North Shore Open Space Park
With construction filling in virtually every inch of available waterfront property from Government Cut to the Broward County line, this seaside park is a rare jewel to be treasured. Seagrape trees not only form a shady buffer between Collins Avenue and the sands, they and the dunes are a much more pleasant backdrop than any high-rise condo or hotel as you splash in the ocean. The free-entry park, formerly state-run and now under the auspices of the City of Miami Beach, is open from sunrise to sundown. It attracts a mix of families as well as groups of teens and singles, many from the neighborhood arriving on foot or on bike (though there is metered parking along Collins and in lots across the street), and the vibe is decidedly mellow -- and commercial-free: no chair or umbrella rentals, no trucks selling food. You can set up your meal at one of the park's barbecue grills or roofed picnic pavilions. If you've forgotten to pack snacks, you can always stroll down the beach, past the southernmost point of the park, and cut right at the library to visit one of the delis, bakeries, and eateries on Collins for anything from an all-American burger to empanadas.

Readers Choice: South Beach

Residents of this fair city will tell you that the municipal administration at times resembles a fascist dictatorship. They may not have trains to run, but they do keep the streets quiet, sparklingly clean, and wondrously leafy, allowing you to cruise along under a cooling canopy. Sunday mornings are probably best for an excursion, with minimal intrusions from cars. Start out at the Biltmore Hotel and head west to Sevilla Avenue as far as the Country Club Prado entrance to the city, a prime example of inspired urban planning. Double back to Alhambra Circle and head south to zip in and around the University of Miami campus. Wind back north along the many smaller streets, admiring the Mediterranean homes along the way, then up to Miracle Mile for refueling and your choice of eateries.

El Capitan is a big, bright-blue box of a building as serene as the sea in an otherwise ugly strip-mall and warehouse-infested section of Miami. If the blue doesn't stop you, the big plastic model of a hammerhead shark affixed to the wall just may. Inside you'll find a well-run marine store that has been operated by the Coto family for the past 30 years. It features more than 15,000 tools of the fishing trade: anchors, poles, lures (with brand names like Nauti-Parts), lines, flares, maps, marine-toilet conditioners -- in short, more than you will ever need to get your Hemingway groove on. And bait? They've got plenty, if only the frozen kind, in flavors like ballyhoo (medium or rigged), glass minnow, silverside, herring, and squid. The place is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., till 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays. Sundays the family goes fishing.

Everglades National Park
Rodney Cammauf / National Park Service
As Uncle Sam is preparing to spend billions on restoring the River of Grass, Mr. Big Developer is licking his chops over the eastern fringes, so get to 'em while you can. Thank your lucky stars that you live so close to a spectacular, albeit unusual environment. A nearby, fun, and easy expedition is Shark Valley, a straight shot along the Tamiami Trail, twenty miles west of Krome Avenue. To traverse the fifteen-mile loop road, bring your own bike or rent one there (a tram ride is available, but you wouldn't really be communing with nature on the thing). During a visit this past January, easily 200 gators could be seen alongside the paths and waterways, catching some rays. To get out on the water, you need to go further afield, to Everglades City or Flamingo, to rent canoes or kayaks or, for the less energetic, take a boat tour. Walking enthusiasts should consider the trails that start at Long Pine Key, en route between the main park entrance and Flamingo. No matter what your fancy, it's best to avoid the park June through October, when the skeeter population grows exponentially as the mercury rises.

For the sake of the senses, a brisk ocean breeze is a must for a pleasant day spent fishing. A beautiful view of the sea is an added plus, as is a truly comfortable and well-appointed pier from which to cast your line. Newport Beachside Resort's 900-foot structure, the only commercial pier in Miami-Dade, has all that. Known to old-timers as the Sunny Isles Pier, it features a funky open-air restaurant (last year's Best of Miami winner for "Best Inexpensive Waterfront Restaurant with a Great View") and a bait shop at the entrance to the fishing area. Admission for fisherfolk is three dollars ($1.50 for kids), and a buck if you just want to take in the scenery, which is impressive. During springtime, fishermen hook up with pompano, mackerel, and snook. Come summertime, most are reeling in blue runners, though some visitors from the resort might be just as content with rum runners.

