Miami Travel Guide


Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Recreation Area
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Recreation Area, at the southern end of Key Biscayne, offers acres of exotic plants and nature trails bordered by white-sand beaches. At the park's southern tip is the Cape Florida Lighthouse, built in 1845. Key Biscayne is 5 miles (8km) southeast of mainland Miami.

Little Havana
After the Mariel Boatlift, the section of town to which Cuban exiles had been gravitating for years blossomed into a distinctly Cuban neighbourhood, now known as Little Havana. Spanish is the predominant language here, and you'll run into plenty of people who speak no English. The heart of Little Havana is Calle Ocho (KAH-yeh AW-cho), Spanish for SW 8th St (actually it's Spanish just for 8th St, but what the hell). The entire length of Calle Ocho is lined with Cuban shops, cafes, record stores, pharmacies, and clothing and (most amusing) bridal shops.

But while the wall-of-sound-style speakers set up outside places such as Power Records are blasting salsa and other Latin music into the street, Little Havana as a tourist attraction is elusive. It's not concentrated like a Chinatown; it's actually not really a tourist attraction at all. It's just a Cuban neighbourhood, so except during the occasional street fair or celebration, you shouldn't expect Tito Puente and Celia Cruz to be leading colourfully attired, tight-trousered men and scantily-clad women in a Carnaval parade. You're more likely to see old men playing dominoes in Máximo Gómez Park.

Little Havana occupies 10 square blocks, centred on Calle Ocho, southwest of downtown Miami.

Miami Beach
Most people come to Miami Beach for its beaches, clubs and bars, and to witness one of the most spectacular redesigns in modern architectural history. The Art Deco Historic District, a collection of bright pink, lavender and turquoise buildings dating from the 1920s, is one of the largest areas on the US National Register of Historic Places. Its protection and renovation has been one of the major reasons for the rebirth of Miami as a top-notch tourist destination. The Deco district is in the heart of funky South Beach (SoBe), the southwestern section of Miami Beach.

For a city beach, Miami Beach is one of the best around. The water is clear and warm, the sand relatively white and, best of all, it's wide enough and long enough to accommodate the throngs. The Promenade is a Deco-ish, wavy ribbon of concrete at the Beach's westernmost edge. If you've ever looked at a fashion magazine, you've seen it: it's the photo shoot site. If you show up early in the morning, you're likely to see shoots in progress. This is also the hot spot for in-line skaters, bicyclists, skateboarders, dog walkers and people watchers to mill about bumping into each other.

Miami Beach has a strong Jewish culture mixed with a dash of Latin flair: there's even a Cuban-Jewish Congregation. The city's Holocaust Memorial, in the middle of Miami Beach, was created through the efforts of Miami Beach Holocaust survivors. It's an elaborate, exquisitely detailed and moving memorial. Like the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead that does not once mention death but rather speaks only of life, the Memorial is a testament to humanity's perseverance and the hope for a better world.

Miami Beach is attached to the city of Miami, 6km (4mi) to its west, by a series of causeways.

Off the Beaten Track

Everglades National Park
The Everglades is a unique and delicate ecosystem made up of swamps and marshes at the southern tip of the Florida peninsula. It's the largest subtropical wilderness in the continental US but is currently under threat from pollution.

From the brackish waters of the mangrove and cypress swamps, to hardwood hammocks, sawgrass flats and Dade County pinelands, there is simply no place in the world like the Everglades. These marshes are home to crocodiles and alligators, bottle-nosed dolphins, manatees, snowy egrets, bald eagles and ospreys. You can visit for an afternoon or get totally absorbed for days canoeing around the 10,000 Islands and along the Wilderness Waterway.

The main points of entry to the park have visitors centres where you can get maps, camping permits and information from rangers. Free camping permits are required for overnight stays. By far the easiest and cheapest way to get to the Everglades is by car. The drive from Miami takes a little less than two hours. Greyhound only serves Naples, about 25 miles (40km) north of the Gulf Coast Visitor Center.

Fort Lauderdale
Despite its reputation as Good Time Central (which it decidedly is), Fort Lauderdale has a surprising number of cultural and historical sites... for a party town. In recent years, the Spring Break capital of the universe has smartened up its image - but only a little.

That Fort Lauderdale is so well-endowed in the museum and gallery department shows how serious its denizens are about moving on from spring-breakarama. Art, science and history are well-represented, although incurable gossips should make for the National Enquirer Headquarters.

Key West
The islands to the south of Miami were once underwater coral reefs, and they're still recognized for their marine life today. Linked to Miami by a precarious island-hopping 135-mile (216km) highway, the string of islands ends at Key West, the land of Hemingway, sunset celebrations and Key Lime Pie.

Key West is roughly oval shaped, with most of the action taking place at the western end, while Mallory Square, at the far northwestern tip, is the site of nightly sunset celebrations. For the best diving, aim for Key West's southern shore.

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