Travel Guide to Miami and its Attractions


Turn Up The Heat

The sky seems larger and colors seem to glow brighter in Miami’s sub-tropical paradise. Near the southernmost point of the peninsula of Florida and the United States, Miami stays warm, even through the winter months when other cities are feeling the chill. A sweater is rarely necessary with average winter temperatures at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit or 21 degrees Celsius.

A long-time vacation spot and nightlife mecca, Miami and its beaches cater to the glamorous and fashionable. The young and the beautiful flock to Miami because at its heart the city has a soul unlike the rest of America. Its Afro-Cuban and Latin roots give Miami an “island” feel that is more like the Caribbean than the rest of the U.S.

View of the downtown Miami skyline and its bright colors.

View of the downtown Miami skyline and its bright colors.

Dance The Night Away

[Also see our travel article “Cities With The World’s Best Nightlife“]

The skin glistens in Miami’s humidity, making the body relax to the city’s internal rhythm. Any trip to Miami should be filled with late-night dancing to addictive beats.

New to the South Beach scene is High Club, which opened November 2011, on Ocean Drive, from the Parisian nightlife impresario, Gil Thevenet. Inspired by the tone of a turn-of-the-century French boudoir, the club features Victorian-styled VIP seating, black leather-buttoned walls and a white lacquer Bar. The original High Club is in Nice, which is Miami Beach’s sister city.

Interior of the new nightlife hot spot High Club on Ocean Drive.

Interior of the new nightlife hot spot High Club on Ocean Drive.

Models and Hollywood stars flock to The Bank, located in the historic Meyer-Kiser Bank Building in downtown Miami, which is registered with the U.S. National Registry of Historic Places. With a modern speakeasy feel of the 1920s and a lush interior, The Bank is determined to bring glamour to Miami’s party scene.

The opulent interior of The Bank, a speakeasy themed nightclub.

The opulent interior of The Bank, a speakeasy themed nightclub.

The art crowd moves to the beat at The Electric Pickle Company, located among the art galleries in Midtown’s Wynwood Arts District. Two-floors of music, dance and drinking, the venue holds special events from international DJs and artists. Try one of their signature drinks, the Dirty Pickle Martini or the Scorpion Bowl for two.

Shelter From The Heat In A Cool Hotel

After night-to-dawn dancing, tired toes need rest. Choose one of Miami Beach’s wide selection of trendy hotels. Boutique chains, such as The Standard have outposts here.

The Standard Miami Beach is located away from the rest of the crowds on South Beach. Overlooking the beautiful and historic Venetian Causeway and Biscayne Bay, the focus here is on well-being and spa treatments. Every day, the hotel offers yoga, meditation and movement classes, and the restaurant serves meals based on a Mediterranean diet food pyramid, with little red meat and lots of antioxidant-rich vegetables.

Designed by renowned architect Morris Lapidus in 1954, The Fontainebleau (formerly The Fontainebleau Hilton) is the old-school hotel choice, where legendary stars like Frank Sinatra and The Beatles played and stayed. A true architectural icon, the hotel was built to inspire, with a 17,000-square foot lobby and 250 cabanas surrounding the raised 6,500-square foot pool, which features waterfalls and hidden grottos. The Bond movie “Goldfinger” was shot there and it was once home to the Miss Universe pageant.

After its $1 billion renovation, The Fontainebleau is once again is the shining star of Miami Beach, just north of South Beach – and with a wonderful oceanside boardwalk that offers a refreshing stroll or jog at any time of day or night.

Sizzling Kitchens

[Also see Hopper’s article “The Five Best Restaurants for Brunch in Miami“]

The Miami sun works up an appetite and one of the hottest restaurants, which opened November 2011, is the W Hotel’s The Dutch. The eatery is Chef Andrew Carmellini’s take on seaside cafes, country taverns and American oyster shacks. Driftwood beams and white-painted brick walls create a comfortable elegance that is perfect for Miami Beach. The American menu focuses on fresh, local seafood and choice meats, for breakfast, lunch and dinner – and, as always, the W itself is a hip place to stay or hang out.

Little oyster sandwiches at the Dutch in the W Hotel.

Little oyster sandwiches at the Dutch in the W Hotel.

