You've heard the hype about Miami: hot, hot heat and cool, blue-wave beaches; couture fashion and flip-flops; rollerbladers on Ocean Drive; and flashy nightclubs that pulse to a never-ending beat.
But there's another side to this international city that can turn your trip from touristy to a terrific memory-making experience. It's a side where neighborhood Cuban restaurants serve picadillo and arroz con pollo as tasty as any abuelas, where beach bums revel in the sun sans the skimpy chi-chi crowd, where the lure of world-class art trumps the run of the mill souvenir circuit.
This is Miami of the new millennium, as American as key lime pie but also the prime gateway to a taste of Latin America and the second-largest airport hub in the United States for international travelers. Each year, 9.5 million people visit this cosmopolitan beach town.
The Best of Miami
Metropolitan Miami is part bazaar and part Broadway -- a place of bikinis and minks, the habitat of boulevardiers and budgeteers. It's a new-world city made up of both North and South American peoples, an international place that provides visitors with glamour and excitement.
The frenetic vibe -- along with Miami's Art Deco architecture, classic beaches and glitzy nightlife -- lures travelers the world over. If you did nothing else but people-watch, you'd leave Miami as a satisfied visitor.
There are a number of reasons for visiting Miami, the beach being the most obvious. Choices range from the famed South Beach, an oceanside historic Art Deco district with a be-seen beach scene and boisterous nightlife, to the more secluded shores of Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.
Architecture is another draw. Art Deco is the most well-known of styles in the area, and while South Beach certainly has a fabulous collection of historic and vintage hotels and buildings, Miami's signature style can be found throughout the greater metropolitan area.
The city also is home to Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, a 34-room estate on Biscayne Bay and one of the finest examples of Italian Renaissance architecture in the United States.
Then there are tropical attractions like the Miami Seaquarium, Monkey Jungle, Parrot Jungle & Gardens, Dolphin World and Everglades tours that give families and adventure-seekers a fix of all things unique to South Florida.
Fast Facts & Info
Geography and landscape: Miami sits at the southeastern edge of Florida, sprawling between the Atlantic Ocean and the Everglades. A broad, flat plain of limestone stretches underneath, peaking at 15 feet above sea level at its highest point.
To most visitors, Miami is an all-encompassing term, including both the city of Miami and its across-the-bay twin, Miami Beach. Actually, each is a separate community with its own personality.
There are also neighboring cities that make up the Miami metropolitan area. The city is the largest in the South Florida Metropolitan area, which includes Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, and the second-largest in Florida after Jacksonville.
Altogether, the greater Miami area encompasses 2,042 square miles and includes Miami, Miami Beach, Biscayne Bay and dozens of small cities in between.
In regard to geography, most neighborhoods average three feet above sea level. Water is everywhere, from the ocean to the Miami River to the numerous lakes feeding from vast springs in the limestone underneath.
General orientation: Miami is divided into two main areas: the mainland and the adjacent 16 narrow barrier islands to the east, which are connected by causeways that tie into I-95 before breaking down into numerous highways leading to points beyond.
The mainland includes Greater Miami, Kendall, Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, Little Havana, Little Haiti, North Miami, Surfside and Sunny Isles. Miami Beach (including South Beach) and Key Biscayne are located on barrier islands to the east. More than 5 million people live in the greater metropolitan area, with around 365,000 in Miami proper alone.
Safety: Like other well-visited cities, Miami's reputation in past years was tarnished by a spate of crimes against tourists. Since then, visitor-safety programs and neighborhood patrols have been implemented to keep travelers safe. Generally, Miami Beach is considered safe, but visitors should exercise common sense and stay on well-lit, well-traveled streets.
The mainland, with its complex road system, could create more chances for mishaps. Little Havana and Little Haiti are both better enjoyed during the day. Overtown, north of downtown, is an up-and-coming neighborhood, but another area to avoid at night.
Liberty City and Opa-Locka, in northwest Miami, also raise caution flags for travelers. As in other cities, it is prudent to stay in well-populated areas, keep from venturing into unfamiliar neighborhoods (especially at night), and travel with another person if possible (particularly if walking from one neighborhood of the city to another).
Weather: Miami is hot, hot, hot, which is the reason many people vacation there. Expect average temperatures between 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius) and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius). In the summer, surprise rain showers pop up and then disappear just as suddenly, leaving behind a dense humidity. December, the peak of the tourist season, has lower humidity and less chance of rain showers.
Interestingly, Miami has never officially recorded a temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, though the humidity can often make it feel like the thermometer has hit triple digits.
Miami's web of highways and causeways, which crisscross between the mainland and the surrounding string of islands, can make it quite challenging to get around. Turn to the next page for important tips on navigating Miami.
Getting In, Getting Around Miami
Navigating Miami can be quite difficult if you don't know what you're doing. Use these tips to ensure that you get where you want to go quickly and painlessly.
From the Airport
If you're flying into Miami International Airport, several transportation options make it fairly easy to get from the airport into the city. Mass transit bus service, metro-rail service, commuter train service, and a "downtown-specific" fixed-rail service connect the airport to locations throughout the metropolitan area. Taxis and shuttles, obviously, provide door-to-door service. Of course, you can also rent a car.
