Miami's cultural diversity is apparent from the moment you set foot on its soil and hear the rise and fall of a dozen different languages being spoken. It is an easygoing beach town, a refugee camp, and a 24-hour party all at once.
When talking about Miami, the beach is the best place to start. In the 1940s, when vacationers began to arrive, Miami Beach was the center of the action. Although years have passed and times have changed, the beach remains a perennial hot spot. Enormous luxury resorts such as Fontainebleau and Eden Roc rise majestically against the skyline. Shops and restaurants line the streets, and who could forget the miles of white sand beach!
Once home to a number of retired citizens and starving artists, South Beach has now risen to international fame as a popular vacation destination. Every block is packed with restaurants, bars, shops, and - of course - dance clubs, each trendier, more glamorous and cutting-edge than the last. One could spend days soaking in the sights and sounds of South Beach. Take a walking tour along Ocean Drive or down Lincoln Road, where the beautiful people come out to play. Whether it's three in the morning or three in the afternoon, there is bound to be plenty to do.
Located on the northern end of Miami Beach, Bal Harbour is the most exclusive neighborhood in Greater Miami. Luxury resorts sit serenely amid the lush foliage and palatial homes. No visit to this district is complete — or even begun — without a visit to the Bal Harbour Shops. Versace, Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Prada are just a few of the fashion houses that have retail outlets in this shopping center. Plenty of fine dining can be found in Bal Harbour. (If you're on a budget, this isn't the place to dine or shop!)
Although primarily a business district, there's a lot to see and do downtown. Tour the design district between Northeast 36th and 41st Streets, or check out the museums in the Metro-Dade Cultural Center. Shoppers will delight in the Bayside Marketplace with its retail shops, open-air crafts market, half-dozen restaurants and pier. The Port of Miami is next to Bayside, where you can easily find a boat to take you on a tour around the bay.
Coral Gables is a gated enclave crisscrossed by canals, just a few minutes' drive from Downtown Miami. This small, tree-lined village is home to many of Miami's most famous attractions, including the Biltmore Hotel, Venetian Pool and Miracle Mile. Excellent shopping and dining can be found on the Miracle Mile as well as on the side streets surrounding it.
Although this bustling district is one of the oldest in Miami, it seems to just be hitting its prime. Full of energy and creativity, the Grove is as busy as South Beach, but in a different way. Instead of attracting models and body builders, it draws in artists, writers and patrons of the arts. There are hundreds of fabulous shops and restaurants crammed within this small area, most of them located on the CocoWalk or on the Streets of Mayfair. The Coconut Grove Playhouse is one of the best live theater venues in the southeastern United States.
Though located just over the Rickenbacker Causeway, Key Biscayne might as well be a thousand miles away. Things are different on this peaceful tropical island: the pace slows down, people are friendly and matter-of-fact. If the marvelous white sand beaches and varied leisure sports aren't enough reason to go, consider the prospect of kissing a dolphin at the Miami Seaquarium!
This area is located west of Brickell Avenue and runs along the thoroughfare known as Calle Ocho (Southwest 8th Street). Many immigrants and refugees from Cuba have settled here, along with natives of Colombia, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries. It is in this district that you can enjoy authentic salsa music, indulge in a complete Cuban meal for under USD10, or try a steaming cup of shockingly strong café cubano in an outdoor cafe.
West Miami is a quieter, more residential area. It's spread out and almost impossible to sightsee without a car. Hialeah and Miami Lakes, two residential communities, are located in this area. Miami International Airport is also situated here along with Hialeah Park Racetrack.
While it may be slightly out of the way, Aventura is easy to reach even without a car, thanks to the shuttle buses that run regularly from the major downtown hotels to the Aventura Mall. The mall is well worth a day trip, as it boasts over 250 shops, restaurants and attractions. This district is also home to dozens of excellent restaurants, many of them specializing in "Floribbean" cuisine.
Fort Lauderdale: Once upon a time, one could look down the road along Fort Lauderdale beach and inland along U.S. 1 and see flat land and the occasional scrubby palmetto as far as the eye could see. Now villages meld into adjoining towns, towns into cities, suburbs into each other and the entire county has become one sprawling megalopolis that stretches from the sea to the Everglades and from the northern border of Miami to the southern border of Palm Beach and beyond.
South of Fort Lauderdale is Hollywood, which has a small but significantly entertaining downtown area built around one of the several big traffic circles that characterize the city. Thanks to a redevelopment project that beautified downtown streets with intriguing architectural touches, trees and flowers, downtown Hollywood has become a popular. Restaurants like and , and shops like Sigrid Olsen are popular among visitors.
Not far away, the tiny town of Dania, founded by tomato farmers, has left its farms behind and is best known for a street lined on both sides by dozens of antique shops brimming with an eclectic array of collectibles. Parimutuel fans flock here to , where talented handball players compete, slamming a wooden ball around at speeds up to 100mph and catching it in a hand-held basket.
Beach enthusiasts will find some of the region's most intriguing sands here, many of them tucked away behind forests of palms, pines and palmetto bushes. The standout is , where you'll find many a sea turtle.
Traveling north of Fort Lauderdale, one wanders through a series of small towns including Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, which pretty much describes this tiny town that is home to a cluster of small inns and a few seaside cafes. The 180-acre is filled with animals and tall, lovely trees. Beyond lies the city of Pompano, which gets its name from a coveted fish found in abundance here. Pompano is particularly proud of its sportfishing options and is home to a number of fishing competitions, a big fishing pier and a popular . Hillsboro Beach, home to some of the region's most imposing seaside manses, is one of the loveliest parts of the drive, with the road rolling beneath massive trees and vegetation that must look much as it did a century ago when the fabled Barefoot Mailman strode the sand, armed with mail for the region's earliest settlers. Hillsboro Inlet is home to a fishing fleet so you can always find a fishing trip here and fresh-from-the-sea seafood at the .
Continuing northward, you pass through Deerfield Beach, home to a few small resorts, before you reach Boca Raton. Boca's love and lure is its historic and elegant , a creation of architect Addison Mizner, whose pseudo-Mediterranean architecture is a wonder to behold.
To the west of Fort Lauderdale lies a host of smaller cities that are the bedroom communities of the region, their residents working in municipalities throughout the area or in Miami. Among those are Sunrise, Plantation, Tamarac, Miramar, Pembroke Pines, Coral Springs, Margate, Lauderdale Lakes, Davie—which is particularly proud of its farmland and celebrates it with Western-style architectural touches—and the newest town of them all, Weston, a developer's dream just minutes from the Everglades.
While Broward County is not officially a part of Miami, it might as well be — it's less than a half hour away. The thriving art community of Hollywood, the outlets at Sawgrass Mills and, last but not least, the decadent little city of Fort Lauderdale are a few possible destinations in Broward. The pace is slightly more relaxed than in Miami, but people are here to have fun, make no mistake about it. Enjoy the shops on Las Olas or dine in a restaurant that has its own private boat dock for guests traveling by water.
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