“Party in the city when the heat is on or lying on the beach until the break of dawn..” I must have sung the Will Smith ‘Welcome to Miami’ song for the whole flight over (luckily this was just in my head). Big Willy, the Kardashians and the Lighthouse Family had all, in part, shaped my expectations of the city. I was expecting a brash, neon, pulsing place where the inhabitants had fake breasts and not much covering them. What I found was impressive architecture, transfixing street art, one very long, perfect white beach and a melting pot of seductive Latin culture – with just a dash of that flashiness I secretly hoped to see. With many airlines offering cheap flights on this route, will you be tempted to book a weekend in Miami and discover all this for yourself?
Art Deco Architecture
I mentioned previously how mesmerising I found the history and beauty of the Art Deco District. Walking around the candy-coloured, ship-like buildings I found that many had been restored to better than they had been in their heyday. Originally small hotels for blue collar workers; the Art Deco hotels have housed prohibited bars, retirees and the US army throughout their years. Today they host the glamorous visitors to Miami, who lounge in the lobbies and daydream they are living in another era (or at least that’s what I did!)
Wynwood left me speechless. It was not what I was expecting to find in Miami at all – but I sure was glad I did. Wynwood is a rundown area of warehouses in Downtown Miami which have been completely transformed by the addition of some of the most amazing street art I have ever seen. The Wynwood Walls are like a graffiti hall of fame, anyone who is anyone in the world of street art has added their lick of spray paint to these bricks. On the second Saturday of each month the area becomes an open air gallery/nightclub hybrid and entrance is completely free of charge. The walls are flood lit, djs and live bands perform sets on the street, galleries open their doors and serve cocktails, food vans offering everything from burgers to cupcakes line the street and the relaxed Miami residents wander around, chatting with friends, soaking it all in.
The recently opened Wynwood Kitchen and Bar blends seamlessly amongst its arty surroundings. Offering Latin inspired small plates to its animated patrons the restaurant is a visual and palatable feast. Overlooking our meal was a giant portrait by Shepard Fairey – his work includes the well known Obama ‘Hope’ poster – along with pieces by acclaimed street artists. You must try the bar’s mouth-watering cocktails; my recommendation is the Christian Awe – Prosecco, Chambord, raspberries = yum!
Miami’s proximity and history with the island of Cuba means the city is infused with Cuban culture. We took a tour of Little Havana with Dragonfly Expeditions who show you the area through the eyes of its residents. Making a brief stop at the Palace of Juices, where I salivated over a Guava juice, we happened to enter Little Havana on a celebration day. Families crowded the streets; conversing in Spanish, sharing thimble sized portions of intoxicating Cuban coffee, and applauding local dignitaries who paraded amongst musicians and a giant Kermit the Frog.
Dragonfly use guides of Cuban heritage to explain the Cuban relationship with Miami and bring the past alive with touching accounts of their personal experiences. Our guide introduced us to carby Cuban dishes (sumptuous plates of beans, rice, croquettas and pork) at renowned Cuban Cafe, Versailles, whilst recounting her families flight from the island and her inherent desire to see the land she feels is a part of her. Listening to her story and watching the cigar smoking gents playing dominoes in the park it felt as if we were far from the USA as opposed to standing in it.
Miami has got it all – food, art, culture and one staggeringly beautiful white sand beach. South Beach in the sunshine is absolute bliss. The vibrant beach huts dotting the shore are picture perfect. If you get bored of bathing the Avenues of Collins and Lincoln provide retail therapy and funky venues like Sushi Samba (a sizzling blend of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian cuisine and design) provide a new twist on lunch treats.
Ocean Drive was made for parading – whether for Art Deco Weekend or on any day of the week. For a visitor it’s the perfect place to people and pooch watch. Cyclists, skaters, dog owners and their pets will all delight you with their attire. Of an evening you can get involved with the revelry at raucous places such as the Clevelander or take it in from above, sipping a cocktail on a rooftop terrace like at the boutiquey Betsy Hotel.
It was in South Beach that I finally got to see a bit of the Miami bling I had expected to find – three scantily clad ladies, with poker straight hair and over made up faces, approached me wearing vests with the words “I’m in Miami B*tch” stretched across their chests. ‘Yes, we are’, I thought,’ and I love it here’.