Whether you rent a car from the airport or drive into Miami on your own, buy a map. That's the best advice you'll get before venturing onto Miami's web of highways and causeways that crisscross between the mainland and the surrounding string of islands.
Add in confusing road signs, a flat landscape, bridges over the winding Miami River, and the thousands of international drivers, and it's easy to understand why knowing where you want to go before hitting the highway is imperative.
Fortunately, directions to the airport and beaches are well marked, and public transportation can get you to your destination, or at least in the vicinity thereof. It also helps to know that Miami Avenue and Flagler Street is the intersection for the city's four geographic sections. Flagler Street separates the north from the south, while Miami Avenue divides the east from the west.
Public transportation, fares: Miami public transportation is reliable and extensive, with 22 Metrorail stations spaced about one mile apart from Palmetto in the north to Dadeland South. The Metromover is downtown-specific, with 20 stations situated every two blocks. Metrobus covers the greater Miami area. Full fare for Metrobus and Metrorail is $1.50; Metromover is free.
Taxis, on foot, or by bike: As in other big cities, taxis are a viable option for time efficiency and schlepping heavy luggage to your hotel. However, because Miami is so spread out, biking or walking is not a realistic option unless you stay in a specific area. With the help of the Metromover, getting around downtown is relatively easy. The same goes with South Beach and Coconut Grove, both designed with pedestrians in mind. Most other cities in the metro Miami area are better suited for driving.
Now that you've learned the basics on how to get around Miami, take a look at the next section to find out about the city's many special events and attractions.
Miami Special Events & Attractions
One of the advantages of having such a diverse population in Miami is that every weekend some nationality has reason to celebrate. The result is an almost continuous celebration of holidays and festivals that tourists are more than welcome to participate in.
To think of Miami is to think of beaches and nightlife, but Miami is also a major sports town, with opportunities for both participants and spectators. If you can, schedule time for golfing, sport fishing, wreck diving, cave spelunking, skydiving, tennis or sailing.
One more attraction well worth precious vacation time is the Everglades. This River of Grass has shaped Miami's culture and geography as much as the beaches themselves. Spanning the southern tip of the Florida peninsula and most of Florida Bay, Everglades National Park is the only subtropical preserve in North America.
The Best of Special Events & Attractions in Miami
The Best of Special Events & Attractions in Miami
When in Miami, do as the Miamians do: Go to a Jai Alai game (3500 NW 37th Ave). Played on a 178-foot cancha, which is similar to a racquetball court but with one side open for an audience, this centuries-old game involves players hurling a hard ball at speeds up to 170 mph.
Players wear a wicker basket glove (cesta punta) and volley the ball back and forth; points are scored if the ball is dropped, juggled, bobbled or sent out of bounds. Originating in Spain, the game has flourished in the United States, especially with the increasing popularity of international sports.
Of course, Miami is also home to three major sports teams: Marlins baseball (Pro Player Stadium, 2269 NW Dan Marino Blvd); Dolphins football (Pro Player Stadium, 2269 NW Dan Marino Blvd); and the Heat basketball (American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd).
You'll save a bundle on tickets, however, if you opt for a University of Miami college game. All of the university's major sports are played right on campus: Orange Bowl Stadium hosts football, the BankUnited Center is home to basketball, and baseball is played at Mark Light Field.
For a different type of sports day, visit the Flagler Dog Track and Entertainment Center (NW 37th Ave at 7th St). It's near the Miami International Airport and 15 minutes from South Beach. For free admission, you can sit in the open-air grandstands or an air-conditioned booth to watch greyhounds race daily over several specialized courses.
Trek inside the center to catch a game of poker, or learn how to play Texas Hold'em or other card games. Poker tournaments are held every weekend. If betting isn't your game, you can visit the track on weekends to find it doubling as the largest flea market in South Florida.
The wild monkey swimming pool and ape encounter at Monkey Jungle (14805 SW 216th St) are nothing new, but they are totally retro Miami. This attraction is a hands-down favorite, with an unusual setting that directs visitors through caged walkways while the 400-plus monkeys frolic in freedom.
You can watch big ships sail to sea from the vantage point of Bayside Marketplace (401 N Biscayne Blvd), an open-air 16-acre waterfront mall in downtown with more than 150 restaurants and shops, including Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., the Hard Rock Cafe, and the Mobil One-Star Mambo Cafe, which features a Latin and Cuban menu.
If you have no specific timeframe for travel, check out Miami's Summer Festival Season and plan your trip around a specific event. The Brazilian Film Festival, the Miami/Bahamas Goombay Festival, and the Tropical AG Fiesta are a few of the summer's offerings.
Given the catastrophic damage from hurricanes dealt to America's coastline in the past decade, it's easy to see why Americans are obsessed with this weather phenomenon. Miami, of course, has seen its share of volatile weather, making it a prime spot for the National Hurricane Center, Tropical Prediction Center, and Forecast Office. From January through May (the hurricane off-season), the center offers public tours that teach visitors about the causes and effects of hurricanes, as well as the center's various functions.
There's been quite a buzz lately regarding Miami's art scene. And, of course, this international city is perfect for tourists seeking some Latin flavor. See the next section for information on Miami's arts and culture.