As South Beach is to perfectly sculpted, hair-free human specimens, the beach at Hollywood is to everyone else. A stroll along the boardwalk (actually a paved path) is a perfect opportunity to let it all hang out and/or to marvel at others who do so with abandon. The scene can range from Canadian tourists roasting themselves on the sands before heading back to the great white north to shirtless, hirsute guys with mullet haircuts downing cheap brews at the open-air bars to local teens to small fry zipping along on rented bikes. Should you get hungry, you can choose from a variety of restaurants -- mostly inexpensive, open-air spots -- or a ton of ice cream purveyors along the way, where no one seems to mind that you're in your bathing suit. Daytime is more family-friendly. Nighttime has a slightly seedy edge, as any self-respecting boardwalk should. You want a fastidiously wholesome experience? Go to the Mouse House in Orlando.

If you're asking yourself: Really, what am I doing on the links during wartime? the eleventh at the Doral's Blue Monster may be just the hole to assuage your guilty conscience. Or at least to make you feel you're engaged in a battle of your own. At just 363 yards, the eleventh is one of the shorter holes on the 7125-yard course, but it boasts nearly as many bunkers as the drive to Baghdad. Of the seven traps in your way, the biggest sits right in the middle of the driving zone, ready to swallow you and your little white ball whole. What's fun about that? The final seven holes will seem like a breeze. And if you survive, there's always a Swedish massage or Turkish body scrub waiting for the battle-weary back at the spa.

Readers Choice: Eighteenth at Doral

The petting zone in the children's zoo, which is located just west of the aviary, has all these things young kids love: sheep, goats, pot-bellied pigs (who really dig little hands petting them), turkeys, chickens, ducks. So your little ones will be fascinated and occupied, and you can relax a little. At the moment management is installing a wildlife carousel so that kids will be able to mount and ride such exotic creatures as lions and tigers, and endangered species like wolves and rhinos -- not just the same old circus horses. No extra charge for the children's zoo, which is included with the price of admission ($12 adults; $7 children). A fossil-dig site has opened near the aviary, so your little darlings will get to feel the tactile sensations of eggs and bones, and learn that all present birds are descended from dinosaurs.

On any given day South Beach has gaggles of in-line skaters rolling along Ocean Drive, but South Bayshore Drive (between McFarlane Road and Vizcaya) has the shade and the scenery. But first a word of warning: Rush-hour traffic is unpleasant and dangerous. Best time for this is very early morning or late evening. Weekend mornings are lovely. Start at Peacock Park, stick to the bike lane, and head north. After passing along Silver Bluff, the rock outcropping on the west side of Bayshore that long ago served as a landmark for sailors, you'll approach Mercy Hospital, behind which is located the Ermita de la Caridad church, a revered icon for the Cuban-exile community. Drop by for a visit. It's a perfect spot to catch your breath and a breeze from the bay. Back on Bayshore you'll continue north, frequently shaded by grand old oaks, till you reach Vizcaya. You can pull in, pay admission, remove your skates, and check out the place. Or you can continue on to the edge of the Vizcaya property and turn right at 32nd Road, then up the leafy stretch of Brickell Avenue to Alice Wainwright Park. Free admission and a wonderful view of the bay. Excellent place for a picnic before heading back. Once you're near the heart of the Grove, don't miss a detour through Kennedy Park, a sweet ending to a (roughly) five-mile trip.

Readers Choice: South Beach

Why should anyone drive roughly three and a half hours from Miami just to put a kayak in the water? Because Myakka River State Park offers fantastic paddling unlike anything in these parts. This is Florida's largest state park (roughly 45 square miles), and the Myakka is a rare gem, one of only two state-designated "wild and scenic" rivers. It flows for fourteen miles through the park boundaries, with many more miles downstream through protected lands -- all the way to Charlotte Harbor. The stretch between Upper Myakka Lake and Lower Myakka Lake meanders through a gorgeous landscape of moss-covered oaks, palm groves, and reedy marshes. A bazillion alligators live here, including some true leviathans. Up-close encounters are common. Between the lakes and the river, an earnest paddler would need at least a couple of full days to get a good feel for the place. And the place is much more than water, of course, including 39 miles of hiking and biking trails, plus camping facilities that range from primitive to comfy (the five historic log cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s). So plan ahead, make reservations (cabins book well in advance), and take a long weekend to enjoy an unforgettable kayaking experience.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®