A Miami vacation is filled with vibrant music, delicious and varied food, lots of sun and sand, and an energy that's excitement personified. Miami, often called the Magic City, was just a trading outpost one hundred years ago. Today, Miami is a vibrant, exciting, and diverse city, home to over 375,000 residents and has a metropolitan area of over 3 million people. The city's sunny weather, unique neighborhoods, and beautiful, white sand beaches make it an excellent place to visit.
The heart of the city is worth exploring on any Miami vacation. The downtown waterfront is lined with parkland and is home to Bayside, a large, mixed use complex of shopping, restaurants, nightspots, entertainment, and street vendors selling everything from batik fabrics to Florida oranges. If you're there on the weekend, it's also a great place to watch the huge, graceful cruise ships depart the Port of Miami, located on Dodge Island, just off shore. Grab a frozen Margarita and sit on the upstairs patio to watch the show.
South Beach and Miami Beach
Called America's Riviera, Miami Beach's Art Deco historic district is a tribute to one woman's determination to save a piece of South Florida's heritage and a must-see for any Miami vacation. In the mid-1970s, the area in disrepair, developers sought to raze dozens of charming Art Deco buildings in order to build high-rise condo buildings. Through the efforts of Barbara Capitman and her Miami Design Preservation League, millions of dollars in private funding were raised to preserve over 800 of these fun and elegant buildings. Today, the Art Deco area is filled with vibrant nightspots, trendy restaurants, and eclectic boutiques. It's also a favorite spot for fashion layouts and movie shoots.
Miami Beach is more, however, than Art Deco. The long, white sand beach is one of the nation's finest beaches. Framed by a promenade, popular with joggers, sightseers, and roller bladers, the beach draws surfers, sun-worshippers, and the see-and-be-seen crowd from around the world. Also worth visiting is the Bass Museum of Art, an Art Deco building that houses an important 15th -17th century collection of European paintings and textiles. Down the street, Lincoln Road Mall is a quirky pedestrian mall, which dates from the 1930s. It's filled with a combination of art galleries, independent movie theaters, interesting restaurants with sidewalk cafes, and funky clothing stores. Street performers, live music, and sidewalk kiosk vendors help make this area a party every day and night.
Coral Gables is a separate community within Miami. It was one of America's first planned communities, laid out in the 1920s by architect, George Merrick. The suburb is home to gracious houses and elegant, banyan-tree lined avenues. The Biltmore Hotel, recently restored to its original grandeur, stands proudly in the center of town. The Miracle Mile is the neighborhood's most important shopping street and is lined with high-end jewelry, clothing, bridal, and house wares stores. This area is worth a visit if only to look at the varied styles of 1920s architecture.
Vizcaya is one of Florida's grandest residences. Completed in 1916 as the winter residence of industrialist James Deering, the opulent Italianate villa boasts over 46 rooms, including the striking Rococo music room and the Deering bath with its elaborate white marble walls and canopied ceiling. The house is filled with a large collection of European furniture and art, collected on Mr. Deering's many trips to the Continent. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the ten-acre estate, which sits directly on Biscayne Bay, boasts well-manicured formal gardens that combine tropical foliage with European design.
The Cuban community is a vital part of Miami's culture. Centered around Little Havana, the area just west of downtown along Calle Ocho, between 11th and 17th Avenues, Little Havana is the area where thousands of Cubans sought refuge in the 1960s when Fidel Castro overthrew their homeland. Although many of these immigrants have moved to other Miami neighborhoods, Little Havana is still filled with Latin music, Cuban restaurants, and a kind of kinetic energy. The best way to explore this area is on foot. Be sure to stop and sample a café cubano (Cuban coffee) or a plate of moros y cristanos (beans and rice).
The Everglades: a Miami Vacation Must See
Just to the east of Miami lies the Everglades National Park, a massive shallow subtropical marsh that connects Lake Okeechobee in the north with Florida Bay in the south. Covering over 1.4 million acres, the "River of Grass" flows slowly over the flat limestone bed to the sea. It is rarely more than 3 foot deep and is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including egrets, alligators, sea otters, and green tree frogs. The park's boardwalk system - a half a mile of them - makes it easy to view this swampy ecosystem. More adventurous visitors can take an airboat tour further into the park.