Experience Art Deco Architecture, Enjoy Cool Latin Culture and Explore a City with Real Attitude. Miami has more than just hot weather and beaches to offer.
A booming metropolis and food lover’s paradise, art deco delight and sporting mecca, Latin enclave and millionaires’ playground…there seems to be an almost unlimited number of ways to describe this ever changing city. At one time, Miami had a rather pedestrian reputation as the retirement centre for Easterners, New Yorkers in particular, fleeing cold and inclement winters. But much of that image has changed as the city has modernised, expanded and been influenced by a large influx of Latin Americans. For those of a certain baby boom generation (me included) the television series Miami Vice meant the city became forever associated with Ray Bans and rolled up jacket sleeves. But beyond superficialities and clothes, the main characters’ mix of urban grit and laid back vibe did seem to set the tone and style for an entire decade.
These days it is the cultural scene as much as the beaches that are creating a real interest in Miami. The opening last year of the Pérez Art Museum and re-think of the Miami Design District are just a few of the new developments of note. David Beckham is said to be in stalled talks with the city about financing a new soccer stadium (football on this side of the Atlantic) and the new Science museum will be set to open in 2015. When you’ve had your fill of relaxing on the beach, do get around and explore the city. Most of Miami is easily reached by Metromover and Metrorail or even Yellow Taxis.
South Beach is one of the most popular areas of Miami and is known for its particularly unspoilt beach front. On a peninsula and separated from the rest of the city by Biscayne Bay, locals relish the outdoor life that good weather brings. You will see many folks lounging in outdoor cafes but the population is also likely to be roller blading, jogging, walking their dogs or out in the surf catching the waves. Lummus Park is on the ocean front and is historically protected from development. It is here that both locals and tourists flock during the summer.
A uniquely American style of art deco evolved in South Beach which deviated from the sophisticated, cool colour scheme of crème and black. In Miami, it was all about pastels. Designers chose to use a pastel colour scheme instead of the neutral colours popular everywhere else. Much of the distinctive Art Deco architecture is to be found along Collins Ave stretching along the coastal side of the peninsula.
South Beach was the ‘American Riviera’ during the 1950’s and Jackie Gleason kept interest in the town kicking over with his weekly show broadcast from South Beach, the ‘Sun and Fun Capital of the World’, a phrase he coined himself. After the 1960s, this area went into serious decline. Many of the buildings built in the 1920s and 30s fell into disrepair and dereliction. It was a locally lead campaign that sought to renovate buildings and recover the area’s original charm.
This bustling, busy downtown is only superseded in population by NYC and Chicago. Miami’s downtown has been growing in great leaps since the early 19th century. During this period, millionaire Henry Flagler built railway lines that connected up much of Florida and the embryonic Miami to the rest of the U.S. This and the building of some of the first luxury hotels drew immigrant workers and helped fuel expansion. Downtown nowadays comprises Brickell, Park West, and the Omni neighbourhoods. There are approximately 200,000 residents and the architecture is mainly high rise office buildings and apartment blocks.
Are you a jewellery hound? Then head straight for the Miami Jewellery District, a sub-neighbourhood of Downtown. Located within the Central Business District, it is known for, not only retailers but also jewellers and gem dealers. It comprises four city blocks, bounded by North Miami Avenue, NE 2nd Avenue, East Flagler Street and NE 2nd St. Shoppers can find designer jewellery, precious stones, and gold and silver items at excellent prices.
Immediately west of Downtown Miami is Little Havanna. A thriving working class and Jewish community in the 1930s, this neighbourhood gained its moniker when Cuban immigrants started arriving in the sixties. This part of Miami has always been noted as a centre of social, cultural and political activity. Its many festivals include: the Calle Ocho Festival, Viernes Culturales (Cultural Fridays), Three Kings Parade and many others. Many visitors come to Little Havanna to take in its well-known landmarks. Calle Ocho (SW 8th Street), The Walk of Fame (that features famous Latin personalities such as Gloria Estefan), the Cuban Memorial Boulevard, Plaza de la Cubanidad, Domino Park, the Tower Theater, the Firestone Building, St. John Bosco Catholic Church and the Municipio de Santiago de Cuba building to name a few. With its intoxicating mix of robust street life, excellent restaurants, music and other cultural activities, Little Havanna draws visitors from all over the globe.
South of Brickell and east of Coral Gables is Coconut Grove, the oldest continuously inhabited neighbourhood in Miami and renowned for its bay-side living. It could be called the garden of Miami due to its verdant and abundant vegetation. Though technically founded in 1825, it was only named later in the century when a post office was set-up. Annexed to Miami in the early 20th century, this neighbourhood later became known for its youth counter culture and acid fuelled rock concerts held here in the 1960s. Now it is known for shopping and cafes and outdoor festivals.
The amount of Latin inspired restaurants in South Beach and through-out Miami is mind blowing. If you want to get an overview, book a Miami Culinary Food Tour (www.miamiculinarytours.com). The South Beach Food Tour, for instance, departs every day at 12noon or 5pm and costs $59. There is also a Wynwood Food Tour and a Little Havanna Food Tour.
When in South Beach, stop by Bolivar Fusion Restaurant Cocinas & Tragos (661 Washington Avenue) for a Colombian ‘Repajo’, a mix of soft drink and Aquila beer used as a hangover cure! Also try their exceptional cerviche, which uses lime to ‘cook’ the Sway (white fish). I particularly enjoy their delicious fried empanadas.