Miami Arts & Culture
Of late, Miami has become the darling of the art world, with offerings such as the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Miami Art Museum, the Coconut Grove Playhouse and the Miami Symphony Orchestra. The art fairs, however, have been garnering the most media attention lately, with the critically acclaimed Art Basel Miami Beach now a mainstay on the circuit.
It is not a matter of finding Miami's culture but deciding which culture to experience in this international city. With such a large population of Hispanics from a variety of South American countries, make time to explore the essence of Miami, whether you hang out in Little Havana or Little Haiti.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Arts & Culture in Miami
Miami has a host of stellar museums. The Wolfsonian (1001 Washington Ave) specializes in propaganda and the decorative arts, with exhibits that are at once profound and peculiar. There are more 80,000 European and American pieces, including furnishings, architectural elements, murals and poster art.
Miami now joins other major cities in offering a state-of-the-art performing arts center. In October 2006, the long-awaited Miami Performing Arts Center (1444 Biscayne Blvd) opened with a four-day celebration that included performances by artists in all genres. Year-round shows showcase a mix of internationally renowned artists of classical and pop music artists, ballet and opera.
Another well-kept secret is the Bass Museum of Art (2121 Park Ave) in South Beach's Art Deco district. It claims the title of the most comprehensive collection in the region, cataloging works ranging from old master painters to contemporary photographers.
Homestead's Fruit & Spice Park (24801 SW 187th Ave) is the only tropical botanical garden of its kind in the United States, with more than 500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, spices, peppers, herbs and nuts from around the world. There are 75 different kinds of bananas, along with 125 types of mango, and 70 varieties of bamboo. It's okay to sample fallen fruits, and the gift shop is filled with foods made from tropical fruits, horticulture books on tropical gardening, and specialized horticultural supplies.
The local arts scene buzzes along in up-and-coming North Miami, where the Museum of Contemporary Art (770 NE 125th St) carries works by local artists. The surrounding streets are brimming with art galleries showcasing the creations of cutting-edge Miami and international artists, as well as funky antique and vintage stores.
Miami offers the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world. In the next section, find out the best ways to experience these Art Deco buildings, as well as Miami's other architectural landmarks.
Miami Architecture & Landmarks
Starting in the 1920s, Miami became a playground for the rich and famous who traveled south to escape the harsh northern winters. Middle-class Americans soon followed, and the onslaught of visitors prompted the need for accommodations.
Influenced by the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris in 1925, architects turned to art moderne, better known as Art Deco, for an affordable, cohesive architectural style.
Fabricated from inexpensive steel and concrete, the buildings gained their personality from such flourishes and details as rounded corners, eyebrow ledges, glass block accents and nautical embellishments like portholes and sea motifs. The result was a fantastical assemblage of hotels that made ordinary vacationers feel prestigious and revered.
Over time, the area lost its luster until a group of visionaries in the 1980s set about to save the buildings from destruction. As investors and celebrities alike joined the cause, the Art Deco district and its updated look attracted new vacationers and became the backdrop for a number of television shows and movies, most notably "Miami Vice."
Today, South Beach has the distinction of being the nation's first 20th century district on the National Register of Historic Places, with more than 800 buildings of significance.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Architecture & Landmarks in Miami
You can scout Art Deco on your own by simply walking along Collins and Washington avenues, or you can go with the pros at the Art Deco District Welcome Center (1001 Ocean Dr). The center conducts 90-minute guided and audio self-guided walking tours of the 800 or so classic Art Deco buildings -- the largest collection in the world. Learn how these gems were salvaged from demolition.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens (3251 S Miami Ave) is at the tail end of repairing damage sustained by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. The canopy in the gardens has already grown back, and except for a few pieces of statuary, this Italian Renaissance masterpiece is hardly worse for the wear. Built by International Harvester magnate James Deering in 1914, the villa showcases 34 rooms of furniture and decorative art from the 15th through the 19th centuries.
Coral Gables' Venetian Pool (2701 De Soto Blvd) is an 820,000-gallon freshwater pool surrounded by several Spanish style buildings, a garden patio, and grotto. See its beauty for yourself and why it's listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Spanish Monastery (16711 W Dixie Hwy) was built between 1133 and 1141 in Segovia, Spain, then reassembled here in 1954.
Miami is a shopping mecca. In fact, you're never more than 15 minutes away from a major shopping area. On the next page, we'll tell you about Miami's shopping hotspots.
If you set out to visit every shopping venue in the Miami metropolitan area, you might as well move south. No matter where you find yourself, you are never more than 15 minutes from a major shopping area.
Beachy souvenir shops with towels and T-shirts are mixed in with Latino grocers and Cuban clothing stores offering 100 percent cotton Cuban guayaberas shirts. At the other end of the spectrum is tony Bal Harbour, and in between are the traditional shopping malls teeming with department stores, specialty shops and retail chains.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Shopping in Miami
Dolphin Mall (11401 NW 12th St) is a mix of affordable retailers, like Old Navy and Payless ShoeSource, and bargain-basement clearance centers, such as Off 5th from Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus Last Call Clearance. It also houses Guayabera World, a one-stop shop for Cuban apparel. The mall is divided into three sections, including The Playa District for South Beach-inspired casual apparel and housewares, Moda for fashion, and Ramblas for restaurants.
