to $3.00 funny book (not so funny for roughly a fifteen-minute read), Lightfoot's bargain books are just 50 cents each. And it's good stuff, too, in good condition: lots of Batman, Superman, Spidey, Spawn, all the X-folk titles, even some graphic novels originally priced at five to ten dollars a pop.

Enrique Neufeld and crew have been repairing and restoring new and classic VWs in their Commerce Lane shop for 26 years. Neufeld, who owns "about twenty [VWs] in varying states of repair and disrepair," displays his trophies for restored bugs and buses in the cluttered, busy storefront. Drive by the shop to check out some of the classics in the parking lot, but don't be afraid to take a new VW to the Wizards. "Restoring the old cars takes care of my emotional needs," Neufeld says. "The new cars take care of my financial needs."

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®