The City of Miami, for all its tropical allure and movie set looks, is still a relatively new city. It has been an obliging host for a variety of inhabitants that have included Native Americans, Spaniards and Caribbean pirates, onward up to modern times where today's cosmopolitan metropolis embodies a variety of ethnic cultures. Miami has grown into a major tourist resort that capitalizes on its Southeastern location on the Miami River between the Florida Everglades and the Atlantic where widespread white sand beaches and blue waters welcome a pleasant climate and a plethora of visitors.
Since its incorporation in 1896, this "Gateway to the Americas" has grown tremendously. Miami is now far removed from when it was considered a simple winter resort weighted by a primarily retirement community. Today, it's one of America's favorite tropical locations and is ranked near the top for popular vacation destinations with Los Angeles and New York. But in spite of its celebrity-centered playground appeal and spring breaker saturation, it is also accessible to the average traveler seeking more sunlight than limelight.
Greater Miami covers an area of more than 2,000 square miles that includes 80 miles of coastline. It's home to a population of more than 2.2 million complimented by another 10 million visitors a year, more than half of which are international travelers. Greater Miami and its beaches make up a sprawling community dotted with a number of tourist-friendly neighborhoods that include sophisticated South Beach, the internationally acclaimed Miami Beach, Surfside and Sunny Isles on the northern end, Key Biscayne off the coast, Coral Gables' Mediterranean-inspired charm, and Coconut Grove's upscale appeal.
The temperate, nearly tropical climate of Miami provides plenty of year-round warmth. Winters remain fairly mild, with the coldest months of December, January and February reaching highs in the upper 60s and low 70s, while summers are sunny, hot and humid, particularly during August, when temperatures reach up to 87 F. Oceanic breezes temper the subtropical South Florida climate and strike a counterbalance to the summer extremes. July through October is hurricane season and there's a greater likelihood for tropical storms, over and above the usual quick, daily thundershower.
According to the experts, Art Deco made its debut in 1925 in an exposition in Paris in which it set a stylistic tone. In Miami, Art Deco is marked by the pastel-hued buildings that line South Beach and Miami Beach. Most of the finest examples of the whimsical Art Deco style are concentrated along three parallel streets—Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and Washington Avenue—from about 6th to 23rd streets. The Art Deco Welcome Center (1001 Ocean Dr.; 305-672-2014; www.mdpl.org/tours.html) offers a 90-minute District Guided Walking Tour conducted by local historians and architects that takes visitors through the district. The Art Deco District Self-Guided Audio Tours are also available at the Welcome Center. Private and themed tours are available by appointment only.
Among Miami's newest attractions, Parrot Jungle and Gardens (1111 Parrot Jungle Trail, Watson Island; 305-400-7000; www.parrotjungle.com) is a 19-acre park that features a petting zoo, a waterfront Serpentarium, jungle trails, aviaries, and of course, a parrot show. Watch your heads and maybe wear a hat because flying above are hundreds of parrots, macaws, peacocks, cockatoos, and flamingos. Visitors can meet Crocosaurus, a 20-foot saltwater crocodile who hangs out in the park's Serpentarium, or catch up with a roller-skating cockatoo or card-playing macaw. Located between Downtown Miami and South Beach, the park is open daily and features amphitheaters, picnic grounds and pavilions to accommodate large groups.
One of the more amazing, if unusual, Florida attractions, Coral Castle (28655 S. Dixie Hwy., Homestead; 305-248-6345; www.coralcastle.com) is an unlikely creation tied to mysterious origins. It was a project begun by an emotional Latvian named Ed who drowned his sorrows of lost love by immersing himself in the work of carving huge chunks of coral into a prehistoric "castle." Short on stature if not ambition, his 25-year handiwork has left many a scientific mind scratching their head and comparing it to the mysteries of the Great Pyramids and Stonehenge. How could he have carved and moved more than 1,100 tons of rock by himself? Did he know any secrets? Coral Castle has baffled scientists, engineers and scholars since opening in 1923. Featured on the National Register of Historic Places, the Castle is open year-round.
