When you're looking for accommodations in Miami, keep one thing in mind: the nature and cost of your stay will be determined by the location of your hotel. Within the hazy borders of Greater Miami, over a dozen smaller towns coexist, each with a distinct personality and pace. Visitors are sure to find the perfect vacation spot somewhere within the city; it's just a matter of knowing where to look.
Miami Beach is, in many ways, the quintessential vacation destination. This strip of land, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, offers miles of gorgeous beaches, a wide variety of lodging choices and plenty of shopping, dining and entertainment options. It is connected to the mainland by six causeways. Families and international travelers often frequent mid-range hotels such as the Golden Sands or the Dezerland Miami Beach Resort, while honeymooners, convention-goers and anyone wishing to splurge can wallow in luxury at resorts such as Loews Miami Beach Hotel or the Fontainebleau.
South Beach lies in the southernmost section of Miami Beach. If you're wondering where the best parties are, look no further - they're all here. The only question is, how close do you want to be? If you stay in a place like the National or the Clevelander, you won't even have to leave the hotel to find yourself in the center of the action. However, at some point amid the shopping, dining and general revelry that constitutes a stay in South Beach, you may want to sleep. If so, make sure you choose a hotel that allows for it. The Blue Moon Hotel and the lushly landscaped Hotel Impala offer pockets of serenity within the busy rush of central South Beach.
Bal Harbour is on the northern end of Miami Beach. It is the most exclusive district in South Florida, and offers only a few accommodation choices, all of them expensive. While some of the world's finest shopping can be found at the Bal Harbour Shops, the main appeal of the district is its stately seclusion. Luxury accommodations there, including the Alexander Hotel, offer every imaginable amenity, including the intangible but priceless one: privacy.
Central Miami is the home of some of the largest, most imposing hotels. Business or leisure travelers who wish to be in the center of the city will appreciate the convenience of the Hotel InterContinental or the Hyatt Regency Miami. Located only minutes from the Port of Miami, Bayside Marketplace and the Metro-Dade Cultural Center, these hotels can be found in the center of the Financial District, near the Design District.
Coral Gables is a charming gated village crisscrossed by canals and covered in lush vegetation. Here you'll also find the The Venetian Pool, an enormous swimming pool shaped by a coral formation. Another attraction is the Biltmore Hotel, a good home base for visitors who like to combine sightseeing with other activities. Another venerable hotel is the Omni Colonnade, located a block away from the Miracle Mile shopping district.
Coconut Grove is a bustling little arts district, chock full of shopping, dining and entertainment destinations. The Grove is second only to South Beach in energy and activity. Accommodation choices are numerous, and most of them are pricey. The Mutiny Hotel offers great service in beautiful surroundings. The Mayfair Hotel & Spa, located just across the street from the Streets of Mayfair shopping center, is a study in stately elegance.
West Miami offers safe, clean, budget-friendly lodgings, as well as more expensive ones. If people choose to stay here, it's either to save money or to be close to the airport. If you're trying to save money, however, note that the only way to get into central Miami is by automobile — and a cab costs about USD20 each way. Most of the quality inexpensive hotels are recognized chains such as the Holiday Inn or the Days Inn. One of the most expensive hotels is the Miami International Airport Hotel, located inside the airport terminal. While the noise of planes flying overhead might be a distraction, this hotel is quite pleasant in all other respects. It's elegant, comfortable and ever so convenient.
The choices above are just a few of the best options in the most popular districts. There are hundreds of other accommodations to choose from, ranging from rock-bottom to five-star. Whatever you're looking for in a hotel, there is no doubt that if you look long and hard enough, you'll find it here.
Whether you spend the day tanning on the beach or discovering the various shops and cultural attractions, there's plenty to do in Miami.
Ocean Drive is filled with shops, cafes, restaurants and views that epitomize Miami's beautiful natural surroundings. The Miami Beach Marina is a great place to spend the day. Dine at the nearby Balans. There are also many well-known museums in South Beach, such as the World Erotic Art Museum (WEAM), the R.J. Hohimer Signature Gallery and the Kennedy Gallery. The Holocaust Memorial is also located in South Beach.
The Bayside Marketplace begins to wake up around 10a, when the first sightseers depart for a two-hour breakfast cruise around Biscayne Bay and the Port of Miami. Grab a bite at the 11th Street Diner. Take a stroll in Bayfront Park, which is right next to the Marketplace. The Park also contains the Bayfront Park Amphitheater, where there are frequent concerts and other events.
Coral Gables is well-known for the Venetian Pool, which was formed from a coral rock quarry in 1923. Take a dip in the pool in the early afternoon, when the heat of the day is at its peak. Grab a bite to eat at the café, then dry off, clean up, and head over to the Biltmore Hotel. The Biltmore is both a designated national historic landmark and a five-star luxury hotel. Dine at La Palme d'Or.
Wander down the Miracle Mile, where there is always a big event taking place. Jazz lovers should stop by the Satchmo Blues Bar & Grill, while theater fans can see what's playing at the Actors Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre. Ortanique is one of the most famous restaurants on this strip.
Just south of Miami are a string of islands called the Florida Keys, connected by one main highway. Waters are crystal clear and the sea life is amazing. Coral Castle is an incredible work of art that took 28 years to finish. Browse the different trees and buy some preserves at the nearby Fruit and Spice Park. Dine at the Main Street Cafe. Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park, located across the way on the mainland, are two of Florida's most unique. Not far from the Everglades is the Black Point Marina, popular among those that fish and sail.
