Miami is a canvas on which an abstract avant-garde artist has splashed bright random colors and eccentric, slightly blurred shapes. The colors reflect Caribbean, Jewish, South American and European cultures like sunshine off sea wave prisms. The shapes are of palm trees and pelicans, ballet dancers and dreadlocked musicians, colliding to form a city at once as cosmopolitan as New York, as tropical as Aruba.
Though a relatively young city, Miami lays claim to an intriguing past that reverberates vibrantly in the present. One of its most cherished prizes, the Art Deco Historic District of Miami Beach, ranks as the largest collection of Art Deco buildings anywhere. Its more than 800 1930s-era buildings occupy a square mile of what is known as South Beach, a sybaritic district famous for its fabulous beach and edgy lifestyles. For architectural tours, contact the Art Deco Welcome Center, 1001 Ocean Drive. Call 305-672-2014.
Conquistadors, pirates, Native Americans, railroad builders and Bahamians have all settled in Miami. To find out more about their contributions, visit HistoryMiami, 101 W. Flagler St. Call 305-375-1492.
Gilded Age industrialists played their role in promoting Miami from an Indian outpost to one of America's most important cities. James Deering was one such Miami patron. In 1916, he built his 34-room European-inspired estate, known today as Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, 3251 S. Miami Ave. Call 305-250-9133.
North Miami Beach and its environs hold natural secrets only the locals know. Begin just off the beach at Oleta River State Park, 3400 N.E. 163rd St., an urban oasis where you can swim, kayak, picnic, fish from the pier and ride bikes along paved and off-road trails. Call 305-919-1844.
Picnic at Haulover Beach Park, 10800 Collins Ave. Nestled between the Intercoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean at North Miami Beach, it has pristine white sand shores and beautifully landscaped sand dunes. The north end of the beach is a clothing-optional section. Call 305-947-3525.
In Miami Beach, Wolfsonian-Florida International University, 1001 Washington Ave., collects decorative, graphic and propaganda art from the past two centuries. Call 305-531-1001.
A monument to Miami Beach's early Jewish settlers, the Holocaust Memorial, 1933 Meridian Ave., makes a poignant sculptural statement about Nazi concentration camp victims. Call 305-538-1663.