One of Miami's most treasured attractions, the Venetian Pool (2701 DeSoto Blvd.; Coral Gables; 305-460-5306; www.venetianpool.com) was formed from a coral rock quarry in 1923 into the world's most beautiful swimming hole and is included in the National Register of Historic Places. The 800,000-gallon pool, replenished daily during the summer months, features an abundance of tropical foliage, two waterfalls, coral caves, and grottos surrounded by Venetian-style buildings that transport visitors to a whimsical romantic retreat. The facility is open year-round and is available for parties and group activities.
The Everglades Alligator Farm (40351 S.W. 192nd Ave., Homestead; 305-247-2628; www.everglades.com), established in 1985, is Florida's oldest alligator farm. The Farm is currently home to about 3,000 alligators, birds and animals. Located at the edge of the Everglades, this working farm possesses a scenic beauty and rustic charm rooted to the early history of the area. Visitors can take an exciting airboat tour into the Everglades or a leisurely walk around the park to view the alligators, crocodiles, caimans, and snakes. Informative wildlife shows take place hourly and visitors often find themselves with numerous chances to touch and even hold the animals.
For a fun and exciting yet educationally sound experience for the whole family, take the time to participate in Seagrass Adventures, one among many ecologically stimulating programs taking place at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center (Crandon Park, 6767 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne; 305-361-6767; www.biscaynenaturecenter.org). A naturalist guide from the center will introduce a variety of interesting sea creatures where viewers will wade through knee-deep water to observe and learn. Land-based hikes, beachcombing and other group-related activities are available on-site. Call for reservations.
Coconut Grove has been dubbed a "village with a rhythm all its own" due to its variety and originality, both reflected in its many diverse eateries that line the quaint streets along with art galleries, antiques shops and boutiques of every description. The waterfront parks of Coconut Grove offer some of the best vantage points for watching manatees and sailboats.
Sometimes referred to as the "Hearst Castle of the East," Vizcaya Museum and Gardens (3251 S. Miami Ave.; 305-250-9133; www.vizcayamuseum.org) is an extraordinary European-inspired estate located in the heart of Miami, which includes a house packed with relics and works of art dating from the 16th to 19th centuries, ten acres of lush formal gardens on Biscayne Bay and an historic village under restoration for public usage. Vizcaya was built in 1916 as a winter retreat for American industrialist James Deering and has most of its original furnishings, including dishes and paintings, still intact. Guided tours of all the rooms are available and strolls about the estate grounds are recommended.
Greater Miami and its beaches is a rewarding place for Miami sports enthusiasts, offering countless water sports and recreational activities. Miami boasts a 35-mile stretch of beachfront, which runs from the tip of South Beach, north to Sunny Isles and circles Key Biscayne and the numerous other pristine islands dotting the Atlantic. Along the way visitors can find plenty of outdoor fun in the sun, whether walking, biking, swimming, fishing, boating, or hitting the links, there are plenty of active pursuits to choose from.
There are more than 50 private and public golf courses in the Miami area. Contact the Greater Miami Convention and Visitor's Bureau (800-933-8448; www.miamiandbeaches.com) for a list of courses and costs.
Regarded as one of the best in the city, the renowned Country Club of Miami (6801 Miami Gardens Dr., at N.W. 68th Ave.; 305-829-8456; www.miamidade.gov/parks/parks/country_club.asp), sports two 18-hole courses of varying degrees of difficulty: West Course covers more than 7,000 yards with plenty of disruptive bunkers to make for a challenging game; East Course is just over 6,300 yards and issues a challenge to both the novice and professional. Throughout each course you'll encounter lush fairways, rolling greens and plenty of history. The Club was founded in 1961, its courses designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and inaugurated by the great Arnold Palmer, and it has played host to a number of celebrities and professional tournaments.
Haulover Beach Park (10800 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-947-3525; www.miamidade.gov/parks/Parks/haulover_beach_marina.asp) sports one of South Florida's most beautiful beaches, offering a mile and a half stretch of white sand shores. Across the street from the beach is a full-service marina that sports some spectacular fishing and is home to the largest charter/drift fishing fleet in South Florida. The 180-acre park also has two on-site restaurants, Solo on the Bay and Cafe Azul, an ice cream shop, souvenir shop, bicycle rentals, picnic pavilions, casual nine-hole golf course, and tennis courts.
