Best Charity 2012 | Humane Society of Greater Miami Adopt-a-Pet | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times

Miami is the home of palm trees and gorgeous hotels, but it's also a place where thousands of cats and dogs wander the streets homeless or abandoned by owners who move back North. Most of these animals have pretty lousy endings — winding up hit by cars on I-95, starving, or falling ill. The lucky ones, however, make it to the Humane Society of Greater Miami Adopt-a-Pet, where caring staffers and volunteers take the time to nurse unwanted and confused creatures back to health. The shelter also makes it a point to socialize them and teach them basic commands so Fluffy and Fido are more likely to be adopted. The shelter also has a clinic, providing low-cost spaying and neutering to stop the cycle of unwanted pets, as well as inexpensive vaccinations. And yes, this shelter has a no-kill policy, meaning that once an animal is brought into the system, it's safe until it finds a permanent home. If you can't adopt, why not spend your Sunday volunteering at the shelter instead of watching that Real Housewives marathon? If karma is a bitch, the least you could do is take her for a walk — or take her home!

Life ain't always a picnic in one of the world's most beautiful cities: road rage on the Palmetto, that endless parking-spot search on South Beach, the eternal quest to stay thin amid a lifestyle of constant partying. Sooner or later you realize you need to slow down, chica! It's time for a staycation at one of the most luxurious spa resorts on the planet. The famous Canyon Ranch in Arizona, home to the rich and famous who need a quick way to lose ten pounds before the Oscars, also has a Miami Beach resort complete with an insane number of amenities. Check into the all-suite hotel and you'll meet a team of doctors, therapists, nutritionists, and personal trainers, all designed to whip your mind, body, and spirit into shape in about a week. Beginning with beach walks and meditations, you'll be massaged, colonic'ed, kneaded, analyzed, pampered, and destressed every minute of the day. For when you wind down, your suite comes with a kitchen equipped with a juicer, blender, and fridge (perfect to whip up some papaya smoothies), and instead of a lobby, there's a gathering space where you can sip an organic cocktail before having a heart-healthy meal from a menu custom-prepared for you. Then climb the indoor rock wall, learn kickboxing, do yoga, or relax at one of the four gorgeous pools. With rates starting around $400 a night (and reaching more than $2,000), it's not cheap. But it's a lot less expensive than a week at the local cardiac care unit or psych ward.

Let's face it. Sometimes you gotta take a book, newspaper, or magazine with you when it's time to use the toilet. When that need arises during a trip to downtown Miami, the main library is ready to accommodate you. Step through the front sliding glass doors, and stroll to the periodicals or the fiction and nonfiction book section on the first floor to pick up some reading material. Once you've selected your literature, head back toward the front entrance and hang a right near the checkout desk to get to the bathrooms, which are saturated with disinfectants to eliminate any leftover hobo germs. In fact, the bathrooms are so pristine that you don't have to worry about catching anything when your tush touches the toilet seat. All the urinals, toilets, and sinks are operated by infrared detectors, so there is no need to fiddle with flushers or faucets. The bathrooms also feature diaper-changing stations for the wee ones, plus there's an extra family restroom. Just don't forget to return that reading material when you're done.

Near Miami International Airport, the Florida Department of Transportation is entering the final stage of the agency's most ambitious project in Miami-Dade County. Known as the Miami Intermodal Center, or MIC, the facility will make connections to public transit much smoother from one of the busiest airports in the nation. Construction on the Miami Central Station, the center of the $1.3 billion project, is already underway. When it's completed in November 2013, county residents and visitors will be able to catch Metrorail, Tri-Rail, Amtrak, or a new commuter train servicing Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties from a sleek terminal that seems conceived by Star Wars filmmaker George Lucas. With its aerodynamic metal and glass exterior, Miami Central Station's $88 million price tag is worth every dime that taxpayers invested. Two years ago, the transportation department finished the first phase of the project, the Rental Car Center, a four-level, 3.4-million-square-foot building that houses every car rental agency serving MIA. Air travelers can take a people mover there, providing a seamless connection. All aboard!

Falyn Freyman

CDs are dead, cassette tapes are belt buckles, and eight-tracks are a cultural relic good only for dating period movies about the '80s. Yet somehow the grooved-vinyl predecessor to them all lives on in the hearts of music enthusiasts young and old. Vinyl records are a physical link between our present and past, and no one in Miami understands that sentiment better than Yesterday and Today Records, located just off the Palmetto Expressway on Bird Road. For more than 30 years, this place has pushed rock 'n' roll relics to customers looking for the rare and retro. The store has an extensive collection of garage, psychedelic, disco, folk, funk, jazz, dance, punk, soul, metal, experimental, and everything in between. Record prices start at $1 and average $8 to $20, and besides music, there are plenty of cool vintage shirts, framed photos, books, magazines, and other memorabilia for sale, along with players, needles, and all necessary accessories. You can purchase records in-store or by mail order through [email protected], and the shop is happy to order anything you might want but can't find. But with literally thousands of records on hand, you're bound to find something for your collection.

