Thousands of years before Europeans arrived, a large portion of south east Florida, including the area where Miami, Florida exists today, was inhabited by Tequestas. The Tequesta, a Native American tribe, at the time of first European contact, occupied an area along the southeastern Atlantic coast of Florida. They had infrequent contact with Europeans and had largely migrated by the middle of the 18th century. Miami is named after the Mayaimi, a Native American tribe that lived around Lake Okeechobee until the 17th or 18th century.
Early inhabitants depended on the Miami River for food and spoke of their “Mayaimi” with pride. These early Native American settlers were known as the “Tequestas.” Later, Juan Ponce de Leon was the first European to visit in 1513 and Spain is credited for the first recorded landing in 1566. Shortly after the Spanish rule established a mission on the river’s north bank, the Tequestas were targeted for conversion to Christianity. The attempt failed and a majority of the tribe, disease-stricken with small pox and other illnesses died.
The attack of the United States land expansion to displace and relocate American Indians brought large migrations of Native Americans around the late 1700’s to South Florida. “Cimmarrones” as the Spanish referred to them became known as the fierce tribe called the Seminoles. After Florida was ceded to the United States and purchased from Spain in 1819, three major wars were waged by the Seminoles against the U.S. Government. The Miami area was devastated by the second ward and was known as one of the worst events in American history. These wars attributed for the slow settlement of Miami until 1842.
Then, William English charted the “Village of Miami” and the village was established on the south bank of the Miami River. One the north side of the river, Julia Tuttle, a wealthy widow from Ohio, purchased a large citrus plantation in addition to a plot she inherited. She had envisioned the City as a gateway for international trade. This notion prompted her to persuade the millionaire Henry Flagler to extend his railroad to Miami, but he was hesitant. To aid her in her quest, Miami was hit by a severe freeze in the winter of 1894 which had no effect on her crops. This made Tuttle the sole producer of citrus that year. Tuttle along with William and Mary Brickell persuaded Flagler of the potential and agreed to give him land in exchange.
By April 1896, the railroad tracks reached Miami and in July a meeting was held to incorporate the city. The right to vote was restricted to men and a third of the voters were Bahamian immigrants. The City was incorporated in 1896 with 444 citizens under the name of “The City of Miami”.
Along with the railroad, Flagler financed and built streets, water and power systems and a resort hotel. Canals were made to drain water from the everglades that covered a majority of the land. It was no surprise that Miami soon became an instant tourist attraction and retreat for the rich and famous. This prompted the first of many real estate booms.
Several years later John Collins and Carl Fisher, two prominent men in the City’s history, became promoters of Miami living. They transformed the Miami Beach area into one of the hottest tourist spots in the country. To ensure a steady influx of visitors, Collins built hotels and fisher built shops, nightclubs and the Dixie Highway. This boom lasted until one of many hurricanes in 1926 hit the area prior to the Great Depression.
The Art Deco District was born out of this era due to post hurricane re-development in the area. Also, Overtown, an area slated for African-Americans, was a hot spot for the harlem renaissance elite. Once known as “Little Broadway” head liners like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway and others frequented Miami Beach.
Furthermore, World War II stabilized the economy in Miami due to the hundreds of thousands of servicemen training in South Florida. The war ended and many of these servicemen returned to Miami pushing another development boom by 1950.
In 1959, the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro came to power. What followed was a mass exodus of people from Cuba to Miami. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans came to Miami thinking it to be a temporary home until their home was freed from its communistic reign. An invasion of Cuba was planned by the U.S., which became known as “The Bay of Pigs”, but was disrupted when the Soviet Union threatened the U.S. with warfare.
Since the late 1960’s, Miami has become a mix of cultural influences. The city experience a large population growth with neighborhoods known as Little Havana, which was established with over 500,000 Cuban-Americans. Prior to this population growth, the African-American and Caribbean population made up approximately one-third of the total population. The late 1970’s saw yet another immigration influx when over 100,000 Haitians and Nicaraguans fled their countries’ newly overthrown governments. Finally, in 1980, the Mariel boatlift transported an additional 150,000 Cubans to Miami.