For the more adventurous, deep-sea fishing is available at the Kelley Fishing Fleet (305-945-3801), located at the marina, where half-day, full-day and night fishing is available; reservations are recommended. Also at the marina, private charter boats can be rented from Helen C Sport Fishing Charters (305-947-4081; www.fishmiamibeach.com). Half- and full-day trips are available as well as special group rates.
In Miami, following on an extensive building program during the 1980s and 90s, there is a wide range of new hotels to accompany those long since established. From the upsurge in expensive luxury hotels, modest mid-priced, budget, beachfront, chic, stylish, suburban, there are plenty to choose from an ever-increasing number of lodging options. Rates in Miami area seasonal with the best prices generally available during the summer months, typically 30 percent to 50 percent lower than the winter highs.
The Biltmore (1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables; 305-445-1926; www.biltmorehotel.com) boasts a four-star, four-diamond ranking and is one of only a few resorts in South Florida recognized as a National Historic Landmark. The exquisite craftsmanship and detail found throughout the property is reminiscent of an Old World European luxury hotel. The hotel's 276 guest rooms and 133 suites feature tasteful decor and luxurious accommodations with magnificent views of the hotel's famous pool, championship golf course and City of Coral Gables itself. Since opening its doors in 1926, The Biltmore's guest registry has read like a who's who of history, counting the likes of Al Capone and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as guests.
For a welcome retreat by the sea, The Raleigh Hotel (1775 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-534-6300; www.raleighhotel.com) provides a pleasurable mix of style and comfort that radiates with glamour and charm. This legendary South Beach hideaway features 104 guest rooms and suites in the elegant Art Deco style, along with a 6,000-square-foot penthouse offering magnificent 360 degree views of the Atlantic and the city with a huge terrace extension and rooftop fountain. The famous Raleigh swimming pool is outlined with tropical foliage and cascading waterfall, dotted with private poolside cabanas and nearby martini bar. Glance towards the ocean to discover the "Oasis," a relaxing mid-point between pool and beach.
Miami is one of the world's premier shopping cities, offering a choice of mega-malls, from the upscale Village of Merrick Park and the mammoth Aventura Mall, to the ritzy Bal Harbour Shops and touristy waterfront flavor of Bayside Marketplace or the casual yet charming character of Coconut Grove.
Village of Merrick Park (358 San Lorenzo Ave., Coral Gables; 305-529-0200; www.villageofmerrickpark.com) is a Mediterranean-style outdoor mall located amidst a corporate and residential complex encompassing some 20 acres in a quaint village brimming with fountains and tropical foliage. More than 100 designer boutiques dot the park's landscape and consist of such names as Ann Taylor, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Jimmy Choo, and Elemis Spa. Known as "The City Beautiful," Coral Gables is located south of Miami and features some of the nation's most beautiful architecture.
With more than 2.3 million square feet of space, Aventura Mall (19501 Biscayne Blvd., Aventura; 305-935-1110; www.shopaventuramall.com) is South Florida's largest regional shopping mall. Embracing an airy, European flair, the mall features more than 250 stores, including mega-stores like Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Sears, and a 24-screen movie theater.
Downtown Coconut Grove, centered on Main Highway and Grand Avenue, is among Miami's more pedestrian-friendly zones. The Grove's wide sidewalks, lined with cafes and boutiques, can provide hours of browsing time while keeping the kids busy. CocoWalk (3015 Grand Ave., Coconut Grove; 305-444-0777; www.cocowalk.net) is a lovely outdoor Mediterranean-dressed mall well styled to suit the quaint flavor of this small village. Its open-air architecture is inviting not only for shoppers, but also for those who'd prefer to sit at an outdoor cafe or just soak in the sunshine.
The enticing Art Deco lobby offers a smooth transition to what is revealed as an outdoor labyrinth of alcoves and gardens at the Skybar (1901 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-695-3100; www.shoreclub.com), a beautiful Moroccan-themed open-air hideaway at the Shore Club Hotel at Miami's South Beach. Skybar is comprised of four different themed indoor and outdoor bars of varying characteristics from antique to ultramodern, intimate or opulent, to suit a variety of moods and occasions.
