Serving as the cultural, economic, and financial hub of southern Florida, Miami is a first class beach destination and international cruise embarkation port. The city proper covers a mere 56 square miles, stretching from the Everglades to Biscayne Bay; iconic Miami Beach is its own city as are other municipalities with key Miami area attractions. Its city population at 470,000, Miami is the 6th most densely populated major city in the United States with the third tallest skyline containing over 300 high rise buildings. The greater region encompasses a population of 6.1 million people; notably Miami is the second largest U.S. city with a Spanish speaking majority and the largest with a Cuban American plurality. Miami possesses a humid tropical climate with a dry winter season; the Gulf Stream runs just 15 miles offshore, making for consistent mild temperatures year round. The city sits only six feet above sea level and Florida is the state most prone to hurricanes that tend to strike between June and November. Additionally, Southern Florida is home to hundreds of thousands of alligators- and yes, they do sometimes make their way into the city of Miami!
Miami can claim to be the only major city in the country founded by a woman; Cleveland native Julia Tuttle once owned a riverside citrus plantation on the land that became today’s city in 1896. The name Miami was first attached to the Miami River and is derived from ‘Mayaimi’, the original Tequesta name of Lake Okeechobee. Visited by Ponce de Leon in 1513, the area was then under Spanish rule until 1819 when Florida was ceded to the United States. Three major wars with the Seminole tribes kept Miami’s growth slow until 1842 when a village was set out by William English. Mrs. Tuttle was a key proponent of encouraging Henry Flagler of Standard Oil to provide rail service to the new settlement and while the population at its founding was only a bit over 300 persons, the early 20th century brought an influx of immigrants from the Bahamas. Along with the railroad Henry Flagler brought Miami streets, water and power systems, and a resort hotel- perhaps the start of Miami as a vacation destination. At the start of World War II, Miami served as a base of defense against German submarines causing a surge in the city’s population and the quick wartime growth gave Miami its nickname of the ’Magic City’.
Fidel Castro’s rise to power in nearby Cuba in 1959 brought an influx of people who made Miami their new home. Today, Miami is synonymous with glitz and glamour, yet balances history and culture with many avenues of entertainment.
Downtown Miami is bustling and busy with shopping, banking, commerce, dining, cultural attractions, and events including sports and concerts, while nearby PortMiami is the largest cruise passenger terminal in the world and one of the top in the country for cargo. Adjacent to downtown proper is Calle Ocho (which translates to ‘8th Street’) in Little Havana, a three square mile district which serves as the heart of the city’s integral Cuban community. Common pursuits include shopping from open air stalls and fruit stands, sipping Cuban coffee, and partaking in ubiquitous imported cigars. Little Havana also contains the Paseo de Estrellas- a Walk of Stairs for Latin American artists. One of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, Coconut Grove has gone from the domain of starving artists to being known for beautiful old homes overlooking the bay. Fondly regarded as a beloved leafy green neighborhood in the central city, ‘the grove’ is the perfect place to simply stroll at leisure and perhaps enjoy bohemian inspired boutique shops and fusion dining. On the northern side of the city, trendy and hip Wynwood has since 2009 become the center of a vibrant new outdoor art scene. In a former warehouse district, the Wynwood Walls are an impressive display of 80,000 square feel of street art (‘graffiti’) by top artists such as Os Gemeos and Shepard Fairey (perhaps most known for the Obama “Hope” poster).
In a locale known for spectacular beaches, it may be surprising to learn that Miami Beach is not in the city of Miami proper. Constructed on an artificial barrier island within Biscayne Bay that was cleared of mangroves in the late 1800’s and originally used as a coconut farm, Miami Beach contains the sands of world famous and beloved South Beach. Visited daily by celebrities and a favorite of spring breakers, Miami Beach has the ‘fun in the sun on the sand’ that typifies Miami and the southern Florida experience. Beyond the beach and the nightlife, South Beach contains the pastel colored Art Deco District with nostalgic large sized neon signs. Built following a hurricane in 1926, these lovingly restored and repurposed buildings were inspired by European trends in Paris and the Mediterranean. At over 800 buildings dating from the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s, South Beach can lay claim to the world’s largest collection of Art Deco architecture. As a city, Miami Beach is unique in being bordered by two National Parks- Everglades and Biscayne- both are easily visited and worth your while.
Another Miami locale that properly is its own city, Coral Gables was laid out as an early planned community in the 1920’s that featured almost exclusively Mediterranean Revival homes. The city is perhaps most known for the Biltmore Hotel and Venetian Pool, both constructed in those grand early days. Restored and returned to hotel service in 1983 after being used as a hurricane emergency shelter, a hospital, and then a medical school, the Biltmore was once the place where ‘everyone who was anyone’ came to stay; notable guests included Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, and Al Capone. Created in 1923 out of a former coral rock quarry, the Venetian Pool holds a whopping 830,000 gallons of spring water that is refreshed daily. Coral Gables is bisected by the Miracle Mile offers high end shopping and dining as well as top notch art galleries.