For visitors torn between "getting away from it all" and "being a part of it all," Miami offers the best of both worlds, with a remarkable style of its own. It's a blend of 21st century and Old-World architecture, thrill-packed sports and leisurely sunbathing, colorful big-city culture and quaint small-town neighborhood.
Scattered throughout Greater Miami's neighborhoods are a wide variety of family-friendly attractions. For history and fine art in one location, check out the Metro-Dade Cultural Center in the heart of downtown Miami. Housed in one complex are the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, featuring life-size dioramas tracing some 10,000 years of south Florida history, and the Miami Art Museum of Dade County, showcasing major exhibits from museums and collections around the world.
Heading towards Biscayne Bay, visitors happen upon the delightful flamingo-colored, shoebox-shaped pavilions that comprise Bayside Marketplace. Visitors will enjoy exploring this eclectic waterfront specialty center with upscale shops, boutiques, retail booths, gourmet restaurants and fast-food outlets. Across the bay, a perpetually revolving shark statue greets visitors at the entrance of Key Biscayne, reminding them to stop by the Miami Seaquarium and meet a host of fascinating sea creatures. Taking center stage during daily shows are Lolita, a 10,000-pound killer whale and the world-famous dolphin, Flipper, with frisky sea lions grabbing the spotlight at every chance. Offering six daily shows, the facility also features tropical aquariums full of manatees, morays, sea turtles and reef fish, as well as what is billed as the "world's largest man-made shark channel."
Driving along magnificent oak-lined South Bayshore Drive, visitors will find the Miami Museum of Science and Space Transit Planetarium, an exploration of the ever-expanding realm of technology and science. Rated the number one museum in Dade County by the readers of South Florida Parenting Magazine, both parents and kids will enjoy this stop. At the Wildlife Center, a walk-through aviary gives a bird's-eye view of owls, hawks and falcons thriving among native flora. View the heavens in 3-D at the Space Transit Planetarium, the largest of its kind in the world. Inside the 65-foot dome, visitors learn about the moon, planets, star clusters and nebulae at the daily star shows.
Some of Miami's most popular nature parks and attractions stretch southward from the suburbs to the far reaches of southern Dade County. The 83-acre Fairchild Tropical Garden is the largest tropical botanical garden in the continental U.S. and features a rare plant house, rain forest and sunken gardens. Nearby, Parrot Jungle is a natural, subtropical garden of exotic trees and plants and home to a delightful flock of trained parrots, macaws and cockatiels that perform daily. Opened more than 50 years ago, the park boasts over 1,100 birds and 1,000 plant species. The kids can monkey around at another jungle, which has captivated and captured visitors for more than half a century. In a unique twist, visitors to Monkey Jungle observe the antics of more than 500 free-roaming primates representing 50 species from the vantage of caged walkways through the rain forest habitat. The 290-acre, state-of-the-art Metrozoo in western Dade County is home to lions and tigers and bears and some 900 other wild animals. Special zoo features include a wildlife show and a behind-the-scenes tram tour through the working and breeding areas of the impressive facility. The cultural diversity that defines Miami today opens the door to a world of new experiences for visitors. Slightly off Miami's main thoroughfares, travelers will find distinct ethnic enclaves that are worth a visit. South of downtown Miami, Little Havana is the hub of the Greater Miami's vibrant Cuban community. Here, the chimneys and porch piers of single-family bungalows are made of native coral limestone, and the Cuban restaurants serve mouth-watering picadillo and arroz con pollo. To the north, visitors can sample Little Haiti's singular island heritage at the Caribbean Marketplace, an award-winning, brilliantly colored building inspired by the Iron Marketplace of Port-au-Prince. Some two dozen shops offer Caribbean arts and crafts, African-inspired clothing and exotic ice creams and juices.
Couples will revel in Miami's amazing diversity as showcased in its numerous romantic destinations, which reveal the city's passionate past and present.
Those making wedding plans may want to consider the chapel at the Ancient Spanish Monastery in North Miami Beach. Brought from Spain in 1925 by newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst and reassembled at its present site, the 10th-century monastery is a popular spot for weddings. In Homestead, Coral Castle stands as a tribute to a "heavy heart." According to legend, lovelorn Edward Leedskalnin spent 33 years hand-carving this coral monument to a fiance who jilted him at the altar. Hewn from 1,000 tons of coral rock, the odd and eerie engineering triumph includes solar-heated bathtubs, a 5,000-pound heart-shaped table and a 9-ton gate so perfectly balanced that a child can open it with the touch of a finger.
Probably the most glamorous municipal pool in the world, Coral Gable's Venetian Pool is a luxurious swimming lagoon, adorned with Italian architecture, cascading waterfalls and arched stone bridges. Fashioned from an old rock quarry in 1924, the pool hosted poolside orchestras and countless Hollywood legends in its heyday. Today, couples can enjoy the historic watering hole, imagining the glamour of another era.
Across sparkling Biscayne Bay, Miami Beach is a living mural, a splash of pastel buildings lined neatly along the white Pompano sand, all set against the brilliant aquamarine sea. Here, the famed Art Deco District of South Beach, more commonly referred to as SoBe, beckons vacationers to stop and explore. This one-square-mile area is an architectural treasure of more than 800 buildings in the Art Deco, Streamline Moderne and Spanish Mediterranean Revival style. For historical perspective as well as juicy tidbits, take a 90-minute guided walking tour of the area, conducted by the Miami Design Preservation League, the group largely responsible for renovating and refurbishing the district. And making use of favorite South Beach modes of transportation, the League also offers bicycle and in-line skating tours of the district on the first and third Sundays of the month. Couples lose themselves among streets packed with popular restaurants, art galleries and boutiques. Stop at one of Ocean Drive's inviting sidewalk cafes for a gourmet meal and an expansive view of the Atlantic.
Shaded by banyan trees and fronting Biscayne Bay is the bohemian enclave of Coconut Grove. Once known as "Millionaires' Row," Coconut Grove retains much of its elegant ambiance as home to some of Miami's finest hotels, restaurants and designer shops. But the Grove's neighborhood taverns and quaint village atmosphere have also attracted writers and artists, resulting in a carefree blend of the bohemian and the chic. Visitors to this eclectic, energetic village can experience the trendy nightclubs at Cocowalk, and exclusive boutiques at Mayfair Shops, set along red-brick sidewalks with historic buildings tucked down secluded side streets or around bends in the Main Highway.
For a truly scenic view, couples can drift along Baywalk's promenade, tracing the shoreline of Biscayne Bay. Or sit back and relax on narrated Old Town Trolley tours of the major attractions in Miami, Coconut Grove, Coral Gables and Miami Beach.
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