WHAT TO DO
Miami is a coastal metropolis located in Miami Dade County in South Florida. It was named after the Miami River, derived from Mayaimi, the historic name of Lake Okeechobee and the Native Americans who lived around it. Miami is noted as the only major city in the United States founded by a woman. Julia Tuttle, a local citrus grower, was the original owner of the land upon which the city was built. The Great Freeze of 1894-1895 hastened Miami's growth, as the crops there were the only ones in Florida that survived. Tuttle subsequently convinced railroad tycoon Henry Flagler to extend his Florida East Coast Railway to the region, for which she became known as 'the mother of Miami'. It was officially incorporated as a city on July 28, 1896. Today, Miami is a multicultural mosaic with a large population of residents originating from Cuba and Central and South America. It is one of South Florida's premier destinations - with beautiful beaches and great weather, history, culture, art and cuisine. Downtown Miami, separated from the Atlantic Ocean by Biscayne Bay and Miami Beach, is a modern metropolis and cultural treasure trove. From the museums to the streets of Little Havana, you can always find plenty of things to do in town. Across the bay, Miami Beach, with its Art Deco District, fantastic stretch of beachfront and stylish vibe, is a must visit. With so much to offer, The Magic City is sure to please.
Begin your odyssey at the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), located at 1103 Biscayne Boulevard in Downtown. One of Miami's most spectacular spaces, designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, integrates tropical foliage, glass, concrete and wood - a blending of tropical vitality and fresh modernism that fits perfectly in Miami. PAMM stages some of the best contemporary exhibitions in the city, with established artists and impressive newcomers. The permanent collection rotates through unique pieces every few months, drawing from a treasure trove of work spanning the last 80 years. Light, airy spaces along with incredible views out over Biscayne Bay invoke a sense of calm and introspection, helping to aid in your appreciation of the artwork. Note: the museum is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. Nearby, on the east side of Biscayne Boulevard, is Bayfront Park. This lovely 32 acre green space is adjacent to the Bayside Marketplace. The park has several interesting monuments and sculptures - one of the unique features is the electronically controlled Pepper Fountain. Other highlights include the Challenger Memorial, a monument designed for the astronauts killed in the 1986 space shuttle explosion, built to resemble both the twisting helix of a human DNA chain and the shuttle itself. The Light Tower is a somewhat abstract allusion to Japanese lanterns and moonlight over Miami.
Across the street at 600 Biscayne Boulevard is the Freedom Tower. An iconic slice of Miami's old skyline, this richly ornamented building was built in 1925. Dubbed the 'Ellis Island of the South,' it served as an immigration processing center for hundreds of thousands of Cuban refugees in the 1960s. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, it was also home to the Miami Daily News for over three decades. In the beautifully restored lobby, above the elevators and stretching toward the coffered ceiling, you can see reliefs of men at work on the printing presses. Note: the tower also houses the Museum of Art & Design at MDC. From there, make your way to Little Havana and Calle Ocho (8th Street). Little Havana, the Cuban district of Miami, isn't known for its wealth of tourist attractions but more for its distinctive cultural scene. Restaurants and specialty shops line 8th street, and Latin music drifts through the air. Murals grace the walls of buildings, showing important Cuban figures and scenes of daily life. Calle Ocho is the main thoroughfare running through the district and home to much of the activity - be sure to visit Domino Park. The heart of Little Havana, this is where the sound of elderly men playing dominoes is harmonized with the scent of wafting cigars and the sound of salsa spilling into the street. The Calle Ocho Festival, held in March, is a celebration of Cuban culture and the largest of its kind in the world. Over the years this street festival has expanded to include more Latin American cultures and is now a great way to experience Latin American music and cuisine. Note: I will discuss places to eat and drink in Little Havana later on.