Tobacco Road (626 S. Miami Ave.; 305-374-1198; www.tobacco-road.com) holds the oldest existing liquor license in the history of Dade County. Its notorious history began as a speakeasy and gambling hall during the Prohibition years and was a hangout for mob boss Al Capone. During the years since, the bar was a magnet for police raids, threats of license revocation and closure, yet somehow more than 90 years later, it still stands as a premier city hot spot. The blues bar and restaurant, which has played host to such musical greats as B.B. King, Koko Taylor and Albert Collins, is open seven-nights-a-week, and offers a plentiful menu of typical bar food and main dishes along with a soulful atmosphere.
Having first opened in February 1926 as a silent movie palace under the moniker of Olympia Theater, and dazzling the public with its stunning Moorish architecture, airy acoustics and simulated night sky, today's 1,700-seat (Olympia) Gusman Center for the Performing Arts (174 E. Flagler St.; 305-372-0925; http://gusmancenter.org) still offers plenty in the way of its original design. The sound, which is still superb, combines with yesterday's classic look complete with fancy columns, a huge pipe organ, and those twinkling "stars" atop the ceiling that made for such an enchanting visual accompaniment.
Public Transportation in Miami is known to be reasonably priced and efficient, and Miami-Dade Transit is the largest in Florida. Public transport offers a number of options, all operating at specific routes throughout Greater Miami that range in length and cost, and run on different schedules from weekdays to weekends.
Metromover is a free fully automatic service that serves downtown Miami from Omni to Brickell. It makes 21 stops and is efficient for shopping and navigating Downtown Miami. The Metrorail is a 22-mile elevated rapid transit system that makes stops in South Miami, Coral Gables, Downtown Miami, and the outer reaches through Tri-rail train transfers.
For more information about Miami's transit system, local tours, information on parks and beaches, visit the Miami Convention and Visitor's Bureau (701 Brickell Ave., Suite 2700; 305-539-3000 or 800-933-8448; www.gmcvb.com). In advance of traveling, ask for a free copy of Tropicool to tell you all you need to know about the City of Miami and its surroundings. The local office can also provide maps, general directions, information on events, and getting the most out your stay.
City of Miami
Miami Travel Guide
Miami Beach Convention Center
Azul, the signature restaurant in Miami's Mandarin Oriental and repeated recipient of dining accolades including four AAA Five-Diamond Awards, blends Mediterranean flavors and Asian influences with fabulous outcomes. Favorites would include appetizers of seared scallop and foie gras, rainbow of oysters wrapped in beef or tuna and salmon carpaccios along with entrees of grilled chop and loin of lamb with harrisa, eggplant and feta or halibut with corn. Choose the vanilla souffle with chocolate, creme Anglaise or raspberry sauce for dessert. The award-winning wine list, waterside setting and decor are all outstanding.
Mandarin Oriental Hotel
500 Brickell Key Dr.
China Grill, the trendy sister of the New York restaurant of the same name, helped pioneer the popularity of fusing Asian methods and ingredients with continental favorites. Asian decor blends well with artfully presented cuisine wrought of immense portions meant to be shared family-style or for group dining. Meander over to "The Dragon," their symbolic copper-topped sushi bar for a preliminary to the main course. Dishes may consist of sizzling whole fish with Chinese black bean sauce, lobster pancakes stir-fried with red chili, coconut milk and scallions, grilled garlic shrimp with black fettucine and red curry coconut sauce, or barbecued salmon. Desserts include ying-yang of chocolates, chocolate seduction and their coconut rum flan. This menu is an instant cure for jaded palates.
404 Washington Ave.
Emeril's Miami Beach
Emeril's Miami Beach brings a Cajun-style kick to Miami's South Beach, successfully stamping itself as another area hot spot. The sleek design of the interior showcases a chef's counter, demonstration area and elegant glass-sided wine storage cubes. The menu is a combination of Emeril Lagasse's signature Creole dishes and creative items reflecting local ingredients. Appetizers include homemade andouille sausage, blue cheese crusted oysters and the surprising lobster cheesecake, while entrees might consist of Creole bouillabaisse, garlic and cilantro poached grouper, oyster-dressed quail, or roasted veal chop. While desserts include New Orleans specialties like bread pudding and deep-dish pecan pie, Florida favorites like Cuban coffee flan and strawberry-guava cheesecake also appear. Call ahead for dinner reservations.
