Pink Vintage Car in Art Deco District
Sidney  /  Corbis
Pink Vintage Car in Art Deco District
By
Special to msnbc.com
updated 4/4/2007 7:13:27 PM ET 2007-04-04T23:13:27

Miami is a bright jewel in the Sun Belt where Latin, Caribbean, and East Coast influences swirl together in an imaginative, sun-kissed culture that exists nowhere else. Perched precipitously on low land between the Everglades and the Atlantic, smack in the middle of hurricane country, the city has its bad days. Most of the time, though, the weather is near perfect. Once ribbed as the nation’s nursing home, the city is now more strongly associated with its outrageous nightlife than walkers and wheelchairs. There are an amazing variety of ways to fill the days in Miami, and you could spend weeks exploring them. But if you have just one day there, here’s what I’d recommend:

8 a.m. - 9 a.m., breakfast
Enjoy the view of the Atlantic across a pair of marble rimmed pools and a plate of eggs benedict at Ago , an upscale Tuscan joint in the celebrity-thick, ridiculously-hip Shore Club hotel.

9 a.m. - 10 a.m.
Make your way downtown then float 400 feet above it aboard Miami SkyLift , a giant, tethered helium balloon that’s good for a quick bird’s-eye view of the city. It lifts off every 15 minutes. Opening soon.

10 a.m. - noon
Wander the grandiose halls and grounds of Villa Vizcaya on Biscayne Bay. Built in the early 20th century in the style of a Venetian palace, Vizcaya was the winter retreat of James Deering, co-founder and vice president of International Harvester. Ten acres of gardens and grottoes are laid out along Renaissance Italian and French lines, and the opulent home itself is loaded with brocaded walls, guilt moldings, chandeliers, and artworks and furnishings from the 15th century on. This opulent mansion has served as the diplomatic seat of Miami Dade for years, and such luminaries as Pope John Paul II, Queen Elizabeth and Ronald Reagan were impressed on their tours of these grounds. You will be too.

A MORNING ALTERNATIVE
Visit one of Miami’s original and oddest tourist attractions, the Coral Castle . It was built as the bizarro home of an obsessive, tubercular, Latvian immigrant, who, upon getting jilted at the altar, flung himself into its construction. He single-handedly quarried the huge blocks of coral from which the castle’s fashioned, and did the furnishing himself: there are giant coral rocking chairs, a giant coral bed, a giant coral crib, the world’s largest Valentine – that sort of thing. The enormous Flintstone-like gate is a perfectly-balanced, 21-inch coral slab that swings open like a turnstile with a moderate shove.

Noon-1:30 p.m.
Head into the heart of Little Havana, where guayabera-clad old men slap down dominos and Versailles serves up superb Cuban cuisine (the French name notwithstanding). The combination plate is a good primer: yellow rice, black beans, fried pork, ropa vieja (shredded beef on rice), boiled yucca with garlic sauce, fried plantains, and a pork tamale. Finish off with a short, sweet, bracing shot of Café Cubano, Cuban-style espresso.

2 p.m. - 5 p.m.
Go to glittery, glamorous South Beach and tour the Art Deco District , a soft sherbet spectrum of peaches, periwinkles, and purples punctuated with neon and spread across more than 800 buildings. Start at the Art Deco Welcome Center [1001 Ocean Drive; 305/531-3484] to get oriented, then set off along the ten-block stretch of Ocean Drive, with beachfront Lumus Park on one side and streamlined architecture borrowing curves from ocean liners, rocket ships, and the more sculptural aspect of Industrialism on the other. Along the way you’ll encounter the latest Brazilian swimwear, the suggestion of moisturizers on the sea breeze, myriad meter maids, and sun-kissed South Beach party people bearing potent, fruity beverages. Walk back along Washington Avenue and stop at the Wolfsonian-Florida International University ,where artifacts representing design history between 1885 and 1945 are on display, fixing the art deco movement in its greater context. When you get tired of sightseeing, plop down on the sand to take in the beach scene; or get shopping. This is a paradise for both activities.

TWO AFTERNOON ALTERNATIVES: GATORS AND HOT WHEELS

Sign up for the Richard Petty Driving Experience and strap yourself into the cockpit of a NASCAR Nextel Cup-style speed machine. You can take either the passenger seat or the wheel as you zoom around the Homstead-Miami Speedway at 145 miles per hour, flying into the turns without breaking.

