Arch Creek Park
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.

Spread over five waterfront acres in a quiet residential neighborhood, Parmer's is not a resort as commonly understood. There's no golf course, no spa, no restaurant. But that's a good thing. It means the people who drive down to the Keys and choose Parmer's are there for the right reason -- to relax and enjoy the beautiful setting. In fact the grounds alone are reason enough: lush landscaping, numerous aviaries containing colorful tropical birds, a pleasant swimming pool, and waterfront amenities such as kayaks and other fun floating things, boat docks, grills, and picnic tables, some at water's edge under pavilions. Lodging is distributed in a way that avoids congestion and ranges from standard motel rooms to spacious suites. All rooms feature a porch or deck and many have full kitchens stocked with all needed utensils, which leads us to this specific suggestion: Bring your own food and drink and dine alfresco by the water. Fresh seafood for the grill is available from several nearby fish markets, and a Winn-Dixie is just minutes away. Daytime possibilities run the gamut from visiting Key West to snorkeling at the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary to kayaking into the Lower Keys wilderness, which begins about a half-hour's paddle from Parmer's. Rates begin at $85 for a motel room and top out at $250 for a luxurious two-bedroom suite -- very reasonable by Keys standards.

Readers Choice: Key West

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.

If you can't get high on this court, you'll probably get stuffed. But leave your feet too long for an ill-advised dunk (if you can do that sort of thing) and your hindquarters will get with the pavement quicker than an NBA player gets with a stripper. These are the courts at Concord Park on a daily basis. More ground rules for Concord newjacks: Showoffs are treated to elbows and hand checks; little jits who don't pass can forget running the point; and everyone must jump for rebounds because taking plays off can get you replaced by one of the 50 ballers who usually brush the sideline. Unlike many other courts, Concord rims are single, like the pros and college players use. The backboards may not be glass like indoor courts, but if we were nominating auditoriums and gyms, Concord would still be a match. In the face of South Florida weather, Concord also holds up -- it's elevated so water drains off, and the markings are highly visible so nobody's calling any phantom bounds. Of course a neighborhood court doesn't stand on a reputation of sturdiness or aesthetics; it's the actual games that count. They gotta be clean and competitive. The games at Concord are both.

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®