CocoWalk (3015 Grand Ave) is a Mediterranean-style shopping village filled with high-end boutiques, chain stores, colorful shops, and outdoor cafes. Its 38 shops include Banana Republic, Beyond Innovations, Coco Kids and Elegant Accents.
The Falls Shopping Center (8888 SW 136th St) is a scenic outdoor mall with more than 100 upscale and specialty stores like Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Laura Ashley and Williams-Sonoma.
For haute couture, you'll find everything you need to sail aboard the Queen Mary II at the Bal Harbour Shops (9700 Collins Ave), including fine jewelry from Christofle and the latest fashions at Armani.
The Shops at Sunset Place (5701 Sunset Dr, 305-663-0873) is home to some of South Florida's exclusive retail shops like Armani Exchange, Mayors Jewelers and American Eagle Outfitters.
The secret is out: Many leading designers trek to Opa-locka/Hialeah Flea Market (12705 NW 42nd Ave) for one-of-a-kind finds for their latest decorating projects. As one of the largest flea markets in South Florida, the market has 1,200 vendors hawking their wares daily. Everything from painted Aunt Jemima bottles to antiques can be found in this bustling market.
Shop like a local by enjoying Sunday morning at the Farmers Market on Lincoln Road, the perfect pedestrian destination for South Beach bums. Homemade breads, flowers, fresh produce and orchids are some of the locally grown and produced items for sale. If you visit from May to October, you'll have the chance to shop the seasonal Antiques and Collectibles Market, with everything from vintage '60s attire to attractive antiques.
Get a sampling of Miami's sizzling nightlife and unique entertainment venues on the next page.
Miami Nightlife & Entertainment
Boredom is not an option in Miami. "Florida-fied" attractions offer entertainment unique to the Sunshine State. Where else could you visit a castle carved from coral, swim with dolphins, walk through an authentic Indian village and hang out with 400 monkeys?
Since tourists began a southward migration almost 100 years ago, Florida has built its reputation and tourism industry on wacky roadside attractions, and thankfully, a handful of places still exist where you can get a feel for the old Florida.
This isn't to say, however, that there aren't plenty of new venues to pique your interest. New construction is a way of life; not a day goes by without a new boutique, museum, restaurant or entertainment venue opening.
Hotel happenings include Acqualina on Sunny Isles Beach and the Regent Bal Harbour, both scheduled to open in late 2006. Recently opened 8-1/2 Restaurant in Miami Beach's Hotel Clinton and Spy Lounge and Brasserie at Maxine at the Catalina Hotel & Beach Club in South Beach have been the latest restaurant buzz.
The array of activities extends to Miami's sizzling nightlife. The exotic, international flair of the city shines brightest after hours, when models, rock stars and A-listers mingle with trendy locals in the swanky clubs.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Nightlife & Entertainment in Miami
Forget Skybar's stringent guest policy or the people-watching at the Rose Bar in the Mobil Three-Star Delano Hotel. Go downtown to I/O Lounge (30 NE 14th St) for the live music rhythms of Latin, funk, hip-hop, and reggae. The ultra-chic Prive was created for Miami A-listers; it's the place to spot celebrities and models (1235 Washington Ave).
South Beach may be world famous for its after-hours venues, but visit the in-the-know-party each Friday night on the private beach behind the Mobil Four-Star Mandarin Oriental,Miami (500 Brickell Key Dr), the newest place to see and be seen. The fun lasts from November to April and is a magnet for the young professionals who work in the area, which is also known as the Wall Street of the South.
Bongo's (601 Biscayne Blvd, 786-777-2100) is a Cuban restaurant and nightclub with a nostalgic feel during Havana's 1950s glory days. Club Deep (621 Washington Ave, 305-532-1509) is one of the oldest dance clubs in South Beach and features an aquarium dance floor with a flashy light system.
After a night out on the town, you may want to spend the next day in relaxation mode. Go to the next page to find out how to find some peace and quiet in Miami.
Relaxing & Unwinding in Miami
Though Miami is abuzz 24/7, enclaves and retreats are available for you to sequester yourself away from the hubbub. This is especially easy since Miami's main draw, the beach, offers tranquility and solitude as only the ocean and seaside can.
If you don't mind company but still want to play it low-key, grab a table outside a bistro in one of the more happening neighborhoods, such as Lincoln Road in the South Beach area, and sit back and take in the sights and sounds of the street. When you fade into the background, reality is transformed into theatrical productions rivaling those on Broadway.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Relaxing & Unwinding in Miami
Miamians who want to get out but aren't in the mood to exert a lot of energy often opt for one of the live concerts about town. Some of the best are offered by the Chopin Foundation of the United States. Headquartered in Miami, the Foundation offers a number of free concerts from world-class performers throughout the year at the Granada Presbyterian Church in Coral Gables.
The easiest way to unwind is to take in the stars after the sun sets on Miami Beach. But there is another place with just as much atmosphere. Every Friday night from 8 pm to 10 pm, the Miami Museum of Science and Planetarium (3280 S Miami Ave) offers viewing through the Weintraub Observatory for close-ups of the planets, four moons of Jupiter, rings of Saturn and deep sky objects like galaxies and nebulas. There also are laser shows, astronomy shows, and special exhibits and events scheduled throughout the day.
