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South Beach

Start your morning with a continental or a full breakfast at one of the many Ocean Drive restaurants. The News Café is a perennial favorite. Here you can sit outside and engage in South Beachs favorite pastime, people-watching. Afterward, take a leisurely stroll down Ocean Drive and up Collins. You can also browse through boutiques like the Armani Exchange, Versace Jeans, Guess, and Vertigo.

Come lunchtime, most of the restaurants in South Beach offer light meals: salads, cold platters, and sandwiches. If you're on the north end you'll want to try Cardozo Café or Café des Arts. The south end offers excellent lunch options, including trendy Café Tabac, funky Big Pink, and a favorite business lunch spot, Sport Cafe. After lunch, if the weather is behaving in a normal fashion, it will be far too hot for any kind of real activity. So grab your suntan lotion and hit the beach. Many of the hotels rent lawn chairs for a few dollars, but you can also choose to lie out on the sand.

As the sun gets lower in the sky, its time to head over to Lincoln Road, the pedestrian-only strip located after 16th and between Collins and Alton. Everything that makes South Beach great can be seen at this busy open air mall. You'll find art galleries and deco furniture stores, boutiques and salons, restaurants and bars, and an amazingly diverse array of people. Flocks of international tourists mingle with roller bladers, models clutching their portfolios, and locals walking their dogs. You could easily spend the rest of the evening on Lincoln Road, lingering over pasta and red wine, but if you're up to it, get dressed up and head to a club on Washington Avenue, where you can party well into the next morning.

Bayside Marketplace

Bayside Marketplace begins to wake up around 10am. The first sightseeing cruisers depart with boatloads of sleepy visitors, while the restaurants and shops open their doors to early birds. If you're awake, you can enjoy a two-hour breakfast cruise around Biscayne Bay, the Port of Miami, Millionaires Row, and Star Island. If you don't feel like being on a ship just yet, you can sip a latte or, at the Latin American Cafeteria, enjoy a full breakfast for under $5.

Take a stroll through the open-air mall, where crafts vendors and import merchants display their wares in stalls and carts. You can find everything from a straw hat to an African rainstick to a tie emblazoned with the image of Abraham Lincoln. The mall proper offers fabulous shopping options; Art by God and the Museum Collection are two must-sees.

Enjoy a meal or a daquiri al fresco while watching the ships sail in and out of the harbor. Listen to free live music or head over to Hooters or Dicks Last Resort for some rowdy fun. If you haven't already taken a sightseeing cruise, catch one while the sun sets or during the evening, when the lights of the city glimmer and sparkle.

Coral Gables' Main Attractions

Two of Miami's historic attractions are within a mile of each other, and one of its best shopping districts is just minutes away. Visit all three in one day for the ultimate Coral Gables experience.

The Venetian Pool was formed from a coral rock quarry in 1923. Take a dip in the pool around 1pm, when the heat of the day is at its worst. Stand under the waterfalls, hide in a grotto, or splash around in the turquoise water. Grab a bite to eat at the café. Then dry off, clean up, and head over to The Biltmore Hotel.

The Biltmore is both a designated national historic landmark and a five-star luxury hotel. Tour the grounds, play a game of tennis, or relax and enjoy storytelling by the fire. Sip a glass of champagne in the Courtyard restaurant, cigar smokers can buy a stogie in the lower lobby. Eat dinner in the Courtyard, the Palmedor (make reservations ahead of time for either restaurant), or head over to the Miracle Mile for some nighttime action.

If you're in the mood for regional fare, dine at Ortanique on the Mile. Le Provencal is an excellent French restaurant, while Caffe Abbracci is famous for its Italian cuisine. Doc Dammers, in the Omni Colonnade Hotel, is named after the first mayor of Coral Gables. After you've eaten, wander down the Miracle Mile, where you'll find boutiques, art galleries, and a thriving nightlife. Jazz lovers should stop by the Satchmo Blues Bar, while theatre fans can see whats playing at the Miracle Theatre.

