BEST REASON TO STAY IN MIAMI FOR THE SUMMER Languid days, sultry nights Not all of us can afford to zip up to the Hamptons for six weeks of madras-clad croquet amid the cool climes and waterfront estates. Nor can we all shell out for a ticket to Ibiza for round-the-clock partying. But being rich and idle isn't all it's cracked up to be. For one thing, winging it out of town at the first hint of summer means never experiencing the true essence of living in the subtropics. Those languid days when time slows and no one can be rushed. Those sultry nights when it makes perfect sense, after the slow groove of day, to come out and play. The casual ease in securing reservations at the best restaurants. The absence of attitude. And all of it made more pleasant by the fact that the obnoxious rich are nowhere in sight.

BEST CHILDREN'S ADVOCATE Carol Marbin Miller Miami Herald reporter Miller has been single-minded in her efforts to force the state's Department of Children and Families to change itself from a backward, inefficient, corrupt institution into a somewhat less backward, less inefficient, and less corrupt institution. Since her byline first appeared in the Herald in 2000 (she had previously been at the St. Petersburg Times), Miller has written more than 900 stories, most dealing with DCF and its former chief, Jerry Regier. In 2004 alone she reported and wrote more than 200 stories chronicling crisis after crisis at DCF: "Child Welfare Flaws Exposed"; "Agency Pressured to Aid Connected Client"; "DCF Misuses Funds"; "Two Quit in DCF Ethics Breach"; "How to Explain Why Regier Is Still at DCF"; "DCF Chief Resigns Amid Scandal." It'd be nice to say DCF has cleaned up its act and we can now trust it to look after the state's most vulnerable children. It would be nice, but it wouldn't be entirely true. Thanks largely to Miller, however, DCF is slowly but surely moving in the right direction.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN Ellis Tillman The Constant Wife As the resident costume designer for the Coconut Grove Playhouse, Tillman has been turning out first-rate work for years. But he outdid even himself with this stylish, dryly funny design scheme for Somerset Maugham's Jazz Age comedy. With what seemed an endless parade of snazzy outfits, Tillman's designs helped define the play's characters -- subtly suggesting their conformity, fashion obsessions, and slightly ludicrous tastes, and in the process perfectly reflecting Maugham's acerbic wit. Encore, Ellis!

BEST NIGHT TRIP Annual Winter Star Party 386-362-5995 Named after the constellation, the venerable Southern Cross Astronomical Society has brought gazers the Winter Star Party for twenty years, usually at West Summerland Key during the new moon in February or March. Why the Southern Cross moniker? For the hundreds of starry-eyed visitors who trek down for the party, the southern tip of Florida is the only place within the 48 contiguous states where it is possible to see this looking-up favorite. The party lasts for several days and attracts both amateurs and professionals who appreciate the big, dark skies of the Keys. There are speakers, workshops, and vendors galore. Camping is available, and there are even day events for those smart enough to plan an extended stay. Yes, locals love it too.

BEST POLITICAL MISCALCULATION José Cancela Despite a rave endorsement from the Miami Herald touting his candidacy for Miami-Dade County mayor, Cancela tanked in the August 31 first round of voting. But on the way down he pumped a lot of good money into the local political economy. The former head of Radio Unica (a Spanish-language radio network that also tanked) and darling of the chamber-of-commerce crowd came in fifth place, about 9000 votes behind fourth-place finisher Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and just 45,000 votes behind the victor, Carlos Alvarez. Cancela, however, ended up at the top of the heap in fundraising and campaign spending -- nearly two million dollars. The political pork helped sustain a host of needy pollsters, strategists, composers of radio jingles, creators of political advertisements, media outlets, and many more. Cancela also showed heart and loyalty by sending a big chunk of his campaign change to the Herald -- even before the endorsement -- for a barrage of very well-placed ads. In the proud tradition of also-rans, he also infused the campaign discourse with radical, even noble, ideas other candidates dared not raise, such as his solemn pledge to synchronize traffic lights. Conspiracy theorists imagined that Cancela's ill-conceived bid served a hidden agenda: siphoning enough votes from contenders Diaz de la Portilla and Maurice Ferré to keep them out of the runoff. If so, it was one very expensive agenda.

