Look for the big red sofa painted on the side of a building when traveling north on I-95. Notice the parking lot -- Mercedes, Porsche, Jaguar, Range Rover. The Design Center of the Americas is the largest interior-design center in the world -- three buildings, four stories, 775,000 square feet, and 150 showrooms of some very cool stuff. So much cool stuff that the DCOTA, as it is called, recommends the layperson doesn't try negotiating its labyrinthine interiors alone. For two hours, free of charge, the DCOTA will provide an interior designer to decode your interests -- floor lamps in a romantic yet modern style, Mediterranean orange-colored glass tiles, wallpaper etched with line drawings of tiny palm trees, or just a groovy bathtub -- and guide you to showrooms that feature such fare. Or you can bring your own designer. Once inside, the DCOTA is a visual orgy. J. Batchelor, Suite A-428, for example, features the stunning lamps of Israeli designer Ayala S. Serfaty's Aqua Creations. Morning Glory is a floor lamp that looks like an anemone fish. It is made from pleated silk on a frame -- in orange, yellow, cream, rust, and red -- bulbous at the bottom, nipped at the top, and ending with an open, ruff-like mouth that faces the ceiling. The Nikko hotel in San Francisco bought an illuminated line of them. If you decide to buy one yourself, the decorator price for a Morning Glory is $2,570. It's listed at $3,675 retail.
The cheese factor is high at this enormous shed in the barren blocks south of West Palm Beach International Airport, but come the weekend, it's lively as a Tegucigalpa marketplace... with a similar ethnic mix. The Central American immigrant families are in their finest, the men in Western gear, the women in brightly colored skirts and blouses, children in tow. They come for the trinkets, the kitchenware, the cut-rate clothing, the religious articles, and the company. Gringos head for the psychedelic shop, the magic store, and the anomalous traditional Italian deli, with a selection of wines, cheeses (including fresh mozzarella), meats, pastas, and other specialty imports to rival New York's Grand Street. For extra whimsy, drop $4 and take in a show at the Puppetry Arts Center of the Palm Beaches. Avoid the food stalls, where some items look as if they've been exhumed, then deep-fried.
Jorge Fallad and Tony Polo bought a bungalow on North Federal Highway several years ago, painted it Mediterranean blood orange, posted a wrought-iron mariachi band facing Federal Highway, and then filled the house chock-a-block with a dizzying array of objects. There is a trio of huge, brown, mahogany urns from Thailand ($190, $240, and $340). There are also bowls of fruit rendered in stone, ornate aluminum crosses, iron candelabras as tall as floor lamps ($129-$189), 24 styles of creamy yellow pottery, leather knapsacks ($140), and a wrought-iron lamp, the base of which looks like a tangle of mangrove roots ($129). The couple caters to the design trade, but the store has none of the sleek, overwrought feeling of some design meccas. Its atmosphere is friendly, homey, welcoming. Polo and Fallad import much of D'Barro's merchandise from Mexico, Spain, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, and Thailand. And they also craft original works in wrought iron and aluminum -- everything from deck chairs to doors to wrought-iron gates and large figurines. Fallad does the metal work, and Polo specializes in faux finishes. Together, the couple designed the iron and leather dining chairs for and decorated Las Palmas, the new Mexican eatery on Ocean Drive in Hollywood Beach. The Federal Highway store functions as a showroom for the husband and wife, a place to inspire and to impress prospective customers. It's also a retail store for walk-in shoppers and a nice place to get lost in. D'Barro's is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Coagulated shampoo, nail polish separated in the bottle, and food that's outlived its shelf life -- you won't find it here. The South Florida-based 99 Cents Stuff has four locations in Palm Beach County, two in Broward, and four in Miami-Dade. Each one is the size of a supermarket and carries name-brand items you see in other stores now, not ten years ago. From milk, frozen meals, and produce to housewares, the selection makes it difficult to keep impulse spending to a minimum -- especially when everything costs no more than 99 cents. These stores also accept most credit cards with a picture ID.
Here's your chance to experience Portuguese hospitality and learn all about the good life. Come meet Nelson S. Veiga, who moved from Anadia, Portugal, to South Florida with the mission of spreading his knowledge about wines and spirits. Sporting a friendly smile and a ton of patience, Veiga gladly takes you on a tour of his store and introduces you -- he always has a few sample bottles open at the tasting counter -- to his amazing selection, which features wines from as close as California and as far as Australia, from the familiar zinfandel to the obscure muscatel, and from the nicely affordable to the ridiculously expensive. When the Good Life hosts a wine- and cheese-tasting, gentlemen in suits and ladies in evening dresses pack the small store to sample Veiga's buffet. And as its name suggests, there's enough in this joint to please novices and connoisseurs alike. In addition to wine and liquor, the Good Life offers a variety of delicacies such as gourmet cheeses, spreads, and desserts. And please don't forget, even an innocent visit may call for a designated driver.
Where have all the coconut heads gone? If such questions keep you up at night, puzzling over the disappearance of the Florida tourist trinket -- roll over. Alex's Gift Shop in Dania Beach has enough coconut heads to crowd your next luau, as well as shell-encrusted jewelry boxes, figurines, and shell-lined mirrors, placemats featuring Fort Lauderdale scenes, plastic alligators, crabs, and sea turtles. They also sell some really large and spectacular shells capable of bringing littoral splendor to any living room. Some of these you'd never find on a Florida beach, and some have grown scarce, including giant clam, horse and queen conch, chambered Nautilus, and large chunks of coral. Prices range from one cent for an apple-blossom shell to as much as $2000 for a Giga clam.
Aunt Matilda: Dear, tomorrow's my last day of vacation, and I still haven't gotten anything for the bridge club back home. They weren't much impressed by the beach pebbles I picked up for them last year. You: Pebbles, schmebbles. I'm taking you to Angie's Groves. They've got fresh fruit by the bag or basket, as well as preserves and candies made right here in South Florida. And the chocolate alligators are perfect for that cheating Miss Demeanor.