Or take a half-hour airboat ride down the River of Grass, see an alligator wrestling show, then stroll along a jungle trail and inspect a Cheekee Indian village at Everglades Safari Park .

5 p.m -7 p.m. Dinner
Sit down at the Mandarin Oriental hotel for a sumptuous meal in the elegant-yet-casually-cool dinning room of Azul, where the wide-angle view of tranquil Biscayne Bay vies for your attention with the flurry of starched white chef smocks in the open white-marble kitchen. The menu features Mediterranean and Asian -inspired fare such as roast duck breast with Peking-style duck leg confit, and pan-roasted Alaskan halibut with creamy corn, bacon-wrapped French beans, and a tomato salad. For desert, have the vanilla soufflé, with your choice of crème anglaise, raspberry, or chocolate sauces.

8 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Catch a play or musical at the Coconut Grove Playhouse , aka “Broadway by the Bay.” Many a Broadway show, with many a Broadway actor, have been staged here since the Grove was transformed from movie palace to a live theater in 1956.

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11 p.m. - until your collapse
Dress to impress and immerse yourself in Miami’s legendary club scene. For down-and-dirty hip-hop, with oversized beds to lounge on, and a full menu, head for B.E.D. . To swim among the beautiful people and dance with the sharks (no kidding -- the dance floor here is over a 2,000-gallon shark tank) check out Club Deep , with hip hop and R&B every night. For a quintessential party-people mega club, with ear-splitting bass lines, epilepsy-inducing strobe effects, and where the dress code seems to be “as little as possible,” try your luck in the velvet rope line at Mansion . For mingling with celebs and the good chance of getting skunked at the door, try your luck at Skybar , which has a series of sensuously appointed bar areas opening onto a tropical garden appointed with passion flower and bougainvillea. It’s located at The Shore Club hotel, where the day began.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer Guidebooks which will be debuting in bookstores this July.

Ago:1901 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach in the chic Shore Club Hotel; 305/695-3326; breakfast 7-11AM daily; www.shoreclub.com/shore_club_ago_nobu.asp

Miami SkyLift: 1109 Ponce de Leon Boulevard, Coral Gables; 305/444-0422; http://www.miamiskylift.com/

Villa Vizcaya:3251 South Miami Ave, Miami; 305/250-9133; 9:30am-4:30pm daily; $12 adults, $5 for children 6-12, under 5 is free; http://www.vizcayamuseum.org/

Coral Castle:28655 South Dixie Highway, Homestead; (305) 248-6345; Mon-Thurs 9am-8pm, Fri-Sun 9am-9pm;$7.75 adults, $5 children 7-12, under 7 free; http://www.coralcastle.com/

Versailles: 3555 S.W. 8th St.; 305/444-0240

Art Deco District:www.gmcvb.com/art_deco_historic_district.asp

Wolfsonian-Florida International University: 1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; http://www.wolfsonian.fiu.edu/

Richard Petty Driving Experience: $99 for drive-alongs, starting at $399 to drive yourself; 800/BEPETTY; http://www.1800bepetty.com/index2.html

Everglades Safari Park: 26700 SW Eighth St., Miami; 305/226-6923; http://www.evsafaripark.com/

Azul:500 Brickell Key Drive, Miami; 305/913-8288; www.mandarinoriental.com/hotel/526000039.asp

Coconut Grove Playhouse:3500 Main Highway, Miami; 305/442-4000; http://www.cgplayhouse.org/

B.E.D.: 929 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach; 305/532-9070; http://www.bedmiami.com/

Club Deep: 621 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; 302/532-1509 www.clubdeep.com

Mansion: 136 Collins Ave, Miami Beach; 301/531-5535; http://www.mansionmiami.com/

Skybar: 1901 Collins Ave, Miami Beach at the Shore Club Hotel; 305/695-3100; www.shoreclub.com/shore_club_skybar.asp

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer Guidebooks which will be debuting in bookstores this July.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Photos: Miami: Sunshine statement

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  1. Tower to the people

    Lifeguard towers on Miami Beach are colorful and easy to distinguish. Lifeguards care over swimmers who play nearby, and the towers make a great meeting place when surrounded by an endless area of sand, surf and beach umbrellas. (Richard Cummins / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Hot spot

