River Park Hotel Suites Port of Miami is located in the city of Miami, which is a crossroads, a magnet for northerners seeking the sun and southerners seeking the sunnier side of life. Sometimes the mix is magic; sometimes it’s oil and water. Despite the risk, travelers still visit from far-flung points for the sheer experience of it –the color, the excitement and the opulence of the first world buoyed by the tropical ambience of the third, Although visitors will find the standard white sand and blue surf, it’s the unique neighborhoods and communities in the Magic City that leave you talking about your trip for years to come, then planning a return engagement just to experience it all again.
Both the sun and the moon shine brightly today over the playground called Miami Beach. The round-the-clock excitement is reflected on the covers of national and international glamour and travel magazines where the trendy South Beach district — or SoBe — is displayed like a model newly emerged from a makeover. Not far from the truth… It’s the revitalizing of this area’s definitive art deco architecture that has put Miami Beach on the map.
Encompassing 17 islands in Biscayne Bay, Miami Beach has enchanted visitors with its incomparable beaches and social scene since the 1920’s. It was during the boom time of the ‘20’s and ‘30’s that the scores of small art deco hotels were built to accommodate pleasure-loving hordes from colder climates. Beginning in the late 1950’s these modest tourist digs gave way to grand resort complexes (like the fabulous Fontainebleau). It is in SoBe’s Art Deco District where today’s action is — from Ocean Drive’s magnetic stretch of restaurants, clubs and lovingly renovated art deco hotels to the trendy shops, restaurants and cafes on Washington Avenue, to the cultural nexus taking shape on Lincoln Road. Art Deco Weekend (January 16-18, 2004) is the big beach blowout, but there’s almost always something special going on.
Today, the art deco-fueled renewal is certainly packing them in, but it’s a diversity of attractions that keeps the crowds happy. Of course there are the fabulous beaches, and all the recreation that goes along with them, but, increasingly, there are also world-class cultural draws, such as the New World Symphony (305-673-3331), Miami City Ballet (305-929-7000), the Art Center South Florida (305-674-8278), and a visible community of dancers, actors, artists and designers.
This cultural side of South Beach is a prominent part of what Lincoln Road has to offer. Once one of the most elegant shopping streets in the country, Lincoln Road was redesigned in the 1960’s by legendary architect Morris Lapidus as America’s first pedestrian mall. Now it is envisioned as the center of the new Miami Beach — a kind of link between South Beach and the mainline attractions, such as the Miami Beach Convention Center (305-673-7311), the Jackie Gleason Theater of the Performing Arts (305-673-7300) and the Bass Museum of Art (305-673-7530) among others.
Occupying less than two square miles on the southern tip of Miami Beach, South Beach’s subtropical sandbar has an identity all its own as the American Riviera. Here, life is celebrated as one chic, 24/7 street party in an art deco playground.
South Beach ‘s beautiful architecture makes it a favored location for films, music and television shows, as well as a backdrop for fashion shoots. The Art Deco District boasts the largest concentration of 1920’s and 1930’s architecture in the world, earning a listing in the National Register of Historic Places. –It is also globally recognized as one of Miami ‘s unique attractions.
South Beach sightseers will want to start out at South Pointe Park for a close-up view of ships heading through the deep-water channel, known as “Government Cut”, to the Port of Miami . Across the channel are the Mediterranean-style buildings of Fisher Island , accessible only by ferry.
Next, check out Lummus Park , a green expanse bordering the wide beach. Once there, note how the pastel pinks, bright aquas and canary yellows of Ocean Drive ’s hotels fight for space on the South Beach skyline. Visitors can join a walking tour or check out South Beach ‘s other attractions, including the Wolfsonian/FIU collection, the Botanical Gardens and the Holocaust Memorial.
This is also a key stop for shoppers with an eclectic mix of intriguing boutiques, bookstores, art galleries, and home design shops. Don’t miss the Spanish-style Espanola Way featuring stores that sell New Age and retro items.
Food is another big draw in SoBe with dozens of restaurants lining the streets creating a culinary meca of sorts for so many different types of cuisine. And in a town that never sleeps, the restaurants are always busy until the wee hours of the morning.
South Beach also stays alive late into the night as visitors and locals dress up or down to hit South Beach’s trendy clubs, pubs and daiquiri bars. No matter your style, a visit to South Beach will redefine how you look at style!
