Surfside Tennis Center

Like sister pastimes golf, polo, and hedge fund fraud, tennis has always been rank with the stink of exclusivity. But although guys named Nigel who tie their sweaters around their necks usually play tennis, once you take the sport out of the country club, it can be as accessible as a game of hoops. All you need is a $20 racket, some dirt-cheap balls, and a place to play. There are larger public courts in Miami than the three-net Surfside Tennis Center (and certainly more exclusive ones), but it's tough to beat the spot's availability. During the week, klieg lights blast the courts, keeping them open until 10 p.m. Perhaps Surfside residents take their game to private clubs, because there's seemingly always a free court. Stop by the administration shack and ask about upcoming no-cost clinics. One tip for tennis newbies: Remember the model number of your ball and try to use only that one. Players get testy when you use their balls, even though the specifications are usually identical. Snobbery can be a tough habit to break.

Coppertone sunscreen's advertising was probably responsible for more tourism in Miami than the sun itself, so it's only fitting that the company's iconic sign is back in public view. You know the one: the little dog pulling the bathing suit off the girl. Somehow that strange combination of innocence, fun, and naughtiness became emblematic of Miami itself, and seems about as inseparable from our identity as the Citgo sign is with Boston. How such fantastic pictorial mythology got stuck in a warehouse for so long is a mystery to us, but thank god for Antolin Carbonell, an Upper Eastside tour guide and historian, who spearheaded the effort to find the sign a new home in the MiMo district. You can find the Coppertone girl (modeled after the granddaughter of company founder Charles E. Clowe), locked in her Sisyphean battle to keep her trunks up, on the north-facing wall at 7300 Biscayne Blvd., just two giant toddler steps from the Vagabond Motel, whose original sign was also made by the Tropicalites company. She must feel right at home.

I once knew a girl from Calcutta

Whose breath stunk like old dookie butta.

Her brother loved booze

And getting tattoos

And he needed a new pair of shoes.

Their neighbor, the chef on a mission

Needed shiny new gear for his kitchen.

They lived down in Dade,

Where they worked every day,

Just for rent and electric and clothes.

So they needed a place they could go,

Seven days out the week and save dough.

Paying rock-bottom price,

Having double fun twice,

And returning with something to show.

I said, baby, hold on to your chest,

But that city up north to the west,

Got cheap mouthwash and kicks,

Cooking pots, pans, and lids,

Drive-in movies and whips,

Plus a corndog and chips,

It's the Swap Shop

You already know.

Maybe it's just us, but the fashion trends are starting to turn over at a slower pace. I mean, are people still seriously wearing kaffiyehs? Shouldn't those have been replaced with some other vaguely ethnic-looking garb to be appropriated by hipsters by now? African lip plates or Aboriginal-style loincloths or something? Um, maybe the trend slowdown is actually a good thing. But there's one fashion statement we've seen popping up all over a certain segment of downtown Miami: tees by Gold Saturn. David Jon Acosta, a Miami native and graduate of the Art Institute of Miami, started up the T-shirt line last year, naming it after his car — a gold Saturn. The line, which comes in girls' and guys' sizes, features a colorful mix of graphics, including a collection of pills arranged in the shape of a peach, happy mushrooms, and an artful box of cigarettes labeled Saturn Golds. The tees may not have the most recession-friendly price tag of $42, but if you're going to spend money, it's a good idea to spend it locally.

A sea cow pokes its snout above the surface as is traverses the waters along the 1.5-mile jetty that juts from Black Point Marina to Biscayne Bay. Manatees are just one of the wondrous sights to encounter at the county-owned dock and park where couples and families spread blankets on the grassy hill overlooking the boat ramps. From their elevated green perch, onlookers have front-row seats to herons diving for fish and alcohol-lubed mariners struggling to get their vessels out of the water. Regulars are the dock ghouls who fiend over the sight of a papi chulo — the guy who thought he was impressing his date with his fancy boat but is now lashing out at her because he can't get the darn thing on the trailer. Ideally located near Biscayne National Park, Black Point is open from dusk till dawn.

Now that this country has a new generation of war veterans, the danger we face is forgetting about the last one. Vietnam vets had the misfortune to be the first in our history to return to a country that was largely disenchanted with the purpose of the conflict, making the meager support they received from the government that sent them into battle all the more painful.

Since 1978, Vietnam Veterans of America has been the most powerful voice in lobbying the government for more support and is still the only congressionally recognized service organization dedicated exclusively to Vietnam vets and their families. Yet, it's still underfunded and depends heavily on your donations. The good news is that it couldn't be easier. Just go to pickupplease.org or call 800-775-VETS to schedule a day for their trucks to come to your house. You don't even need to be home; just put your donations on the curb inside of a box labeled "VVA" and they'll do the rest, even leave you a tax-deductible receipt. The motto of the VVA is "Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another," so by supporting the last generation, you'll be supporting this one as well.

It's early September, the height of alligator-hunting season in Florida. A midnight blue Ford F-150 hauling an airboat kicks up dust as it veers off the Tamiami Trail, just west of the Miccosukee casino, and onto an uneven dirt road. The truck's headlights cut through the pitch-black thicket, revealing a small, marshy inlet. Shadowy figures emerge from the pickup and lower the sleek metallic vessel into the shallows. Accompanied by two other hunters, the captain — a Miami-Dade firefighter who grew up jumping off airboats onto the backs of gators — and his crew douse themselves in bug spray, even underneath the clothed parts of their bodies. They load onto the airboat and take off into the darkness. The only illumination emanates from the light affixed to the captain's head. He navigates through the river of grass, zipping at more than 30 miles per hour, as birds fly off, startled by the piercing buzz of the airboat's hyper-rotating fan. The skipper slows down and cuts the engine as the hunters come upon a patch of mangrove. Frogs' mating calls echo in the distance. The men scan the murky water for the telltale sign of a gator: iridescent glowing eyes. All the while, they fend off swarms of mosquitoes and gnats trying to find a piece of flesh unexposed to OFF.

Best Volunteer Program (for Cheapskate Art Lovers)

Arts Connection

Arts Connection unites volunteers with various organizations that need short-term help for their arts programs. Opportunities change each month but could involve ushering, taking tickets, assisting with exhibitions, leading tours, helping set up displays, and other varied activities related to the arts. While you might not get front row tickets to the next Arsht Center production, volunteers are usually treated to free performances and other benefits once they have completed their service.

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®