With a continuing vision on global economies, Miami has become the headquarters for many multi-national companies and financial institutions. The City has the largest concentration of international banks in the country. It is also known as an attractive location for the rich and famous, but consistently ranks as one of the top poorest cities in the country.
1. Ocean Drive
Through Southern Florida, there is a major road known as the A1A. When it passes through much of Miami, it is known as Ocean Drive, and it turns into Collins Avenue as you head toward Miami Beach. Be prepared for thousands of people in their best swimsuits, a plethora of nightlife options, access to white sand beaches and plenty of roller skating on the paved sidewalk just next to the road.
Ocean Drive is lined with trees, which means that you can stroll back and forth, sightseeing and people-watching the whole way, and still take advantage of the shade on a hot Miami day.
2. Art Deco District
In the 1930s, Miami Beach grew significantly. As a result, the city boasts a staggering amount of Art Deco architecture. Since the area is known for it, existing buildings are protected and preserved and many of the interiors reflect their historic origins.
There are more than 800 examples of Art Deco architecture in South Beach alone, so that is the best place for a walking tour. Although guided tours are available, you can also set off on your own and look for iconic landmarks like the Plymouth or the McAlpin.
Be sure to check out the Bass Museum, which offers both an impressive collection of early 20th century pieces and an impressive Art Deco exterior.
3. Wynwood Walls
If you are a fan of art, then you won’t want to miss the incredible Wynwood Walls. This enormous outdoor exhibition is a collection of street art. More than 50 artists have been involved in the exhibit, and they come from Miami as well as from around the world. You can walk to the six main buildings, each of which transformed from a warehouse to a canvas and then to a work of art. The murals change frequently, and the whole area is pedestrian friendly.
Although you can get a view from your car, your own two feet will be the best way to experience the colors and skill of this unique art form.
4. Miami Beach Boardwalk
The Miami Beach Boardwalk is perhaps the best way to walk along the coast of Miami Beach. It stretches for over three miles and it never veers far from the coast and Miami’s most stunning beaches.
The Miami Beach Boardwalk begins at Indian Beach Park in Mid-Beach Miami and it heads south all the way to the heart of South Beach. Eventually, the boardwalk turns to a paved walkway, but it never stops being lively, vibrant and scenic. Head there in the early morning to beat the heat and join the countless runners and cyclists starting their day with some exercise.
5. Little Havana
If you can’t get to Cuba, the next best place to experience Cuban cuisine, heritage, music and culture is in Little Havana. The highlight of this Miami attraction is the Main Street through the district, called Calle Ocho or 8th Street.
You will exclusively hear Spanish being spoken and the surrounding shops on either side of the street sell Cuban favorites. On the street is Tower Theater, an Art Deco structure that still shows movies subtitled in Spanish. Stop in at Azucar Ice Cream Company to get Cuban-inspired sweet treats like a guava sorbet.
While in Little Havana, why not try Sanguich and enjoy their highly recommended Cuban Sandwich and Cuban Coffee.
6. Lummus Park Beach
In the heart of Miami’s famous South Beach is Lummus Park Beach, an urban park in the middle of all the action. Right on the Atlantic Ocean, Lummus Park Beach is an iconic spot that has been featured in countless films, television shows and music videos.
There is a paved pathway that runs alongside the beach, but you can also walk right across the sand and dive into the cool waters of the Atlantic. Lummus Park Beach is the ideal place to start or end a walking tour of the top attractions in Miami, and it is just steps from wonderful bars, restaurants, shops and even Art Deco architecture.
7. Villa Vizcaya
The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, also known as Villa Vizcaya, looks as if it could have been transported straight from Europe. Although it sits right on the shores of Biscayne Bay, the main home was built in the 1920s in the Italian Renaissance style. The main building was once a private estate, but today it houses the museum which boasts more than 70 rooms of European art and antiques.