Who would look for an ancient Spanish monastery (16711 W Dixie Hwy) in Miami? It's here, all right. Built in Segovia between 1133 and 1141 and brought over and reconstructed stateside stone-by-stone by William Randolph Hearst, the St. Bernard de Clairvaux Church is an unexpected Miami architectural gem. Today, the monastery's austere beauty and tranquil grounds is a popular spot for quiet reflection.
The Parrot Jungle and Gardens (1111 Parrot Jungle Trail) is an 18.6-acre site perfect for strolling as you eye birds, reptiles and orangutans.
Bayfront Park (301 N Biscayne Blvd) is a 32-acre green-space oasis in downtown Miami that's great for strolls, dog walking or lingering near its fountains. Its amphitheater frequently hosts music festivals, so find a place on the lawn or bring a chair when you can.
Tropical Park (7900 SW 40th St, 305-223-8710) is the perfect setting for a leisurely bike ride or running along its many trails. Four lakes located in the park offer opportunities for numerous water sports, including swimming or fishing.
If you want to take in all the sights and sounds of Miami but don't know where to start, try an organized tour. We have several tour suggestions on the next page.
Miami Organized Tours Overview
So much to do, so little time. If you find yourself overwhelmed by all there is to see in Miami, book a tour. Interested in the great outdoors? One of the best is Dragonfly Expeditions, specializing in ecological and historical tours of the area, including the vast lands of the Everglades.
For the local beat, Miami-Cuba USA and Hispanic Florida Tours provide an insider look at Miami's ethnic neighborhoods, complete with an "Azucar" trolley that blares Salsa/Cuban music as you learn folklore and fact.
The Miami Beach Visitors Center offers several daily tours ranging from boat tours of Biscayne Bay to shopping tours of Bayside Marketplace.
Find out about some of the most luxurious places to stay, as well as what time of year you'll find a bargain, on the next page.
Miami Hotels Guide
If you're looking for luxury accommodations, stay at the Mobil Four-Star Four Seasons Hotel Miami (1435 Brickell Ave) near Biscayne Bay and South Beach, where the impeccable service elevates you to celebrity status. Mobil Four-Star Mandarin Oriental Miami (500 Brickell Key Dr) is known for
its secluded waterfront location and soothing interior design.
Another Mobil Four-Star favorite is The Ritz-Carlton South Beach (1 Lincoln Rd), where the business of luxury is packaged in awesome architecture -- that of legendary Miami architect Morris Lapidus, who originally designed this landmark property.
You don't need big bucks, however, to land a stay at a notable hotel. Indeed, many One-Star properties feature distinct architecture, snappy service and ample amenities.
You'll get the most for your money from March to May and from June to November, which is hurricane season. Be sure to include taxes in your lodging estimates: City and resort taxes average around 12.5 percent, and overnight parking can cost as much as $20.
While Latin flavors (especially those from Cuba) are the most common in Miami, you'll find plenty of other types of cuisine. Go to the next page to read our dining suggestions for Miami.
Miami Restaurants Guide
A sumptuous benefit of an international city is the cuisine, and this is especially true in Miami, where dining is the ultimate way to understand and experience this city's various personas.
Best bets include sipping cafe Cubanos at one of the cafes near Little Havana's Maximo Gomez Park; feasting on tender-to-the-bone rodizio served tableside on large skewers at Porcao (801 Brickell Bay Dr), an authentic Brazilian Churrasco in downtown; and of course, peeling your own boiled shrimp at one of the many pubs found along the water's edge. Options include everything from Caribbean to Ethiopian to Japanese to French.
You'll find unique Spanish dishes at Mobil Two-Star Casa Juancho (2436 SW 8th St), like boneless Long Island roast duck and rabbit cured in sherry and baked in creamy brown sauce.
An eclectic, contemporary seafood menu is served at Mobil Three-Star Baleen (4 Grove Island Dr). You won't go wrong ordering the wood-roasted shrimp, Chinese fried snapper with coconut rice and black beans, or freshly churned vanilla ice cream and berries.
Mobil Three-Star La Paloma (10999 Biscayne Blvd) features Swiss Continental cuisine, with specialties like rack of lamb, veal steak Sabrina, and whole duck a l'orange. The Mobil Three-Star China Grill (404 Washington Ave) serves specialized Asian cuisine like chile-tinged Peking duck and ahi sashimi tempura with wasabi dipping sauce.
Mobil Four-Star Wish Restaurant (801 Collins Ave) serves a menu that blends Latin American ingredients with a tropical twist. You'll find sesame battered shrimp with watermelon and cilantro and seared scallops with smoked shiitakes and lemongrass-corn sauce. For dessert, don't miss the mango sorbet or banana fritters with ice cream.
For an eclectic and international menu with a twist, check out Mobil Three-Star Two Chefs (8287 S Dixie Hwy). Try the beef carpaccio with dwarf peaches that resemble tiny pickled tomatoes or the risotto with smoked duck and homemade mozzarella.
Miami also has its share of upscale restaurants, and there is no better time to sample their fare than Miami Spice Restaurant Month. During both August and September, enjoy special lunch and dinner menus at drastically reduced rates.