No exploration of Miami would be complete without spending some time downtown. There’s plenty of shopping here, but you’ll also find the center of county government, a wealth of cultural opportunities and some of the city’s most famous architecture. Nearby is Biscayne Bay , with Bayfront Park, Bayside Marketplace, a marina, and views of the Port of Miami , which is the world’s largest cruise port.
Historically, this is the oldest area of Miami . In the 16th century, a Spanish mission was established near the mouth of the Miami River . It was succeeded by an army outpost built in the 1840’s to protect settlers.Development later fanned out from this point. This is obvious from city maps: The intersection of Flagler Street and Miami Avenue downtown marks the convergence of the city’s N.E., N.W., S.E. and S.W. quadrants. Not very interesting, but crucial to knowing where you are in Greater Miami. From this point, numbering begins for streets (running east/west) and avenues (running north/south).
For shopping, the action centers on the Central Business District (CBD), the core of which is bounded by N.E. First Avenue, N.E. Fifth Street, Biscayne Bay and the Miami River . More than 3,000 retailers are located here, from department stores to specialty shops to 300-plus restaurants. Busy Flagler Street is a logical place to start, but don’t miss the Jewelry District, on N.E. First Street between N.E. First and Miami Avenues. Bayside Marketplace, a shopping, dining and strolling mecca, takes full advantage of its site on the bay. The waterside ambience and many fine diversions make this the most visited attraction in South Florida .
Downtown has plenty of cultural interest, from the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts (305-374-2444) to the James L. Knight Center (305-284-5137) and the Miami Arena (305-530-4400). The Metro-Dade Cultural Center with its inviting central plaza is the setting for the Miami Art Museum , the Historical Museum of Southern Florida and the art-filled Miami-Dade Public Library. Here, also, is the mammoth sculpture “Dropped Bowl with Scattered Slices and Peels”, perhaps Miami ‘s most famous public artwork. South of the CBD, across the Miami River , is the Brickell Avenue area sometimes called “the Wall Street of the South” for its concentration of national and international banks.
Appropriately named the “City Beautiful” by its designer, George Merrick, Coral Gables is an utterly charming community of gracious Mediterranean architecture, monumental gateways, streets shaded by huge banyans and ficus trees, plazas, fountains, and miles of waterways and canals. Merrick grew up here, in a gabled plantation house built of coral rock and pine, which is now open to the public. Call (305) 460-5361 for information. In the 1920’s, he spent more than $100 million to create this dream city on some twelve square miles of former Florida scrub and citrus groves, 4 miles south of Downtown Miami.
Merrick’s plan also included “international villages” styled Normandy , Colonial, French Country and City, Dutch South African, Chinese, and Italian. These pockets of thematic architecture punctuate the city like quirky comments on their traditional surroundings.
One of the grander attractions in Coral Gables is the Venetian Pool (305-460-5356). Formerly a quarry from which oolitic limestone (coral rock) was taken for architectural uses, the huge municipal pool is a fantasy of caves, waterfalls, arched bridges, and Mediterranean-style buildings.
On the natural side, there’s Matheson Hammock County Park (305-665-5475), a mangrove forest fronting Biscayne Bay , edged with beaches and a boat harbor, and just south is Fairchild Tropical Garden (305-667-1651), a lush hothouse of tropical plantings.
Today, Downtown Coral Gables is a thriving business community, especially along the major shopping thoroughfare known as Miracle Mile ( Coral Way , between S.W. 42nd Avenue and Douglas Road ). Home to more than 130 multinational corporations, plus eleven consulates and foreign trade commissions. Coral Gables also offers some of the top chefs in the city, with more than 120 restaurants the choices are rich and varied.
Be advised, you’ll need a map to explore Coral Gables . The curving streets can be confusing and the street signs are small. Drop by City Hall (305-446-6800), which is the imposing Spanish Colonial building complete with a tower and colonnade, for maps and information.
If any neighborhood in urban Miami could be termed a “village” it has to be Coconut Grove. On Biscayne Bay , south of Downtown and east of Coral Gables , the Grove has been a diverse community since its settlement in the late 19th century. Sailing yacht designer Ralph Munroe, originally from New York , and the Peacock brothers, from England , settled the area along with the families of Bahamian seamen who salvaged treasure from wrecked vessels offshore along the Great Florida Reef. Munroe’s unusual 1891 home, called The Barnacle (305-448-9445) for its conical shape, is a wonderfully preserved slice of old Florida .
