When I visited Miami this past spring, I imagined an urban, centralized city with the beach as its main attraction. Couldn’t have been further from the truth. Miami has deep multicultural roots which can be easily experienced within a plethora of neighborhoods and districts. Flying into Miami International Airport is a treat – downtown Miami, the sprawling Biscayne Bay, and South Beach (looking like no more than a strip of sand across the bay) are on full display.
South Beach is Miami’s best-known location and likely the most vibrant. The area is separated from the downtown area by Biscayne Bay (which was a surprise to me) and is a long, skinny parcel of land running parallel to the mainland. South Beach has the largest number of Art Deco-style buildings in the world. Many were historical hotels now converted into restaurants, clubs, and office buildings. Seeing the architecture throws you back to glamorous, mid-20th century America with fancy cars, bathing beauties, and Latin rumba bands.
The Art Deco Welcome Center on Ocean Drive is a convenient location to get oriented. Stretching from 22nd Street all the way down the coastline to South Pointe Park, Ocean Drive runs along the world-famous white sand and blue waters of Miami Beach. Luxury hotels dot the shore with expansive ocean-front properties sporting pools, cabanas, and boardwalks. Along Ocean Drive, many former hotels are eateries and nightclubs pulsing with music so loud your whole being shakes as you walk by. The sidewalk is an adventure in itself; the restaurant seating areas have taken over the pedestrian zones so passersby wander through each unique place, getting a feel for each’s character and specialties. http://www.miamiandbeaches.com/visitor-information/art-deco-welcome-center–miami-design-preservation-league/102632
Two places are noteworthy in South Beach if you are an I LOVE LUCY fan (which I am a devout one). The Clay Hotel, located on nearby Espanola Way, was built in 1925 and is supposedly where Desi Arnaz first introduced the rumba to the United States after fleeing to Miami during the 1930s Cuban revolution. Also, the Eden Roc Hotel – one of the premier hotels personifying Miami Beach in the 1950s – is where the I LOVE LUCY crew arrived to film two season six episodes in 1956.
Miami’s Little Havana district pays homage to the many Cubans who sought refuge here after Fidel Castro’s regime took over the Caribbean country. You can see native Cubans assemble for daily games of dominoes in Maximo Gomez Park. Little Havana is mainly situated around 8th Avenue, which sports ethnic cigar stores, Cuban restaurants, and authentic food markets. I had an underlying feeling of sadness walking through this area. The Cubans are desperately trying to keep their culture alive after their homeland fell to Communism. The Freedom Tower (located downtown) served as Miami’s version of Ellis Island during 1962-1974. Thousands of Cubans arrived on ships and watercraft seeking freedom in this time period, giving Miami a large part of its ethnic atmosphere today. The Freedom Tower is now a museum open to the general public. https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/american_latino_heritage/Freedom_Tower.html
Located down the coastline, the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami’s glamorous Coconut Grove neighborhood is a must. Built between 1914 and 1916 in grand Italian Renaissance style, Vizcaya was conceived by millionaire agriculturist James Deering who loved history and culture. He built the villa, opulent gardens, and servant’s quarters along acres of waterfront property. The villa’s colonnades, red tile roof, rooms filled with 15th-19th century European treasures, over-the-top opulence, and fabulous ocean views make Vizcaya totally superb. The property was damaged by several hurricanes, but has made a remarkable recovery. Vizcaya hosted the 1994 Summit of the Americas and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Look it up – vizcaya.org
Miami is more than waves and sand (which are top-notch to say the least). The city thrives on multiculturalism and appreciation for different nationalities. Visit to see for yourself one of America’s greatest cities with a personality all its own. Besides the city sights, Miami also is home to the Port of Miami – the “Cruise Capitol of the World” and “Cargo Gateway to the Americas”. Millions of passengers and countless loads of freight funnel through the harbor every day. Also, Miami is an excellent starting point for venturing south into the Florida Keys by car (which could be another whole writing itself).
Viva la Miami!
Visit the city’s official website for more information: http://www.miamigov.com/home/