BEST GIRLS' DAY OUT Rik Rak Salon and Spa 1428 Brickell Avenue

Miami

305-371-5577 It's easy to visualize the agent and the TV network exec getting together to negotiate this concept: What happens when a clothing store owner and a hair stylist get together? They open a full salon and spa featuring racks of designer clothes, shoes, and accessories. The sets alone would be enough to carry the show, especially with gorgeous Miami location shots. Even better: real life in the land of the permanent vacation. Raquel and Richard Watters have been married and in business together for twenty years, and they make sure that everyone who enters their bustling salon is treated like a star, whether it be Nicole Kidman, Beyoncé, or a starving writer who doesn't even have an agent. "You can walk in from the gym," says Raquel, "get your hair, nails, and makeup done, and then I will dress you from head to toe, including purse, shoes, and jewelry." The salon offers full massages, waxing, facials, manicures, and pedicures. And with a bar featuring fine wines, gourmet coffee and tea, and even empanadas, you can spend the entire day at the spa and not go hungry -- or care about what's on TV.

BEST MEMOIR The Summer That Changed Miami Beach by Seymour Gelber A day-by-day, often hour-by-hour account of the tumultuous summer of 1972, when Miami Beach played host to both the Democratic and Republican national conventions, and with them a roiling mass of politicos and protesters. Former Beach Mayor Seymour Gelber, then a Dade County assistant state attorney, was dispatched to work as legal adviser to the Miami Beach Police Department. It was a job that put him in close contact with events on both sides of the barricades, and Gelber has managed to recapture it all in gripping detail -- from the demonstrators camped out in Flamingo Park to the tear-gas-clogged marches on the convention center -- complete with plenty of backroom negotiations and drama that had never been aired. Gelber's 284-page book is self-published, but it's a memoir well deserving of better distribution and a larger audience. For now, check the Miami Beach public library.

BEST CHEAP THRILL Miami Jai-Alai 3500 NW 37th Avenue

Miami

305-633-9661

www.miami-jai-alai.com Who needs slots? For the lousy buck gamblers throw away on spinning fruit, spectators can be treated to the real action: four or more hours of the fastest game on earth. Watch as these international athletes hurl a rock-hard ball at speeds up to 180 miles per hour. (The goatskin ball travels at such velocity it has cracked bulletproof glass.) What could be more thrilling than gasping as the players stand directly in the line of fire with only a helmet and a wicker basket for protection? For a little more money (a lot more for the addictive personalities), place a small wager and feel the adrenaline rush. Even a novice can turn a few quarters into some big bucks simply by playing the odds, which are conveniently posted along with each player's statistics. If you're lucky, this thrill will be so cheap it will actually make you money.

BEST DRAG QUEEN Adora Out of costume Adora is a seriously cute Latin boy by the name of Danilo. In costume she's one of Miami's hardest-working girls, surviving the trends of fickle Miami for the past fourteen years. Her trademarks are platinum tresses, glittering red lips, and ostentatious eyelashes. She's loud, funny, and of course outrageous. Her style is campy glam, heavy on the Fifties fashions with a Cuban accent. Her favorites -- songs by La Lupe, Yma Sumac, and Maria Callas -- still kill onstage. So how does a girl keep her act fresh after so many years when other queens have come and gone? "It's a lot of work," Adora admits. "If you blink, you can bore people. You have to be alert to what's going in the news so you can be funny. I can't explain it. It's like a baby. You have to feed it and wash it and always be on top of what's going on with it." Adora works weekly at Back Door Bamby -- crobar's Monday-night party -- and holds down regular gigs at Score, Twist, and O'Zone.

BEST FILM FESTIVAL Cinema Vortex If the goal of a film festival should be to bring high-quality pictures to town -- worthy movies that would otherwise never hit Miami -- then Cinema Vortex deserves its stellar reputation. The fest's history traces back to the defunct Alliance Cinema in Miami Beach, but during more recent years, co-curators Baron Sherer and Kevin Wynn have lighted up many of the area's more distinctive venues -- from the University of Miami's Cosford Cinema to the Miami Shores Performing Arts Theater to the Wolfsonian Museum -- as they continue to unspool the offbeat, the unjustly ignored, the classics that simply demand to be seen on the big screen. Fifties noir such as On Dangerous Ground, French New Wave works from Jean-Luc Godard, American New Wave responses such as Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and The Outfit, as well as a retrospective of reels by Hollywood's master of melodrama, Douglas Sirk: All have graced their schedule. Some of their programming choices may challenge, but in a world where the marketplace triumphs all too often over the pure love of movies, Cinema Vortex is a program that should be held over.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®