Miami is one of few major cities that have a tropical vibe-warm temperatures and an abundance of palm trees-yet its urban pull is so intense you just might forfeit the beach for art, culture, sports and incredible dining.
1 An Artsy Side
Talk about being on the cutting edge of the art scene, Miami’s Wynwood Arts District, once an abandoned warehouse area north of downtown Miami in no-man’s land, was resuscitated in 2009 thanks to international graffiti artists commissioned by urban developer Tony Goldman. Meander along the sidewalks, where every building is covered in some of the coolest street art from caricatures to social messages. Art galleries, bars, restaurants and a coffee shop that roasts its own beans round out the scene, making Wynwood a hot spot to visit especially during Art Basel in December.
2 Design District
This is a neighborhood where uber home-design stores, the latest restaurants and more recently high-style stores (think Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Hermes) morph together to create an urban center oozing with its own fashion sense. Walkable streets and window displays make shopping in the Design District a main activity. Come at night and the restaurants are packed with city-chic diners, known for their adventurous palates.
3 Sports Fix
A coveted ticket to a Miami Heat basketball game at the downtown American Airlines Arena is reason to go urban. But the Marlins Ballpark, one of the country’s most modern and high-tech stadiums, is where traditional baseball is turned on its head. A retractable roof opens and closes in 13 minutes so rain or shine the game goes on. And South Beach’s iconic Clevelander bar sets up shop here with an actual swimming pool from which you can watch the game.
4 The Latin Beat
The influence of the Latin community in Miami permeates the city. But the core can still be found in the Little Havana neighborhood, settled by exiled Cubans in the early 1960s. Cigar shops, Latin art galleries, botanicas, bakeries and Cuban restaurants, serving some of the best ropa vieja, tres leches and Cuban coffee around, provide a concentrated dose of Latin culture for anyone looking for it.
5 Killer Cuisine
When it comes to up-and-coming chefs in the Southeast United States, the spotlight’s always on Miami. The culinary talent in this town makes for an innovative dining scene that is constantly evolving. And it’s more than the well-executed and delicious dishes; restaurant interiors get more glamorous with each new opening.
6 Showtime Miami-style
An architectural landmark, the Ardrienne Arscht Center for the Performing Art is an angular behemoth in downtown Miami. Just as its size is impressive so is the lineup of shows from Broadway productions to performances by Miami’s four resident companies—opera, ballet, symphony and orchestral academy—and entertainment in genres from jazz to pop. Don’t like big? Downtown Miami’s got small. Catch a show at the historic Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, where the ornate décor of a 1926 silent movie palace charms, complete with its star-studded ceiling.
7 Urban Sands
Even though Miami’s a big metropolis, it still has its share of beaches, and they’re like secret gems tucked in unexpected places. Highlights include the sandy shores of Key Biscayne’s Crandon Park, where Miami’s skyline looms in the distance. On the island’s south side, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park’s shoreline faces the open Atlantic Ocean. Head to Coral Gables’ Matheson Hammock Park and you’ll find a man-made atoll lagoon, which feeds from Biscayne Bay and has its own beach.
8 Chic Sleeps
Hot spots to lay your head when you want to stay on the mainland include Miami’s downtown hotels, where the Mandarin Oriental, Four Seasons, Epic and JW Marriott are as tall and sophisticated as you can get. Venture out of the downtown and the Mayfair in Coconut Grove has an art nouveau-esque touch and a rooftop lounge with views of Biscayne Bay. The historic Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables never gets old; the 1920s Mediterranean Revival building is one of those grande dames that seems to never age.
Facelift after facelift has kept Miami looking young, but in reality it has some amazing historic place to visit, starting with Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, the opulent winter retreat and Baroque mansion of Chicago industrialist James Deering. History buffs will enjoy the Venetian Pool, Freedom Tower, Coral Castle and others.
10 Going Tropical
Another touted Miami treasure is the Fairchild Botanic Garden for a close look at the world of tropical plants—palms, cycads, orchids and fruit trees, from cacao and durian to mangosteen and vanilla orchids. Head farther south to the Fruit and Spice Park in Homestead for tropical edibles—160 varieties of mangos, 75 varieties of bananas, plus jackfruit, papaya and star fruit—that grow well in South Florida’s warm climate.