Miami is one of the nation’s most well-rounded metropolitan destinations. It has a special arts scene, tons of shopping, family attractions, and the worldwide draw of Miami Beach.
Vibrant and charged with the energy of Caribbean rhythms, Miami means big-city sophistication and seductive beaches to those who plug into its unique brand of electric charge.
A railroad into the old Indian trading post started Miami down its path as Florida's most dynamic city and a few works of modern engineering made Miami Beach a sudden hotspot of the 1920s. With a colorful arts scene, world-class shopping, watersports splendor, professional sports and a load of family attractions, Miami makes one of the nation's most well-rounded metropolitan destinations.
The greatest influence upon the city's modern-day personality came with the influx of Cuban refugees that began in the 1960s. They settled in an area dubbed Little Havana, where salsa music blares, men play dominoes in the park and breezes carry strong whiffs of café con leche. Miami's overall cuisine and arts scene sway Cuban, blended with other local Caribbean influence. Floribbean cooking, a Miami invention, fuses Florida and island technique and products into one of the most popular styles to have hit in many decades.
One of the nation's first planned developments, Coral Gables was built almost entirely out of the coral limestone quarried there. The quarry itself was turned into Venetian Pool, an exotic swimming hole with romantic stone bridges and waterfalls. Gracious Spanish colonial-style homes line twisty streets vegetated lushly and sequestered aesthetically from the big-city world.
Key Biscayne holds popular tourist attractions, busy recreational marinas and fantastic beaches. Windsurfing and sailing are foremost along its windy causeway, known as Hobie Beach. Miami Seaquarium ranks as one of Florida's first marine attractions, but keeps up-to-date with dolphin interaction programs and environmentally inclined exhibits. Nearby marinas offer everything from boat rentals to diving excursions. There are more ways to play at Crandon Park, a huge beach park with amusement rides, tennis and bike paths. At the island's southern tip, a state park protects a historic lighthouse and the beach that fronts it.
Another of Miami's historic neighborhoods, Coconut Grove keeps up with the times as a lively shopping and nightlife scene. While you're there, visit a Gilded Age Italian-style palace at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.
South Beach, and More
The majority of celebrities live on islands along MacArthur Causeway, which leads to South Beach, a.k.a. SoBe, Miami's acclaimed district for naughty and nice. Two family attractions - Jungle Island and Miami Children's Museum - have also moved along the bridge's causeway in the vicinity of Miami's busy cruise ship port. Ocean Drive, SoBe's much-photographed street, faces a wide, bustling beach and is lined with its historic Art Deco gems. Intimate, chic hotels have taken up in the jauntily painted masterpieces, their lively cafés spilling onto the sidewalk with hip clientele, wannabe fashion model servers, and Latin tunes.
A block off Ocean, all-night clubs and drag bars pick up the tempo. Edgy art galleries and museums, chi-chi restaurants, and the most design-forward of restored hotels contribute to SoBe's reputation as it follows Collins Avenue along Miami Beach's Golden Mile and to the newly fashionable neighborhoods of North Miami Beach, Sunny Isles Beach and, on the mainland, Aventura. Haulover Park offers scores of recreation and chic hotels, spas and golf resorts accommodate in style.
Trend-setting Bal Harbour Village, a barrier island at the northern tip of Miami Beach, is home to two oceanfront resorts, the Bal Harbour Shops (with 100 flagship stores such as Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Gucci) and a number of see-and-be-seen eateries.
At its southern extremes, the Miami area turns agricultural and natural in Homestead, tropical fruit capital and home to a grand new auto-racing speedway. Homestead is also gateway to two extraordinary national parks. Biscayne National Park introduces a world accessible by boat, a world best seen through a snorkel mask. A 40-mile road takes you through Everglades National Park and its subtle beauty, to Flamingo, where a modest lodge and scores of water and land adventure await. East of town, along Tamiami Trail, lies another Everglades access. Nearby, the Miccosukee Indian tribe attracts visitors with a modern casino and a cultural attraction that includes airboat rides to old-style clan camps.
For more ideas, check out Visit Miami's Best Attractions (miamiandbeaches.com)