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MIAMI - WHAT TO SEE AND DO

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Ocean Drive street sign

It's midnight in South Beach Miami. A lively party atmosphere pervades the balmy air on Ocean Drive, which runs along the beach.

Crowds fill outdoor cafés lining confetti-colored, neon-lit Art Deco hotels. Rollerbladers zip by. Parents push strollers with sleeping infants. Ranked "Best City for Night Owls" by Cities To Go guidebook, Miami is an entertainment mecca for party-goers.

Larios outdoor cafe on South Beach
Larios outdoor cafe on South Beach
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Couples dance until dawn at numerous nightclubs and enjoy cocktails at hip spots like Mansion, on Washington Avenue and SkyBar, at the Shore Club Hotel. The Thursday issue of New Times and the weekend Miami Herald feature an updated list of what's hot.

Celebrities are drawn to Miami's pulsating nightlife. Many are in town for movie shoots. You may spot Robin Williams, Sharon Stone, Demi Moore, George Clooney, Britney Spears, or a host of others.

Celebrity restaurants

Danny DeVito operates Devito's South Beach. Robert DeNiro owns a share of Nobu, and Gloria Estefan owns Larios on the Beach, Casa Larios and Bongo's Cuban Café.

Rock shrimp with mango ketchup. Chef Allen's. North Miami Beach.
Rock shrimp with mango ketchup. Chef Allen's. North Miami Beach.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Dining out is a highlight of any trip to Miami. The city's New World Cuisine is a reflection of its multicultural population. Chispa, in Doral, is a great example.

One don't-miss restaurant is Chef Allen's, in North Miami. Allen Susser is winner of the James Beard Award for the Best American Chef in the Southeast. A typical entrée? Pistachio-crusted grouper with fricassee of rock shrimp, mango, leeks and coconut rum.

Another popular restaurant is Michael's Genuine Food & Drink. Don't miss his BLT salad with maple cured bacon.

Lincoln Road, a leafy twelve-block pedestrian boulevard, boasts more than 170 trendy shops and restaurants, as well as several art galleries and theaters. Canine-lovers shouldn't miss the Dog Bar, where they can buy lolly pups and gourmet ostrich meat for their pets.

Without a doubt, South Beach is Miami's most popular area. Fashion models and photographers pepper the 16-kilometer dazzling white beach. Bronzed lifeguards survey swimmers from Art Deco beach huts.

Art Deco hotels

In the square-mile Art Deco District there are yellow hotels trimmed in mauve and aqua, buildings with pink “eyebrows” above the windows, to block the sun, and 1,000 other architectural confections

Marlin hotel at night. Art Deco District, South Beach FL.
Marlin hotel at night. Art Deco District, South Beach FL.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Each Art Deco building has a story. Gianni Versace once owned the Mediterranean Revival mansion, Casa Casuarina, at 11th and Ocean. The 20-room mansion now houses The Villa by Barton G, a restaurant that serves afternoon tea and reservations-required dinners.

The Birdcage was filmed at the Carlyle. You can take a Miami Preservation League guided walking, in-line skating or biking tour, or rent iPods for self-guided tours.

Little Havana

The Hispanic influence is the most easily discernable spice in Miami's melting spot. Spanish is as common as English, because half the population is Hispanic.

In Little Havana, local patriarchs play dominoes and chess in Maximo Gomez Park. You'll also find botánicas which sell amulets, rainbow-colored potions and spirited consultations. Instant Cuba, only minutes from downtown.

In the nearby swanky suburb of Coral Gables, the Biltmore Hotel is a National Historic Landmark. An elaborate painted ceiling and huge wooden birdcages with nesting finches accent its pillared lobby.

Palms and statues surround the pool, the largest in the continental United States. It once featured aquatic shows starring Esther Williams and Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan) who was a swimming instructor at the hotel.

The Biltmore Hotel pool in Coral Gables, Florida
The Biltmore Hotel pool in Coral Gables, Florida
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Walking trails, canoeing and birdwatching

Although Miami has all the urban amenities, you can experience nature by traveling only eight kilometers south of downtown to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. The 34-hectare paradise is the largest tropical botanical garden in the continental United States.