No matter when you go, make sure you have a reservation to avoid lengthy waits. And check your tab to see whether gratuity is included -- some restaurants automatically add a 15 percent tip to the bill, no matter how small or large the party.
Need some assistance planning your days? The suggested itineraries in the next section will help ensure that you see the very best Miami has to offer.
Suggested Itineraries for Visiting Miami
Whether your idea of a dream vacation to Miami involves unwinding on the beach, exploring the famed Art Deco district, checking out the buzzing Miami nightlife, or all of the above, the following itineraries will cover your interests. From glamorous shopping at Bal Harbour to ultimate tranquility at the Ancient Spanish Monastery, your sightseeing plate can be full each day, if you so choose. Here are suggestions on how to see the best of Miami:
Special Events & Attractions in Miami
Special Events & Attractions in Miami
The variety of special events and attractions in Miami can truly make your head spin. Use these tips to focus in on some of the highlights:
1 day: One day to cover all things Miami? That's a tall order. South Beach may be the place to see and been seen, but locals steer away from the tourist magnets for quieter enclaves like North Beach. This revitalized neighborhood has a wonderful collection of MiMo (Miami Modern) architecture, as well as unpretentious shops, oceanfront cafes (the lemon tart at Paul's is to die for; 14861 Biscayne Blvd), and best of all, uncrowded beaches.
You can't leave without a taste of Miami charm -- take a boat trip to Stiltsville, with Dr. Paul George in tow to elaborate on the history of this overwater community, or take a dip at Coral Gables' Venetian Pool, a spring-fed swimming pool built in 1923 from a coral rock quarry.
2 days: Beat the heat by spending a day under water -- snorkeling or diving. Miami is known as the "Wreckreational Capital of the Americas" because of its enormously popular artificial reefs, created by old ships, oil platforms, and army tankers that have been sunk to create an underwater wonderland of marine life and coral. Most of the reefs are within 130 feet of water and are less than two miles east of Sunny Isles, Miami Beach, and the Key Biscayne shoreline.
Sample a few other of Miami's adventure offerings if you have time: the Miami Jai Alai Fronton (3500 NW 37th Ave) and the Miami Speedway in Homestead (1801 W International Speedway Blvd), home to NASCAR and other major auto racing events.
3 days: Fuel up on hot malted waffles and breakfast burritos at Mobil One-Star Big Pink on Collins Avenue before checking out the Miami Seaquarium (4400 Rickenbacker Cswy) on Biscayne Bay. The marine mammal aquarium features exhibits with sharks, manatees, tropical fish, and crocodiles, along with sea lion, dolphin, and killer whale shows. If you're lucky enough to get a seat near the bottom of the amphitheater, you're bound to get wet -- the perfect cool-off on a hot Miami day. Later, charter a sailboat and cruise around Miami's chain of islands. Several companies, such as Flyer Catamaran Excursions, offer sunset and evening cruises.
A tight schedule can nix plans to visit the Everglades National Park, but if you're intent on seeing a real side of Florida, then an all-day -- if not weekend -- trip will be more than satisfying. An early arrival increases chances to see wildlife, plus you'll have more time to explore the distinct areas of the park.
Getting around is fairly easy whether you drive, bike, or walk. Bird watching, kayaking, fishing, camping, and stargazing are perfect pastimes, but you should also join one of the guided tours provided by park rangers. These include tram tours to the heart of the Everglades, boat tours around the Ten Thousand Islands of the Gulf Coast, and slough slogging -- swampland walks through waist-deep water.
Arts & Culture in Miami
Arts & Culture in Miami
From cigar-rolling and salsa lessons to art museums and playhouses, Miami has the arts and culture scenes covered. Here are some suggested itineraries:
1 day: Begin the day at the Wolfsonian (1001 Washington Ave), whose unique collection addresses a diverse array of late-19th- and 20th-century topics, such as nationalism, political persuasion, industrialization, architecture, and urbanism -- issues that complement the city's culture and architecture.
In the afternoon, wander through the Miami Art Museum (1001 W Flagler St) for a peek at works by art-world heavyweights Chuck Close, Oscar Munoz, and James Rosenquist, to name a few. At night, catch a play at the Coconut Grove Playhouse (3500 Main Hwy). Check ahead for the schedule.
2 days: Spend an unforgettable day in Little Havana (SW 8th St and SW 11th Ave), the heart of Miami's Cuban community. Stroll down Calle Ocho, 8th Street, and marvel at its Spanish-style architecture, exotic fruit stands, and sidewalk counter cafes. Learn how cigars are hand-rolled at the Credito Cigar Factory (1105 SW 8th St) and wander into one of the botanicas that sell potions and tools used for the white magic rituals of Santeria.
Near Maximo Gomez Park (1444 SW 8th St), grab a hot-pressed Cuban sandwich for lunch. In the afternoon, visit Woodlawn Park Cemetery (3260 SW 8th St), the site of the Bay of Pigs Monument, then do some shopping in the markets and boutiques teeming with all things Cubano.
At night, enjoy one of Miami's Nuevo Latino restaurants, where the evolution of "Cuban culture in exile" is most evident, before catching a class at the Salsa Lovers Dance Studio (9843 SW 40th St). Private lessons are available to learn the latest and oldest steps, including the tango, rhumba, and of course, the salsa. The studio also travels to local clubs, offering free instruction before playing Cuban music into the early morning hours.
