visitors torn between "getting away from it all" and "being
a part of it all," Miami offers the best of both worlds, with a remarkable
style of its own. Its a blend of 21st century and Old-World architecture,
thrill-packed sports and leisurely sunbathing, colorful big-city culture
and quaint small-town neighborhoods.
Scattered throughout Greater Miamis neighborhoods are a wide variety
of family-friendly attractions. For history and fine art in one location,
check out the Metro-Dade Cultural Center in the heart of downtown Miami.
Housed in one complex are the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, featuring
life-size dioramas tracing some 10,000 years of south Florida history,
and the Miami Art Museum of Dade County, showcasing major exhibits from
museums and collections around the world.
Heading towards Biscayne Bay, visitors happen upon the delightful flamingo-colored,
shoebox-shaped pavilions that comprise Bayside Marketplace. Visitors will
enjoy exploring this eclectic waterfront specialty center with upscale
shops, boutiques, retail booths, gourmet restaurants and fast-food outlets.
Across the bay, a perpetually revolving shark statue greets visitors at
the entrance of Key Biscayne, reminding them to stop by the Miami Seaquarium
and meet a host of fascinating sea creatures. Taking center stage during
daily shows are Lolita, a 10,000-pound killer whale and the world-famous
dolphin, Flipper, with frisky sea lions grabbing the spotlight at every
chance. Offering six daily shows, the facility also features tropical
aquariums full of manatees, morays, sea turtles and reef fish, as well
as what is billed as the "worlds largest man-made shark channel."
Driving along magnificent oak-lined South Bayshore Drive, visitors will
find the Miami Museum of Science and Space Transit Planetarium, an exploration
of the ever-expanding realm of technology and science. Rated the number
one museum in Dade County by the readers of South Florida Parenting Magazine,
both parents and kids will enjoy this stop. At the Wildlife Center, a
walk-through aviary gives a bird's-eye view of owls, hawks and falcons
thriving among native flora. View the heavens in 3-D at the Space Transit
Planetarium, the largest of its kind in the world. Inside the 65-foot
dome, visitors learn about the moon, planets, star clusters and nebulae
at the daily star shows.
Some of Miamis most popular nature parks and attractions stretch
southward from the suburbs to the far reaches of southern Dade County.
The 83-acre Fairchild Tropical Garden is the largest tropical botanical
garden in the continental U.S. and features a rare plant house, rain forest
and sunken gardens. Nearby, Parrot Jungle is a natural, subtropical garden
of exotic trees and plants and home to a delightful flock of trained parrots,
macaws and cockatiels that perform daily. Opened more than 50 years ago,
the park boasts over 1,100 birds and 1,000 plant species. The kids can
monkey around at another jungle, which has captivated and captured
visitors for more than half a century. In a unique twist, visitors
to Monkey Jungle observe the antics of more than 500 free-roaming primates
representing 50 species from the vantage of caged walkways through the
rain forest habitat. The 290-acre, state-of-the-art Metrozoo in western
Dade County is home to lions and tigers and bears and some 900
other wild animals. Special zoo features include a wildlife show and a
behind-the-scenes tram tour through the working and breeding areas of
the impressive facility.
The cultural diversity that defines Miami today opens the door to a world
of new experiences for visitors. Slightly off Miamis main thoroughfares,
travelers will find distinct ethnic enclaves that are worth a visit. South
of downtown Miami, Little Havana is the hub of the Greater Miamis
vibrant Cuban community. Here, the chimneys and porch piers of single-family
bungalows are made of native coral limestone, and the Cuban restaurants
serve mouth-watering picadillo and arroz con pollo. To the north, visitors
can sample Little Haitis singular island heritage at the Caribbean
Marketplace, an award-winning, brilliantly colored building inspired by
the Iron Marketplace of Port-au-Prince. Some two dozen shops offer Caribbean
arts and crafts, African-inspired clothing and exotic ice creams and juices.
Couples will revel in Miamis amazing diversity as showcased in
its numerous romantic destinations, which reveal the citys passionate
past and present.
Those making wedding plans may want to consider the chapel at the Ancient
Spanish Monastery in North Miami Beach. Brought from Spain in 1925 by
newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst and reassembled at its present
site, the 10th-century monastery is a popular spot for weddings. In Homestead,
Coral Castle stands as a tribute to a "heavy heart." According
to legend, lovelorn Edward Leedskalnin spent 33 years hand-carving this
coral monument to a fiancée who jilted him at the altar. Hewn from
1,000 tons of coral rock, the odd and eerie engineering triumph includes
solar-heated bathtubs, a 5,000-pound heart-shaped table and a 9-ton gate
so perfectly balanced that a child can open it with the touch of a finger.
Probably the most glamorous municipal pool in the world, Coral Gables
Venetian Pool is a luxurious swimming lagoon, adorned with Italian architecture,
cascading waterfalls and arched stone bridges. Fashioned from an old rock
quarry in 1924, the pool hosted poolside orchestras and countless Hollywood
legends in its heyday. Today, couples can enjoy the historic watering
hole, imagining the glamour of another era.
Across sparkling Biscayne Bay, Miami Beach is a living mural, a splash
of pastel buildings lined neatly along the white Pompano sand, all set
against the brilliant aquamarine sea. Here, the famed Art Deco District
of South Beach, more commonly referred to as SoBe, beckons vacationers
to stop and explore. This one-square-mile area is an architectural treasure
of more than 800 buildings in the Art Deco, Streamline Moderne and Spanish
Mediterranean Revival style. For historical perspective as well as juicy
tidbits, take a 90-minute guided walking tour of the area, conducted by
the Miami Design Preservation League, the group largely responsible for
renovating and refurbishing the district. And making use of favorite South
Beach modes of transportation, the League also offers bicycle and in-line
skating tours of the district on the first and third Sundays of the month.
Couples lose themselves among streets packed with popular restaurants,
art galleries and boutiques. Stop at one of Ocean Drives inviting
sidewalk cafes for a gourmet meal and an expansive view of the Atlantic.
Shaded by banyan trees and fronting Biscayne Bay is the bohemian enclave
of Coconut Grove. Once known as "Millionaires Row," Coconut
Grove retains much of its elegant ambiance as home to some of Miamis
finest hotels, restaurants and designer shops. But the Groves neighborhood
taverns and quaint village atmosphere have also attracted writers and
artists, resulting in a carefree blend of the bohemian and the chic. Visitors
to this eclectic, energetic village can experience the trendy nightclubs
at Cocowalk, and exclusive boutiques at Mayfair Shops, set along red-brick
sidewalks with historic buildings tucked down secluded side streets or
around bends in the Main Highway.
For a truly scenic view, couples can drift along Baywalks promenade,
tracing the shoreline of Biscayne Bay. Or sit back and relax on narrated
Old Town Trolley tours of the major attractions in Miami, Coconut Grove,
Coral Gables and Miami Beach.