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The best of Miami

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.
Pink Vintage Car in Art Deco District
Pink Vintage Car in Art Deco DistrictSidney / Corbis
/ Source: Special to

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 , 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 , 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 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.

Visit one of Miami’s original and oddest tourist attractions, the . 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 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 , 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 ,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.


Sign up for the 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 .

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 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 , 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.

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 . 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 , 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 . For mingling with celebs and the good chance of getting skunked at the door, try your luck at , 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;

Miami SkyLift: 1109 Ponce de Leon Boulevard, Coral Gables; 305/444-0422;

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;

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;

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

Art Deco District:

Wolfsonian-Florida International University: 1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach;

Richard Petty Driving Experience: $99 for drive-alongs, starting at $399 to drive yourself; 800/BEPETTY;

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

500 Brickell Key Drive, Miami; 305/913-8288;

3500 Main Highway, Miami; 305/442-4000;

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

Club Deep: 621 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; 302/532-1509

Mansion: 136 Collins Ave, Miami Beach; 301/531-5535;

Skybar: 1901 Collins Ave, Miami Beach at the Shore Club Hotel; 305/695-3100;

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