The bar is set high when friends and family visit.
After months of being teased by your fabulous Facebook photos, they took the plunge and booked flights with crystalline beaches and flashy nightlife in mind. Miami’s reputation is now in your hands.
Fortunately, the Magic City always rises to the occasion. With its restaurants, cultural scene and natural beauty and beach, Miami makes entertaining guests effortless. The question is never “What to do?” but “What can’t be missed?”
Here, then, is a great way to start, whether you’re entertaining others or just want to explore the town on your own now that the crowds have thinned.
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A QUIETER MIAMI BEACH
Miami Beach is on the A list for many visitors, and with good reason. The city has top restaurants, culture, shopping, beaches, nightlife and people watching.
Start out at South Pointe Park for a beach less frequented by the masses. Stroll along the promenade along Government Cut, where you can snap picturesque views of the waterfront as cruise ships sail by. Stop in for a drink or a bite at Smith & Wollensky, with its phenomenal views.
From there, take the DecoBikes out for a spin. With roughly 100 blue-and-green bike kiosks across Miami Beach, the bikes are an ideal transportation alternative. For as little as $4, the bikes will get you to all of the Miami Beach staples — the boutique shops of Collins Avenue, Art Deco hotels along Ocean Drive and the shops and cafés along Lincoln Road. For a map of all of the bike-share stations, visit decobike.com.
“It is definitely easier than using a vehicle to get around Miami Beach,” said Colby Reese, DecoBike chief marketing officer. “Plus, you don’t have to pay for parking or valet.”
For a bit of beauty and quiet in the city, check out the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, 2000 Convention Center Dr., with its gardens, yoga classes and free theater performances.
R&R IN KEY BISCAYNE
A trip to Key Biscayne is described by some as salvation. The village boasts pristine beaches, a range of restaurants and a state park with a lighthouse.
And getting there is worth the trip — the Rickenbacker Causeway has some of the best views of Miami and the sailboats anchored in Biscayne Bay make for an Impressionist postcard.
“When you drive along the Rickenbacker, it cures all of your illnesses,” said Patricia Romano, chairwoman of the Key Biscayne Chamber of Commerce. “You don’t need a psychiatrist. It is so special.”
First stop: Crandon Park.
“It is a different kind of beach,” said Jack Kardys, the county’s parks and recreation director. “It is called a legume beach. It is a very mild calm water. There are never any waves and there are a lot of sand bars that allow you to walk out far into the water.”
Stop at the amusement center with its carousel, outdoor roller rink and playground. Crandon also is home to the Crandon Park Tennis Center, host of the Sony Open Tennis, which brings out such tennis stars as Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic.
“You can go in and play on the stadium court,” Kardys said. “If you want to go on the court Serena Williams won her last championship on, then there you go.”
If you drive a little farther, you will come to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park and its lighthouse at the Key’s southern tip. You can climb to the top of the lighthouse, which was built in 1825 and reconstructed in 1846, making it the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade County. The views are magnificant.
“The best way to see [Key Biscayne] is by bicycle and spend time at each of the spots,” Kardys said. “You can always stop at a shady tree and rest. Leave your car behind”
Take a walk along Calle Ocho to transport guests to the emerging food and arts scene of Little Havana.
The street is filled with coffee bars, markets and bakeries full of Cuban and Central American delights.
To enjoy the neighborhood in full swing, visit during the cultural block party known as Viernes Culturales, which takes place the last Friday evening of the month. The art and music fair is attended by around 4,000 visitors and continues to grow in popularity since it kicked off in 2000.
“We have a lot of families and they come and park to have dinner and walk around,” director Pati Vargas said. “They get to shop and look around at the 35 different artisan booths and see the talent.”
From 13th to 17th avenues, visitors can enjoy an array of art galleries along Calle Ocho and dance the mambo in the streets.
“It is already a special area because it has maintained its Hispanic flair and its Cuban feel,” Vargas said. “The fair and the area continues to be a tourist attraction and bring locals that have never been to the area for that reason.”
STATE OF THE ART
Miami’s largest canvas does not require a museum pass to view. Instead, a rainbow of bold paints spills over streets and building facades of an entire neighborhood.
As with all great works of art, Wynwood was rather ordinary before it became extraordinary. The area, which is teeming with street art, bares little resemblance to the gritty industrial neighborhood it was nearly 10 years ago.
The arts district has become a hub for galleries, thanks to vision of Goldman Properties in 2005.
“We saw it was an opportunity to bring energy to streets that were lifeless,” said Marlo Courtney, managing partner at Goldman Properties.
Goldman Properties attracted street life to the area through what Courtney calls “transformational tenants” such as Panther Coffee on Northwest Second Avenue, as well as juice bar Jugofresh and Zak the Baker, both on Northwest 26th Street.
Wynwood also now boasts a number of revered restaurants and more than 70 galleries, museums and collections.
If your guests’ visit coincides with the second Saturday of the month, visit Wynwood’s art walk. Thousands of people fill the galleries while food trucks line the streets.
The night has been so successful that starting in August, it will expand to the second Thursday evening of the month.
For those who wish to explore the art that seemingly encompasses every surface of the neighborhood, Wynwood Map (wynwoodmap.com) digitally catalogs hundreds of the canvases.
“I want people all over the place to see what we have here,” co-creator Robert de los Rios said. “I consider Wynwood to be the world’s largest and most efficient street art gallery.”
THE GROVE: THEN AND NOW
Explore grounds rich in history and beauty at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Coconut Grove.
The opulent estate of the late industrialist James Deering, which features 34 rooms, was inspired by French and Italian design. Although the estate reflects old-world European style, there were modern conveniences such as elevators and refrigeration within the 1914 home.
“There is the opportunity here for visitors of all ages to discover and experience a European-inspired estate that mixes a variety of periods and styles,” said Suzy Trutie, Vizcaya’s director of marketing and public affairs.
Even without the lavish villa, the serene Italian renaissance gardens are reason alone to visit. The estate sits on nearly 50 acres of lush gardens.
“Since we are located on the water, we have the most incredible views of Biscayne Bay from the gardens,” Trutie said.
While in the Grove, wander around the Commodore Plaza neighborhood for quaint shops and savory eats. The Grove is always bustling with diners at Greenstreet’s, Lulu’s, Jaguar and Le Buchon. Panther Coffee will opens its doors on Main Highway later this year.
A drive down any of the tree-lined streets in Coral Gables is akin to a trip back in time to the grandness of Old Florida. Travel through the coral rock entrance on Granada Boulevard and past historic homes that line the boulevard and the Granada Golf Course.
“The historic entrances welcome you not only to Coral Gables but to a different quality of life,” city spokeswoman Maria Rose-Higgins said.
For a day reminiscent of early Miami, spend the morning at the Biltmore, the luxury hotel built in 1926. Enjoy golf on the sprawling greens or brunch beside the pool at the historic landmark.
Nearby is the Venetian Pool, which was created from a coral rock quarry in 1923. Filled with spring water, it is the only public pool in South Florida with national historic distinction.
“You won’t find that type of ambiance like at the Venetian anywhere else,” Rose-Higgins said. “It is like you are stepping into Venice, Italy.”
Visitors can also make their way to downtown Coral Gables, which is a destination for restaurants, shops and the newly opened Coral Gables Museum and Coral Gables Art Cinema.
“We are very unique,” Rose-Higgins said. “We are very historic. We are cultural and we are attracting visitors because we are known as the ‘City Beautiful.’ ’’