    Thousands of people descended on Miami Beach for Super Bowl XLIV between the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts. The city hosted a number of private and public events ahead of the big game. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Wet and wild

    Jet skis cruise along Biscayne Bay near Miami Beach Marina. Tourists visiting the Bay can enjoy a number of recreational activities, including snorkeling, sailing, kayaking and more. (Richard I'anson / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Life's a beach

    South Beach, also nicknamed "The American Riviera," is well-known for celebrities, chic lifestyles and, of course, beaches. The man-made beach runs along the Atlantic Ocean for miles. (Richard I'anson / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Savoring history

    The Art Deco district of South Beach is a hot spot for celebrities and is home to eccentric residents. The district has more than 800 buildings, built in the '30s and '40s, that are architecturally protected, helping its image as a chic, popular destination. (Randy Faris / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Ear to the ground

    Caribbean Flamingos -- this one eats from a pond at the Metro Zoo in Miami -- gets their color from the carotene in its diet. (Robert Sullivan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Dolphins walk, whales fly

    The Miami Seaquarium is a popular attraction that features eight marine animal shows. General admission tickets cost $37.95, and kids between the ages of three and nine get in for $27.95 (plus 7 percent sales tax). (Jon Davison / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Luxe lodgings

    The Biltmore Hotel of Coral Gables "has been a favorite of world leaders, celebrities and sports stars since its opening in the 1920s," its Web site boasts. The resort features 275 rooms, including 130 suites, a spa and fitness center. (The Biltmore) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pretty in pink

    Classic buildings aren't the only thing visitors to Miami Beach will find. Vintage cars are often spotted in the Art Deco district. The annual Art Deco Weekend hosts a classic car fest where proud owners can show off their treasures. (Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Colorful celebration

    A dancer wears a costume as she participates in the Miami Carnival. The carnival has been an annual event since 1984. It has grown from a small neighborhood festival to an international event bringing live bands and calypsonians from the islands. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Collins mix

    The renovated Delano Hotel (left), National Hotel (center) and the Sagamore Hotel line up Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. The city has a concentration of over 800 Art Deco buildings all within one square mile. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Double-tall MOCA

    Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art "is internationally recognized as a force in defining new trends and directions in contemporary art," its Web site says. Admission is $5 per person, $3 for students and seniors. MOCA Members and kids under 12 can enter for free. (MOCA Miami) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Bass appeal

    The Bass Museum of Art was established 47 years ago ater Miami Beach accepted the art collection of John and Johanna Bass, and agreed it would maintain the works and make it available to the public. (Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Different strokes

    A visitor looks at "Thinking" during Art Basel Miami Beach back in 2008. "Art Basel Miami Beach is the most important art show in the United States, a cultural and social highlight for the Americas," the event's Web site boasts. This year's event takes place Dec. 2-5. (Juan Castro / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Reflective moment

    Artist Jude Papaloko is reflected in a mirror on a painted wall in his gallery, the Jakmel Gallery, in Miami. (Lynne Sladky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Feeling the groove

    Club patrons enjoy themselves on the dance floor at Mansion nightclub in Miami Beach, Fla. Once thought of as a place to visit Grandma in January, Miami's reputation as a party city has grown since the days of "Miami Vice," through the birth of the Art Deco fashion district in the early 1990s and the more recent explosion of the South Beach club scene. (David Adame / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Port of call

    Frequent cruisers can be forgiven for seeing Biscayne Bay and Miami simply as a departure point. However, the area offers a wealth of activities and events that can satisfy tourists with a variety of different interests. (Jeff Greenberg / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Can I get a refill?

    The Venetian Pool in Coral Gables, Miami, started out as a quarry pit and was transformed in 1924 into the Venetian Casino. Now, more than 100,000 people visit Venetian Pool each year. During summer months, the pool is drained nightly and replentished from a subterranean aquifer. (Richard Cummins / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Year of the crab

    Plates full of cracked stone crab claws are ready to be served at Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach. Joe Weiss opened a lunch counter in 1913, and the eatery has been serving the public for 97 consecutive seasons. (Wilfredo Lee / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Feeling the beat

    A crowd dances to the rythmic sound of congas at a local latin club in Calle Ocho (8th street), the main street of the Little Havana district of Miami. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Home field

    Miami's Sun Life Stadium hosted Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7, 2010. The New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts by a final score of 31-17. (Dave Cross / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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