“What’s so good about Miami? It’s so close to the United States.” So goes the joke about the gateway to Latin America, the sun-drenched Florida city with a population of 408,000. It’s home to a vast mix of nationalities: Brazilians, Venezuelans, Argentines, Italians, Haitians and, of course, Cubans. And visitors. In what locals call ‘The Season’ (January to April), the ‘snowbirds’ (residents of New York City, Philadelphia, and other frigid parts of the North-east and Midwestern United States) come to town and park up in their condos and apartments. Most of these wintertime guests – and the local and overseas tourists – flock to the beaches of the art-deco-lined Ocean Drive in South Beach and the ritzier northern neighbourhood of Bal Harbour. What lots of newcomers to Miami don’t realise is that there are other suburbs worth checking out. The leafy avenues of Coral Gables and its waterfront neighbour, Coconut Grove, are the historic parts of what’s still a young city – and the places where 1920s’ dames Ginger Rogers and Judy Garland held court at The Biltmore hotel, and Esther Williams performed water ballet in the Venetian Pool.
Today the stars are more likely to be architectural, as new buildings continue to sprout downtown and old ones, like the former Ritz Plaza hotel in South Beach, are transformed into modern-day hang-outs like SLS South Beach by Philippe Starck and Lenny Kravitz. A little further north are the gritty creative streets of Wynwood and, nearby, the hub known as Miami’s Design District, which is wooing big-name brands like Louis Vuitton and Dior (and the ladies who like to shop in them). Little Havana’s Calle Ocho is also worth a stroll to pay tribute to the city’s Cuban roots and the neighbourhood’s markets offer up a bounty of colourful, tropical fruits and strong, sweet café con leche. Even the places ‘in between’ – such as the stretch of US Route 1/Biscayne Boulevard highway dotted with remnants of the classic 1950s’ Floridian motels or the backstreets of downtown along the Miami River – reveal surprises. The latter is where you’ll find one of the best restaurants in town, Garcia’s Seafood Grille & Fish Market. It’s the place to enjoy seafood in Miami, even though it’s miles away from the glitz of South Beach. That’s the beauty of Miami: the little gems hiding in the rough all over town.