To the outside world, the glitz of South Beach is Miami, but beneath the plastic veneer, we've got ourselves one of the poorest and neediest metro areas in America. What's worse, out of the 50 biggest cities in the U.S., we volunteer the least. Even people in that other Sin City (Vegas) give more of their time than we do. Still, there's a lot of good going on in Miami, and perhaps there's no better example of that than the charity Voices for Children. Founded in 1984, the foundation recruits, trains, and supervises adults who act as representatives and guardians in court for the nearly 4,000 children who are in Miami-Dade foster care. The foundation (recently given the top four-star rating by the national charity evaluator charitynavigator.org) also helps take care of additional needs for foster children, such as clothing, eyeglasses, and educational activities. Since its inception, Voices for Children has represented more than 25,000 children.

Shark Valley
U.S. National Park Service

OK, smart guy, with your white-boy dreadlocks and stickered-up Nalgene bottle hanging off of your carabiner, let's just get this out of the way: Miami is to hard-core hiking as Aspen is to serious scuba diving. We get it. If you're looking to tackle a totally wicked 5.6-grade slope, hop the next flight back to the Rockies and leave us the hell alone.

But if you're willing to give Florida-style hiking a shot — think billowing saw grass and lush hammocks as far as you can see, with alligators slinking menacingly across your path — you can't beat Shark Valley.

Head west out of Miami on the Tamiami Trail, drive a half-hour past the half-dozen cheesy airboat rides and the Miccosukee bingo hall, and you'll see the entrance to the park on your left.

Inside, there's a 15-mile paved loop right through the heart of the Everglades, with an observation tower at the midway point offering all-the-way-to-Key West views of the River of Grass. If asphalt isn't hard-core enough for your tastes, muddy side trails cut through the swamp, where blue herons fish in gator holes and otters swim right past. Frankly, we'll take it over Colorado any day.

Ladies, here is your gym: Treadmills in the front, weights in the back, and no sweaty dudes to kick you off the shoulder press. Sorry, boys. Men aren't allowed at this blink-and-you-miss-it, owner-operated Miami Springs facility, which caters to a client base of competitive female bodybuilders. Founded by 45-year-old former fitness model and personal trainer Mari Redondo, the walls are lined with newspaper cutouts of muscular women in bikinis, flexing at competitions around the state. Inside, you won't catch girls flipping through Vogue or Cosmo while leisurely climbing a step machine. These ladies mean business. Rates are $200 per year, $60 for three months, or $25 for one month. Feel. The. Burn.

Oleta River State Park

The Oleta River is close enough to get to yet distant enough that it's pretty much the best place around to do outdoor activities such as mountain biking and kayaking. Sure, mountain biking in Florida is a lot like sunbathing in Antarctica: Nature won't quite permit it. Florida's landscape may be flat as a runway model's chest, but over at Oleta River State Park — the state's largest urban park — bikers have outsmarted old Mother Earth. Here a field of man-made dirt jumps and ramps vary in steepness and length, proving just as good for teenage thrill-seekers as they are for retirees. Add that to the 16 miles of trails for off-roading through the mangrove forest and you might find yourself stopping for a rest under a towering pine. Trails lead to the edge of the river, where canoes and kayaks carve through the glassy water. Forgot your helmet? No prob. Check out the park's free loaner system. Best to bring lunch, mosquito repellant, and a sense of adventure. You might forget you're miles from mountain country.

For those who would rather hit the water, Oleta offers the perfect spot in Miami-Dade for kayaking. Once your boat hits the water, the interminable traffic and noxious noise of the city disappear in the tree-lined streams of native plants and abundant wildlife. Oleta is part quiet escapism and part stimulating odyssey. Gently curving mangroves lead you through the river amid a wall of woodland preserves and supple hanging branches that kiss the surface of the water. Follow the widening canal and you're suddenly met with the spreading mouth of the river that takes you into open water, where anchored sailboats dot the wide expanse. One moment you're in the soft muzzle of swaying trees and the hazy green glow of sunlight poking through the foliage, the next you find yourself with the wind at your back and ocean waves gently jabbing the bottom of your kayak. You can easily lose track of time taking in the wildlife — crabs, stingrays, and a variety of birds such as ospreys, hawks, and cormorants. On quieter days, if you get lucky, you might spot manatees or a school of bottle-nosed dolphins. The park has a stand that sells refreshments and snacks and even offers kayak rentals that start at $20 an hour. Oleta is open year-round from 8 a.m. to sunset.

Venetian Way
Photo by Karli Evans

So there you are: rolling past the traffic jams, stores blasting techno music, and moms with strollers. You're biking and you're happy, damn it. And then — inevitably — it happens: Some flashy douchebag in a convertible cuts you off, reminding you why Miami can't shake its reputation as the nation's least bicycle-friendly city. But brave urban bikers, fear not. There's a safe route for you. On Venetian Way — the only of the county's seven causeways with a dedicated bike lane, a car toll, and residential speed limits — cyclists pretty much own the road. There's plenty to daydream about as you cruise: sailboats dipping between docks, an often mouthwash-blue bay, multimillion-dollar homes. Plus the route offers arguably the straightest path to the action (in either direction). Take it for a day in South Beach or a night out in the Design District. The flashy guy in the convertible will blow an hour and some cash trying to park. But once you're there, any street pole will do.

