BEST MILE OF MIAMI The Venetian Causeway Yes, we know it's 2.75 miles long. It also crosses eleven islands by means of twelve bridges, two of which open for boats. It's also South Florida's oldest causeway (in continuous operation since 1926) and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. As for its length, just pick the mile that best suits your needs. For those who seek to be mesmerized by glittering panoramas, there's no better place than the western side. Whether by bike, car, or on foot, this is the best place to take in the visual wonderland that is the Miami skyline. For those who seek to indulge fantasies, the eastern section allows for up-close views of luxurious yachts moored at million-dollar homes -- the perfect place to dream of what could be. In fact it was an indulgence of fantasy that created the Venetian. The islands didn't even exist when the causeway was conceived, a detail that didn't stop Miami dream merchants from selling submerged home sites; and the destination -- Miami Beach -- wasn't much more than a sandbar ringed by mangroves. To traverse the Venetian Causeway, then and now, is to blur the line between reality and imagination.

BEST NATURE CENTER Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center 6767 Crandon Boulevard

Key Biscayne

305-361-6767

www.biscaynenaturecenter.org South Florida's splendid weather encourages people to play hooky, and it's a clever Miamian who figures out a way to do it without guilt. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center is a grand schoolhouse integrated with the great outdoors. The wonderful complex is set against mangroves, nature trails, and even a fossilized reef that make this not-for-profit facility a unique learning center instead of merely a playground. (If you are learning, can skipping a regular class or a day at work be all that wrong?) Guides lead tours through the various environments native to the area while instructing visitors about topics mostly having to do with conservation of natural resources. Some educational displays, exhibits, and art are housed inside, so even bad weather isn't a problem.

BEST DISPLAY OF WEALTH Leonard M. Miller family The current building and real-estate boom has been very good to Miami-based Lennar Corporation, the nation's premier home-construction company, which is now pulling in more than six billion dollars in annual revenues. This past December the family of company founder Leonard Miller, who died in 2002, donated a whopping $100 million to the University of Miami's medical school, now renamed the Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. It's the biggest gift in UM's history, and it says "We're filthy rich" in a very classy way.

Miami Theater Center
BEST FRINGE THEATER Mad Cat Theatre The Light Box Studio

3300 Biscayne Boulevard, #100

Miami

305-576-6377 Between hurricane threats and last-minute schedule changes, this wasn't the Cat's luckiest season. But it remains the most interesting and original theater company in South Florida. The acting ensemble, which works out of the Miami Light Project's Light Box studio, is particularly notable because the members concentrate on shows for young adults, a vital audience that virtually every other theater company in these parts ignores. They also write much of what they produce and perform. The Cats take chances with every show, and the result is fresh and full of risks that pay off.

BEST CRIMINAL CONVICTION IN THE PAST TWELVE MONTHS

Philip Gratz

BEST CRIMINAL CONVICTION IN THE PAST TWELVE MONTHS Philip Gratz Hey, dummy, stop shaking your head in wonder at how wise guys end up with million-dollar homes, luxury cars, and extravagant vacations. Here's how: They spend other people's money. Feel stupid? At least you weren't among the boneheads across the country, three of whom resided in South Florida, who sent some $8.9 million to purported stock investor Philip Gratz from 1998 to early 2003. (Apparently they weren't aware that in 1995 Gratz was convicted of scheming to inflate the stock price of a Miami-based luxury-boat-rental company by falsifying its financial records.) Operating out of suburban New Jersey, Gratz lured his victims by promising unbelievable profits: 25 to 50 percent. He lived the good life until his arrest in January 2004. According to the 24-count indictment, he "misappropriated" more than three million dollars in investor funds for a fancy home, real-estate investments, two Mercedes Benzes, artwork, jewelry, watches, home furnishings, a vacation in St. Barthelemy, cruises, limousines, restaurants, designer clothes, retail purchases, and more. Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Hong persuaded a Miami jury to convict Gratz. This past November a local federal judge sentenced the 40-year-old hustler to a little more than seven years in prison and eight million dollars in restitution. Seven years of splendor in exchange for seven in prison and a ton of cash. Not a great investment. Now who's feeling like a dummy?

