If you start at Bayfront Park you can take a walk northwards up Biscayne Boulevard, along the seafront, past the Freedom Tower to Pérez Art Museum.
There are palms everywhere, and luxury yachts along the seafront.
This is what the suburban houses look like: modern, reflective white – no exposed bricks or elevated terraces like in Chicago.
Miami, and this (at the time) administrative centre, were the first points of contact for refugees fleeing from Castro’s Cuba. Many refugees (in fact, 14,000 of them!) were lone children whose parents had sent them away for their own safety and to avoid them being indoctrinated in Castro’s schools. Some of them were fostered by Americans and never saw their parents again, as the exhibition inside told me. All the testimonies recorded talked of this experience in an overwhelmingly positive light: it was difficult to be separated from their parents, but this enabled them to live a better life, and practice their faith in peace. They all seemed grateful that America had taken them in. I wondered if the accounts were doctored.
Many of these Cuban refugees settled in the Little Havana district, centring around Calle Ocho or SW 8th Street. It has Cuban cigar shops, colourful street art, boutique art galleries, South American restaurants and a lively, if slightly down-at-heel, vibe.
James Deering, Chicagan owner of a harvester machine company, completed the building of his Florida holiday home in 1916. It’s now a museum in the Coconut Grove suburb, about a mile from downtown Miami.
My eyes were starved after over a week of New York’s blocks and Chicago’s skyscrapers, so I found this Italian-inspired stately home BEAUTIFUL. It has landscaped gardens, courtyards, gazebos, coral stone carvings, and lovely views over the sea, with downtown Miami largely out of sight.
This huge (1.5m) iguana came to hang out on the waterfront:
Embarrassingly, I’d been pronouncing the name of the house the Spanish way, but it turns out the Chicagan owner invented the name. The crowning glory here is ‘The Barge’, a breakwater shaped like a ship and accessible only by boat (or a brief swim!)
The Midtown area where the Design District is located has a classier, more authentic feel to the slightly tacky Bayfront/Biscayne Boulevard area downtown.
The Design District is still under construction, but it’s already filling up with funky architecture and designer shops.
South Beach Art Deco
Miami Beach is NOT walking distance … the map is deceptive. Public transport is also not Miami’s strong point, but Uber is cheap 🤷♀️
While you’re there, it’s worth a visit to the Art Deco historic district in South Beach, for its pretty 20’s houses in pastel colours.
Avoid Ocean Drive, which has tacky restaurants pounding out music and wait staff shoving technicolour menus in your face. Just skip to the actual beach …
Probably the nicest beach I’ve ever seen. Beautiful white sand, clear turquoise water, no seaweed, no litter, no cigarette butts, and, in early February, no people. I had plenty of space to set out my towel and even had a brief bathe. It was the coldest week of the year, apparently, but it was still mid-twenties (in February!!)
Biscayne Bay boat tour
No tourist visit is complete without a boat trip, right?! This one took us within shooting distance of the Venetian islands, small artificial islands between the mainland and Miami Beach, occupied solely by celebrities with lavish waterfront houses.
And those are my Miami essentials! I also took a day trip from Miami to the Florida Keys, which I’ll write up in a separate post coming soon. You can read about my other American adventures here.