Palm Hammock Orchid Estate spreads out like a secret jungle, hidden in a mostly residential neighborhood just south of Snapper Creek Elementary School. The gravel parking lot behind an unassuming gateway is the last stop before entering the huge nursery's world of eerie calmness. The whispered burbling of waterfalls and koi ponds conspires with soft music and waving foliage to make the nursery a sort of meditative sanctuary in the middle of the Miami suburbs. Tim Anderson, who presides with wife Anne over the nursery he started 30 years ago, says the plant selection at Palm Hammock is eclectic. "I only grow what I like," he explains. "We started off growing cactus and succulents. Now we have the results of 30 years of collecting." Anderson describes the nursery as an artistic and spiritual endeavor, supported by his "money-making business," landscape architecture. Religious statues -- Buddhist and Hindu figures sitting alongside St. Francis -- and bird baths, benches, and fountains are scattered among the thousands of orchids, ferns, African violets, water lilies, tropical bonsai, and other flora that fill the estate's six greenhouses and grounds.

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."

The ubiquitous Goodwill store -- there are eighteen in Miami-Dade -- is always a decent option for secondhand shopping. The Quail Roost Goodwill stands out for its atmosphere and selection. The store is huge, although slightly less than the warehouse-size "superstores," yet somehow manages to maintain the cleanliness and order of a department store. As opposed to other secondhand stores, where incoming donations litter the storefront and clothing is strewn around haphazardly, the staff at the Quail Roost Goodwill keeps the clothes neatly divided into easily understandable sections, separate from the books, household wares, and the surprisingly well-stocked electronics section. Parents take note: The kids section is excellent, stuffed with a good supply of clothing and toys.

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

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®