Just as appealing is what you can find outside, where the lavish and extensive gardens are located. Beautiful manicured flower beds, shrubs and shade trees dot the property, making it a popular place for events and weddings.
8. Crandon Park
In northern part of Key Biscayne is Crandon Park, a stunning beach park that really offers something for everyone. As the name implies, there is a gorgeous two mile beach that is widely considered one of the best beaches in Florida. Beyond that, you can explore a wide range of ecosystems in the region.
Entirely within Crandon Park, it is possible to hike through sandy dunes, navigate around the roots of mangroves and see the surf crash into the offshore sandbar. To top it all off, there are tennis facilities, a golf course and even a large marina where visiting boats are welcomed.
9. Bayfront Park
Bayfront Park is a green urban park right in the very center of Downtown Miami. It borders the waters of Biscayne Bay, meaning that you can set off on an unbelievably scenic walk right by the blue waters. Bayfront Park is also home to a range of events and performances. You might be lucky enough to catch a major concert one evening, or you could take a yoga class in this gorgeous spot.
If you are eager to try something new, Bayfront Park is home to a flying trapeze school, which means that you can quite literally learn the ropes with an unparalleled view!
10. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
In the Coral Gables area of Miami, you will find the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Surrounded by the Matheson Hammock Park, the botanic garden is a fantastic place to explore on a sunny day.
In the Wings of the Tropics Conservatory, you can spot thousands of exotic and rare butterflies as well as rare tropical fish and unusual plants. Then, in the Edible Garden, you can learn about how to create your own garden at home to reap the benefits of fresh herbs, fruits, vegetables and even edible flowers. Reflect on a wonderful, memorable day at the scenic and tranquil Moos Sunken Garden.
11. Espanola Way
Lying in between Lincoln Road and Ocean Drive is another of Miami’s scenic streets and most popular shopping and dining destinations.
Modelled after romantic Mediterranean villages, the palm tree lined pedestrian street is a treat to stroll along and has a very quaint and rustic look and feel. Lining the cobblestone street are charming cafes and pretty pastel coloured buildings that sport flower coated facades.
Besides shopping at the boutiques, visitors are spoiled for choice with superb restaurants that serve food from all around the world. Taking you back in time to Old World Europe, Española Way is certainly not to be missed for all that it has to offer.
12. Venetian Pool
If you are looking to relax and unwind then you can’t beat taking a dip in the gorgeous Venetian Pool, a unique place to swim, soak and splash about. Unlike any other pool in the country, its turquoise waters occupy a former coral rock quarry, and is surrounded by rock formations and waterfalls.
Turned into a pool and tourist attraction in 1924, the Venetian style lagoon is overlooked by two large historic towers and has charming porticos, palms, and grottos. Fed from an underground aquifer, its inviting waters are one of the most memorable places to cool off in town and lies only twenty minutes drive from the center.
13. Jungle Island
Jungle Island is an amazing eco-adventure park that lies in the heart of Miami, between downtown and South Beach. While its incredible animal shows, exhibits, and encounters are the main draw, it also has pretty green spaces, a pristine beach, and epic views of the city’s skyline.
First opened in 1936, the park now offers immersive experiences where guests can meet capybaras, lemurs, and sloths among other animals. Amidst the lush vegetation, you can spy exotic birds, giraffes, and gorillas with displays and demonstrations teaching you all about the animals.
There are also fun ziplines, climbing walls, and escape rooms to try out.
14. Design District
An awesome neighbourhood to explore, Miami Design District lies just north of downtown, next to many of the city’s other happening areas. It is known for its fabulous high end shopping and dining scene, with upmarket stores such as Prada, Saint Laurent and Dior, plus hip eateries dotted about.
This delightful district is also packed with art galleries, antique dealers, fashion boutiques, and sparkling showrooms. Many creative services and architectural firms are also based in the Design District.
15. Haulover Beach
If you are after some sun, sea and sand then head to idyllic Haulover Beach. Set on a shoal between the Intra-coastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, it is noted for its beautiful blue waters, soft welcoming sands and a stretch of clothing optional shoreline.