You can explore a conservatory, sunken gardens, a rainforest and a palm collection on narrated tram tours and self-guided walking tours. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden also hides surprises: fried egg trees, sausage trees, teddy bear palms and blossoms of the ylang-ylang tree, which scent Chanel No. 5 perfume.

Everglades National Park is less than one hour from Miami. Visitors can spot alligators while paddling canoes through the huge primeval watery wilderness. A variety of trails offer bird-lovers glimpses of anhingas skewering fish, purple gallinules walking across lily pads and great blue herons silhouetted against the sky.

Go Miami Card

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and Everglades National Park are just two Amazing Miami Attractions.

The Go Miami Card offers up to a 55% discount on regular admissions to 35 Miami historical, natural, animal and architectural attractions. You pay one price for the Go Miami Card and can choose from one, two, three, five or seven-day multi-attraction passes.

More Miami must-sees and must-dos

Family attractions: Miami Metrozoo showcases more than 1,200 animals including Cuban crocodiles and squirrel monkeys. Miami Seaquarium features dolphins and sea lion shows as well as a manatee exhibit. The Monkey Jungle has a gorilla habitat and crab-eating monkeys, which dive for treats.

Jungle Island, located between downtown Miami and Miami Beach, includes flamingo, crocodile, alligator, kangaroo, penguin, monkey, reptile and tiger exhibits. Children can pose for pictures with crayon-bright macaws, visit a petting zoo and see a liger (a hybrid cat with a lion father and a tiger mother).

A Jungle Island highlight, is the Lemur Experience, where you learn about the habitat, diet and behavior of young lemurs in the lemur nursery. You then feed grapes to the red-ruffed and black and white-ruffed lemurs, who often sit on your lap, shoulders or head!

Sports: Biscayne Underwater National Park offers diving and snorkel tours, canoe and kayak rentals. Spectator sports range from greyhound and thoroughbred racing to Miami Dolphins and Florida Marlins games.

Bayside Marketplace in Biscayne Bay
Bayside Marketplace in Biscayne Bay
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Among the numerous golf courses, duffers will find two Robert Trent Jones Sr.-championship courses at the Turnberry Isle Resort & Club, a total of 99 holes at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa and an 18-hole, par-71 championship course at the Biltmore Golf Club.

Shopping: Miami malls include Bayside Marketplace, Bal Harbor Shops, Aventura Mall, Village of Merrick Park, in Coral Gables, and the $270 million Dolphin Mall, west of Miami International Airport. Designer boutiques abound in South Beach.

Culture: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County showcases music, dance, opera, Broadway shows and drama in an opera house, concert hall, studio theater and an outdoor stage. For more theater, you can check out The Jackie Gleason Theatre, the Miami Light Project, Coconut Grove Playhouse and a host of other venues.

Rollerbladers sit on bench.
Rollerbladers sit on bench.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Miami City Ballet, the Florida Philharmonic, the New World Symphony and the Florida Grand Opera, offer world-renowned music and dance. The Miami Art Museum, the Wolfsonian Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art and dozens of galleries display the visual arts.

May is museum month in Miami, when more than 15 of the top museums in Miami offer special admission deals, such as buy one ticket, get one free.

Romantic getaways: Couples looking for romance can pamper themselves in spas at Miami luxury hotels such as at Mandarin Oriental, Miami, The Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne and The Biltmore Spa. They can take salsa lessons at Mango's Tropical Café, then dance through the night in one of the trendy clubs in Miami.

A colorful kaleidoscope of big city sophistication, multicultural festivals and natural attractions, Miami showcases both the latest trends and its historic past. The greatest problem you'll encounter is finding enough time to sample its diverse offerings.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau: www.MiamiandBeaches.com

More things to see and do in the Miami area:

Best Milkshakes in Florida

Moving to Miami to Live, Work, Play

Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook