Dappled with the long, lean shadows cast by a seaside chain of palm trees, the sands of Miami – warm and sun washed – are the stuff that many a TV series is made of, the haunt of sun-seekers, bronzed bodies and many a hedonist. Beyond the beach, Greater Miami – one of the state’s largest metropolitan areas – is a tourist draw because it is also, amongst other things, host to sophisticated parties, Art Deco style architecture, a rich multi-cultural scene, a range of pro-sporting events and a good clutch of museums and art galleries. Furthermore, Miami is also within relatively easy reach of two national parks, the Everglades and Biscayne, one national preserve (Big Cypress) and the Florida Keys, any of which are good for a range of outdoor activity that runs from snorkeling and scuba diving to kayaking and hiking.
But before tackling sights slightly farther afield, take the time to do Miami’s hot spots justice, from Coconut Grove to South Beach, starting in the heart of this metropolitan area’s downtown.
Though looming high rise office buildings lend Miami’s skyline its discernible weight, most visitors find between a loop round downtown on the Metromover and a wander through Gesu Church, that the main sight of note here is the Metro-Dade Cultural Center, which houses the Miami Art Museum and the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, as well as a large public library. Head a few blocks west of downtown for access to Little Havana, home to a sizable Cuban population and a good place to pick up (legal) souvenir cigars, or people-watch from a lively café.
To the south and inland are affluent neighborhoods, Coral Gables and Coconut Grove. Coral Gables occupies an swath of city characterized by elegant estates but is also endowed with a handful of historic sights, like the restored Biltmore Hotel, French City Village (which lends architectural variety to an area otherwise mostly Mediterranean in feel), and the Venetian Pool, an alluring public swimming pool constructed in a coral rock quarry in the 1920’s. Locally there is also the Lowe Art Museum, which boasts a collection that ranges from Native American artifacts to Renaissance masters, and the former home of architect George Merrick (who was the mastermind behind early Coral Gables design), now a museum.
Steer east to reach Coconut Grove, once home to a thriving hippy community but now slightly more mainstream. Catch the vibe of this Miami neighborhood on a stroll through Coconut Grove Village, an outdoor mall, before venturing on to see other cultural sights like the historic home of Ralph Monroe (the Barnacle), the former Pan-Am terminal on Dinner Key the Museum of Science and Space Transit Planetarium and Vizcaya, one of the city’s most significant sights, the former winter home of James Deering, a moneyed industrialist who had this intriguing mansion built to his eclectic tastes in the early 20th century.
For those concerned more with finding a spot to throw down a towel, the sandy stretch of choice is Miami Beach, located on a barrier island linked to downtown Miami by big bridges. Though there’s beach to pad 10 miles of the eastern shore, the most popular spot to see and be seen is South Beach (SoBe), which covers the southern tip of the island (roughly 1st street north to 25th street). Known for its colorful Art Deco buildings (like hotels Carlyle, Edison and Breakwater), South Beach is also home to a thriving assortment of artists and representative art galleries (note that America’s biggest art festival, Art Basel Miami Beach, takes place here each December). For a glimpse of Old Masters though, take a turn through the Bass Museum of Art and a tour of the Wolfsonian Foundation’s collection (which numbers both historic artifacts and fine art) then enjoy a meander down the pedestrian mall, Lincoln Road, to put it in contemporary perspective of currently hot gallery offerings. Finally, if you’re looking for a place to burn the midnight oil, SoBe is by far the life of the party, packed with bars and clubs to the needs of most socialites
No matter where you chose to find accommodation in Miami, consider a sight-seeing boat tour around busy Biscayne Bay and day-trips out to nearby attractions like Miami Metrozoo, the Miami Seaquarium, Charles Deering Estate and intriguing Coral Castle, which really needs to be seen to be appreciated. Also worthy of attention is the Spanish Monastery, which William Randolph Hearst had shipped piece by piece to the U.S., Miami Children’s Museum (for those with young ones in tow), and a selection of nature-oriented sights, like Fairchild Tropical Garden, Parrot Jungle Island and Monkey Jungle.