In Little Havanna, the Ball & Chain (www.ballandchainmiami.com) has recently re-opened its doors for Cuban-jazz lovers. Back in the 1930s, the Ball & Chain would have performances by Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday that brought the house down. There is still the hand-painted Cuban tile, potted palms and a vintage guarapo machine cranking out fresh sugarcane juice and the music is just as fresh.
In South Beach at the intersection of Espanola Way and Washington Ave is the stupendous BLOCK Pizza www.blockpizza.com . This pizzeria claims to use a sourdough or mother dough (‘Pasta Madre’ in Italian) began its life 300 years ago in Sardinia. All of BLOCK Pizza’s dough is taken from the original dough and is fed every single day as it has been for the previous three centuries. The family who run BLOCK Pizza continue this remarkable tradition and have taken an oath to care for the dough and use it wisely.
In another end of town, the newly opened Concrete Beach is an artisanal craft beer brewery located in the heart of the Wynwood Arts District. Their mission - to provide great tasting craft beer inspired by the culture and flavours of Miami, all while supporting the arts and community organizations in the neighbourhoods they serve. (www.concretebeachbrewery.com).
Need to quench your thirst on a hot day? Miami’s Loewe’s Hotel in South Beach has a glamourous pool area situated just a stone’s throw from the beach. Step into the cool lobby and seek out one of its bars for a beverage or two.
The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science (formerly known as the Miami Science Museum) is going to be transplanted from its current location to Park West at Bicentennial Park in Downtown Miami. The science museum will takes its place in this 40 acre Museum Park and sit alongside the new Pérez Museum of Art. MiaSci will incorporate advanced communications and energy-conservation technology and have some of the world’s most exciting museum experiences. Once completed in 2015, the museum should be part of any tour of the city.
Stroll along Collins Avenue to ensure you see the area’s original Art Deco buildings; many of them hotels or residences. There is the newly renovated Hotel Croydon, as well as the Metropole, Whitelaw, Shelley and the Chesterfield. These buildings style hark back to an era when the decorative arts were celebrated in architecture and clothing alike. The geometric designs, pastel colours and exuberant style give the entire district a fanciful and fun feel.
The Cadet Hotel is a bijou art deco property on that was once home to Captain Clark Gable’s squad of air force cadets during the 1940s. The lobby is adorned with art deco accessories, a grand piano plus photos of Clark Gable with his cadets. Make a dinner reservation at the hotel’s cosy Pied à Terre Restaurant (which has seating for 25 in the garden) and enjoy Contemporary French cuisine. The restaurant has an extensive wine list and serves dinner to an appreciative group of diners every night but Monday.
Want to check out hotels that aren’t just art deco? The Vagabond Hotel has now been restored to its former fifties glory and is uber-chic, has spacious rooms, many of which open onto a lush, palm tree-laden courtyard that boasts a stunning mosaic pool, oversized loungers and cocktail bar.
For those that love team sports, Miami has it covered. The Miami Dolphins, part of the NFL, play at Sunlife Stadium and are one of the top teams in the country. Their season begins in September and runs through January. Basketball is prominent as well with Miami Heat playing at the American Airlines Stadium to sell-out crowds. Any American city worth its salt will have a baseball team. So spend a summer day with the Miami Marlins at the Marlins Stadium while eating hot dogs and knocking back the brew-skis!
Ladies & Gentlemen…The Beatles! (www.historymiami.org/museum/exhibitions/details/ladies-and-gentlemen-the-beatles ) This traveling exhibition, curated by The GRAMMY Museum at L.A., will display more than 400 items from private collectors including memorabilia, records, rare photographs, tour artefacts, video footage, as well as correspondence, instruments, interactive displays, and an oral history booth in which visitors can leave their own impressions of The Beatles.
Miami Broward Carnival takes place in October every year (www.miamibrowardcarnival.com) and boasts over two dozen masquerade bands and 6 steel bands parading and competing for "Band of the Year". This participants in this event will be adorned with beautiful, colourful and intricate costumes and dancing along to the infectious musical sounds of Soca. Enjoy live concerts throughout the day, along with Caribbean food and drinks, parades and much more!
The Falls in South Miami-Dade (www.simon.com/mall/the-falls) offer more than 100 specialty stores as well as restaurants and cafés, cinemas and a Fresh Market.
As previously noted, construction is also underway to expand the Miami Design District to include more cutting-edge fashion and artwork. Beginning in autumn 2014, luxury fashion brands such as Givenchy, Miu Miu, Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, Valentino, Fendi, Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani and Van Cleef & Arpels will join other high-end designers Louis Vuitton and Hermès who have already set up shop. There will be new art installations by John Baldessari to be added to existing installations by Zaha Hadid and Marc Newson.
For a more laid back retail experience, try Coconut Grove with its two large open-air malls. Coconut Grove’s village atmosphere draws many visitors with the bonus of its unsurpassed bay-side views. CocoWalk is relaxed and renowned for cafes and entertainment http://www.cocowalk.net, while Streets of Mayfair offers slightly more exotic retail outlets. The entire neighbourhood is full of interesting shops and boutiques.
London based travel writer and photographer, Lynn Houghton was a concert performer in her early life before throwing off the choir robes and deciding to write full-time about travel. Born in the Canadian Rockies, of English and Welsh parents, she is naturally drawn to the outdoors and nature. Now travelling on assignment, she covers culture, cruise and cuisine for websites and consumer and trade publications. She writes extensively about the U.S. and Canada but also covers Africa as well for targeted consumer titles.
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12/04/2018 aboard Norwegian Jade
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