Another cool neighborhood is the Design District. This creative enclave is known for its sleek modern architecture, upscale interior design stores and art galleries. Luxury fashion and jewelry boutiques, cafes and celebrity chef restaurants draw a well heeled crowd. Three spots that are not to be missed include the Fly's Eye Dome, De La Cruz Collection and Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA). Installed during Art Basel in 2014, inventor Buckminster Fuller's striking Fly's Eye Dome looks otherworldly as it appears to float in a small reflecting pool surrounded by slender, gently swaying palm trees. The 24 foot tall geodesic dome was dubbed an 'autonomous dwelling machine' by Fuller when he conceived it back in 1965. The De La Cruz Collection houses one of Miami's finest private collections. This 30000 square foot art gallery has a treasure trove of contemporary works scattered across three floors, which you can roam freely. Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz, who originally hail from Cuba, have particularly strong holdings in postwar German paintings, as well as fascinating works by Jim Hodges, Ana Mendieta and Felix Gonzalez Torres. Note: the gallery is closed on Sunday and Monday. Next door is the excellent Institute of Contemporary Art. It hosts a fantastic range of contemporary exhibitions alongside its permanent collection pieces. The building, designed in 2017 by Aranguren & Gallegos architects, is especially beautiful - with its sharp geometric lines and large windows overlooking the back garden. The metallic grey facade is simultaneously industrial and elegant. Note: the museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Not far away, in the Wynwood district, is the totally rad Wynwood Walls. In the midst of rusted warehouses and concrete blah, there's a pastel and graffiti explosion of urban art that has brought new life to this area. Established by visionary Tony Goldman in 2009, the district has attracted big names in the world of street art from across North America and around the world. Since it was started, more than 80000 square feet of wall space has been graced with paintings in this unique art form. The entire area is full of colorful street art. Wander around (along NW 2nd Avenue) on your own, or for greater insight into the murals, sign up online for a guided tour. If you want to see famous name artists and purchase prints - visit the Wynwood Walls Museum at 2516 NW 2nd Avenue. Inside this gated area, you'll find more than 50 dazzling murals, retail shops and galleries. Note: the museum is open daily from 11a-7p. After your art appreciation, head down a few blocks to Panther Coffee at 2390 NW 2nd Avenue. This local cafe is a good spot to chill and has the best coffee in town.
The Vizcaya Museum & Gardens is located at 3251 S Miami Avenue. This National Historic Landmark, set on 30 acres, was the luxurious winter home of 20th century industrialist James Deering. Built in 1916, the mansion features 35 rooms arranged around a central courtyard. It took more than 1000 workers and craftsmen to complete the Vizcaya project, many of whom were brought over from Europe to ensure authenticity in its design. The Italian Renaissance style villa is filled with an impressive collection of European furniture, tapestries, paintings and decorative arts from the 15th to 19th centuries. On the south side of the house stretch a series of lovely gardens that are just as impressive as the interior of the museum. Modeled on formal Italian gardens of the 17th and 18th centuries, these manicured spaces form a counterpoint to the wild mangroves beyond. Sculptures, fountains and vine draped surfaces give an antiquarian look to the grounds, and an elevated terrace (the Garden Mound) provides a fine vantage point over the greenery. Note: the museum is closed on Tuesday and online tickets are required.
Located on a barrier island and connected to the mainland by a series of bridges, Miami Beach is a mix of quiet neighborhoods, lively entertainment areas and long stretches of soft sand beaches. The southernmost portion of the island is the historic and action packed area known as South Beach - this is where you'll find many of the top attractions and things to do. One of the biggest attractions in Miami Beach is the Art Deco Historic District, with pastel buildings from the 1930s and 1940s sporting classic neon signs. This area features numerous beachfront restaurants, hotels and shops, plus plenty of swimming and sunbathing opportunities. The main street in this district is Ocean Drive, a section of road located along the oceanfront and home to some beautiful Art Deco buildings. Ocean Drive was closed to all except pedestrian traffic in May of 2020, but in 2022 opened to one way vehicle traffic from 15th Street south to 5th Street.