The Bahamas

Anyone whos spending a week or more in Miami should make a point of visiting the Bahamas. These exotic islands, known for gorgeous beaches, friendly locals, and all manner of decadent diversions (gambling, cocktails, all-inclusive resorts) are easily reachable by plane, ship, or speed boat.

For a one-day excursion, book your ticket on a Discovery cruise ship. This vessel departs Fort Lauderdale at 7am. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast in the dining room, then head upstairs where you can join in the on-deck games or gaze over the rail as you sail through blue-green waters. The ship docks in Freeport at about 1pm, and visitors have about four hours to wander around its shops and restaurants. At 5pm the Discovery heads back to Miami.

Guests who want to spend the night in the Bahamas have a couple of options. Miami Net and Discovery Tours both offer one-, two-, or three-night tours in an economy, tourist, business, or luxury hotel. Another option is a one-night getaway at the finest hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

If you've got a few days and a few hundred dollars to spare, there are a number of cruise lines and package deals. Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean offer several options, as do other cruise lines, both local and national. If cruising isn't your favorite mode of transportation, spring for a chartered catamaran. These little yachts offer such a smooth ride, its difficult to tell that you're on the water. You can ride to the Bahamas on a catamaran or rent your own for a few days. Blackbeards Cruises offer scuba diving excursions, while Wild Dolphin Charters lets you swim with the dolphins.

The Bahamas are known the world over as an exotic tropical paradise, and the reputation is completely accurate. With so many options at such low prices (any travel agent or tour desk can present you with a few), its a shame to miss out on the experience.

The Florida Keys

When the frenetic pace of Miami begins to wear on your nerves, get in touch with your inner nature-lover at one of the many lovely state parks in the Florida Keys. The Keys are the polar opposite of bustling Miami, they are sedate, slow-paced, and largely undeveloped. Several state parks are located on the islands, each more breathtaking than the last:

Indian Key State Historic Site

Indian Key was inhabited for thousands of years before Spanish explorers, and later settlers, discovered it. In the 1800s, this tiny island was actually the seat of Dade County. However, piracy, war, and political strife drove most of the original inhabitants off the island. At present, a few ruined buildings are the only noticeable reminders of early European colonization. However, a more subtle reminder is present all over the island: the lush greenery planted by Dr. Henry Perrine in 1838 before he was killed by Native Americans presently blankets much of the island. (Note: This park may not be accessible by automobile.)

Lignumvitae Key State Botanical Site

Several thousand years ago, this remote island was a living coral reef. Presently, its one of the only virgin tropical forests left in the Keys. The vegetation is thick and exotic; there are no human inhabitants to disturb it. Guests can take guided tours among the poisonwood and pigeon plum trees. Only 50 people are allowed on this island at the same time, and guests must remain within the specified clearing areas. This key is only accessible by private or chartered boat.

Long Key State Park

All kinds of recreational opportunities await at this enormous state recreation area. On the 965 acres that comprise the park, guests can hike, swim, or fish. Picnic facilities are available, as are canoe rentals. For those who like a little bit of expert guidance, there are plenty of educational programs on hand. You can learn how to snorkle, birdwatch, or commune with the sea turtles. This is a great place to camp, and it is accessible by automobile.

San Pedro Underwater Archaelogical Preserve

Approximately 1½ miles from Indian Key lies the wreck of the San Pedro. The Dutch-built ship, which was a part of the fleet of New Spain in 1733, has lain submerged in nearly 20 feet of water for the past 250 years. Anyone who has ever yearned to glimpse a wreckage site should make a point of visiting this stately old sailing ship. As a designated archaeological preserve, it has been protected by the state of Florida, which has ornamented the site with seven replica cannons and an anchor. This preserve is accessible by boat, but visitors need to dive in in order to achieve the full experience.

There are few tropical island experiences as fulfilling as the ones offered in these parks. In addition to the information given above, nearly all of the parks offer swimming, boating, hiking, and of course some of the most amazing beaches one could ever want to see. Even if outdoor recreation isn't your priority, you can be assured of the experience of a lifetime at any of the state parks in the Keys.

Lena Katz

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