There are many tour companies in Miami that offer a wide variety of options for seeing the city, from air boat tours to eco-adventure tours.
Go Car Tours ( +1 888 462 2755/ http://www.gocartours.com )
Island Queen Cruises ( +1 305 379 5119/ http://www.islandqueencruises.com )
Discovery Cruise Line ( +1 888 213 8253/ http://www.discoverycruise.com )
Boca Chica Key & Lighthouse Tour ( +1 305 230 1100 )
Blackbeard's Cruises ( +1 954 734 7111/ +1 800 327 9600/ http://www.blackbeard-cruises.com )
Urban Tour Host ( +1 305 416 6868/ http://www.miamiculturaltours.com/index.php )
Miami Duck Tours ( +1 786 276 8300/ http://www.ducktoursmiami.com )
Thriller Powerboat Tours ( +1 305 373 7001 )
Heritage Tours ( +1 305 442 9697/ http://www.heritageschooner.com/heritage.html )
Everglade Airboat Tours ( +1 305 221 9888 )
Air Boat USA ( +1 305 219 1200/ http://www.airboatusa.com )
Gator Park ( +1 800 559 2205/ +1 305 559 2255/ http://www.gatorpark.com )
Coopertown Airboat Tours ( +1 305 226 6048/ http://www.coopertownairboats.com )
Miami Dade Eco-Adventure Tours ( +1 305 365 3018/ http://www.miamidade.gov/parks/ecoadventures.asp )
Everglades Day Safari ( +1 239 472 1559/ http://www.ecosafari.com/boat.cfm )
Wild Dolphin Adventures ( +1 305 296 3737/ +1 866 296 3737/ http://www.wilddolphinadventures.com )
Miami River Historical Jungle Tours ( +1 305 755 9055 )
Urban Tour Host ( +1 305 416 6868/ http://www.miamiculturaltours.com/index.php )
Driving down Highway 395 from Miami Beach, one can only gaze in wonder at the white skyline rising from the tropical waters and set upon the blue-pink-orange sky. It's amazing to think that not long ago, swampland vegetation and mosquitoes dominated the area. In a short period of time, the city has emerged as a major cosmopolitan center for international business, tourism, fashion and nightlife.
Long before the trendy street cafes of Coconut Grove or the pastel buildings of the Art Deco district, the Tequesta Indians made this region their home. The Spanish built a mission here in 1567, when the area was known as "Mayaimi," but it remained secluded and generally inactive until the U.S. acquisition of Florida in 1821. Hundreds of pioneers settled in the region around the Miami River, but growth was stymied by the lack of a speedy and efficient land route to the north.
Motivated by a vision of the region's potential, or simply because of a desire for "civilization," settler Julia Tuttle convinced magnate Henry Flagler to extend the route of the railroad he was building. In 1896, the completion of the Florida East Coast Railroad opened Miami to the rest of the United States, and marked the birth of a new city.
Flagler opened one of Miami's first luxury hotels, the Royal Palm, and its success inspired others to follow suit. In the 1910s, John S. Collins and Carl F. Fisher collaborated on an ambitious real estate project that transformed a mangrove swamp into present-day Miami Beach. A decade later, George E. Merrick developed the well-planned residential area of Coral Gables with its plazas, fountains, Spanish street names carved on white stones, broad boulevards and shady oak trees. To complement the residential developments, Merrick created the elegant Biltmore Hotel, with its elaborate Mediterranean-style design.
Other individuals decided to apply their investments to their personal estates. James Deering built his exquisite 16th-century Italian Villa Vizcaya by the bay and filled the architectural masterpiece with a collection of art work.
The 1920s are widely associated with extravagant spending and ostentatious lifestyles. With the sudden property boom and influx of investment capital, Miami was in full swing in this era of abundance. Its population burgeoned, and the Art Deco movement brought a unique flavor to Miami Beach. But just as Miami began to enjoy this prosperity, the Depression and two devastating hurricanes temporarily halted progress.
In the 1940s, Miami became home to soldiers living in the city's military training camps. Known to attract a diverse blend of people, Miami also became the residence of the outlaw Al Capone. In the 1950s, the tourism industry continued to grow. The white sandy beaches and warm climate provided the perfect setting for winter vacations. But Miami was still mainly a tourist playground and had yet to reach its full potential as a metropolis.
Following Castro's 1959 revolution, the mass Cuban immigration has been greatly responsible for Miami's growth as an area of international business and commerce. The first wave of political exiles included several educated professionals with a desire to apply their knowledge and skills to the city's growth. The Cuban community developed its own economic and social enclave and fostered ties to the Latin American market. International business took Miami's downtown by storm as the city rapidly grew into more than just a tourist town.
As with any big city, Miami began to experience problems in its transitional growth. Crime rose tremendously in the 1980s. Race relations grew tense, riots broke out, and the historic Art Deco district in South Beach was left to deteriorate. Today, however, the crime rate is down and restoration projects abound.
Miami has come a long way since the days of Julia Tuttle and Henry Flagler. As the gateway to Latin America, Miami serves as the headquarters for many international companies and is home to the leading Spanish-language media in the United States. South Beach has become one of the country's hottest hubs of style, fashion and nightlife. The ethnically diverse city continues to attract a multitude of cultures. Miami is truly unique — a tropical paradise with a rich history, a diverse population and a "not quite in the United States" feel.