On the other end of the architectural spectrum, but built just a decade later, is Vizcaya (305-250-9133), the Italian Renaissance-style estate of millionaire industrialist James Deering. This opulent 70-room palace on Biscayne Bay is the jewel in the city’s crown, with its art treasures, formal gardens and preserved natural setting.
But perhaps what comes to mind most often for Miamians when they think of the Grove is shopping, entertainment, good food, and fun. Locals come from all over to dine at the many restaurants, from sidewalk eateries to candlelit dining rooms – all featuring a culturally diverse selection of food. The Grove is also a favorite haunt for locals when it comes to its art galleries, interesting shops and clubs – all of which you will find at CocoWalk, a one-stop entertainment complex in the heart of the Grove. Visitors will also find a wide selection of street artists and entertainers at Cocowalk.
Many of these events take place outdoors in Coconut Grove’s lovely Peacock Park (305-416-1300), but any day of the year is good for enjoying the views of the bay and the marinas from one of the area’s waterfront parks. Bicycling, roller-blading, jogging, picnicking, tennis and more are all here on the water. When you tire of walking the Grove’s tree-lined streets, hop in your car and admire the area’s architectural points of interest — from old houses of coral rock and gracious homes with expansive grounds to cottages and historic churches.
Just across the Rickenbacker Causeway, 2 miles south of downtown Miami (yet a world away, according to residents), is Key Biscayne. This 7 mile long and 2 mile wide barrier island is known for its spectacular beaches and many other recreational opportunities, as well as its relaxed, small-town lifestyle.
The Village of Key Biscayne is little more than a square mile of the island, which includes 1,800 acres of natural parkland. On the southern end of Key Biscayne is Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Recreation Area, home of the 95-foot-tall Cape Florida Lighthouse.
On the east side of the Key is Crandon Park (305-365-2300). It’s 3.5 mile white sand beach has been rated one of the 10 most beautiful in the United States by CondÈ Nast Traveler magazine. There are two outstanding sports sites here: Crandon Park Golf Course (305-361-9129) and the Tennis Center . Crandon Park Golf Course, with its lush tropical setting and great views of the Miami skyline, hosts the annual Royal Caribbean Classic (February), kickoff to the U.S. Senior PGA Tour. Not to be outdone, the Tennis Center hosts the annual NASDAQ-100 Open (March 24-April 4, 2004). The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center (305-361-6767) with a marina, bike paths, concessions and more, round out the many family offerings in Crandon Park .
Key Biscayne is fabulously situated for water sports. Windsurfing is especially popular from Hobie Island , just 200 feet off the mainland. Scuba diving into offshore reefs and wrecks is also possible, along with sport fishing, snorkeling, jet skiing, and sailing.
Nearby Virginia Key is home to the Miami Seaquarium (305-361-5705), a center for research and conservation, housing some 10,000 creatures of the deep, and the University of Miami ‘s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (305-361-4000), a leader in oceanographic research. After a visit to these hospitable islands, so close to the bustle of urban Miami , you too will find yourself in the swim.
The official name of this area is Southwest Eighth Street , but everyone knows it as “Calle Ocho.”
Cubans who fled from Cuba in the 1960’s recreated their community west of Brickell Avenue , imbuing it with nostalgia for their homeland. This vibrant neighborhood, home to many residents from Central and South America as well, has a distinct Latin flavor. Everything is authentic, from the fruit stands and cigar factories to the eat-at windows of the cafeterias where patrons drink Cuban coffee and passionately discuss politics.
You’ll want to visit the area’s quaint shops, where you’ll find embroidered guayabera shirts, hand-rolled cigars and Latin music, or explore gift shops offering unique items and Cuban memorabilia. And at Little Havana to Go (305-381-7884), you’ll find regional crafts, souvenirs, art and more.
Cultural activities are blossoming here, along with art galleries, studios and theaters. Cultural Fridays take place on the last Friday of every month along Calle Ocho and feature dance, music, poetry, visual arts, and theater. The historic Tower Theater is alive with performances, cultural and educational programs, and multi-cultural films, while Teatro Ocho is home to theater productions in Spanish.
