This is a park within a park, and it has an identity all its own. In 1980, when Metrozoo pulled out of its 30-acre facility at the south end of Crandon Park, it left behind cages, pathways, several large ponds, meandering lagoons, and a colony of iguanas. Years of neglect transformed the place into a wild jungle populated by a variety of waterfowl and a vastly larger colony of iguanas, some of which grew to enormous size. A group of devoted park advocates, led by the tireless Valerie Cassidy, took it upon themselves to transform the old zoo once again, but this time into a magnificent garden. They formed the Gardens of Crandon Park Foundation and went to work raising money and mucking around in the dirt. Slowly they redeemed the landscape and diversified the waterfowl population. The iguanas continued to thrive. Eventually the county, which owns the property, acknowledged its responsibility and joined the foundation's volunteers in refurbishing the grounds. The results have been nothing short of spectacular. Today it is a wonderful place for a stroll, a bike ride, or a picnic. The birds alone are worth a visit -- not to mention the iguanas. You'll recognize Valerie Cassidy by her trademark yellow BMW, always parked under a tree near the entrance. Take a moment to thank her.

Round women, short women, sleek and tall women. Women with foreign accents. Iowa girls with sensitive skin, glistening pink through a coat of sunscreen and barely believing they're lying on hot sand while their friends at home shiver under layers of scarves and sweaters. Brazilian goddesses all brown and slick with oil, their hair in braids or free in the wind, chatting in Portuguese and barely noticing the soccer guys in Speedos who pass by them smiling. Hard-body health-club chicks, silicone mamas, young mothers basking on blankets in the warm glow of winter in Miami. As if conspiring with the sunlight and the wind and sea, these women overwhelm the senses. A gathering of womanhood on the beach, like the heroines in a Fellini film, at ease with their bodies and their strength, liberating their breasts from the yoke of society, defying age and gravity. They inspire any first-timer to join them topless in the sun at the edge of the Atlantic.

Jogging is an introspective activity for loners. You don't need friends to jog. You don't need to coordinate your schedule or talk to anyone along the way. It's just your stamina and your thoughts and your path. Of these three, the path is about the only thing you can really control, so best to make it a good one. Park on the far side of the big William M. Powell bridge and head out toward Miami Seaquarium. The white-rippled waves and brisk breeze might help you rev up those endorphins. You can hang a left at the Seaquarium and take a long loop through Virginia Key or continue straight to Crandon Park (cut across the road at Sundays on the Bay to hook up with the park's nature trail). Either way you'll find plenty of outlets, like the brush and dunes of Bear Cut preserve, to cut your midlife angst to pieces. Kick up some dirt behind you and let your mind wander freely.

Since management at Flamingo's tennis center changed last year, using the courts has become a more pleasant experience. A new team of pros associated with the Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton have been reshaping the tennis programs, adding clinics, maintaining competitive ladders for all levels of play, and improving Flamingo's seventeen clay courts (many of those nasty lumps have been smoothed out). A very welcome improvement indeed.

Readers Choice: Sans Souci Tennis Center

As long as you're going to do something decadent like play bingo or eat fried alligator, you really owe it to the kids to let them experience similar overstimulation. Like everything else in the shiny new Miccosukee complex, the child-care center -- known as Club Egret -- is big (8500 square feet), brashly colorful, and unabashedly designed for having a good time. Before you head out to your rendezvous with fortune, just drop off the darlings (in the care of competent professionals) and they probably won't want to leave even when lady luck says goodbye. All the fun stuff is here, including jungle gym with slide, trampoline, bouncing balls, blocks, jump ropes. But no gambling.

Arch Creek Park was created around a natural limestone bridge formation that once was part of an important Indian trail, first used by the ancient Tequestas then by the Seminoles. Legend has it that the limestone had the power to absorb any dark, destructive impulses that may have infected a tribesman, leaving him purified and refreshed. So if you're feeling stressed, consider a walk through this lovely park. Arch Creek's native hardwoods, pines, shrubs, and vines -- not to mention its limestone formations -- can restore to the soul what office chairs, incessantly ringing phones, and glitchy computer screens have mercilessly drained away.

A two-and-a-half-hour trip across the Everglades (take Interstate 75 for the fast trip; Tamiami Trail for the scenic ride) gets you to Lee County and Sanibel Island. There you'll find the 6000-acre refuge, named in honor of two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and pioneer conservationist Jay Norwood Darling. The mixed estuarine habitat includes open water, mangrove islands, mud flats, freshwater ponds, and hardwood hammocks. It can be explored by canoe and kayak (rental information: 941-472-8900), foot, or to a lesser degree car. The refuge will not disappoint birders, amateur or otherwise. In addition to the more common roseate spoonbills, ibis, herons, egrets, ospreys, and hawks, threatened birds such as bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and wood storks are also at home here. Many others pass through during spring and fall migrations, attracting birdwatchers from far and wide. (Roughly 238 species have been counted.) In the water you can spy alligators, American crocodiles, loggerhead turtles, manatees, and more -- 32 species of mammals and 51 of reptiles and amphibians. All of it well worth the drive from Miami.

The city deserves praise for replacing the pool at Flamingo Park. It was out with the old and in with a brand-new facility in an historic-district-approved pastel shade of yellow. Admission fees are just $1.25 for adults, a mere 75 cents for children (with a kiddie pool for the wee ones), and it's open every day until 7:30 p.m., late enough for a post-work dip. For those who want to do their laps in peace, the pool offers adult swimming five days a week from 6:30 to 9:00 a.m. (Tuesday and Thursdays you'll have to wait until 9:00 a.m. and then wrestle for space with youngsters). An enhancement to the lives of nearby residents, most of whom do not have pools, it's a great option for anyone -- be they locals, out-of-towners, or day-trippers -- who trek to the nearby sands only to discover their plans for an ocean dip have been thwarted by jellyfish or riptides or other such nuisances.

Also known as "outflow boundaries" in meteorology jargon, gust fronts are those dramatic and refreshing winds that blow in from nowhere just before thunderstorms break. Though they only last five to ten minutes, the mighty gust fronts can provide intense moments of ion-charged exhilaration to us sweaty slogs who toil in Miami's soupy subtropical climes. When you see thick black clouds lining the horizon, don't necessarily take cover. Consider running outdoors, opening your arms, and shaking your hair free as the rain-cooled winds are pulled down from on high. (Trust us, Channel 10 weatherman Don Noe does this in his garden.) To intensify the experience, throw in a little primal-scream therapy. You'll feel invigorated and enlightened -- and without any chemical hangover.

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

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Best Of Miami®