Biscayne National Park
It's infernally hot, suicidally humid; the hurricane threat looms; and the festivals are gone. Not even Grandma from North Dakota will visit. But while much of Miami whines, we celebrate. The brutal summer heat is, after all, a good thing: Water temperatures nudge past 80. (Go ahead. Hang up that wetsuit.) The nearly windless summer doldrums, trouble for our sailor friends, are brilliant for us. Boat rides out to the reef are easy, no need for Dramamine. Best of all, the heat drives away the crowds; North America's great barrier reef is our playground. And amazing Cousteau-ish encounters with brain coral and fire coral and barracudas and jewfish are all so friggin' close. You can try Biscayne National Park, which runs a charter ($39.95, call 305-230-1100) that departs daily at 1:30 p.m. for a roughly four-hour snorkeling tour. You can also go a little farther south, to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. There are literally dozens of reefs and wrecks up and down the Keys. So buy a $25 snorkel and mask, splurge on some fins, and join the happy set.
So you just came into some bayside property and you want to build a hurricane-proof home. What's the first thing that comes to mind? It wouldn't happen to be elevating your house, would it? If archaeologists are correct about the function of the Miami Circle, the earliest known locals built their village on a series of stilts near the mouth of the Miami River. Even 2000 years later, it's still the trendy thing to do: Enjoy Paul George, of the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, as he regales you with tales of the fishermen, socialites, and mobsters who populated Stiltsville, the controversial "neighborhood" located on the mud flats near Key Biscayne. The unique group of elevated homes has been one of the area's most popular attractions since the Twenties, but catch it before a hurricane or government official demolishes the last seven houses. Cost: $39. Next scheduled launch is Mother's Day, May 14.
We were sad to see the wheezing and whining (when they weren't broken down) Electrowave buses sent out to pasture when Miami-Dade Transit gobbled up the route. But the shiny new buses with two separate loops (one up Washington Avenue, the other on West Avenue) are the best. The buses are clean, the air conditioning works, and the view is even better. For just a quarter, you can ride in comfort as you're spying the Washington Avenue riffraff. Arguing homeless people -- "You're a bum!" "No, you're a bum!" -- cause a commotion next to the bus stop. Not-so-casual drug deals take place. And there's an endless stream of fake breasts, shakin' booties, and bare legs strutting in four-inch heels (some even belonging to women). Plus there are plenty of characters on the bus: tourists from Europe, Canada, and the hills of Kentucky; packs of wild, hormonally charged teenagers; senior citizens with grocery carts. Even the drivers are an interesting lot: One particular gentleman who resembles Gopher from The Love Boat keeps things exciting by holding a conversation with a guy in the next lane for six blocks. (He wants to know all about the guy's blinged-out Ford F-350.) We've heard girls on spring break complaining about their hammertoes and elderly vacationers from Buffalo calling friends back home to brag about the balmy Florida February weather. And yes, ladies, plenty of hot, wife-beater-wearing Latinos also ride the bus.
Naomi Wilzig is a Jewish grandmother unlike any other. Over the course of fourteen years, she collected approximately 4000 works of erotic art and penned five books about the genre. "We look at sex as such a forbidden subject. But where would we be without it?" asks Wilzig. But the enormous phallic sculpture in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange served little purpose in her living room -- to call it a conversation piece was an understatement. So she moved the Japanese shunga prints, the portraits of a shapeshifting Zeus in prime seductive form, and renditions of coquettish Rococo ladies into a mezzanine over on Washington Avenue. There the art smolders silently over the nightclub sex circus below, just blocks from Club Madonna. The museum is open from 11:00 a.m. to midnight; admission is $15.
The Miami Heat has demonstrated once again that all a team needs to win in the NBA are two superstars and about six or eight warm, giant bodies. That formula almost took the Heat to the league finals last summer. But then a couple of dippy plays and Dwyane Wade's hurt ribs kept them from knocking off the defending champion Pistons. Most general managers would have locked-in the club's best-ever team, but not Pat Riley. Gone this year are Keyon Dooling, Damon Jones, Eddie Jones, and Rasual Butler. In are Gary Payton, Antoine Walker, Jason Williams, and James Posey. Now Posey is a no-frills workman and fine to have aboard. Payton, Walker, and Williams are all oversize niche talents (Payton, defense; Walker, making baskets; Williams, handling the ball like a yo-yo). They're also recovering malcontents, every one. Along with Alonzo Mourning, then, Wade and Shaquille O'Neal have an all-hothead supporting cast. Will the Heat win a title? They're among a half-dozen teams that have a legitimate shot. Even if they don't, this playoff meltdown should be nothing short of nuclear, a guilty joy to behold.