Found at 1001 Ocean Drive is the Art Deco Museum. This small museum is one of the best places in town for an enlightening overview of the Art Deco District. Through videos, photography, models and other displays, you'll learn about the pioneering work of Barbara Baer Capitman, who helped save these buildings from certain destruction back in the 1970s - and her collaboration with Leonard Horowitz, the talented artist who designed the pastel color palette that become an integral part of the design visible today. One block inland, running parallel with Ocean Drive, is Collins Avenue. Collins Avenue is actually State Road A1A and is the main street in Miami Beach, joining numerous neighborhoods. The Bass Museum of Art is at 2100 Collins Avenue in Collins Park. The best art museum in Miami Beach has a playfully futuristic facade - a smooth interplay of lines and a bright, white walled space - designed by Russell Pancoast in 1930. The collection isn’t shabby either: The Bass's permanent highlights range from 16th century European religious works to contemporary installations from all over the world. Note: the museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday.
WHERE TO EAT
Miami has many great places to eat and have a drink or two. Start your day at All Day, located at 1035 N Miami Avenue. This cafe is one of my favorite spots in town - with locally sourced ingredients forming the basis of its simple menu, as well as excellent coffees and teas, and an airy Scandinavian style decor. The friendly staff and an always enticing soundtrack lend it an easygoing vibe. Featuring ingredients sourced from small Florida farms, the cooking is first rate: cast iron skillet fried eggs with thick sourdough toast, housemade pastrami and dynamite pastries. For a darn good bagel, head to El Bagel at 6910 Biscayne Boulevard. This counter service joint offers a variety of creative bagels, spreads, bagel sandwiches and tasty beverages. I destroyed the SEC (maple sausage, local egg, American cheese, everything bagel) and washed it down with an iced matcha latte. For yummy baked goods, make your way to Zak the Baker at 295 NW 26th Street in Wynwood. Everyone's favorite bakery has become a Miami icon, and for good reason. Zak Stern's fresh baked breads, croissants and pastries are fabulous.
Coyo Taco can be found at 2300 NW 2nd Avenue. If you're in Wynwood and craving tacos, this is the place to be. You'll have to contend with lines day or night, but those beautifully turned out tacos are well worth the wait - and come in creative varieties such as chargrilled octopus, marinated mushrooms or crispy duck, along with the usual array of steak, grilled fish and roasted pork. The best sandwich shop (stand) in town is La Sandwicherie, located at 229 14th Street in Miami Beach. Almost always open, this boxcar long eatery does a roaring trade in filling French baguette sandwiches sold at rock bottom prices. I fell in love with The Terminator (ham, turkey, salami, provolone, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, olives, cucumbers, cornichons and 'magic sauce' - French vinaigrette). Note: seating is limited to stools lining the establishment's outside counter, but you can always get it to go and head to the beach. Nearby at 1600 Lenox Avenue is Yardbird. This spot has earned a strong following for its delicious haute Southern comfort food. The kitchen churns out some nice shrimp and grits, Saint Louis style pork ribs, charred okra and biscuits with smoked brisket, but it's most famous for its supremely good plate of fried chicken, spiced watermelon and waffles with bourbon maple syrup.
It is now time to head over to Little Havana - vamos. The legendary Versailles is at 3555 SW 8th Street. This place is an institution, one of the mainstays of Miami's Cuban gastronomic scene. Try the excellent black bean soup or the fried yucca before moving on to heartier meat and seafood plates. Note: be sure to stop in after your meal for Cuban coffee and pastries at the buzzing bakery attached. Found at 971 SW 8th Street is the outstanding Cafe La Trova. Classic Cuban comfort food with a slightly upscale twist by James Beard award winning chef Michelle Bernstein is on the menu here, served alongside expertly crafted cocktails by Julio Cabrera and his team that consistently keep the bar on the World’s 50 Best Bars list. Pop in for lunch, happy hour or dinner and don’t be surprised if the live music makes the visit last longer than expected. Note: check out the 305 Bar in the back room on the weekend for a Miami Vice style 80s blast from the past. You just might bump into Crockett and Tubbs. Located next to Domino Park at 1442 SW 8th Street is Old's Havana. This authentic Cuban eatery offers traditional dishes and drinks, plus vintage decor and music. Do try the Cuba Libre (rum, lime, classic coca cola).
