Everglades National Park
Rodney Cammauf / National Park Service

Flamingo, Florida, is the end of the road — literally. Located 38 miles southwest of the Everglades National Park entrance, the area offers incredible hiking, canoeing, and bicycling. It's the perfect place to bird watch too. There's also a campground with (cold) showers and the thrilling knowledge you're as far south as you can get in the contiguous United States. But regardless of whether you're there for a day picnic or a weekend blowout, DEET is a must. Even riding the Snake Bight trail at a fast clip isn't enough to shake those aggressive Everglades skeeters. And if you're walking the trails, use a hat with a net, or a suit of armor.

For nearly 25 years, Raul Martinez ruled the city of Hialeah with a grin and a book's worth of pithy quotes. He was a charming Democrat in a solidly Republican city, a big thinker in a small town. He ushered in affordable housing and improved Hialeah's infrastructure, all while campaigning successfully for eight straight elections. He even pulled off a courtroom miracle. After prosecutors nailed him for corruption, el gigante had the ruling overturned by an appeals court. When he retired from office in 2006, it was hard to believe he'd be content with eating early-bird dinners and living the rest of his life on a golf course. Sure enough, in early 2008, he announced he was going to take on another Cuban-American icon: U.S. Congressman and Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart. The contest is expected to be the talker of the year, and Raul seems up to the task. After all, he's got cojones, whether he's talking about why the district needs a Democrat or about his controversial history. "I would debate any fucking Republican about my past," Raul told the Miami Herald. "We'll have a debate mano a mano if they want to take me on. I'm going to take them on."

Last November, Matti Herrera Bower became the first Hispanic and first woman to be elected mayor of Miami Beach. The retired dental assistant's political roots trace not to some sleazy deal or romantic tryst (remember Alex Daoud?) but to the PTA. She knocked out Simón Cruz, a banker who raised loads more money, with 54 percent of the vote. Tagged the underdog, she pledged to stop overdevelopment and invest in parks and schools. Bower, then a commissioner like Cruz, scored the win in a runoff even after ethnic baiting by the Cruz camp; a flyer showcased her opposition to handing over $10,000 to the Holocaust Memorial after its organizers were late in applying for a grant. An estimated one-third of registered Beach voters are Jewish. An even bigger coup for Bower would be getting more Beach residents to vote. Only 23 percent turned out last fall.

This past Christmas, Coral Gables Police Major Scott Masington did a seemingly nice thing. He gave 30 motorcycle, bicycle, and other cops Casio watches. Problem is, he paid $625 with city plastic called a p-card. By Coral Gables policy, that's not allowed. The whole thing might have ended there, but this being the City Beautiful, it didn't. When officials — and cranky critics including our personal favorite, George Volsky — began looking at the receipts from city cards, they found much more impropriety. The city's computer geeks had charged hundreds of dollars for pizza and doughnuts. Others bought vittles at a Chinese joint and Publix. The best find: City Manager David Brown apparently violated policy by purchasing expensive wine at lunch. Major Masington never could have guessed it would turn out like this.

In South Florida, the notion that there's such a thing as a first-rate politician is hard to swallow. But Garcia is simply good at what he does. For a while he's been the brain behind Miami-Dade County's Democratic Party, a liberal group if ever there was one. Before that, he oversaw the Cuban American National Foundation, a more conservative bunch. And he's served on a number of appointed boards — generally somehow remaining acceptable to both ends of the political spectrum. He's smart, frank, and ballsy; we're talking about a guy who's willing to call an El Nuevo Herald reporter a douchebag in front of a roomful of reporters. Now Garcia, who's challenging U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz Balart, has a little scheme. He's going to turn all the red Cuban-American congressional seats blue. As Barack Obama heads toward a showdown with that dinosaur John McCain, Garcia and fellow Democrats Raul Martinez and Annette Taddeo are tailing him. If the top Democratic gun is faster, his whole gang might triumph too. Perhaps there is something to this "change" business.

It's no wonder so many arts organizations have paid obeisance to Sanford and Dolores Ziff. At 83 years young, the Sunglass Hut founder and the former Bond girl rule the Miami art world from their private box in the Ziff Ballet Opera House at the Arsht Center. And these two have given money to promote not only culture but also education; in fact the University of Miami, Florida International University, and Nova Southeastern all have buildings named for the pair. Just because they were born in 1925 doesn't mean they can't drop it like it's hot. Despite their senior-citizen tag, the Ziffs party with the best of them; Sanford has been known to do keg stands while Dolores tries out the latest Soulja Boy dance. This dynamic duo sure knows the joy of life. They've helped fan the flame of Miami's cultural renaissance and then wangled themselves invitations to the best bashes that celebrate this very same revival!

Douglas Park

There's nothing particularly fancy about this park — which is what makes it so great. You can almost always bet that at least one of the three tennis courts is going to be open and that your toddler will have enough jungle gym space to carve out his own little fiefdom. About the most you'll have to worry about on a bright, sunny day is a band of 13-year-old boys ragging on each other under a basketball hoop.

If nothing else, enjoy the town's finest taco truck — a regular weekend installment. Or bring a picnic. There's something about the place that just feels warm and nice. Bachelor though you may be, the park will make you tingle with the thought of whiling away an afternoon with a brood all your own.

Miami-Dade Cultural Center

There's art, books, a view, a card game, and a public toilet — a darn clean one at that. Life doesn't get much better. Perched in the clouds in the Spanish-style plaza atop the Miami-Dade Cultural Center, a set of often-sparkling public restrooms connects the county's main public library and the ever-evolving Miami Art Museum. It doesn't seem to matter that the homeless population is wise to it. The place remains free of nastiness, stray papers, and your usual public shithouse detritus. So head downtown, drink in some art at the museum, borrow a book at the library, and sit in for a round of cards with the boys on the patio — then head to the head and spend some time relaxing in the only place modern man (or woman) ever finds peace.

In today's Miami-Dade County, the Village of Miami Shores is a throwback. Families have lived there for generations. There's a golf club that still has the dowdy but cozy feel of the Sixties. And the Fourth of July celebration makes you feel patriotic just like Americans did back then. But the one thing that has long-marred the village's perfection is the downtown area along NE Second Avenue, a series of shabby storefronts and lawyers' offices. Well, those days are gone. For the past few months — and likely for months to come — workers have been tearing up the street to install wider sidewalks and underground sewers to replace drain fields. This all sounds rather quotidian, but it means the "Village Beautiful" will soon be home to sidewalk cafés, restaurants, ice-cream shops, and other joints to go along with the recently added Starbucks and Playground Theatre. It's a pain now, but the future looks, well, beautiful.

Maybe ole Don didn't know what show he was on. The Coral Gables mayor was tapped to comment on the city's ban on pickup trucks on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report for a February segment called "People Destroying America." No, Slesnick is not the one destroying America; that honor goes to Lowell Kuvin, who has been fighting the town for years for the right to park his pickup truck at home overnight.

Here's what the City Beautiful's honcho had to say about the narcotic effect of those four-wheeled menaces: "It's pickup trucks today, tomorrow it'll be larger trucks, and then the next day probably commercial vehicles, and finally we might have swamp buggies out in the street."

"And nobody wants swamp buggies," Colbert intoned ominously.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®