Punk rock veteran Chris Critic started Critical Recording Studios five years ago to promote affordable recording for Miami bands. His motto has always been "By musicians, for musicians." The live drum tracking booth and microphone placement prove he knows what a drummer is looking for in a recording environment. The studio has recently expanded with departments dedicated to hip-hop, R&B, EDM, and the broadcast industry. There is state-of-the-art digital recording technology, vintage analog gear, and a stable of engineers and in-house producers who help create the sound you're looking for. Studio rates range from $39 to $150 per hour for packages that can include mixing and mastering. Beats can be leased for $30 to $50 or purchased for $200 to $500 for exclusive rights. Additionally, 24-hour rehearsal spaces are available for $8 to $30 an hour. Free consultations are encouraged, and a monthly open house includes a tour of the studio and a free recording session for a single for first-time visitors. Critical Recording offers a professional environment for musicians who want top-flight results.

Alex Constantinidis was born to teach guitar. His parents were top concert pianists and teachers in Ohio. They began his training in intensive classical and jazz piano theory at a young age. He attended Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music, graduated from the University of Miami School of Music, and has been teaching guitar and keyboard lessons in Miami since 1982. He also loves rock 'n' roll. His Venezuelan wife, Sylvia, has two master's degrees in piano theory and composition from UM and is close to earning a doctoral degree in that subject from Boston University. She is an accomplished contemporary classical composer who has had pieces premiered all over the world, has a new album on iTunes, and is on the board of directors of the National Association of Composers of Venezuela. She has also written widely on composition. The two offer guitar, piano, violin, and vocal lessons that you simply can't get from a 23-year-old kid in a storefront "music school." The Constantinidises charge $35 to $65 an hour for serious musical instruction in various styles for all ages. Call 305-285-6887

There are more than a thousand bottles on the shelves of Happy Wine in the Grove, the second store in the Happy Wine empire. (There's also a location in West Miami: 5792 SW Eighth St., 305-262-2465.) It's billed as a tapas restaurant with a menu covering all the basics, from tortilla española to chorizo soaked in vino, but the real fun begins when you peruse the assortment of international labels representing every corner of the world, from France to Germany to New Zealand to the United States. Cardboard cases overflow with bottles, creating a maze of wine, but friendly employees are more than happy to guide you through it. Ask them to point you in the direction of 90-plus rated bottles, many of which are remarkably well priced under $20. In addition to educational monthly winetastings, Happy Wine even hosted a casual affair with celeb vintner Antonio Banderas while he was in town for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. From a $1,100 vintage bottle of 2001 Harlan Estate Napa Valley Cabernet, awarded more kudos than almost any other Californian Cab, to a $16.99 bottle of 2009 Château Puech-Haut Prestige from the French Languedoc (given 93 points by Robert Parker), this wine store in Coconut Grove offers a truly happy assortment for enophiles.

Aventura Mall photo

Quiz time! Which came first: Aventura Mall or the City of Aventura? If you answered the latter, you'd be wrong. The mall opened its doors in 1983, while the city wasn't incorporated until 12 years later. That's right: This is a shopping center so massive they literally built a city around it. In the late '90s, Aventura Mall really came into its own via a major expansion, and in 2008, a new Nordstrom and more retail space sent the place right over the edge of sanity. And the mall isn't finished devouring real estate. Next up are more luxury retailers, some of which are fleeing the haven of Bal Harbour Shops. Case in point: Louis Vuitton, a longtime tenant of the ritzy open-air mall, set up shop in Aventura in July. Aventura Mall boasts an enormous variety of products and services on three floors and 2.7 million square feet of retail. With anchor stores such as Bloomingdale's, Macy's, and Nordstrom, and shops such as Diesel, Y-3, All Saints, M Missoni, Apple, and many others, you're guaranteed to get lost in a sea of commerce.

The employees at Leggenda Bridal Boutique are superbly accommodating, even if they won't let sweaty male New Times correspondents try on the dresses. Owner Sandra Zacharias has been in the wedding business for more than 20 years. Her boutique began as a bridal accessories shop before expanding into the Miracle Mile institution it is today. She now runs the store with her daughter Yanitza, and the focus on family is not limited to the staff; Leggenda dresses not only the bride but also all ladies attending a wedding — from the flower girls to the mothers of the bride and groom. The store's goal is to provide dresses for every special occasion in a woman's life, and it's not uncommon for customers at bridal appointments to bring pictures of themselves in prom dresses they purchased at Leggenda. The staffers know it won't be long before they are fitting the daughters of their brides for prom dresses. Leggenda tends to stock younger, trendier designs while also keeping prices affordable: Bridal gowns run $900 to $4,000, mother-of-the-bride dresses cost $600 to $1,200, and quince dresses are $600 to $1,200.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®