3 days: Homestead's Fruit & Spice Park (24801 SW 187 Ave) opens at 10 am, which gives you the morning (and hopefully the coolest part of the day) to explore this 35-acre public park. Check ahead of time to see what tours or classes are being offered.
After lunch, orient yourself to downtown by riding the Miami Metromover. Visit the groovy Miami Design District, with its assemblage of decorator showrooms, antique boutiques, and art galleries showcasing local, regional, and international artists.
If you visit during the concert season, reserve your night for a performance by the Miami Symphony (6915 Red Rd), which performs at both the Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables and the Lincoln Theatre on Miami Beach. There are also select "Concerts in the Park" in the summer at various amphitheatres.
Architecture & Landmarks in Miami
Architecture & Landmarks in Miami
The can't-miss architecture and landmarks in Miami include the many art deco hotels and, of course, the city's incredibly beautiful beaches. The following suggestions will point you in the right direction.
1 day: Spend your morning in South Beach along Ocean Drive, taking note of architectural details on such hotels as the Adrian, Breakwater, Casablanca, Cavalier, and Edison. Take a break from the heat at one of the fancy restaurants, where you can sample haute cuisine at lunch prices rather than plunk down full dinner fare. Talula (210 23rd St) serves fried calamari and a field greens salad that lessens the guilt of eating a molten chocolate cake for dessert.
In the afternoon, visit Coral Gables' Venetian Pool (2701 De Soto Blvd) to stroll among its Spanish-style buildings, garden patio, and grotto. If time allows, make a reservation beforehand for tea at the esteemed Mobil Three-Star Biltmore Hotel (1200 Anastasia Ave), one of the few traditional afternoon teas in Miami. Dine on cumin-rubbed chicken mofongo at the Mobil Four-Star Norman's (21 Almeria Ave), where the proprietor, Norman Van Aiken, is known as the father of Florida's new Caribbean cuisine.
2 days: Day two begins at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens (3251 S Miami Ave), one of the crown jewels of Miami architecture. Check ahead to see what tours are offered: the museum does an excellent job of making its art and architecture accessible and understandable to both children and adults. One of the best is an art-making program inspired by Vizcaya's extensive collection. One note: Sundays at Vizcaya are free. In the afternoon, sequester yourself at the Ancient Spanish Monastery (16711 W Dixie Hwy).
3 days: No trip to Miami is complete without a visit to its landmark beaches. Sandy shoreline stretches from Sunny Isles to Homestead's Bayfront Park (301 N Biscayne Blvd), each with its own version of fun in the sun. Windsurf at Hobie Beach, ride the carousel at Crandon Park Beach, bikini-watch at South Beach, or play golf at Haulover Beach Park, which is also home to a nude beach on the west side.
Shopping in Miami
You could spend your entire vacation shopping in Miami, but with so much else to do, you may just want to hit the highlights. Here's how:
1 day: Rubbing elbows with the rich and famous is just as thrilling as the designer duds you'll find at the Bal Harbour Shops. From fashion models to well-to-do women parading around small dogs in baby strollers, this is the place where the wealthy stop by for gem-studded jewelry and glittering ball gowns. Tiffany, Bulgari, Escada, Prada, and Harry Winston are a handful of haute couture boutiques catering to the luxury goods clientele.
Have lunch at Leah's Tea Room & Bistro before spending your afternoon at Bayside Marketplace (401 N Biscayne Blvd), an open-air 16-acre complex with more than 150 restaurants and shops. This is also a departure point for gondola and sightseeing cruises.
2 days: Mix pleasure, people-watching, and shopping with a stroll down Ocean Drive in South Beach, home to eclectic boutiques, galleries, and restaurants specializing in alfresco dining overlooking the ocean. One morning here and you will agree: Window-shopping under the shadow of fabulous Art Deco architecture is the best way to hone in on the next fashion trend. A book on Art Deco architecture makes for a great souvenir, as does a small bottle of Miami sand.
Lincoln Road, the heartbeat of Miami Beach and home to both national chains and homegrown boutiques, is an easy option for afternoon, especially when you factor in a visit to Brownes Beauty Lounge (841 Lincoln Rd). This day spa and beauty emporium is a perennial favorite of fashion editors, models, and celebrities in need of pampering.
3 days: Serious bargain hunters won't want to miss Dolphin Mall (11401 NW 12th St), a mix of affordable retailers and bargain-basement clearance centers. Later in the afternoon, venture to CocoWalk (305 Grand Ave) for last-minute souvenirs like gold name necklaces and carved candles depicting palm trees. This three-story architectural wonder and tourist attraction has high-end boutiques, chain stores, restaurants, nightclubs, movie theaters, live bands, and the "parrot guy" who will snap your picture (for a fee) holding one of his big birds.
Nightlife & Entertainment in Miami
Nightlife & Entertainment in Miami
Miami has the hottest clubs to see and be seen, as well as late-night haunts to just sit back and enjoy salsa, reggae, and Caribbean beats. Take a look at these suggested itineraries to make sure you don't miss anything.