All Miami visitors should try the local Latin and Caribbean restaurants that dot the landscape – and are an intrinsic part of Miami’s history since the Cuban Revolution and before. South Beach’s Puerto Sagua, on the corner on Collins Avenue and 7th Street, has been serving up “ropa vieja” (shredded flank steak in a tomato sauce base) and other classic Cuban dishes since 1966. Well-priced meals here are large and satisfying.

Try the fruit shakes and the perfectly sweetened Café con Leche. (Cuban coffee is an experience in itself, to be enjoyed at every opportunity in Miami.) Hot milk arrives at your table, and you pour in your own Cuban espresso. The “medianoche” is the ideal hangover sandwich – with turkey, ham and cheese heated and pressed flat to about 2-inches thick.

Head over to Sugarcane Raw Bar and Grill in Midtown Miami. Chef Timon Ballo mixes together South American flavors with his raw bar concept. A semi-finalist for the James Beard Award in 2011, the restaurant is a true fusion of Miami’s multicultural mix. The steamed pork buns, with apple kimchi and cilantro, soothe the soul when dining either on the lush patio or inside the warm modern tropical interior. Groups can order large pitchers of white sangria or caipirinha.

The interior of the Sugarcane Raw Bar and Grill in Midtown Miami.

The interior of the Sugarcane Raw Bar and Grill in Midtown Miami.

Drag Brunch at The Palace is a Miami Beach institution. Located at Ocean Drive and 12th Street, the restaurant and bar offer a prix-fixed menu with bottomless mimosas. However, the food is not the main attraction. Rain or shine, the drag queens put on an astonishing show with high kicks and fierce dancing set to favorite disco and club hits.

Coffee addicts looking for rare beans from small farms around the world need to head over to Panther Coffee, in the Wynwood district. Owners Joel and Leticia Pollock have been roasting coffee for the art crowd since 2010, during the Art Basel Art Fair. The couple also host special coffee tastings from organic farms at their location, with a striking exterior by west coast artist Barry McGee.

Sea, Sex and Sun

Anything below 21st Street on Miami Beach is considered part of the legendary South Beach. With such large numbers of European and South American visitors, it is unofficially a topless beach. Lifeguards allow women to enjoy the sun sans their bikini top, along the ultra-wide sandy shore. Here the water is as blue and clear as any beach in the Caribbean, often at bathtub temperatures.

If you forget anything, don’t worry. Beach chairs are available for rent on the sand and drinks are close at hand (it is possible to wander around South Beach with an alcoholic drink in hand, if you’re reasonably discreet about it). During the busy weekends, vendors sell their wares to visitors who are happily soaking in the sun.

A young couple playing in the surf on Miami Beach.

A young couple playing in the surf on Miami Beach.

Before or after your beach day, stroll along Ocean Drive, which is the last street before the boardwalk and sand. Shops, restaurants and clubs, located in restored, historical Art Deco buildings, line SoBe’s main drag, and at night the neon from them offers an alluring and unforgettable skyline.

Be careful, if you’re driving, not to circle the area repeatedly – there are “no cruising” laws in effect. Also be aware that the parking meters on Ocean Drive and many other places on Miami Beach require payment up to midnight and sometimes beyond.

The neon lights of the Colony Hotel on SoBe's main street, Ocean Drive.

The neon lights of the Colony Hotel on SoBe's main street, Ocean Drive.

North of 21st Street is good for quieter enjoyment of the beach, without the thongs, throngs and madness. If you do want some action, hop from hotel beach bar to the next, starting at the legendary Delano Hotel and The Raleigh Hotel. Both were pioneer hotels that reopened, newly restored, in the early 1990s, as Miami Beach was losing its retirement community image and gaining a reputation as an international playground for the young and hip. The Raleigh features a stunning, original pool, with a curved shape, that harks back to the glamour of Miami Beach in the 1920s.

The southern tip of South Beach is South Pointe Park, where young surfers determinedly try to catch 2-foot waves. Another pastime for local youth is diving off a fishing dock at the southernmost point of the beach, near Miami’s cruise ship channel. As the vast ships sail slowly by, kids take turns jumping into the deep, dark waters – where, occasionally, a large shark has been beached.

South Pointe Park at the southern tip of Miami Beach.

South Pointe Park at the southern tip of Miami Beach.

Head over to Key Biscayne for a genuine tropical escape. Situated just south of Miami Beach, Key Biscayne is a true island connected to the mainland only by a road bridge. Roughly a quarter the size of Miami Beach, large sea grapes (a protected Florida native tree) and palm trees shade its white sandy beaches. Locals paddleboard and windsurf on the weekends, and Key Biscayne tends to attract visitors more interested in water sports than bar hopping.

