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

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.

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.

According to no less an authoritative source than the Tropical Audubon Society, the southern portion of Everglades National Park is "one of the best winter birding locations in the United States." Check out Tropical Audubon's Website (www.tropicalaudubon.org) for a comprehensive list of species and specific locations, but suffice it to say that the sightings run from warblers (more than twenty species) to the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow to flamingos (real ones) to impressive natives such as bald eagles and every subtropical wading bird imaginable.

At 62 acres it is much more than just a neighborhood park, but not enough people outside the immediate vicinity make the effort to seek out A.D. Barnes. Their loss. Besides the amenities you'd expect at a park this size (swimming pool, basketball courts, barbecue huts, picnic pavilions), Barnes can boast two attractions that distinguish it: elaborate accommodations for the handicapped (including a wheelchair-accessible tree house) and an "urban nature preserve." Located in the northeastern section of the park, the preserve is a thickly wooded slice of untamed nature in the middle of suburbia. A network of cleverly designed hiking trails lead you through the forest primeval and among the many creatures that inhabit it. Keep your eyes open for everything from raccoons and nesting birds to colorful insects and spiders.

In Miami anything can be arranged -- for a price. For example, if you have an uncontrollable urge to race over the ocean in an ear-splitting, teeth-rattling go-fast boat, the folks at Club Nautico on Miami Beach could make it happen. Of course, owing to steep insurance costs and the need for an experienced skipper, you'll have to put up your firstborn and your house as collateral. Instead the Club Nautico agents suggest their 29-foot Bowrider, a sleek little wave skimmer that will get your adrenaline pumping at speeds up to 45 miles per hour. Also available -- and highly recommended -- is their larger and more luxurious 450 Sundancer, a speedy yacht with two spiffy staterooms and space for six cruisers. More than a dozen boats are on hand at Nautico for half-day or full-day charters at prices ranging from $300 to $3500. To hire a captain, add roughly $100 per four-hour rental period.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®