BEST LOCAL WRITER Thomas Harris The creator of one of modern fiction's most deeply etched, enduring, and beloved -- if that's the right adjective to describe a cannibalistic serial killer -- characters lives right here, somewhere in Miami-Dade County. Thomas Harris, the author of four novels, three of them devoted at least in part to the escapades of murderous psychiatrist Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, is extraordinarily reclusive. What is known is Harris's painstaking attention to realistic detail; he spent nearly six years trailing FBI profilers in Quantico, Virginia, and studied the case histories of hundreds of criminally insane killers before Red Dragon was published in 1981. Less widely praised is the author's vivid, expressive wordsmithing, which far exceeds the standard of even good police procedurals and is less evocative of the hardboiled street toughness of James Elroy than it is the nightmarishly gory surrealism of Edgar Allan Poe and Clive Barker. It's a prose style made outstanding by an omniscient narrator's keen observation of personal details and nuanced behaviors -- the very foundation of the study of abnormal psychology. Jonathan Demme's cinematic adaptation of the second Lecter tale, 1991's The Silence of the Lambs, cemented the psychopath's role as an American horror genre figure. Ted Tally's script was awesome, but some of its most lingeringly piercing phrases came directly from Harris. When Hannibal Lecter first meets the fledgling but capable FBI agent Clarice Starling, his insult isn't macabre, merely cruel, but nearly feminine in its precision: "You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube. A well-scrubbed, hustling rube with a little taste ... you're not more than one generation from poor white trash." Starling eventually earns Lecter's support in her casework and even his affection -- a dubious achievement -- but Harris eschews happiness for his protagonists. At the conclusion of Hannibal, Starling ends up dining on fava beans, Chianti, and a human liver with Lecter; an earlier hero, Jack Crawford, is also driven to a desperate breakdown. Peter Webber, who made Girl with a Pearl Earring, is preparing to shoot Young Hannibal in Prague while Harris is writing the novel Behind the Mask, which will be published this fall. The characters in the Lecter series have no connection to Florida. However, in Harris's first book, 1975's Black Sunday, Palestinian terrorists and a disgruntled military veteran create chaos at a Super Bowl held at the Orange Bowl.

BEST PLACE DURING A HURRICANE (THAT REALLY DOESN'T SHOW UP)

Miami Beach around First Street

BEST PLACE DURING A HURRICANE (THAT REALLY DOESN'T SHOW UP) Miami Beach around First Street You ignore the mandatory evacuation and stay home on the Beach. It's pretty obvious the storm is heading elsewhere, but now you're bored silly and the weather's not too bad. Watching the Weather Channel is no longer interesting, and the news channels won't have any gratuitous "disaster porn" until tomorrow morning at the soonest. It's still too early in the day to drink, so what do you do? Head to First Street to be smack dab in the middle of a wall of surfing fanatics. Great swells are rare south of Sebastian Inlet, so when a hurricane brushes past South Florida on its march up the coast, the surfers head to the beach and try to squeeze themselves into the horde between Government Cut and Third Street. You get to watch the beach patrol guys make every effort to get the surfers out of the water. You see the surfers look at the patrol guys like they're the crazy ones. It is rather unsafe, even if you are just sitting on the shore -- but you were crazy enough to remain on the golden sandbar in the first place. Note: parking still difficult to find.

BEST PLACE TO MEET SINGLE MEN Marlins games Dolphins Stadium

2267 Dan Marino Boulevard

Miami

305-623-6100

www.floridamarlins.com If you're looking to meet men, you need to go to them (they're not knocking on your door, right?), even if it means watching sports. Put on a sassy aqua tank top and some sunscreen and say to yourself: "I love baseball!" As long as the game isn't called because of rain, it will be raining men at every home game this season. Whether you're waiting in line for beer and dogs or saying your "excuse me's" to get back to your seat, you'll find plenty of men willing to share their baseball wisdom with you. And if you have a few well-researched facts to toss back, these baseball fans will put you at the top of their batting order. You could even rip a triple to deep center: You meet a great guy, he buys you a cute hat to protect your pretty face, and you might realize you actually like baseball. Don't worry about hitting a home run just yet; you've got the whole season to score. Tickets range from $8 in the fish-tank section to $42 for club-zone seats, but everyone is equal in the concession areas.

BEST PUBLIC-WORKS PROJECT Bicentennial Park seawall This ten-million-dollar state-of-the-art bulwark is the first sign of real progress toward a future bayfront walkway for downtown Miami. The construction itself is notable for its quality. The seawall's steel casing is a high-grade, coated variety imported from Europe and known as sheet piling, which the contractor, Shoreline Foundation, Inc., is driving into the bay bottom for that sharp, squared-off, 90-degree-angle look. "It's the most impressive seawall you'll ever see. It's going to transform that whole area," says Robert Weinreb, the City of Miami's project director for Bicentennial Park. Portions of the existing barrier were 50 years old, which is about as long as it's been since a major public-works project in Miami was under budget and ahead of schedule like this one. (Funds are federal, state, and local.) The new seawall is the first in a series of improvements that are scheduled to include a sophisticated reworking of the long-neglected park and an expansive baywalk winding southward to the Miami River.

BEST TV NEWS ANCHOR Dwight Lauderdale WPLG-TV (Channel 10) With or without the mustache, and even sans Ann Bishop, no local TV journalist is more trusted and respected than the man behind the news desk at Channel 10. Since 1976 Lauderdale has been disseminating the grimy nonfiction of our sinful streets to an adoring public. Why is it that fans line up whenever he makes a public appearance? Maybe it's because, unlike some of his contemporaries (Shepard Smith), he's never punched out anyone over a parking space or announced the death of a pope 26 hours before the man actually passed away and then publicly blamed the mistake on a producer. When the big-time cable networks come calling, he, unlike Smith or Rick Sanchez, doesn't abandon the populace he's served for so many years. His longevity in a world of ten-second clips and a rotating cast of talking heads has made him a human institution in this town. Now he has earned an overdue spot in our winner's circle.

Readers´ Choice: Matt Lorch, WPLG-TV (Channel 10)

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®