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

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.

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.

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

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®