I agree with the respondents that a DSLR will give you better image quality than a superzoom "bridge" camera. Nevertheless, I am quite happy with my Panasonic FZ28 and its 18x optical zoom (27-486mm). It's very easy to carry around. It takes very good outdoor daytime pictures, has a powerful flash for indoor pictures, and has good image quality at ISO's 400 and under.
However, if you are really interested in digital photography and can afford it, I would recommend something like the Sony A200 and its kit lens (for starters). If you are in the US, you might be able to get it on special for even less than $499, but even at that price, it's a great deal.