Sanguich De Miami is at 2057 SW 8th Street. Cuban sandwiches aren’t exactly hard to come by in Miami, but ones that create lines out the door? This popular spot quickly gained a following for its modern takes on classic Cuban sandwiches like the Cubano (ham, lechon, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, Cuban bread), pan con lechon (a Cuban version of a pulled pork sandwich), pan con croqueta (ham, Swiss cheese and croquetas housed inside Cuban bread), and pan con bistec (a thinly cut seasoned steak sandwich topped with onions and potato sticks) that appease even the most stringent of sandwich purists. Everything inside the sandwiches, from the pork to the ham to the mustard, is made on site. Note: pair the sandwiches with one of its delicious batidos (milkshakes) with flavors like trigo, mamey and banana - es muy bueno. If you fancy ice cream, Azucar at 1503 SW 8th Street is a must visit. Deciding isn't easy with dozens of tempting flavors, including coconut, coffee, dulce de leche, guava, mango, cinnamon, jackfruit and lemon basil. Finish up your Calle Ocho experience at Ball & Chain, located at 1513 SW 8th Street. This place has survived several incarnations over the years. Back in 1935, when 8th Street was more Jewish than Latino, it was the sort of jazz joint Billie Holiday would croon in. Today's Ball & Chain is still dedicated to music and good times - specifically, Latin music and tropical cocktails. Yours truly went with several Banana Daiquiris, just like Fredo Corleone.
The Miami Design District is home to a number of superb restaurants. Michael's Genuine can be found at 130 NE 40th Street. The liveliest spot in the Design District is this long running upscale tavern that combines excellent service with a well executed menu of wood fired dishes, bountiful salads and raw bar temptations (including oysters and stone crabs). Michael's tends to draw a well dressed crowd and the place gets packed most days. There's also outdoor dining on the plant lined pedestrian strip out front. Mandolin Aegean Bistro is at 4312 NE 2nd Avenue. Miami's best Greek and Turkish food is found in the intimate, understated courtyard at Mandolin. Transport to the Greek isles with a menu of elegant small plates, entrees like lamb and beef meatballs, and an exceptional grilled octopus. Any meal here can be paired with one of the refreshing Greek wines on the menu.
Itamae is a Japanese Peruvian sensation at 140 NE 39th Street, Suite 136 in the Design District’s Palm Court. It is helmed by brother and sister chef duo Nando and Val Chang and their father Fernando. Itamae highlights the family’s Peruvian heritage with bright flavors found throughout the menu, which are tactfully combined with Japanese techniques and ingredients. You can expect to find a selection of specialty maki and rolls, sashimi and rice bowls served alongside tiraditos and ceviches. Last but certainly not least, there is Cote Miami, located at 3900 NE 2nd Avenue. This Michelin starred Korean steakhouse has won over The Magic City with its 45 day, dry aged beef, cooked Korean barbecue style at the table on smokeless grills. This sleek space features high end steaks, stiff martinis and one of the most robust wine selections in town. The most popular order at Cote is the butcher’s feast, boasting a variety of cuts along with different vegetables and kimchi, egg souffle, two stews and rice. Note: reservations are recommended.
Cvi.che 105 can be found Downtown at 105 NE 3rd Avenue. White is the design element of choice at chef Juan Chipoco's popular Peruvian eatery. Beautifully presented ceviches, lomo saltado (marinated steak) and arroz con mariscos (seafood rice) are ideal for sharing and go down nicely with a round of Pisco sours (brandy, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white) and other specialty Peruvian cocktails. Its sister restaurant, Inti.mo, is at 840 1st Street in Miami Beach. Voted best Peruvian restaurant in Miami, this upmarket spot with a retro vibe serves sushi, sashimi and ceviche (fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices), alongside modern Peruvian cuisine. I devoured the Ceviche Nikkei (tuna, yuzu, soy, honey, roasted sweet potato), La Perricholi Fashion (tuna tartar, crispy rice, pepper aioli, eel sauce, truffle oil) and Black Cod Al Miso (miso and lychee glazed black cod, yuzu tamarind, avocado cream, crispy rice). It all paired perfectly with a chilled bottle of Fournier Sancerre. Note: bookings are essential for both restaurants.
