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Miami - The Fashion & Culture Centre of the USA

Miami today is a global city, engrossed in entertainment, arts, fashion, culture and music with a lively latin culture and heritage mixed in.

The fabulous sunny weather and breathtaking coastal scenery makes this area so popular with tourists during the winter, trying to top up their all-year-round tan.

Defamed in the 1980's by hit TV series Miami Vice, as a crime-infested, drug-lord ruled haven for debauchery, the real Miami has much to offer in the way of sightseeing and cultural interactions.

The tropical coastal city was a small sleepy town until in the 1920's when the rich and famous zeroed in, made it their own and turned it into a bustling seaside capital of fun.

You can still see the many mansions here along the coast and the multi-million dollar cruise ships berthed outside and in the marinas, although the area is now often regarded as the retirement capital of the USA.

Still, it's a lively place and the large Cuban community have clearly set down their roots here on the doorstep to Latin America.

If it's year-round sun, white sandy beaches and and energising Latin vibe you're after, you'd do well not to miss out on what Miami has to offer.

www.miamigov.com

Top 10 things to do in Miami

Downtown Miami

This is the Central Business District (CBD) of Miami where some 60,000 residents and 200,000 office workers live and work all year round.

There are two main roads here, Brickell Avenue/Biscayne Boulevard to the north and south and Flagler Street to the east and west.

Skyscrapers are plentiful here and not really appreciated up close. For the best photo opportunity of the skyline full of skyscrapers, head out of town towards the northeast or east.

But don't stray out of Downtown until you do a little light shopping. Retail is BIG here, really big! From high-end fashion outlets to small market stalls, there really is an incredible choice of things to buy here and if you get tired in between all the designer window-shopping, sit and relax in the plentiful coffee-houses, cafes or bars in between.

There are four good parks around the CBD area all offering a break from the busy city life; Bayfront, Bicentennial, Fort Dallas and Lummus.

NIghtlife here is also big and varied with everything you could think off being available to you somewhere. Check out the Downtown website to see what's hot.

www.downtownmiami.com

South Beach

Known by locals as SoBe this white sand beach area was the first section of Miami Beach to be developed starting in the 1910s.

Don't confuse Miami and Miami Beach as they are quite separate and distinct cities in their own right, making up part of the wider Miami-Dade county.

It was in the 1920's when several millionaires of the time built their mansion homes here, that really kicked off the land boom in the area.

When touring around this area, you can't help but noticing the Arc Deco design style that went into many of the properties built around the 1930s. In fact South Beach has the world's largest collection of them.

There are hundreds of nightclubs, restaurants, boutiques and hotels in this area catering for both day and night life.

www.visitsouthbeachonline.com

Seaquarium

Situated on the island of Virginia Key in Biscayne Bay, the Seaquarium is the longest operating oceanarium in the USA with 38 acres of marine parkland that is home to a whale, sharks, dolphins, sea turtles, manatees, various fish species and also birds.

Offering eight separate marine animal shows, you could really spend the entire day here with the family.

The marine park officially opened in 1955 after a 10 year delay due to funding issues, however upon opening it was the worlds largest marine attraction.

If you're a sixties child then you'll remember the TV show Flipper. Between 1963-67, 88 episodes and two movies where filmed here at the seaquarium. Now there's a claim to fame.

The most popular attraction at the site is Lolita, the parks lone female orca killer whale and believed to be the oldest in captivity.

Open all year round from 09:30 to 18:30, tickets can be purchased on-line to avoid waiting in queues during the high seasons.

www.miamiseaquarium.com

Museum of Science/Planetarium

First established as a non-profit organisation in 1949, the museum was known then as The Junior Museum of Miami and was located inside a house on Biscayne Boulevard.

Since then the museum has grown in size to cover an area of 4,500m² and now includes The Weintraub Observatory, The Space-Transit Planetarium and a wildlife centre.

The planetarium was opened to the public in 1966 and is home to the world’s first and only weekly television series on naked-eye astronomy, Jack Horkheimer's Star Gazer. The projection dome room is large and has seating for over 230 people and the laser light shows are meant to be the best.

The wildlife centre is well worth the visit and contains The Batchelor Falcon Bird of Prey Centre which helps in the rehabilitation of injured birds back into the wild. 

