Add to that Miami’s topography: It poses little challenge to the less than vigorously ambulatory. A toy poodle could scale Miami’s highest hill in a single bound. Furthermore, navigation is augmented by a good public transit system and ample numbers of taxis.
Where to Stay
The beautiful beachfront Loews South Beach comprises two buildings on several acres. The historic tower has smaller rooms, the newer one more contemporary rooms and decor. Everything from fine dining to cafe food is available. While the resort-like atmosphere is luxurious and relaxing, it does come with a pretty big price tag.
Less expensive than Loews but in a trendier area, the Park Central embodies the Deco design of the South Beach experience. The bright lobby is filled with palms and has a grand piano; there’s sidewalk dining, and the hotel is steps from the vibrant nightlife of Ocean Drive. The hotel is historic and charming without being pretentious. The beach is across the street, as is a great park, and the trendy people-watching spots are just outside the hotel’s doors. There’s a fab rooftop terrace, and — as was the style in “the olden days” — the pool is at the front, near the street. A few caveats: Rooms are smallish, and parking is an issue if you have a rental or have driven in (although there is a valet who will park your car offsite for you).
Day One: A Sightseeing Overview
There are several options for getting an overview of Miami, its historic neighborhood communities, Miami Beach and the islands of Biscayne Bay. Your hotel can arrange for motorcoach tours if that is your pleasure.
If you are able to handle a 90-minute walking tour, there is a great one through Miami Beach’s historic Art Deco district operated by the Art Deco Welcome Center.
A great way to tour the scenery and glamour of Biscayne Bay and the digs of the rich and famous is by boat. Make your way to Bayside Marketplace and continue to the marina (Miamarina at Bayside) and book a tour boat or a water taxi for a tour around Biscayne Bay. Your excursion will likely start with the city’s cruise port, continuing to the headquarters for the U.S. Coast Guard’s port security and drug interdiction operations, and then to many private islands in Biscayne Bay that are home to the mansions of Miami’s rich and famous.
You can return to your hotel for dinner, or enjoy the moderately priced fare and casual New York atmosphere at Joe Allen, about a quarter mile from the Lido.
Day Two: Miami Beach Like a Local
One of Miami Beach’s newer transit features — and a great bargain to boot — is the South Beach Local. These wheelchair-accessible minibuses make a loop around Miami Beach, a full circuit taking approximately 40 minutes. Many points of interest in South Beach are included, and you can get off the shuttle anytime along the route and reboard after investigating those points of interest that have, well, interest for you.
A few of the highlights along the shuttle route include Wolfsonian Museum, which houses a collection of fine and decorative arts dating from 1885 through 1945, and the Jewish Museum of Florida, housed in Miami Beach’s first synagogue.
Also worth a stop is the gut-wrenching Holocaust Memorial, completed in 1990. The centerpiece is a gargantuan bronze arm and hand reaching skyward, coated with nearly 100 life-sized bronze statues of struggling men, women and children. Around this central plaza are a number of museum displays.
You may wish to spend some time at the Lincoln Road shopping district. Here’s a great place to shop for everything from designer duds to perfumes and bath products, and have a cappuccino at an alfresco umbrella-shaded table. If you care for classical music, consider getting tickets for the New World Symphony, the only national training orchestra in the United States, which is based at the Lincoln Theatre at about the midpoint of Lincoln Road.
Day Three: Bits and Pieces (or a Bit of Peace)
At this point, you may choose to kick back and enjoy the spa and pools at your hotel. Or perhaps there are aspects of Miami touched upon during your first two days that, for you, warrant further exploration.
You might, for example, want to return to explore two major architectural treasures of Miami’s early golden years, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens and Venetian Pool (for information on either of these landmarks, see day two of Love Is in the Air: 3 Days in Miami for Couples).
Or, if you are of Hispanic heritage, or simply have an interest in learning more about this seminal segment of South Florida’s population, you should pay a visit to what is perhaps Miami’s most famous historical landmark, the Freedom Tower (located at 600 Biscayne Boulevard). This example of Spanish Renaissance Revival Style, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was a kind of Ellis Island for Cuban Refugees fleeing the Castro regime. From 1962 through 1970, it was the refugees’ first stop on U.S. soil, where they were issued basic supplies and given medical care.
Continue inland to Miami’s Little Havana, the bold and colorful enclave along 8th Street (Calle Ocho). If you can tolerate spicy cuisine, don’t miss lunch at Versailles Restaurant (3555 Southwest 8th Street) Miami’s world-famous casual Cuban eatery where you can enjoy a fabulous lunch for less than $20 per person (including beverage and tip). On your way back to your hotel, cap off the Cuban-American exposure portion of your three-day sojourn with an optional stop at the dramatic, ultra-modern waterfront church, La Ermita de la Caridad, devoted to the patron saint of the Cuban refugees. The bayfront shrine faces the sea, directly toward Cuba.
–written by Steve Faber