Emeril's Miami Beach
St. Moritz at Loews Hotel
1601 Collins Ave.
Don't let The Forge restaurant's decades long reputation for the finest steak fool you. Diners will find seafood, lamb, veal, or just about any entree to be expertly prepared and served in ornate and elegant surroundings, which are highlighted by antique brick walls and stained glass windows. Of course, this is the place to enjoy the "super steak"—16 ounces of a special cut, perfectly aged on the premises—or the 40-ounce prime steak served on the T-bone. It's hard to choose among the hearty desserts, but if you're craving chocolate, go for a Grand Marnier or marble soufflé, and be sure to order one when you place your dinner order or you'll be doomed to disappointment.
432 41st St.
Joe's Stone Crab
Joe's Stone Crab, established in 1913, is an old favorite that's lost none of its charm and popularity throughout the years. In fact, regulars probably wish Joe's were a little less popular since the wait during dinnertime is often counted by the hour. Among the freshest and best-prepared meals in town, however, dinner is worth the wait. Otherwise, try lunch or off-peak dining, as reservations are not accepted. The stone crabs with Joe's special sauce are superb, as expected, but don't ignore the other local seafood including grouper, pompano, yellowtail, and Florida lobster. Creamed spinach, another favorite, comes with or without garlic, the hash browned potatoes and fried green tomatoes are crisp and authentic. Choose the classic key lime pie for dessert. And diners can also choose their claws to go from Joe's Takeaway service.
Joe's Stone Crab
11 Washington Ave.
This gorgeous room is the signature restaurant of the famed Biltmore Hotel, built in 1926 and a Miami icon. At Palme d'Or you can expect a top-notch menu featuring French cuisine that shines as small plates entice and the three- and four-course dinners enthrall. This luxury hotel is a new hot spot, and Palme d'Or is the place to be. Along with the great wine selection, enjoy the Mediterranean fish soup to start and move on to grilled wild striped bass with fingerling potatoes or the seven-hour braised beef effilochee among the many great choices on the creative menu. Be aware that the restaurant is closed on Sundays and Monday, and reservations are recommended
1200 Anastasia Ave.
Perhaps the most difficult reservation to snag in town is for Prime 112. Filled with celebrities and a variety of colorful people, it's worth the effort for the food alone. In a city with several outstanding steak houses, Prime 112 stands out among them. The quality of the seafood is also top notch. Start with the huge house salad, which is among the best in town. When considering steak, there are a variety of cuts and sizes to choose, from an eight-ounce filet mignon to a three-pound porterhouse for two. Don't forget to leave room for a delicious side dish to "accessorize" your meal, such as the sauteed forest mushrooms, creamed spinach with crispy shallots or the rum baked sweet plantains. An interesting option is the opportunity to order one of several sauces, some classic, some unusual, and/or several flavored butters, for a few dollars more—all designed to maximize your beef experience.
The Browns Hotel
112 Ocean Dr.
For a unique and exotic dining experience, try an evening at Tantra. The floor is fresh grass, vanilla candles are everywhere and a soothing waterfall accentuates the Indian-inspired ambience. The cuisine is a multi-cultural experience. Starters may include stone crab waffle with beluga caviar, caramelized Sonoma foie gras or Thai lobster soup, while the imaginative entrees may feature Moroccan spiced lamb with mint and mango, rare seared tuna with foie gras, lobster Napoleon, and the Saigon saffron seafood stew. This is also the place to try an exotic martini where one might go for a sumptuous "Blissful Chocolate," flavorful "In the Buff" or the bombastic "Tantra Classic."
1445 Pennsylvania Ave.
Timo Restaurant and Bar
Timo Restaurant and Bar is a neighborhood place with a devout following, including visitors to Miami Beach on business or pleasure who flock to this four-star Mediterranean bistro. Executive chef and co-owner Tim Andriola prepares a feast of Italian dishes that include rich Mediterranean flavors. Wood-roasted meats and homemade pastas are served in an elegant, yet casual setting. Favorites are the Parmesan dumplings in truffle sauce and the artisanal pizzas. The trendy bar seats 40 and has an upbeat buzz, which spills into the dining room. Expect exceptional Italian fare a short drive from Miami Beach and worth the trip.
Timo Restaurant and Bar
17624 Collins Ave.