One of the world’s biggest hubs for cruise ships, Miami is best known as a glitzy beach destination. But the city has another side. Miami’s powerful Latin cultural influence gives it a distinct feel, while the street-side fruit stalls nod to Miami’s agricultural roots, and the city also functions as a gateway to the Everglades and Florida Keys.
Major international art shows complement underground art scenes, design districts flourish with special open days, and the city is in a celebratory mood after the Miami Heat won the 2013 NBA Championship in June.
Whatever your reason for visiting, it remains a beacon of warmth for travelers wanting to escape the winter chill.
Wynwood Walls: Wynwood has evolved into Miami’s hottest art district, a transformation that began when a group of underground graffiti artists began decorating the walls of the area’s abandoned warehouses. www.wynwoodmiami.com
Little Havana Culinary Tour: Little Havana is one of Miami’s most vibrant communities, filled with restaurants, cigar shops and art galleries. To get an insider’s view of Cuban-American culture, join a culinary tour. www.miamiculinarytours.com
Nightlife: Miami’s nightlife is legendary. However, finding the hottest bar or club isn’t the problem; the real trick is getting on the guest list — look for hotels offering guests VIP access.
South Beach: Known as ‘SoBe’, Miami’s South Beach is a hedonistic playground. The peninsula paradise is lapped by warm water, lined with beautiful sunbathing bodies and watched over by a guard of iconic, historic hotels, all backed up with some of Miami’s best shopping, dining and nightlife.
Architectural Eye Candy: Miami is home to more than 1,000 buildings considered to be of major historical and architectural significance, with art deco, or Miami Modern, being the dominant style. The best-preserved examples can be easily glimpsed on a stroll along Collins Avenue in South Beach, where many buildings have been converted into hotels.
Everglades: A world away from the glamour of South Beach, the Florida Everglades are a spectacular natural environment that feature an abundance of wildlife such as crocodiles, manatees and birds. Easily accessible for full-day or half-day tours, they can be explored via tram, car, bike or airboat.
WHERE TO SLEEP
Fontainebleau: With its famous staircase leading to nowhere, the Fontainebleau adds a twinkle of golden-era glamour to any Miami stay. www.fontainebleau.com
The Betsy: This small luxury hotel has historic roots, exceptional service and views over South Beach. www.thebetsyhotel.com
Aloft Miami: Opened in July this year, Aloft Miami Brickwell is located near the city’s major sporting arenas. www.starwoodhotels.com
WHERE TO EAT
News Cafe: Open 24 hours, this South Beach institution has one of the best patios for people-watching. www.newscafe.com
Joe’s Stone Crab: Expect a line at this iconic crab restaurant during stone crab season from October to May. It recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. www.joesstonecrab.com
Toro Toro: Try Pan-Latin steakhouse Toro Toro for its happy hour plates and weekend ‘bottomless brunch’. www.torotoromiami.com
Coral Castle Museum: Shrouded in myth, Coral Castle is one of Miami’s more unusual attractions and a local legend. The structure of megalithic stones was supposedly hand carved over a period of 30 years by a broken-hearted local, Edward Leedskalnin, who was jilted at the altar. www.coralcastle.com
Lowe Art Museum: Established in Miami in the 1950s, the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami has over 17,500 works from different continents and art movements, from renaissance and baroque to 19th-century American and modern art. www.lowemuseum.org
Miami Design District: Miami’s revitalized Design District features an eclectic mix of galleries, restaurants, shops and design hubs. It’s worth visiting on the second Saturday of the month, when the area pulses with events and guided art walks through the district. www.miamidesigndistrict.net
Art Basel Miami: Held over four days in December, Art Basel is one of the world’s biggest contemporary art shows with in excess of 250 major galleries exhibiting work. www.artbasel.com/en/miami-beach
Nascar: The Nascar Ford Championship Weekend in mid-November brings a rowdy atmosphere to the city’s Homestead-Miami Speedway, with four-days of fast car racing for the public. www.homesteadmiamispeedway.com
White Party: Held each November, the White Party is Miami’s most fabulous fundraising event — a week-long series of beach and pool parties, plus club nights, culminating in the famous White Party. www.whiteparty.org
WHERE TO SHOP
Lincoln Road Mall: It might be touristy, but the largely pedestrianized Lincoln Road Mall, stretching out over 10 blocks, is one of the easy pleasures of staying on South Beach. At night, most of the mall’s shops stay open until late and it’s filled with brand name stores, outdoor restaurants and plenty of colorful characters.
Miami Design Preservation League Welcome Center: Along with providing information and running daily tours, the Miami Design Preservation League Welcome Center has a brilliant selection of historic art deco posters, books and guides to the surrounding district, as well as a number of art deco style gifts and collectibles. www.mdpl.org
Coconut Grove: Long known for its eccentric local community, Coconut Grove is a breezy seaside alternative to the touristy Lincoln Road Mall. There are some excellent specialty stores located along the pedestrian CocoWalk.
Aventura Mall: If the Miami heat gets a little too much, escape to the air-conditioned bliss of the Aventura Mall, a behemoth of shopping where you can enjoy your fashion fix at major department stores and luxury designer boutiques. www.aventuramall.com
PUBLISHED IN THE FALL 2013 ISSUE OF ASTAnetwork