By LoAnn Halden
There's more to Miami than 15-plus miles of beautiful beaches and its legendary sizzling nightlife. From the sands of South Beach to tucked-away urban enclaves near downtown, South Florida's largest metropolis is in the throes of a full-fledged cultural renaissance. The endless sunshine, azure sea and Latin flavors provide inspiration to resident artists in all media; galleries, boutiques and restaurants are popping up all over, providing a seemingly endless amount of great places to visit in Miami.
With the 2002 launch of Art Basel Miami Beach – sibling to the legendary art fair in Switzerland – the city claimed its place on the world art scene. Considered the most significant art show in the United States, the annual event features more than 2,000 artists and creates a buzz for four days in early December, but its impact goes far beyond that – it infuses Miami with creative energy year-round.
On your next visit to Miami, don't just follow the familiar path to the sand; use this guide to plan an imaginative tour through Miami's diverse neighborhoods. You'll be inspired, too. Check out our top picks for places to visit in Maimi for art and culture.
1. Galleries Galore: Wynwood Arts District
There's at least one art gallery in every Miami municipality, but Wynwood sets the stage for groundbreaking new works, uniting more than 32 galleries and studio spaces just north of downtown. All stay open late on Second Saturdays for the district's Art Walk. Highlights include MOCA at Goldman Warehouse, a state-of-the art exhibition space run by the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami; the cutting-edge, contemporary Rubell Family Collection, housed in a 45,000-square-foot warehouse; and the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, one of the premiere showcases for photography in the United States.
2. Urban Nights: Downtown and the Upper East Side
Miami's artistry also applies to its culinary innovations, with local chefs melding Caribbean and Latin spices into wholly original Floribbean and New World cuisine. Miami's downtown and Upper East Side corridor, which extends north on Biscayne Boulevard from the city center, are hotspots for exciting restaurant developments.
3. Taste of Cuba: Little Havana
For immersion in Miami's Cuban culture, look no farther than Little Havana, a neighborhood west of downtown that centers on Southwest Eighth Street (aka Calle Ocho). Cumin-rich black beans and rice and strong Cuban coffee dominate the menus, guayabera-wearing retirees gather in Maximo Gomez Park (called Domino Park by locals) for spirited games of dominos or chess, and stars dedicated to Latino artists create a Hollywood-style Walk of Fame along the main thoroughfare.
4. Shopping Meccas: The Design District and Coconut Grove
The Design District, located north of Wynwood near Miami's downtown, began as a one-square-mile collection of European and American interior design showrooms. It later expanded its repertoire to include a dozen fine-art galleries and such stylish eateries as Michael's Genuine Food and Drink. (Saving room for the artistic desserts of pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith is a must!) The district hosts a Second Saturday Art Walk, with extended business hours. South of downtown, Coconut Grove houses chic boutiques in its pedestrian-friendly town center and draws more than 150,000 visitors to its annual February Coconut Grove Arts Festival, one of the top outdoor festivals of its kind in the United States.
5. History Lessons: Coral Gables
High-end boutiques from local designers including Cuban-born couturier Rene Ruiz, abundant galleries and acclaimed culinary spots make Coral Gables a draw for fashionistas and gourmets. Just don't overlook the history in its Mediterranean Revival architecture. Take a dip in the Venetian Pool, an 820,000-gallon spring-fed pool built in a coral rock quarry in 1923; visit the 1920s Merrick House, the former home of Coral Gables founder George Merrick, now a museum; and tour the Biltmore Hotel, a palatial National Historic Landmark where Al Capone, Esther Williams and President Clinton once stayed.
6. Tropical Beauty: South Miami
Head south to explore Miami's natural wonders. A serene world of exotic palms, rainforest and flowering plants waits at conservation-minded Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, an 83-acre sanctuary established in 1938. From December through May, ambitious sculptural exhibitions from such renowned artists as Dale Chihuly, Mark di Suvero and Fernando Botero dot the grounds. Farther south, in Homestead, is Everglades National Park, the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. and a haven for alligators, American crocodiles and more than 300 species of wading birds.
7. Total Relaxation: Miami Beach
After all the sightseeing, slip into one of Miami Beach's soothing spas, where every imaginable treatment is available amid the backdrop of 800-plus Art Deco buildings. From The Standard's tranquil spa overlooking Biscayne Bay to Hotel Victor's ultra-stylized Spa V in the heart of bustling Ocean Drive to the two-level Lapis Spa at the iconic Fontainebleau Hotel, which recently reopened after a $1 billion makeover, there's a sumptuous option for every taste.
Also, check out Guide to Miami Art and Culture (miamiandbeaches.com)