Lily's Records
Still clamoring for that bump-and-grind classic salsa from the Seventies? You know: Fania All-Stars, Cheo Feliciano, Johnny Pacheco, Ray Barreto, and Celia Cruz. Lily's has more than one record from these guys. You'll also find boleros, rock, poetry, and if you're lucky, the patrons will be watching a home video from their latest trip to Cuba.

Austin's Diving Center
Austin's has been serving the dive community since 1968. In Miami, that's a very long time indeed. Here's why the customers keep coming back and why Austin's has won this award twice before: a huge inventory from more than 75 vendors, a highly professional sales staff, experienced resident diving experts, and first-rate technical support in service and repairs. Underwater-photography equipment is a specialty, with an unrivaled selection of cameras ranging from $15.50 disposables to $1000 movie cameras. For novices or accomplished technical divers, Austin's has what you need.

Readers Choice: Austins Diving Center

Driving into CocoWalk's garage is not unlike driving into the ninth circle of hell, especially on weekends, when college students, teens, and South American shoppers jockey for limited spaces that go for ten dollars a pop. Worse still is navigating through the garage's cramped driving lanes, which are well-suited for someone piloting a teeny Toyota Echo but not the hulking SUVs that seem to be the vehicle of choice for CocoWalk shopping aficionados.

If it weren't for places like Cycle World, we'd all be on those stupid-ass cruisers by now. Of course the cruisers are cool and easy to ride, and you can get them at this place too. But you don't go to Cycle World for the motorcycle handlebars and mod look of South Beach. Go because you like to take a serious ride on weekends -- or every day. For weekenders the shop can start you out with GT, Giant, or Trek road or mountain bikes at the best prices in town, which is why Cycle World won this award last year. Want to upgrade to a better bicycle? How much money can you spend? Just to make you feel better about spending that much, they'll throw in a 60-day warranty (not including flat tires).

Readers Choice: Mack Cycle and Fitness

Log Cabin Nursery
The pink hibiscus of heated tropical fantasies, a spiky Louisiana iris with yellow burning at the core of its alabaster flower, luscious bougainvillea, sexy bromeliads. Okay, the profusion of greenery for sale at this sprawling complex, which fills the block between 81st and 82nd streets, isn't much different from that of other run-of-the-mill South Florida nurseries. Log Cabin is unique less for its considerable selection than for its community function. Even serial plant killers can feel good about spending money here on yet another bid at nurturing. Open daily until 5:00 p.m. (10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. Sundays), this nonprofit organization was founded in 1983 to help the developmentally disabled become independent and employable. More than 40 adults attend the program, arriving at 9:00 a.m. to water, fertilize, weed, and help customers. In the afternoon participants study conundrums such as counting change, cleaning, and cooking. Log Cabin graduates also get a hand finding employment. Approximately fifteen alumni currently are working for the Miami Beach parks department and at the nursery, as well as at service-industry jobs in places like McDonald's and Publix. And come December, if you're in the market for a Christmas tree, Log Cabin sells those, too.

Uncle Sam's Music
Over the years Uncle Sam's has developed a controversial reputation among local DJs who argue that they must travel to out-of-town shops to find the best vinyl. True, Uncle Sam's could use less main-floor stuff and more deep house, underground hip-hop, and breakbeat. But the store is best seen as a jack-of-all-trades, a place for the casual consumer to pick up a good CD, record, magazine, or even a bong (discreetly referred to as a water pipe). It carries the latest tracks on Yoshitoshi, Wave, and other top labels, as well as current rap hits by Jay-Z, 50 Cent, and others. Plus what other DJ store in the nation can boast of staying open seven days a week -- and keeping its doors open until well after midnight at that?

Yes, Blue Note is a pretty darn good music store. Ample evidence of that can be found in past editions of Best of Miami. But it's time to retire its number. In order to do that, however, something just as good or better will have to come along. So consider this a protest award: It's ridiculous that in an area the size of Miami-Dade County, with so many music-buying souls who have diverse tastes and expendable cash, Blue Note for years has been the only game in town. What else is there? Chain stores have anemic selections and painfully inept staff. Virgin has a slightly better stockpile but its prices are way too high. With any luck, some aspiring entrepreneur will read this, recognize that Miami badly needs more music, and next year the award for Best Record/CD Store will have a different name attached to it.

Readers Choice: Specs Music

Palacio de los Jugos is a sprawling and colorful Flagler Street produce market and juice bar. That location's little brother -- Segundo Palacio -- is perfect for those who live too far south to make it to Flagler on a regular basis. There is something joyful and indulgent about sipping fresh mango juice at Segundo Palacio, or sucking coco frio right out of the shell, as opposed to the antiseptic, health-obsessed juice bars where exercise freaks line up like flagellants to gulp down their spinach and wheat-germ concoctions. Enjoy your juice in the sunshine (and fresh mango juice is undoubtedly the closest thing on earth to liquid sunshine) at one of Segundo Palacio's picnic tables. Yes, you'll smile to yourself, you do live in a tropical paradise.

Tucked away in Wynwood's fashion district, Control is a Miami street skater's dream come true -- a gritty 8000-square-foot warehouse equipped with everything from a 5'5" x 20' half-pipe to a killer street setup, highlighted by nasty handrails and makeshift park benches for some serious grinding and sliding. Plans are in the works to build an outdoor street course in time for summer. And if you break your board, bust a truck, or lose your wheel bearings, Control's skate shop has a full stock of brands such as Zoo York, Flip, and Zero. It costs seven beans to use the skate park, which is open seven days a week from 11:00 a.m. till midnight. Directions: From I-95 connect to I-195 east and exit at North Miami Avenue. Head south to NW 29th Street, then east (right turn) on 29th to NE Fifth Avenue. Turn left (south) on Fifth four blocks to NW 24th Street. Turn left. Control is half a block ahead on the right. Skater moms need not fear the neighborhood. Right next door is a City of Miami police substation.

In 1978 La Ideal was just another mom-and-pop operation on Flagler Street (305-548-3296) offering its wares to expectant immigrant parents living in East Little Havana. Today it is a veritable conglomerate, with three additional stores in Miami (305-716-1140), Hialeah (305-826-2021), and Broward County, all ready to deliver (so to speak) everything new mommies and daddies could want for that little bundle of joy. At the Hialeah location the aisles are stocked from floor to ceiling with affordable and designer bedding sets, blankets, car seats, bottles, and pacifiers. One full aisle is dedicated to nothing but food bibs. Row upon row of strollers, cribs, and baby furniture, including rockers that beckon pregnant women with visions of sweet lullabies.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®