Taverna Opa
You have to go to the southern terminus of Ocean Drive to find a good deal, but it's worth it. Opa, which also has restaurants in Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale, is an atmospheric, high-ceiling Greek joint with an open kitchen and a spacious bar area. You can wander off the beach and through Opa's door for a $6 pork souvlaki with pita and fixings, an $8 lamb shank with orzo, a $15 beef shish kebab with rice pilaf, or a selection of four mezze dishes for less than $20. For the price of a mashed potato side dish at the Hotel Victor's restaurant just a few blocks north, you can dig into Opa's wood-grilled lemon half-chicken, side of potatoes included. If you're with a party of six or more, $25 per person will get you a feast of eleven dishes (seven appetizers and four mains). At $3.75 a glass and $18 a bottle, the cheapest house wine is just that -- cheap. Taverna Opa is open from 4:00 p.m. until the ouzo runs out.
Though it's unlikely your guests might walk away from a visit to this popular Little Havana landmark with a Paris Hilton sighting under their belts, they will leave with a quintessential postcard of Miami's sabor Cubano. For more than four decades, the gaudy landmark, decked out in chandeliers, murals, and mirrors, has been the meeting place for exilio honchos, noisy Cuban families, and multiculti Miami. It's the place to go if you're hungry for authentic island cuisine served up with a heap of Castro-bashing or peppered in local political intrigue. Open till the wee hours seven nights a week, Versailles offers a cornucopia of old-fashioned Cuban favorites like ropa vieja, arroz con pollo, and lechón asado at prices that won't dent the wallet. After getting your visitors wired on a shot of cafecito, take a dime tour of Calle Ocho, where you can catch old-timers in a heated dominoes showdown at Maximo Gomez Park, shop for souvenirs at a shabby-chic bodega, and visit one of the many low-rent art galleries. Sure it might not compare to a sultry day at the beach, or the glamour of celebrity gawking at South Beach's exclusive nightclubs, but your friends will leave with a sense that there's nowhere else in America like the place we call home.
You don't have to be an arborist to notice that South Florida boasts some of the most unique tree-life in the world. We have royal palms, cypress, live oaks, banyans. We've got ficus-laden Coral Way and palm-lined Biscayne Boulevard. There is, though, among all of Miami-Dade County's trees, a champion. It's part of the always-impressive ficus family but is not any ordinarily breathtaking banyan. It's an Über-version of the trees you'll see lining roads in Coconut Grove and Coral Gables. This tree, in the former location of Parrot Jungle, is so massive, so sprawling, that it looks like its own jungle. The root system to support it spans five acres. Now, when you see this awesome tree, keep in mind -- it's literally half its former greatness. A huge chunk of it was destroyed by hurricanes.
He began his career in 1978 as a shoe-leather scribe for the defunct Miami News. Two years later Rodriguez switched to television and began a career highlighted by his 2002 interview of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The dapper newsman (who was named one of South Florida's sharpest-dressed men by Ocean Drive) has covered major events such as the invasion of Panama, free elections in Nicaragua, and Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba. Today he is co-anchor of CBS4 News at Noon (and the 5:30 p.m. broadcast as well) and host of 4 Sunday Morning. Rodriguez sets himself apart from his peers with his no-nonsense on-air delivery. He doesn't ham it up or use gimmicky one-liners. He simply reports the news in a direct, forceful baritone made for television.
Take the weekend to get away from it all -- literally, by chartering a boat out to sea. It's pricey -- $550 for a half-day or $1350 for a full weekend -- but think of it as your own private cruise, without the hovering masses at the midnight buffet. Capt. Russ Boley, a lifelong sailor who's been trekking to the Bahamas and the Keys for nearly three decades, takes care of the technical stuff so you can just kick back (or throw a party). His crew produces oven-fresh breads, scrumptious meats and cheeses, and homemade desserts that will keep your tummy happy while you while away the weekend on the water. Take the boat all the way down to Elliott Key if you like, and quaff a glass of wine -- or a bottle. Just grab your sunglasses. Wherever you go, you will have escaped.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®