Australians often refer to Queensland’s Gold Coast as their version of Miami, but the comparison is only partially true. Apart from the stunning ocean beaches, high rise apartments and super fit locals, the two places have little in common. It is not just Miami’s balmy weather and golden sands which keep people coming back, but the city’s colourful history, strong Cuban influence, architectural heritage, diverse cuisines and lively arts scene.
Despite thawing relations between the United States and the communist regime in Cuba, Miami’s expatriate Cuban community continues to burn with anti-Castro fervor. A guided tour around Little Havana remains one of the city’s signature experiences – and a key to understanding the unique ethnic soup with has made Miami such a social fascinating experiment. Located in Downtown, Little Havana offers everything from art galleries to traditional Cuban bakeries, oodles of colourful street life and blaring samba music.
New World Centre
Designed by the celebrated architect Frank Gehry, the New World Centre in South Beach expresses Miami’s desire to constantly expand its cultural horizons. The impressive new complex, which opened in 2011, includes a 756-seat concert hall, a six-storey atrium and a stunning roof garden. The modernist building is described as a “musical laboratory” and hosts classical concerts and many other events. Guided tours are also available.
The island of Key Biscayne, directly south of Miami Beach and connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway, is a travel destination within a travel destination. A favourite weekend getaway for local Miamians, the island offers the nicest and least crowded beaches in Southern Florida, plus two large national parks. The nearby village has a small selection of shops, cafes and restaurants – ideal if you plan to spend the day. Many wealthy Americans, including Richard Nixon, the former US president, have kept impressive holiday houses on the island.
If you stroll along Ocean Drive it’s easy to imagine that the entire population of Miami devotes itself to skateboarding, jogging, shopping and drinking mojitos. But Miami is also the financial and business hub of Southern Florida and most of the banks and government offices are located in Downtown. You’ll also find the city’s famous jewelry district here, together with some remarkable early 20th century architecture, fantastic Peruvian restaurants, a bustling waterfront area and several five-star hotels.
Hotels, glorious hotels
Generations of Americans have escaped the hash northern winters by flying down to Miami for a few days and building hotels has therefore been one of the city’s perennial occupations. Following Miami’s rediscovery (initially as a destination for fashion shoots) in the 1970s, many of the original Art Deco buildings, which once housed Jewish retirees, were transformed into chic hotels. This movement gathered pace again in the 1990s. Recent hotel openings include EAST, Miami, The Faena Hotel Miami Beach and The Miami Beach EDITION.