Much less crowded than South Beach, it has plenty of outdoor activities and amenities to enjoy, as well as a large urban park. Besides picnic areas and playgrounds, there are tennis courts, a marina and a golf course, with Haulover Beach lying just 40 minutes drive northeast of the center.
Parking is very expensive in Miami, so a cheaper way to get around is either take an Uber or ride the Big Bus tour (hop-on, hop-off bus). Their red line will take you to all the popular tourist spots. Just buy a ticket and download their free app. Another option is to hire a bicycle from City Bikes or hire your hotel bikes and take a ride along the Miami Beach Boardwalk. You can also ride the down town city monorail for free.
CADILLAC HOTEL & BEACH CLUB:
This boutique hotel offers a smaller, upscale and luxury style. It has a distinct personality, offering an intimate experience and personalized service.
It is perfectly located in a trendy neighbourhood, on Miami's North Beach. It has luxury amenities with Miami’s iconic Art Deco design throughout the hotel and individual rooms.
Their pools and outside bar are exquisite, offering amazing food. It also offers you your own private chair beach access infront of the hotel.
Mango's Tropical Cafe
Mango's Tropical Cafe, after 8pm it is a night club with live music and dancers, but during the day it is a vibrant bar and restaurant. In the evenings one can enjoy continuous live performances that will take you on a journey throughout the Caribbean. From Salsa to Bachata and Reggae to Pop, their live band and world famous Mango’s Dancers, entertain over a million guests every year.
I would highly recommend their spicy, tasty fish tacos and amazing refreshing margaritas.
1. Stone crabs
This Miami delicacy is available from October 15 through May 15 and you better believe we mark our calendars every year in anticipation of stone crab season. Joe’s Stone Crab is the the place to go to, but when lines get too long, and trust that they do, there are still plenty of other restaurants in the city thatoffer fresh claws worth digging into.
If you are not fueling on cafecito, you are not surviving in Miami. A tiny thimble filled with sugary Cuban espresso is how locals caffeinate, especially at 3:05pm, Miami’s official coffee break as designated by the city. You can get a cafecito just about everywhere in Miami, but my favorite is the ventanita at Versailles, standing elbow-to-elbow with Cuban expats, old-timers and tourists while we sip and snack on a pastelito or two.
Instead of coffee and a doughnut for breakfast, Miamians start their day with a cafecito and a pastelito. Flaky and crispy instead of dense of doughy, the traditional Cuban pastry comes in an assortment of flavors. There are fillings like guava, coconut and nutella and their shapes, the triangle ones are a sweet-and-savory combo of cream cheese and guava jelly.
Like Cuban coffee, pastelitos are ubiquitous in Miami, though you can never go wrong with Versailles, which bakes theirs from scratch on-site; Gilbert’s Bakery, a favorite if you prefer your pastelito on the doughy side; and Breadman Miami for unique combinations, like coconut-chocolate and ground beef with sweet plantains.
4. Ice cream
It’s really hot here! I'm not trying to overstate the obvious, only attempting to justify my own addiction to ice cream.
You don’t have to be on vacation to indulge in this sweet treat, either. Locals are particularly fond of Cuban ice cream purveyor Azucar, with locations in both Little Havana and South Beach. In Design District, Aubi & Ramsa churns perfectly creamy and balanced boozy ice creams and sorbets.
For a more nostalgic scoop, stop by Cream Parlor in MiMo, where they serve Miami inspired flavour's like pastelito cheesecake plus salads and sandwiches.
5. Cuban sandwich
Just like New Yorkers do with pizza and bagels, Miamians have discerning tastes when it comes to Cubanos, so much so I will rank my favorites in the city. What makes a great Cubano, is both the cheese-to-ham ratio and the bread, plus a smattering of other variables which I will leave up to taste-testers to decide.
Some of my favorite restaurants for Cubanos are Sanguich de Miami in Little Havan and Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop in Wynwood, one not just hipsters can agree on; and Sarussi Subs, if you are craving something out of the ordinary.