The solo debut of Miami’s own Top Chef winner Jeremy Ford, Stubborn Seed (101 Washington Avenue) is a cozy yet hip south of 5th Street spot, turning out some of the city’s most exciting cuisine. While there is an a la carte menu with dishes like shrimp with saffron gnocchi, pan roasted truffle chicken and foie gras - the real highlight here is the eight course tasting menu where you can try a bevy of classics and seasonal creations. Lastly, there is Miami's most famous restaurant. Joe's Stone Crab is located at 11 Washington Avenue in Miami Beach. This 110 year old institution is thought to have started the stone crab craze that captures Miami to this day. Ordering the namesake stone crabs is a must, which are served with a mustard sauce that is a legend in its own right. Make sure to save room for Joe's renowned Key lime pie. Note: the restaurant is always busy with long wait times. It is vital to make online reservations two weeks in advance.
Miami has several cool places to have a drink or two. Sweet Liberty can be found at 237 20th Street in Miami Beach. A much loved local haunt near Collins Park, this hangout has all the right ingredients for a fun night out - friendly, easygoing bartenders, excellent cocktails and a relaxed crowd. Broken Shaker is at 2727 Indian Creek Drive. This tropical spot operates in a garden at the Freehand Hotel Miami Beach. Shaded by palm trees, bordered by a pool and flush with refreshing umbrella drinks, it’s the kind of place to experience a taste of the laid back Miami lifestyle. Seasonally driven beverages are what make the Shaker shine and there is a great soundtrack at all times. Another cool spot is The Sylvester, located at 3456 N Miami Avenue. This cozy, unassuming place has vintage couches and a retro South Florida decor. Drinking here feels like you're hanging at the home of a friend with excellent mixology skills and a penchant for tropical wallpaper. If you are in the mood for a classic dive bar, make your way to Mac's Club Deuce at 222 14th Street. After more than 50 years in the business, this Miami Beach institution still packs in the locals with an impossible to beat buy one get one happy hour that runs every day from 8a-7p. Note: the bar is almost always open and is cash only. My favorite watering hole in town is Swizzle, found at 1120 Collins Avenue. Tucked away down a short staircase off the Stiles Hotel lobby, this speakeasy thrives in a quiet space away from noisy Collins Avenue. The dark, narrow room is lined with more than 150 rums - the beautiful, smooth tasting cocktails are highly potent. Note: the bar is open daily from 7p-3a.
WHERE TO STAY
Miami offers a number of places to call home during your stay and there are 2 that I especially enjoyed. Both are in prime locations and provide exceptional service, modern amenities and comfort. The first is Faena Hotel Miami Beach, located at 3201 Collins Avenue. This high end hotel overlooking Miami Beach is not far from the Bass Museum of Art and is a short drive from the Design District. The upscale, art deco inspired rooms come with free WiFi, flat screen TVs and minibars. Upgraded quarters add sitting areas and balconies. Amenities include 3 polished restaurants, a pair of hip bars and an ornate cabaret theater, plus a chic spa with a hammam, beach access and an outdoor pool.
A second option is The Betsy Hotel, located at 1440 Ocean Drive in Miami Beach. Overlooking a palm tree dotted beach, this upscale boutique hotel occupies an elegant Georgian Revival building from the 1940s. It is in the heart of the Art Deco District and is a short drive from the Perez Art Museum. Rooms with walnut floors and tropical touches offer 2 or 4 poster beds, minibars and complimentary WiFi, along with flat screen TVs, iPod docks and in room libraries. Other perks include a courtyard pool, beach access, a spa and a poetry library, as well as a rooftop deck with a pool and a bar. There’s a high end steakhouse and a sleek lobby bar, plus classic photographs of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones throughout the property.
Miami is a magical place with lots of history and culture, wonderful art and architecture, creative cuisine and beautiful beaches. It treated me well and I look forward to returning.