Bayfront Park offers 32 acres of green space to wander in, and its amphitheater hosts concert performances from the likes of Elton John to Rob Zombie. The Gusman Center for the Performing Arts offers worldwide cultural exhibitions and performances,­ and the 20,000-seat American Airlines Arena hosts NBA games as well as entertainment events. Nearby, a swell of weekend warriors washes over Bayside Marketplace, home to arts, crafts, and souvenir booths, as well as to outfits offering boat rides around the city. An influx of new residents with diverse interests has energized the downtown area, leading to a boomlet of restaurant and nightclub venues. The area also has an impressive selection of art galleries.

But MAM is getting all of our attention this day. The compelling combination of photographs, video, and performance art of Cuban artist Ana Mendieta shakes us up, while the temporary show Beyond Geometry, chronicling the evolution of geometric abstractions in Europe and the Americas after World War II, engages us.

Hunter sheds his shoes to enter an installment of Miedzy (Between) by Polish artist Stanislaw Drozdz. He hops about between the letters of the word miedzy arranged systematically and painted in black on the floor, walls, and ceilings.

Hunter and Maddy then vanish to find their individual muses. During separate sittings, Hunter and I leave contributions on sketch pads in the visitors gallery, he doing justice to Aqua Teen Hungerforce and I penciling a rough family portrait. Hunter loads up on brochures, which he later uses to do an extra-credit paper at school.

As the day wanes, we head back to South Beach and stop at Big Pink, a stainless steel (and pink) restaurant with food options so plentiful that diners disappear behind gargantuan menus while ordering. Maddy is incredulous at the size of her baked meatball hero - "this is Subway on steroids," she says.

Sitting at the industrial-style tables at Big Pink, we come out from behind our menus to check signals on our Miami weekend.

"I loved the antique market and MAM, and the beach rocked," Maddy says. "Then, I'd rank probably the gift shop at the Wolfsonian [she longed for a box of finger puppets of Stalin and other assorted historical figures], Parrot Jungle Island, and this place as the rest of my top five." (Since we are on vacation, we don't quibble with her math.) Hunter counters that he liked bike riding (Maddy's face scrunches up at this) and lying on the beach the best, although "the MAM was cool, too."

The old folks' hit parade doesn't stray much, listing the market, bike riding, the Wolfsonian, and MAM as big yums on the Zen meter (Michelle also voted for her beloved Key lime pie and perusing the Ocean Drive boutiques). We are still bouncing opinions back and forth as we head one last time to the Essex, where we've arranged a late checkout. After packing up, we take one last look at the South Beach scene and then reluctantly leave the circus in town.


For previous Cheap Retreat stories (on MemphisSt. Louis, and Boston), visit www.americanwaymag.com.