OK, so there are few moments on this route when you can't see high-rises, and it includes a street called Sewage Plant Road. In Miami, rural is a fuzzy term, and this beginner-friendly bike ride will allow you to escape the urban bustle, clear your head, take in some beautiful views, and maybe see a raccoon or two. It's lifted from the route portfolio of the Everglades Bicycle Club, and members pedal it every Wednesday evening. Begin at the Hobie Beach parking lot and make your way southeast. Turn around when you reach the town of Key Biscayne, or if you're cool with spending a dollar on an entrance fee and adding four miles to the ride, go all the way through Bill Baggs State Park, to the southernmost tip of the island. On the way back, take a ride through the Virginia Beach loop, and if you time it right (with minimal stops, this route should take an average biker a little more than an hour), you'll catch a sunset over the Miami skyline from that postcard-perfect vantage point. Oh, and if you want to make this ride an all-afternoon thing, stop at Jimbo's Place on Virginia Key and have a few dirt-cheap beers over a game of bocce ball. That's not part of the bike club's official route, but we like alcohol with our exercise.

Your weathered Nike cross-trainers bounce off the broken concrete along a two-mile stretch of battered sidewalk. Your heart beats rapidly, you take deep breaths, and your legs churn hard as you race along vestiges of Miami's past and future. Old structures such as the Bacardi buildings hark back to a day when the boulevard was a desolate landscape. But farther south, gleaming glass condo towers such as 900 Biscayne Bay and 10 Museum Park herald Miami's new era. Shadowy silhouettes of homeless vagrants, drifters, and crack hoes have been replaced by 20-something hipsters dining at outdoor tables at Bin 18 and Bengal Modern Cuisine. You jog into the heart of downtown, past more shiny buildings, marveling at the number of units that remain unoccupied. You reach the foot of the Brickell Avenue Bridge, make a U-turn, and head back toward NE 36th Street. You make a brief pit stop at Mr. Lou's Food Store, a tiny market that has outlasted storefront churches, an IHOP, and the real estate crash, for more than two decades. Lou is not around anymore, but his son Junior still knows how to turn on that bodega charm. This is Miami, son, and after this jog, you feel like you own the city.

Best Leisure Activity Other than Clubs or Movies

The Flying Trapeze School

The Flying Trapeze School

Gravity has been threatening your chances of coasting away into the skies forever, meaning kissing the clouds and tasting the air that only birds breathe have all been relegated to moments in your dreams, or while on psychedelics. But there is a place in Miami where you can fly without tripping out on shrooms — at the Flying Trapeze School at Bayfront Park. The folks here will help you put "I believe I can fly" into perspective, one harness at a time. Yes, there are harnesses and even a safety net, so your knees can stop trembling now. For just 40 bucks per two-hour class, you can coast from pole to pole and rest assured that a seasoned pro is on the other side to grab you. The instructors are professional flying trapeze artists and more than capable of catching you in whichever awkward position your body might twist. Not so sure if you're quite ready to defy gravity? The Try N' Fly is just $10. Classes are available Wednesday through Sunday, so if you punk out, you'll have many chances to redeem yourself.

Arch Creek Park

Contrary to popular belief, not every sacred place in Miami-Dade has been paved, flipped, or foreclosed on. Just off Biscayne Boulevard in North Miami is Arch Creek Park. Named for a limestone arch on the site, these eight acres of natural and historic preserve have attracted people for centuries — whether it was Native Americans snacking on conch or early pioneers milling coontie roots. Fortunately, much of the park is as it was before Miami blossomed around it. Even better, it seems that not many more humans visit the creek than did a hundred years ago. The public can still peacefully commune on a nature hike or reach out to the city's past during a ghost tour, archaeological dig, or other laid-back activities. There's even an onsite museum that will help visitors understand the importance of this unique gem.

Bal Harbour Beach

A beach is a beach is a beach, but don't tell that to half the people who frequent some of Miami's more popular shoreline. There's the beach meant for showing off your latest gym/elective surgery achievements in the tiniest spandex. There's the beach for families with six kids all in water wings. There's the beach for teenagers in Kendall to drive to while armed with digital cameras for Facebook pics and radios blasting La Kalle. Whichever it is, everyone seems overly excited to be at the beach, like it's some sort of exclusive event and not a mound of waterside sand.

For us, though, a beach is nothing more than a place to sleep off a hangover and avoid vampire skin. After weeks spent in a cubicle, and most weekends sleeping well past noon, we set the alarm extra-early once a month to make sure our skin tone doesn't become translucent. It's practically a civic duty to keep up a base tan in this town, but we're not one for proper man-scaping and we tend to get annoyed by impromptu beach jam sessions or volleyball games. So we cruise the northern parts of Collins Avenue until we come upon a cheap parking spot. More often than not, that's in Bal Harbour (metered parking behind the strip mall at 95th Street and Harding Avenue). Most time here, for us anyway, is spent passed out, and there's nothing that really gets in the way of that. It's just a beach and that's all.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®