Part of the Florida for Grown Ups Guide.
The Magic City…..
When you think of Miami, the first things that spring to mind are palm trees, glitz, glamour, nightlife and Will Smith (ok, perhaps the latter is a generational thing).
We only had one day and night to explore the city before we flew home to the UK. Despite making sure we saw as much as possible, I know we barely managed to scratch the surface.
South Beach (SoBe)
Our first port of call when we arrived was South Beach. Predictable, yes. The short drive across the MacArthur Causeway from mainland Miami to Watson Island was a sight in itself, with crystal blue waters to either side and huge high rise buildings dominating the Miami skyline. A pretty impressive picture.
We parked up at South Pointe, a large city park just off Washington Avenue, set at the waters edge. A pretty green shaded space, I can see how it could be the perfect spot for the locals to spend a lazy afternoon. It’s definitely equipped for it, with picnic benches, BBQ areas and the odd cruise ship passing for good measure.
Take my advice; South Pointe is the ideal place to drop the car when arriving on the island as it’s only a short 10 minute walk to the beach via the waterfront promenade – and it will save you masses of time looking for spaces along the busy strip.
South Beach first became the ‘fashionable place to be’ in the 1980s (thanks to Miami Vice) and is still the same today with 14 million visitors annually – and rising (hence it’s nickname ‘the Magic City’). It has also featured in many a Hollywood blockbuster including Scarface, Bad Boys and There’s Something About Mary. Over the years, South Beach has become more widely known as SoBe by the cool kids, who copied the term from New York’s SoHo.
If you’re bronzed and you’re beautiful, this is the place to go to hang out in the sun and show off your tan. Pasty, white visitors also welcome!
The really surprising thing about South Beach is that it is so incredibly clean – more so than any beach I’ve visited (yes, it’s man-made and well manicured). It quite possibly has the best lifeguard towers on the planet too! Check these beauties out….
The Art Deco Scene
The South Beach area has the largest collection of Art Deco buildings – bold pastel colours, no two buildings the same. But it wasn’t always this way; up until the 1980s, the buildings were predominantly white. Back then, South Beach was something of a danger zone with high crime rates. The change came about in an effort to draw attention away from the poverty and towards the architecture. I’m sure it did!
Ocean Drive is the main strip in the South Beach area. Alfresco cafes serving coffee and gelato, restaurants and bars offering happy hour specials and a host of nightclubs line the street.
South Beach has a similar vibe to that of New York, but only in as much as you feel like you have been before, even when you haven’t. This is probably with thanks to its staring role in many TV shows and films. It all just looks very familiar.
Park Central was built in the 30s and featured in ‘Scarface’
If you have more time than we had, there is so much to explore on the island. Further North you will find plenty of places to shop, museums, more famous hotels (such as Gloria Estefan’s ‘Cordozo’) and the mansion once home to Gianni Versace. This has become something of a tourist attraction in itself after he was gunned down there by a crazed ‘fan’ in 1997.
Sadly, we didn’t have time for any shopping during our trip, but I believe that Lincoln Road Mall is amazing.
To sum up South Beach in one sentence, it would be this: VIP lifestyle, oozing colour and beautiful people! So what are you waiting for?
Downtown Brickell – the Financial District
Brickell is Miami’s bustling financial district and known as the ‘Wall Street of the South’ as it’s the second largest financial hub after New York. Unlike the Art Deco found on South Beach, the properties here primarily consist of high rise condos and business-owned skyscrapers. Less fun, more serious.
Based at the lower end of Downtown, Brickell is just a mere 15 minutes in the car from South Beach (traffic permitting!). If you don’t have a car, it’s easily reachable by Miami’s public transport, notably the ‘Metro Mover’ which rides over the city. If I’m not mistaken, it’s even free to use it! Again, with our time restrictions, I didn’t get opportunity to test this out.
Brickell is something of a relatively new discovery within Miami, having recently taken off as the place where the hipsters want to live; a busy business district during the day and a hive of bars, restaurants and nightlife after dark.
We chose to stay at Fortune House Suites on South 14th Street. Our suite was typical of Miami exuberance, with two bedrooms and two balconies (yes, for just two people!), overlooking the waters of Biscayne Bay and the city below. I can’t recommend this hotel more highly if you’re visiting Miami; the best places aren’t always where you expect to find them.
Did you know that Miami is considered the Capital of Latin America? Nor did I. Until now. In fact, Little Havana has the largest settlement of Cuban immigrants and 70% of its population speak Spanish.
Calle Ocho (meaning ‘8th Street’) is the main district in Little Havana where you can experience a taste of Cuban life and culture – and a hell of a lot of art in one small space. Every March it hosts ‘Miami Carnival’ and has been doing so since 1978, when it was established to bring the Hispanic community together.
Calle Ocho is also recognised for its ‘Walk of Fame’, paying tribute to Cuban and Latin cultural figures – much in the same way that Hollywood has its Walk of Fame too – only on a much smaller scale.
Cuban culture is depicted by the street art at every corner. I love graffiti so to come here was on my list of must-sees. Just a short 10 minute drive from our hotel in Brickell, it fit the bill nicely as somewhere to spend our final few hours before our early afternoon flight.
It quickly became apparent that in addition to cigars, coffee and salsa, the rooster is a big part of the Cuban culture (they live in most parts of the country), so it hardly came as a surprise that there would be a ‘rooster hunt’! Great fun for big kids like me.
But all too soon it became time to head for the airport, but not without first having a Cuban brunch at the Havana Market. Compared to the rest of Miami, Calle Ocho is relatively inexpensive to eat and drink.
Had I have had an extra day or two in Miami, I’d have paid a visit to Wynwood Walls (outdoor art museum) and Coral Gables (the millionaire playground)…..but I’m happy to leave that until next time.