Miami’s geographic location near the southern tip of Florida’s peninsula makes it ideal for boating. Beginners and experienced sailors can rent a sailboat from Aquatic Rental Center in Miami Beach. The closest Caribbean island is Bimini, at 2 ½ to 3 hours away, and is ideal for sport fishing – although a voyage along Florida’s famous “Keys” (a chain of islands linked by road bridges, one of them seven miles long) to its southernmost tip, Key West, is also a wonderful experience.

If you want to relax and let the crew captain the boat, charter a yacht to the Bahamas with Miami Yacht Charters. Act out your favorite rap video yacht fantasy with a group of friends, or cruise around Miami and beyond on a party catamaran. Deep-sea fishing charters include Reel Adventure Charters and Kelley Fleet. Novice and experienced fishermen can tackle large game fish, like Sailfish, Shark and Marlin, while the charter provides bait and tackle.

If you want a real Miami adventure, drive out to “Alligator Alley” on Interstate 75. Check out the swamps and ride on an airboat at Ride-the-Wind. These are modified flat-bottomed boats, with airplane engines on the back. They move like hovercraft, propelled by their back engines over the shallow waters around one of Florida’s greatest treasures, the Everglades National Park. From the safety of the boat, you can feed the local alligators and watch for native birds and mammals.

An airboat in the swamps of the Everglades National Park.

An airboat in the swamps of the Everglades National Park.

Events Worth Stopping For

The international art crowd gathers in Miami every December for the Art Basel art fair. Miami has a rich art scene with important resident artists, including Robert Chambers, Dara Friedman and Make Handforth. Centered around the Miami Beach Convention Center, all the local galleries and museums participate in the annual festival. Parties with artists and collectors take over the city, and special events such as video art projections and temporary sculptures are installed around the city.

Near Little Haiti in Midtown Miami, Wynwood is the haven for the art set, with its cutting-edge galleries. If you can’t make it to Art Basel, the Rubell Family Collection, which was the first art institution in Wynwood, is an experience in itself. Open by appointment only, the extensive collection features artwork from the most important contemporary artists from the 1980s onward, such as Damien Hirst, Cindy Sherman and Jeff Koons.

Followers of electronica and DJ music converge at the Winter Music Conference, every March in Miami Beach. Internationally renowned DJs perform on yachts, pools and at local clubs, while others participate in music industry panels and seminars. The International Record Collector’s Show also takes place during the conference, with renowned dealers of all genres.

DJ and party scene at the Winter Music Conference.

DJ and party scene at the Winter Music Conference.

Every year, the Winter Music Conference coincides with the Ultra Music Festival, which since 1999 has featured artists like The Chemical Brothers and Underworld, and has headlined cutting edge DJs like Carl Cox and Moby.

Serious Shopping, Serious Fun

Park in the spectacular 1111 Lincoln Road parking garage designed by Herzog & Meuron. Its open floor plan displays the parked cars like artwork. Fabricated from concrete and steel, the vehicles look as if they are floating within the garage. Inside, retail shops intermix with the cars. Babalu, inside the structure, is a high-end gift shop with perfumes, candles, jewelry an books.

Lincoln Road Mall is the one-stop place for shopping, dining and general people-watching. A pedestrian mall, local boutiques cater to any whim or desire. Books and Books, whose main location is in Coral Gables, is a must-stop for well-chosen books and magazines. Local authors and artists frequent the shop for readings and events.

The Village of Merrick Place feature upscale shopping in the Coral Gables area, which is Miami’s version of Beverly Hills. Store like Hugo Boss mix with Anthropologie. Satisfy your designer fix with the Bal Harbour Shops, north of Miami Beach. All the major international design houses are represented here, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Hermes and more. The outdoor mall is lush with fountains and displays of luxury cars, such as Aston Martin and Ferrari, from local dealers. Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus anchor the mall at either end.

The Sun Sets

Any trip to Miami is packed with the sea and the sun all year around. Let your body slip into Miami’s groove and enjoy its rhythm. Miami is a city that will remain with you for a lifetime.


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Based in California, Charong Chow is an internationally exhibited artist and author. She caught the traveling bug young and traveled the globe by the time she was 20.