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Occupied by Indian tribes and Spanish settlers for centuries, Miami exists officially only since 1896. The rise to international stardom was meteoric. And there’s really something different about this place filled with rhythm, colours and flavours.
For starters, it is the only great city in the United States to have been founded by a woman. Nicknamed “The Mother of Miami”, businesswoman Julia Tuttle was one of the main sponsors of railroad expansion in the region, in the final years of the 19th Century. A statue of Mrs. Tuttle was raised in Bayford Park to celebrate her heritage.
In the first decades of the 20th Century, the boom in population and infrastructures accompanied the birth of a symbolic bastion of American architecture. The famous neighbourhood of South Beach was reborn after the earthquake of 1926 as the largest art deco concentration in the United States. With bright coloured buildings along the beach line and a profusion of world cuisine spots, this is still one of Miami’s hip places.
Another trademark of “The Magic City” is the strong Hispanic community, which became influent from the 1960’s on. The multicultural side of Miami comes alive especially in Little Havana. In Calle Ocho, the neighbourhood’s main street, you’ll come across art galleries, coloured murals, the strong scent of Cuban coffee coming from ventanitas (open windows) and old folks playing domino in the park.
If Little Havana has a walk of fame to celebrate stars like Gloria Estefan and Celia Cruz, many other illustrious names have their houses spread all over the city.
Located in the beautiful Biscayne bay, Miami is above all a code word for water, sun, beach and party. Seems natural that one of the first sunscreen formulas was to be invented here, by pharmacist Benjamin Green in 1944.
First stop: Miami Beach, of course. It is technically a different city, physically separating most part of Miami from the Atlantic Ocean through a stretch of sand. The famous Ocean Drive goes for several miles along the beach line. The north part is much more quiet than the buzzling South Beach, where people also go to see and to be seen.
A little further north is the wonderful world of Bal Harbour, with turquoise waters and a soothing atmosphere. The beach has an extra-exclusive flavour, surrounded by elite condos, five-star hotels and luxury boutiques — the sophisticated Miami trademark seen on movies and TV shows.
South of the bay, take notice of these two islands that you can reach by taking the Rickenbacker Causeway. The first one is Virginia Key, which has its very own beach of course — Beach Park, a bit small but with a good watersports offer. This is also where the Seaquarium is placed. It will give you the chance to see the manatee up close, a native species of Florida’s waters.
Virginia Key is the passage point to the other island, named Key Biscayne. The palm trees line up with the golden sand and peaceful waters of Crandon Beach. It’s included in a park with lush vegetation, mangrove and dunes surrounding the golf courses and tennis courts.
Miami will then take you to the charismatic Coral Gables. A neighbourhood of Mediterranean-style mansions and sinuous streets, evoking the charm of the 1920’s. It has one of the city’s best-known attractions: the Venetian Pool. Fed by underground wells, it is decorated with palm trees, rocks and waterfalls. Even though it’s a public pool, be prepared to pay when coming to spend an afternoon.
If Bal Harbour’s luxury is not an option for you, don’t be discouraged. Miami has a world of opportunities to satisfy all kinds of appetites when it comes to shopping.
There’s the Española Way, two quarters of pedestrian streets marked by colonial architecture and European style cafés in South Beach. Don’t look for multinational brands nor shopping malls. This is a place of vintage boutiques, family stores and lots of handmade artwork.
The vibrant feeling will continue when night comes, for many stores stay open late, along with restaurants of Spanish, French, Italian and Mexican food. Not very far, you’ll find Lincoln Road, where the alternative groove begins to mix with big retail stores and art galleries.
But it’s Downtown Miami, on the other side of the bay, which holds the true cocktail of experiences that the city is famous for. Bayside Marketplace, just like the name says, is an open-air market with hundreds of stores and an irresistible view over the marina. Probably Miami’s most visited attraction, situated in its financial and residential heart. If you get caught in the spell of the bay’s beauty, there’s more good news: you can take the boat tour!
North to Downtown, we reach the Design District. An area of ruined warehouses and abandoned buildings just two decades ago, it became a spot for collectors of art, antiquities and innovative design. Every month occurs a "Art & Design Night" gathering the creative community. The hip environment reaches all the way into the artsy galleries of Wynwood neighbourhood.
Before you leave, don’t forget to dive in the oldest district of Miami. Coconut Grove (or simply “The Grove”) is inhabited since the beginning of the 19th Century and preserves the vitality of a bohemian village, with ancient hotels, gardens, eccentric artists and a thriving university life. Many famous names lived here, from Madonna to Tennessee Williams. And it’s where CocoWalk awaits for you with a multicultural market and street performances.
Every shopping area of Miami comes a vast offer in bars and restaurants. All of these elements feed on one another and life doesn’t slow up at night — on the contrary. The rhythm of each commercial house will seduce who ever is passing on the streets. From the after-hour parties by the water in Downtown Miami, to the glamour of South Beach and the salsa clubs of Little Havana.
And the flavours! Several companies organize culinary tours through Miami’s neighbourhoods, for this is a truly international city. There’s haute cuisine in Downtown and Miami Beach, the laid-back esplanades in Coconut Grove and the creativity of the new chefs in Wynwood.
If you can’t do it all, try at least some of the typical treats. Start with chicharrón, strips of fried pork belly, as an appetizer. Then search for a good frita, which is a kind of Cuban hamburger filled with onion and French fried bits. President Obama loves it so much he is frequently photographed taking a bite.
Finally, try one of the many variations of the Peruvian-inspired ceviche. It has become a trend in the fusion cuisine of Miami in the past few years.