Last, but not least is the food. Little Havana is one of the best places to experience Latin cuisine. Latin flavor takes center stage during Carnaval Miami, a week-long celebration of Hispanic culture culminating with Calle Ocho (a street festival that’s often referred to as “the world’s largest block party”), which attracts more than a million people each year.
After becoming a city in 1995, Aventura, located at the northern end of Miami-Dade County , has established its niche as an enclave of tropical landscaping and water, surrounding sleek high-rises and luxurious single-family homes.
Majestic palms and shade trees line the roadways, and colorful flowers cover the medians of Aventura Boulevard and Country Club Drive , which sweeps around the golf course in the heart of the city.
Aventura Founders Park , located in the center of the city, features a bayside path, tennis courts, a children’s playground and a multi-purpose athletic field. Nearby you’ll find the 4.3-mile long Don Soffer Aventura Fitness Trail, a popular spot for walkers, runners, cyclists, and rollerbladers.
Aventura is also synonymous with world-class shopping. The Aventura Mall, set among lush landscaping, includes an interesting array of shops and restaurants, as well as a large movie theater inside. The nearby Waterways replicate a village set around the marina. You can wander around the shopping areas, boutiques and galleries, meander down to the lighthouse, and then enjoy a meal in one of the area’s distinctive restaurants. With a selection of cuisine ranging from sophisticated to casual, Aventura will definitely entice you.
This may be one of the smallest municipalities in Miami-Dade County , but it is also one of the best known. Covering a third of a square mile, the village has long been a favored hideaway of the rich and famous where celebrity spotting is easy. Here the main street, Collins Avenue , becomes a wide boulevard graced by stately palm trees and greenery. To the east, against a backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean , you’ll find the village’s 2 luxury resorts and gleaming condominium towers set amid flowers and fountains. On the west side of Collins Avenue , low-rise apartment buildings stand next to the gated entrance to Bal Harbour ‘s single-family homes. Heading north out of this tiny oceanside city, the road rises to a crest over the Haulover Bridge . On the other side you’ll find Haulover Park where you can enjoy the beach, water, picnic area and more.
Bal Harbour shops are the village’s crown jewel. The upscale mall is open to the sky, but designed to protect shoppers from the elements in a tropical garden setting, swathed in scarlet and purple bougainvillea. Here you can browse the collection of internationally renowned boutiques and stores that evoke style centers in New York , Paris , Milan , and London . The latest designer fashions and accessories, precious gems and fine, decorative objects may be found here.
When it comes to dining, you can choose from an array of elegant cuisines — continental, international, Italian, Latin, seafood, steaks, sushi, and New Miami World cuisine served by the restaurants or the village’s two resorts. But whether you dine indoors or outdoors, in a cafe or bistro, or on a terrace overlooking the Atlantic Ocean , you’ll savor the ambience of Bal Harbour.
Sunny Isles Beach
The scene is changing in this lively resort area, as funky 1950’s motels and small beachfront hotels give way to luxury apartment towers and hotels. But little has changed on the Newport Fishing Pier, where you can drop a line and fish from shore.
For the thrill of deep-sea fishing, just head south to the charter boats docked on the Intracoastal Highway at Haulover Beach Park – a park split down the middle by the main road, Collins Avenue. On one side, bordering the Intracoastal Waterway, ocean breezes cool the 9-hole, par-3 golf course and the tennis courts, making the park a perfect spot for kite flying. Across Collins Avenue, a one-mile long stretch of pristine beach gives you the obvious surf and sand choices, plus shaded picnic areas where you can enjoy a day of fun or a quick oceanside lunch or dinner.
One of the attractions of this quiet, family-oriented town is the wide, secluded beach that is bordered by a path through the dunes.
Rejuvenated hotels and luxury high-rise condominiums are changing the style of Collins Avenue , but Harding Avenue retains the feel of an old-style main street with small shops, a 1950’s corner drugstore and a soda fountain.
Small bistros welcome strollers for a casual meal, while the oceanfront Surfside Community Center and Tot-Lotpresent various shows and events year round in an art deco-style outdoor stage that is reminiscent of a miniature Hollywood Bowl.
Just south of surfside, the North Shore State Recreation Area offers an unspoiled beachfront nature preserve and picnic area that also caters to families.