1 day: If you snooze, you lose. Instead, wake up with Lady Luck at The Miccosukee Resort and Gaming (500 SW 177th Ave), where 24-hour gambling features 1,000 video pull-tab machines, poker tables, Lightning Lotto, and High Stakes Bingo just 15 minutes west of Miami.
Burn off some energy by dancing all afternoon to the Caribbean beat at Mango's Tropical Cafe (900 Ocean Dr) in the heart of Ocean Drive in South Beach. The tropical drinks and scantily clad dancers begin early and continue all night with live bands and well-known DJs. You can enjoy the dance floor while being steps away from the beach's breathtaking view. At night, go to BED (929 Washington Ave) -- that is, the edgy eatery in South Beach where guests are served dinner and drinks in platform beds.
2 days: Sailing on Horizon's Edge Gaming Cruise (100 N Biscayne Blvd) gives you the best of both worlds: Las Vegas-style gambling and a day on the water. The cruise features 225 slot machines, blackjack, craps, and roulette, plus a gourmet buffet and live entertainment. Sails leave at noon and 7:30 p.m. daily. Later, take in a show at the Jackie Gleason Theater (1700 Washington Ave), a New York-style theater that hosts Broadway shows, world-renowned dance productions, and concerts from classical to pop.
3 days: If you can't get enough of Miami's frenetic vibe, you are the perfect candidate for a spin around the track at the Richard Petty Driving Experience. Located at the Homestead Miami Speedway, the Experience puts you behind the wheel of an authentic NASCAR Nextel Cut-style race car at speeds up to 150 mph.
After that fast-paced fun, you can slow down by visiting one of the most popular restaurants for race fans -- La Querbradita Taqueria (702 N Krome Ave, Homestead). The outdoor seating adds atmosphere to the spicy flavor of tacos, burritos, and other Mexican delicacies. If southern barbecue is more your taste, try the ribs and chicken legs in a picnic-table atmosphere at Shiver's Bar-B-Q (28001 S Dixie Hwy, Homestead).
Round out the day by checking out Club Space (142 NE 11th St), a premier nightclub in Miami's downtown warehouse district. With more than 9,000 square feet of dance floor space, you'll always have room to move to the salsa, reggae, and Caribbeanbeat. You don't have to go home early if you don't want to since this club has a 24-hour license.
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Relaxing & Unwinding in Miami
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Relaxing & Unwinding in Miami
Is there any better way to unwind than on the beach? Well, if fun in the sun doesn't suit you or your skin type, check out these other relaxing outings:
1 day: Start your day with brunch at the Mobil Two-Star Balans on Miami Beach (1022 Lincoln Road), where the Nicoise salad or lobster club sandwich will satisfy your palate while you people-watch in the outdoor seating area surrounded by a beautiful garden. Sneak a peek at the local Miami Herald and enjoy a Bloody Mary or two.
When the sun heats up, settle in at one of the designer pools in the area. Possible spots are Acqualina's adults-only, oceanside tranquility pool (17875 Collins Ave) and the Mobil Three-Star Delano's "Water Salon," complete with a poolside butler and separate areas for floating and meditating (1685 Collins Ave). If you need to get away in glamorous fashion, rent a yacht and spend the afternoon on the water, close enough to observe goings-on along the shore, but out of the limelight.
2 days: Stay in bed at the Shore Club, where custom tufted beds smothered with pillows of all shapes and sizes surround the infinity pool just off the beach. The beds are tucked away into cabanas, offering even more privacy and seclusion. Or go for an afternoon drive to ArtSouth in Homestead, a nonprofit artists' community where you can take classes from master artists or simply browse the gift shop for one-of-a-kind jewelry, pottery, and paintings.
Think of it as Sonoma South -- that's what a visit to Schnebly Redland's Winery in Homestead is like. The southernmost winery in the Continental United States, the winery specializes in tropical wines sans the grapes -- lychee, passion fruit, carambola, guava, and mango wines take center stage. Include time for a wine tasting near the natural coral waterfalls surrounded by the lush tropical foliage on the property.
3 days: Golf, golf, and more golf. There's no better place to play than on one of the golf courses in South Florida. The Golf Course at the Mobil Three-Star Biltmore Hotel (1210 Anastasia Ave, Coral Gables) has been restored to its 1925 Donald Ross design, complete with a scenic layout. The Mobil Three-Star Marriott Doral Golf Resort and Spa (4400 NW 87th Ave, Doral) hosts the annual Ford Championship and is noted for its par-72 Blue Monster course. If you're new to the game, try out the 9-hole, par-3 Haulover Golf Course on the Intracoastal Waterway (10800 Collins Ave; Sunny Isles). The longest hole on this walking course is 125 yards, and green fees are only $6.
After an all-day golf blitz, if you're still up for going out, opt for Jazid (1342 Washington Ave), which hosts some of the best jazz and blues musicians in the area. This club serves as an alternative to the hip-hop and house music found in most of the clubs on Miami Beach.
Yes, Miami is hot, hot, hot. But such cool spots as the Art Deco district and The Wolfsonian give this city a unique flavor that keeps tourists coming back for more.
©Publications International, Ltd.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
From her home in Tallahassee, Florida, Heidi Tyline King writes travel guidebooks and features for national publications.