Miami is a smooth, polished diamond with many glittering faces. Paul Blaney explores its diverse neighbourhoods
Imagine Miami and chances are you’ll picture sea and sand, a city beach or an open-topped car ride south to the Keys.
Return visitors to the city, however, or even first-timers, can discover more of Miami by stepping outside the traditional tourist haunts.
The city has a fabulous downtown, a design district and other diverse neighbourhoods, all ripe for exploring.
Why? This high-rise area, the city’s fastest-growing neighbourhood, is the place to head for shopping, dining and cultural attractions.
What to do? Check out historic shopping arcades, department stores and emporiums that mix big-city shopping with cosmopolitan flair. Bayside Marketplace, with its picture-postcard view of Biscayne Bay, is an attraction in its own right, while food options cover all culinary styles. Downtown cultural highlights include the Miami Art Museum.
Where to stay? For a luxurious stay, you can’t go wrong with the Epic Hotel on the bank of Miami River overlooking Biscayne Bay.
Why? This is multicultural Miami at its best. With its murals and monuments, old men playing dominoes, and the scent of cigars and Cuban coffee, Little Havana is saturated with Hispanic culture.
What to do? On Calle Ocho, the main drag, galleries and restaurants compete for street space with fruit stands and cigar shops – not to mention Walkway of the Stars, honouring Latino icons like Gloria Estefan. The local arts scene is celebrated on the last Friday of every month by Viernes Culturales (Cultural Fridays) events.
THE DESIGN DISTRICT
Why? Just to the north of midtown, the Design District is where funky design meets high-end chic. It’s part quirky art gallery and part luxury shopping mecca – and somehow the mix works well.
What to do? According to your taste, or wallet, you might explore antique shops, showrooms and bars, or discover chic boutiques and home decor stores with everything from designer labels to retro refrigerators. This district is also home to several of Miami’s biggest-name restaurants.
Why? With its tree-lined boulevards, fountains, historic buildings and boutiques, Coral Gables lives up to its nickname ‘The City Beautiful’. This elegant, unapologetically old-fashioned neighbourhood is a great place to unwind, browse, and generally enjoy a change of pace.
What to do? Boutiques and speciality stores along ‘Miracle Mile’ present the sharpest new styles alongside the best in niche products such as leather goods and bridal shops. In fact Coral Gables is a magnet for soon-to-be brides searching for that special dress. Restaurants here are characterised not just by their fine food but for their elegant service and ambience. Other local highlights include the Fairchild Botanical Gardens and Venetian Pool, a Venice-style lagoon carved out of coral, with waterfalls, caves, bridges and a swimming pool.
Where to stay? A national historic landmark, first opened in 1926, the opulent and iconic Biltmore Hotel is a must.
Why? North of downtown, Wynwood is Miami’s artistic hub. The district boasts more than 70 galleries, museums and collections – this is the cosmopolitan city at its most uber-cool.
What to do? Walk, wander, gaze – the streets of Wynwood are one big outdoor art museum where artists of all kinds rub shoulders and share space. The Wynwood Walls showcase murals by some of street art’s most famous names, among them Shepard Fairey of ‘Obama Hope’ poster fame. The district is especially vibrant during the annual Art Basel (December 5-8, 2013), with pop up parties and galleries where musicians mix with artists and designers. The cultural products here are truly state-of-the-art.
Why? Settled in the 1800s, Coconut Grove is a village within the city, a charming, bayside enclave with a vibe all its own. Distinctly bohemian and pedestrian-friendly, the Grove scores highly for sidewalk cafes, small galleries and boutiques.
What to do? Stroll, check out the various bayfront parks, or just pull up a chair and watch the wonderful mix of shoppers, tourists, bar-hoppers and students go by. The Grove also plays host to events ranging from food and jazz festivals to ‘King Mango Strut’ and the Miami/Bahamas Goombay Festival.
Where to stay? The all-suite Residence Inn by Marriott is a short stroll from CocoWalk, while the Grove Isle Hotel & Spa is a boutique property on its own island.
Why? The classic perception of Miami is one of sun-drenched beaches, fabulous art deco architecture, trendy cafes and buzzing nightlife. No place encapsulates this better than South Beach, the backdrop for many films, TV shows and music videos. Miami Beach has a more laid-back vibe. It’s a good choice for those who want to be close to the action but still able to escape into their own space.
What to do? Relax by day on the white-sand beach, handy for dozens of stylish cafes and restaurants. After dark, grab a cocktail at the Tantra Restaurant & Lounge or the News Cafe on Ocean Drive before heading over to LIV Fontainebleau or the Nikki Beach Hotel’s Club 01 for serious late-night action.
Where to stay? South Beach (known to locals as SoBe) has accommodation to suit every taste and budget but the W South Beach is a decidedly hip option. Up on Miami Beach, Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa is a tranquil, luxury getaway. More lively, and with better celeb-spotting potential, is the Fontainebleau.
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