Culturally and racially diverse, Miami is the most vibrant and trendy city in the United States, for me at least. Once a sleepy seaside retreat for retired folks, then a popular, sun-filled winter playground for America’s wealthy and famous, the modern-day Miami has it all: amazing year-round weather; the timeless Art Deco architecture of South Beach; dozens of wonderful restaurants showcasing fine fare from all around the globe; a world-famous beach packed with beautiful people, and scores of lively nightclubs.
The buzz and pizzazz that seeps into Miami’s every pore can't be defined, but it’s something that’s always there, and it’s completely inescapable. This is a city that knows how to party. And how to play it cool.
The heat is on
I’ve lived here for almost a decade and it’s still a thrill to pick up a book and a chair on a January or February afternoon, head for the beach and bask in the sunshine. Miami’s sub-tropical climate means that summers are hot, humid and frequently stormy, while winters are warm and temperate, with temperatures averaging 20C. It beats scraping the ice off your windscreen on a dark and freezing winter’s morning, right?
South Beach is home to the largest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the US, and many of the hotels along Ocean Drive, and further back from the Atlantic, feature the linear symmetry and classic smooth curves of the style of architecture so popular in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. The Miami Beach Architectural District is prominent in the National Register of Historic Places.
Miami by night
When the sun sets and the beach empties, Miami comes alive. Some of the best and most famous nightclubs in the country are found in South Beach, downtown Miami and Coconut Grove, and many are notoriously hard - and expensive - to get into (this is why it’s always a good idea to be on first-name terms with your hotel concierge). Dance the night away or sit quietly, people watching and celebrity spotting with a cocktail – either way it’s always a good night out.
Cuban, Mexican, Asian, European, American – you name it, all manner of cuisines are covered in Miami’s vast and diverse range of restaurants and eateries, and numerous talented and famous chefs ply their trade here. The best of the best showcase their wares in the popular South Beach Wine and Food Festival every February, but there are tasty options to suit all palates, and pockets, year-round.
How cool is that?
The legendary British travel writer Jan Morris once wrote: “Nobody pretends that Miami is a city to look at. It is a city to be in.” Her words epitomise a part of America unmatched by any other for its trendiness and hip factor. It’s a cool place to see and be seen – on the beach, in the bars and clubs, places where the size of your ego is matched only by that of your sunglasses.
No end of famous musicians, actors, sports stars and other instantly recognisable figures call Miami home, if only for the winter in some cases. Chances are, if you’re in town for more than a few days, you’re going to bump into someone you last saw on TV, whether it’s J-Lo shopping for the latest fashion, Diddy and his posse sipping Champagne in a darkened nightclub alcove or Mick Jagger simply taking his dog for a stroll down Lincoln Road.
With more than 650,000 Cubans living in Miami, it’s no surprise that many of the city’s cultural trends are drawn from the island nation. Little Havana, where hardly any English is spoken and cigar-smoking exiles while away the days over domino boards, is a particularly colourful area of town, with corner kiosks and Cuban cafés selling delicious food to match. Haitian influences are particularly prevalent too, and with Miami on the doorstep of South and Central America and the Caribbean, the city is a true melting pot of cultures.
The latest fashion
The exclusive fashion houses that trip off the tongue, Versace, Prada, Gucci, Chanel, DKNY to name only a handful, are prominent in the Miami shopping scene, alongside numerous lesser-known but equally as expensive designer boutiques. Miami’s also blessed with shopping malls, with electronics shops and art galleries especially popular.
Miami Vice and beyond…
From Don Johnson in pastel tee-shirts under white linen suits in Miami Vice, to Al Pacino tearing up the city as a cocaine kingpin in Scarface, to the grisly murder investigations of CSI: Miami and more recent reality TV shows including Jersey Shore and The Kardashians, the city has always held a special allure for the cameras. The fictional side of Miami, as portrayed in the crime shows and dramas, is wacky enough. In reality, it’s often stranger.
The call of the wild
For a city that’s mostly about its hotels, beaches, restaurants and nightclubs, Miami’s not the first place you’d think of as a nature lover’s paradise. But you’d be as surprised as I was. On the doorstep is the Everglades, a moving, living, breathing river of grass, home to alligators and numerous other native species, and a place for some amazing airboat rides through the swamps. Closer still are attractions such as Zoo Miami, one of the nation’s biggest, and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, an 83-acre collection of rare and unusual flora and fauna from around the world.