Miami and Key West


From arts and culture to island fun in this look at Miami and Key West.

Downtown Miami is southeast Florida's most historic neighborhood. At the edge of its southern sector stands the north bank of the Miami River, which, in the course of several thousand years, has hosted a large Tequesta Indian settlement, Spanish missions, plantations, army forts, the home of Julia Tuttle (modern Miami's "mother"), and Henry M. Flagler's magnificent Royal Palm Hotel.

Flagler, after accepting attractive offers of land from Tuttle and the Brickell family, who lived across the river, brought his Florida East Coast Railway to Miami in 1896, jump-starting the transformation of a tiny riverbank community into an incorporated and bustling major metropolitan city.

Key West is a tiny but remarkable island at the southernmost tip of Florida and the furthest southern point of the continental United States, only 90 miles from Cuba. Reaching this lovely tropical paradise involves driving across 43 separate bridges along picturesque Highway 1, the Overseas Highway. These bridges - including one that is an astonishing seven miles long - stretch between small islands of vastly diverse character and between the blue-green waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. On the way south, you'll journey through the world-class diving destination of Key Largo; the anglers' paradise of Islamorada; Marathon, home of the Seven Mile Bridge; and the natural wonders of Big Pine and the Lower Keys.


With its rich history, breathtaking architectural styles, and vast archaeological heritage, downtown Miami offers a delightful venue for those interested in the stunning saga of Miami, "The Magic City." Touring downtown Miami is an adventure in both history and culture as visitors take the downtown Miami Partnership historic walking tour.

A significant point of historic interest in downtown Miami, the Olympia Theatre at the Gusman Centerfor the Performing Arts, (305) 374-2444, designed by John Eberson, is an atmospheric movie theater and vaudeville house. This magnificent cinema includes twinkling stars, rolling clouds, and 12-foot-long chandeliers. The theater and the10-story adjoining office building were Miami's first air-conditioned buildings when they opened in early 1926. Saved from demolition in the early 1970's, the theater has since undergone several restorations, the last a million-dollar effort, which has completely restored the magnificent décor to its original grand splendor. The Olympia/Gusman Center for the Performing Arts has hosted the likes of Elvis Presley and Luciano Pavarotti.

The Gesu Church, 305-379-1424, is the oldest institution still standing on its original site, a nine-lot area provided by Henry M. Flagler, Miami's "Godfather," in 1896. The original wood frame church opened there in 1897. It was replaced in 1924 with the present structure designed by Owen Williams of Palm Beach and built at a cost of more than $450,000.

Historic Flagler Street is the heart of the City of Miami. Hundreds of stores and shops make up the Downtown Shopping District with a range of choices from major department stores to boutiques. Visitors shop all day, lunch on food from almost anywhere in the world, visit art and historical museums, or just stroll through the streets of Miami's historic district.

Downtown Miami is also a destination of world-class jewelry shopping. The historic 1923 Seybold Building, (305) 374-7922, boasts more than 280 jewelers and attracts international customers from around the globe. The HistoryMiami, (305) 375-1492, boasts an authentic 1920's electric trolley. Visitors experience the original land boom in the museum's Flagler Street exhibit. And just across the plaza from the museum is the Miami Art Museum, (305) 375-3000, featuring one of Florida's finest permanent collections and touring exhibits.


Settled in the early 1800's by Bahamian shipwreck salvagers, New England ship captains and Caribbean fishermen, and later by Cuban cigar makers, Key West has a rich and diverse culture. Famous residents include writers Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway. President Harry Truman enjoyed 11 working vacations on this special southernmost Florida island while in office.

Today its Old Town historic district attracts artists, writers, treasure divers, celebrities, sport fishing enthusiasts and escapees from the world's cares. Old Town is characterized by exotic foliage, Caribbean vitality and exuberant Victorian architecture. Travelers settle down to sip libations and dine while overlooking a fleet of historic tall ships, pet a shark at a local aquarium, or explore enticing galleries and unique shops along renowned Duval Street. The district's mile-long main eating and shopping thoroughfare, Duval Street, is nicknamed the longest street in the world because it stretches all the way from the Atlantic to the Gulf.

Visitors can stay in luxurious water's-edge resorts, small boutique properties or charming Victorian bed and breakfasts adorned with lacy wooden gingerbread trim. Popular museum attractions include the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, (305) 294-1136, and the Harry S. Truman Little White House, (305) 294-9911.

As the sun goes down, almost everyone heads for Key West's nightly sunset celebration, a street carnival featuring acrobats, jugglers and artisans, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico at Mallory Square. Dinner follows at classic or casual restaurants serving everything from spicy Cuban picadillo to fresh-caught pink shrimp and exotic island and gourmet delights. After a memorable meal, the dazzling evening stars illuminate assorted indoor and outdoor entertainment venues. Nightly diversions include jazz clubs, piano bars, dance clubs, drag shows and saloons.

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