Exhibits in the museum do change and they often have special events throughout the year so it's best to check the official website and see what they are before planning your visit.

www.miamisci.org

Little Havana

The name pretty much says it all.

This western neighbourhood of Miami is home to approximately 50,000 Cuban immigrants who have recreated a little bit of their homeland here around the 1960s and are now proud Cuban Americans.

The area is well known for it's social, cultural and political activity, hosting regular annual festivals including Carnival Miami, Cultural Fridays and the Three Kings Parade which are televised and watched globally by millions.

There are several prominent landmarks here including the Cuban Memorial Boulevard, the Walkway of the Stars (for famous artists and Latin personalities), Domino Park and the Calle Ocho (one or many cigar factories).

Walking around, there is a constant reminder that you are somewhere else other than mainland America, whether it's the many cigar smoking locals or the equally many Cuban flags in the restaurant and bar windows.

The people here are strikingly passionate about their cultural heritage which makes this one of the best places to walk around when you're visiting Miami. Just make sure you finish off any cigars bought in this area before you head back Downtown.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Havana,_Miami,_Florida

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

This 16th century-styled villa can be found along the waters edge at Biscayne Bay.

Once the winter residence for agriculture industrialist James Deering from 1916 until his death in 1925 it has since been turned into a museum from 1994.

The villa museum houses hundreds of artifacts dating from 15th through 19th centuries in over 70 rooms.

Equally large and impressive are the 40,000m² botanical gardens that surround the villa, a setting that has been used by former presidents such as Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan for various meetings and summits with world leaders and prominent persons.

It has also been a keen location for film directors shooting scenes from films such as Money Pit, Bad Boys II and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vizcaya_Museum_and_Gardens

Historical Museum of Southern Florida

Another equally large museum, this time 3,700m² over two floors, dedicated to the history of South Florida and the Caribbean.

Popularly abbreviated in literature and maps as HMSF, this permanent exhibition covers some 12,000 years of history and is the official repository of all archeological material covered in the Miami-Dade county.

The museum runs Family Fun Days which allows the entire family to explore the history and culture of the local community involving some hands-on activities.

Historical walking and boat tours can also be arranged for groups or private tours.

www.hmsf.org

Coconut Grove

Coconut Grove was originally established as a separate city area as early back as 1825 however was incorporated into the city of Miami when it officially expanded it's boundaries in 1925.

World-renowned for its annual art festival, Coconut Grove's other events include the King Mango Strut, which began as a parody of the Orange Bowl Parade. The Goombay Festival, lasting a week in mid- June, transforms Grand Avenue in Coconut Grove, into a Caribbean Carnival.

The Grove is sometimes known as Miami's Food Court, for its many and varied restaurants. Open air cafes are quite popular as well. Some local favourites include Green Street Cafe, Monty's Raw Bar, Tuscany, Mr. Moes, and Le Bouchon.

The Grove gets particularly busy at night with the young office workers and students from Florida International University and University of Miami frequenting the trendy bars and clubs.

www.coconutgrove.com

Children's Museum

The museum can be found on Watson Island, Biscayne Bay. Founded in 1983, the museum opened its current building to the public in 2003 with the original name of  the Miami Youth Museum.

It caters for children of all age groups with activities to suit all in it's 14 galleries, classrooms and 200-seater auditorium.

The museum's goal is to establish itself as a primary centre for the educational enrichment and entertainment of all children and their caregivers.

Every year it offers a free film programme to local school students allowing them to attend a series of film workshops culminating in a competition.

www.miamichildrensmuseum.org

Bayfront Park

This large 13km² urban park is situated right in the heart of Downtown Miami.

Originally opened in 1925, the park has undergone a major redesign since the 1980s to transform it into the modern landscape we see and can enjoy today.

The park is host to many concerts, gatherings and events such as the New Year's ball-drop.

If you're concerned about all the extra calories you've put on during the holiday, the park offers free yoga classes on certain days of the week.

The park is surrounded on all four side with Bayside Marketplace to the north, The Hotel Intercontinental to the south, Biscayne Bay to the east and Biscayne Boulevard on the west.

www.bayfrontparkmiami.com

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