Tiki bartender: Another round of Nuclear Rum Zombies for you folks?

OK, we don't know much about toys. Anymore. Once you get more modern than G.I. Joe and the video game Asteroids, we are usually lost. So we went to two matchless sources to find the best toy store out there: The New Yorker magazine and our six-year-old son. "I like the... Toys R Us a lot," wrote the New Yorker's Paul Goldberger. "It's exuberant, and doesn't try to be important." OK, Goldberger was writing specifically about the grand new toy store in Times Square (the likes of which you won't find in South Florida) as it compares with the work of Prada architect Rem Koolhaas. But still, it says something about the company. Not as much, however, as our six-year-old did: "It's the best." Good enough for us.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that during the sub-freezing stillness of Northern winters, palm trees rustle at the edge of every snowbound mind, that 9/11 and the recession have cast a pall over the land, and that tourism is suffering. South Floridians young and old, don't just wait for it to pass. You are duty-bound to offer our portion of the state as a paradisiacal antidote. Chief among the ways to achieve this is packaging, packaging, packaging. Fortunately, Lilly Pulitzer has blazed the trail. More than four decades ago, managing three children, catering to husband Peter Pulitzer (who later married the infamous Roxanne), and holding up her end of the Palm Beach party scene wasn't enough for the bohemian Palm Beach socialite. In 1960, Lilly opened an orange juice stand. To hide the juice stains, she had some shifts stitched up in bright patterns from dime-store fabrics. Customers dug them. She made more shifts. She went national with loud, geeky-yet-cheeky, custom-designed prints on polished cotton from Key West material. Thus, out of a pragmatic-yet-stylish aesthetic was born the über-signifier of the sun-kissed, carefree Florida-cum-Palm Beach lifestyle. This year, more than ever, we need Lilly. The Fort Lauderdale store has her whole line, including bedding, clothing, fabrics, and accessories. The Little Lilly, a child's cotton-lined shift with fabric bows and a novelty trim chain at the pockets ($60-64) done in fabrics like Myrtle (green sea turtles on a sea-blue background) or Sunrise (swirling suns on yellow) is as sweet as ice cream sherbet. Lilly has said her prints are "happy." Happy, right now, is what our visitors need. Dress the family in Lilly and get out there and frolic, damn it.

One of this chain's four Florida locations, this seven-month-old outpost beats out its competition by keeping things on a human scale while still offering a wide selection. Tucked into the corner of a strip mall rather than in an airplane-hangar-sized megawarehouse, the place is packed with tastefully arranged model rooms -- half the floor with crib-centered baby layouts, the other half with beds for older kids. Yet it doesn't feel cluttered. The walls are lined with shelves of toys, lamps, diaper bags, strollers, and such. There are familiar brand names ranging from mass marketers like Graco to boutique European manufacturers like Baby Bjorn. And there's unconventional stuff. A Potty Time Bear, which plays music and helps with toilet-training, goes for $19.99. Then there's the five-foot-long Tinkle-Crinkle, a worm-like toy that tinkles, crinkles, rattles, and squeaks, for $119.99. Although the array of products is impressive, it is the knowledgeable, attentive-yet-not-pushy presence of owner Sam Salkashawi and family that lends the place its welcoming, small-business feel -- as opposed to those other stores, where you can't ignore the fact that you've been sucked into the clutches of the dreaded Baby Industrial Complex (second in sinisterdom only to the Wedding Industrial Complex). The store is open most evenings. But hours change virtually every day. So call ahead.

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