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.

There are many good reasons to leave town in July. The sun is relentless, the humidity high, and afternoons are plagued by sudden thunderstorms of biblical proportion. But those who migrate north miss out on the splashy summer transformations at Miami Metrozoo. Chill out at the chimpanzee-activated sprinklers: When the primates pull a handle, they douse visitors in the S.O.A.C. (Sprinkler Offense Area/Chimpanzee) Zone. Cooling mists also provide wet relief between glimpses of other exotic animals. And there's a new giant water-shooting mushroom near the spotted hyenas, in addition to the spouting frog, pink flamingo, and seahorses around the park.

The local artist created a mobile video installation from an old patrol car that cruised local streets during Art Basel and earned a trip to Houston's Art/Car Museum this spring. Gagnon's Border Cruiser, about the plight of illegal aliens, featured rear-window video projections in which a Brazilian man related his ordeal of illegally entering the United States. On the eve of the Super Tuesday primaries, the vehicle brought a news crew from the Al Jazeera English network to a halt in Little Havana, where the befuddled journalists filmed crowd responses to Gagnon's rambling opus.

The Fillmore Miami Beach
Photo by Jason Koerner

Hipsters usually scream in horror — often with good reason — when corporations muscle in on their turf, but this one time, they might be wrong. Live Nation's takeover of operations at the storied Jackie Gleason Theater may just be the best thing to have happened entertainment-wise since the Great One appeared at the Miami Beach Auditorium in 1964. Live Nation spent about $4 million to transform the location into a contemporary concert space. Attendees are thrilled at how much nicer and enjoyable the place is. But the best part is the booking; popular artists now fill the schedule. No longer are there only school graduations, low-rent comedians, and the occasional foreign musician. The theater is now part of the Fillmore family of venues, which originated in San Francisco during the flower-power years. It's a much sweeter deal than paying Cirque du Soleil to turn the place into a creepy jugglers' paradise. Real groovy, man.

Caribbean Marketplace

When New York Times reporter Bruce Weber came to Miami in 1999 to do a story about Little Haiti's art community, he described the nascent effort to renovate the Caribbean Marketplace, not only to save the building itself — only nine years old then, it was well on its way into, as Weber said, "decrepitude" — but also to establish a cultural center for the neighborhood. Another nine years have passed and that dream is almost realized. The award-winning design by Haitian-born architect Charles Harrison Pawley once again looks like the building it's modeled after, the famous Iron Market in Port-au-Prince. And the new construction in back, at the time of writing, was very close to finished. Redesigned by the Zyscovich firm, the new site will soon be home to a theater/auditorium, a dance facility, a community meeting room, gallery space, a darkroom, a computer workroom, and a kiln. In conjunction with the soccer fields on NE 62nd Street and Second Avenue, this revitalized site will finally give Miami's Haitian community respectable facilities for sport and cultural events. At 50,000 strong, it's about damn time.

Chaos ensued when a dump truck flipped and spilled gravel, shutting down the town's major freeway on a sweltering summer day. Traffic bottlenecked for 15 miles, and in that angry line of drivers sat a full Greyhound bus. The passengers became incensed after a woman in an SUV cut off the bus, which had no air conditioning. Everyone was smelly, sweaty, and irritable to begin with. So they begged to be let through traffic to an exit so the driver could exchange the bus for one with working A/C. The woman in the SUV (who wasn't named in a Miami Herald account of the melee) refused. She defended herself against the unruly mob: "I've been waiting in line for two hours," she screamed to the news media. "We're running out of gas. At this point, their problem is no bigger than my problem. If I have to be the fucking bitch of I-95, then so be it!"

If you enjoy sitting in your car until your butt melds with the seat, or grinding your teeth into a fine powder, then by all means, travel southbound on the Palmetto during rush hour, or at any hour for that matter. Once you pass the NW 25th Street exit, settle in and pull out that book you've been trying to finish, because you won't move soon. The Dolphin Expressway interchange is up ahead, and these are the two most congested expressways in the Western World. It is a guaranteed fact that you will get flipped off at least once, probably by some jerk on a cell phone who has just cut you off. Traffic is so bad here that the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and the Florida Department of Transportation are planning to begin redesign and reconstruction of the entire interchange late this year. That will deepen this traffic quagmire for six years. That's right, six years. The construction warning signs should say, "Abandon all hope ye who enter here."

Rural can be a fuzzy word in South Florida, but this trek — dubbed the "Snowbird 25-Mile Fun Ride" by local bicyclist Tom Burton of the Everglades Bicycle Club — gets you just far enough out there for things to be pretty, with plenty of agricultural sightseeing along the way. The ride is long enough to keep you busy and short enough that you can bring your own water. Plus it's a loop. (For ambitious riders, there's an optional spur to Everglades National Park.) Start at the lovely, bucolic intersection of Loveland Road (SW 217th Avenue) and Palm Drive (SW 344th Street) and make your way north — past avocado groves, baby palmetto stands, and green bean fields — to Silver Palm Drive (SW 232nd Street), and head east. You can turn anywhere, but if you want the maximum countryside and the minimum people, avoid the housing complexes to your right and continue all the way to Richard Road (SW 197th Avenue). Then head back south, returning to Palm Drive. If you feel up to it, you can go south on Loveland, turn left on Ingraham Highway, and take it all the way to the entrance of Everglades National Park.

Baptist Hospital

In front of Baptist Hospital, there are two gigantic man-made lakes and an asphalt jogging track. Surrounding the lakes are benches, and they are usually occupied by people feeding the ducks and their feathered friends. It doesn't matter that the signs say, "Do Not Feed the Birds." This is hallowed ground. As you begin to stroll or jog on the half-mile tree-lined track, a calm and meditative state of mind transports you. A few seconds later, you're contemplating life and death, which both occur in the hospital behind the lakes. The peach building's Italian Renaissance architecture is as beautiful as Miami's Vizcaya. Need a glass of ice water after your stroll? No problem. Inside the main lobby is a cafeteria with a water fountain, as well as a great salad bar. With all of those endorphins pumping, you might need to sit down and say a little prayer. Good news: Next to the cafeteria is a beautiful and quiet chapel (which closes at 10 p.m.). Best of all, there is 24-hour security, so if those ducks attack, you'll be saved.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®