Miami in Vogue
Miami, being my favorite American city, is a place where every culture comes to collide and produce something great. Its history may be bathed in violence and perhaps the skyline you see from Biscayne Bay may have been financed for the most part by drug money (watch Cocaine Cowboys), but it's a magnificent place to be any time of the year, even Spring Break (unless you live there). It's key to know that Miami is essentially shaped like an “H”, with the left side on mainland Florida, which bridges out to South Beach over Biscayne Bay. Metropolitan Miami and Downtown is located in the mainland, but for the most fun you'll most likely stay on the Miami Beach strip.
Things to Do
skip all the trivial facts about Miami's climate, population, etc.,
and skip right to the excitement. There are plenty of things any one
person can do in Miami, plenty of places to eat at and see. You can
get a hand-rolled Dominican cigar from the street vendors on South
Beach, or visit Little Havana (preferably during the day) and have a
nice Cuban club sandwich. The only issue with Miami is if you're
under 21, it's just a tad less fun (if you want to check out the club
scene). Of course you can simply drive around or walk and check out the Postmodern aesthetic and art deco all around the city's architecture. It's euphoric to experience if you're into that kind of stuff.
The nice thing about Biscayne Bay is the boating. You can rent a speed boat or sailboat and take it out in the middle of the bay, having a perfectly panoramic view of the city and its bridges and skyline. You can see the backyards of the homes of all the people you'll most likely never be, and perhaps catch a celebrity on their yacht or even sunbathing. There's also an island that is mainly a golf course and contains the homes of several celebrities including Julio Iglesias. It's wise to expect tons and tons of manatee preservation areas where you can't boat in, but they're not too limiting.
Once you're done boating for the day and you've gotten a bit of sun there are the many restaurants you can grab lunch at, quite a few of them at the beach. And speaking of the beach, they're pretty much perfect. Even with many people at the shore you can still find it fairly peaceful and quiet, with the view across the Atlantic really breathtaking. On top of that, if you look behind you you'll most likely be able to see the city's skyline, a perfect blend of urban and tropical paradise.
One of the best beaches to visit would be located a bit south of the actual city of Miami, at the Matheson Hammock County Park. Great palms, great beach, and it's nice to retreat to if you want to shy away from a lot of the crowd you might find further north.
If you're like me and like to try new drinks, Presidente beer is recommended, as it's a Dominican beer that's almost impossible to find anywhere outside of the southern states, and is for the most part everywhere in Miami. It's essentially an Hispanic Heineken.
A great restaurant you may want to try when you're further up in Miami is a place called Monty's, a nice little seafood place that caters many delicious entrees, and usually has an enjoyable karaoke group singing when I'm there. It overlooks the Atlantic as well, and is right beside a yacht dock where you can eat as you peer out over it. Very relaxing.
If you're in the mood for clubs at night, as I tend to be even if I feel a bit alienated, there's a pretty cool place called The Clevelander, which is mainly a hotel but also doubles as an outdoor nightclub, with DJs playing there (not always playing what I like, but whatever) and a soothingly-lighted bar beside an open pool. Eight dollar cover charge, though they can charge ten sometimes, apparently.
The club scene there tends to be a bit more for people into electronic music, as when I went there last in March, Paul Van Dyk was playing at a club called Mansion, the big headliner of the night, with hundreds lined up to get in. It was too long of a line for me, though, and it was pretty much Spring Break at the time anyway. Many of the places favor clubber clothing as well, which I wasn't too prepared for at the time, wearing a T-shirt and shorts while most wore collared long-sleeves and dark or faded jeans. You may see a lot of police cars around, lights ablaze, and people walking everywhere with open beer bottles, but that's pretty much expected if you want some excitement in your night.
Coconut Grove is a nice place to cruise around as long as you're in the more financially stable area. To me, this place serves as the perfect illustration of the dichotomy in Miami's social classes. More great places to eat at, nice little places for shopping as well, but as long as you stay out of the more impoverished areas you won't have reason to worry.
Miami University is located further south near the Dadeland Mall (which is also pretty neat) and there are also more places for shopping and driving around there. If you're in the mood for wading in water to check out the sea again, there are many beaches that stretch out far, many of them right off the bridges by Biscayne Bay. Around there there's pretty much always guaranteed an on-demand beach to chill at. Just beware of crocodile warnings (yes, crocodile warnings, not alligator), as they can be a bit hard to spot and my father and I waded in waters that had a warning sign we didn't discover until walking back to the beach.
As for hotels to stay at when visiting, if you can't afford a more expensive one like the Fontainebleau or the Castillo Del Mar (I stayed once at one of the oceanfront resorts, was pretty nice but paid for through my father's business), you may want to stay at something like the Best Western Plus On the Bay Inn & Marina located on the John F Kennedy Causeway, smack in the middle of the bay with an excellent bar/grill called Shuckers right there. There's also a great tiny pizza place called Pizza Dlight (the margarita pizza was awesome) and it's pretty reasonable.
There are plenty of other places to visit, and there is never a shortage of venues to explore and parks to visit. And considering the city was in the upper sixties temp-wise in March, it was an excellent getaway from the harsh, bipolar Midwest. I'd have to say Miami is one of those cities that could never get old, as long as you never tire of the sea or a subtropic lifestyle. If you're in the mood for a different Florida flavor, simply try the strip of Keys which are right down south or the Everglades sandwiched between the two.