The various neighborhoods that make up Miami are a lesson in diversity. Though they’re connected over the course of approximately 25 miles, each of the best Miami neighborhoods is distinct. Though it borders the dressed-down Coconut Grove, Coral Gables is sophisticated and somewhat formal. Downtown Miami is the nucleus of big business, but pleasure is also in the mix in the form of Bayside Marketplace, a shopping, dining and entertainment complex directly on the water that’s also the hub of boat tours. And neighboring Miami Beach juxtaposes internationally famous South Beach, the capital of sultry style with its celebrities, fashion boutiques, hot hotels, cafés and nightclubs, with the Miami Beach of old where Dean Martin and Jackie Gleason held court years ago and where the classic Eden Roc and Fontainebleau hotels have been updated to 21st-century style.
The affluent Miami neighborhood of Coral Gables, home to the University of Miami, is just a short drive southwest of Downtown Miami. Tony shops line its main drag, known as Miracle Mile, along with salons, a host of wedding dress boutiques and specialty stores, while top-rated restaurants line up along what’s long been known as Restaurant Row (Ponce de Leon Boulevard.). Breathtaking, historic Mediterranean architecture is the hallmark of the Gables; landmarks that exemplify it best include The Biltmore Hotel, the spring-fed Venetian Pool, built in 1923 from a coral rock quarry, and the Coral Gables Merrick House and Garden Museum, which has been restored to its original 1925 appearance and holds a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
Even as the rest of Miami morphs around it over time, world-famous Little Havana, just west of Downtown Miami along Calle Ocho (Eighth Avenue), remains true to its name, a monument to the Cubans who built homes and lives here. You’ll still find elderly gentlemen playing dominoes in Domino Park, still find the crowds gathered at the window of Versailles restaurant in the morning, sipping cafecito and munching freshly baked pastelitos, and still need to be able to read Spanish if you want to know what the signs in the storefronts say. Cigar manufacturing—once the pride of the neighborhood—is still carried on at El Credito on Eighth, though the bulk of the production has now moved closer to the fertile tobacco fields of Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.
Sunny Isles Beach
Located on a barrier island in the northeast corner of Miami-Dade County, Sunny Isles Beach is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Intracoastal Waterway on the west. The main attraction is the beach, which attracts more than one million tourists every year. Stretched along the beach are glitzy high-rises and condo-hotels that house excellent restaurants and spas. Shopping options in the area are unremarkable—mostly beachwear and tacky souvenir shops—so, if you’re looking to shop, we recommend that you jump in your car and drive to Aventura Mall, which is less than 10 minutes away by car. Sunny Isles Beach is also famous for its Motel Row, with old motels, including The Castaways and The Marco Polo, which were frequented by musicians and movie stars in the ’50s and ’60s.
Once an unspoiled, tree-canopied little village, “The Grove,” as it’s called, retains its small-town feel despite vast commercialization over the past decade. Located south of Brickell and east of Coral Gables, it sits right on the Bay, which means it’s home to a large sailing community—the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, the Coral Reef Yacht Club, Biscayne Yacht Club and the U.S. Olympic Sailing Center are all here. You can cover most of the area on foot, visit the shops and theaters at CocoWalk, lunch at one of the many sidewalk cafes, and play Frisbee or run in the popular Peacock Park. Miami’s City Hall is located here, in the deco-style historic building that once served as the headquarters of Pan American airlines.
Miami Design District
Over the past 20 years, Miami developer Craig Robins has taken the once blighted Miami Design District and turned it around by buying old buildings in the area, renovating them, and convincing other visionaries to bring their businesses into the District. Today it’s home to more than 130 art galleries, furniture and fashion showrooms, ultra-popular restaurants (including Michelle Bernstein’s Sra. Martinez and Jonathan Eismann’s Pacific Time), offices, salons and spas, and studios. On the second Saturday of each month, Art & Design Night invites the public to pop into the showrooms and stores for a drink and a look around. When Art Basel Miami rolls around in December, the Miami Design District hosts a full schedule of official events and parties. The revitalization of this once-blighted neighborhood has become an international model for redevelopment, showing how art can become the lifeblood of a vital community.
The most famous and sexiest Miami neighborhood, South Beach is a mix of heady glamour and laid-back, beach bum chic, where beautiful young people of indeterminate ethnic origin rub shoulders with celebrities of film, fashion or music. Ocean Drive is a hub of activity, with the beach on the east side and stores, hotels and cafes lining the west side. Parking is all but impossible directly on Ocean unless your vehicle is a Schwinn or a Vespa, but there’s metered parking on the side streets and several municipal parking garages within walking distance. A wide variety of hip boutiques, eateries and some of the best Miami nightclubs can be found one block west on Collins Avenue.
The center of commerce with more international banks than any city in the United States, this was once a 9-to-5 only area that went dark at the end of the business day. It’s now overflowing with new hotels, most notably the Viceroy, the Epic and the Four Seasons. The Shops at Mary Brickell Village, on the east side of the main street, Brickell Avenue, have injected new life into the area; here you’ll find Miami restaurants, day spas and salons, retail boutiques, and conveniences like banks, a pharmacy, grocery store and shoe repair. Bumper-to-bumper traffic on Biscayne Boulevard crawls past soaring glass-and-steel corporate towers, creating a visual paradox when viewed against the pleasure yachts floating on the tranquil waters behind.
One of the county’s newest cities, the 3.5-square-mile community of Aventura (the Spanish word for “adventure”) was incorporated in 1995 on the Intracoastal Waterway. We love the full gamut of activities at the Aventura Mall, where you’ll discover not only some of the most popular stores but also excellent restaurants and a theater (just be warned—it is almost always crowded). A favorite spot here is the chi-chi Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club, for its spa, golf courses and superb restaurants. A long awaited, much anticipated Arts & Cultural Center is opening in summer 2010, the first venue of its kind in the city.