Deep Into MiamiSubmitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Wednesday 13th October 2010
- By the Edge of the Sea: Downtown Miami.
- Cafe Cubano y Cigarros: Little Havana.
- Coral Gables and Coconut Grove.
Would you like to swim in Tarzan’s favorite pool? Or visit an upscale hotel where the ghost of one of Al Capone’s body guards walks the hallways? Or stroll in an open-air mall that offers free live Latin music, trendy shops, ethnic restaurants (as well as an adjacent Hard Rock Cafe and a Hooters) and a deep sea fishing boat charter dock? If so, you want to go deep into Miami.
Beyond the island of Miami Beach and its popular South Beach, Miami proper offers trendy excitement in its restaurants, neighborhoods, shopping malls and clubs. A vivid combination of the cosmopolitan, the brash and old world elegant, Miami has been described by writer T. D. Allman as "a place where even the most impossible dreams–to say nothing of the most baroque fantasies–can, and do, come true." Check out the SharpTravel skinny:
By the Edge of the Sea: Downtown Miami
Chicago. New York. Just like these two great cities, Miami is known for its dramatic skyline. Ever since Miami Vice and now CSI: Miami, people have associated downtown Miami with sleek, angular skyscrapers, palm trees and the ocean. And right at the ocean’s edge, facing Biscayne Bay, is one of the best open air malls in the country.
Reminiscent of a Mediterranean seaside town, Bayside Marketplace is fronted by a series of docks that make up a 150-slip marina. There are excursion boats as well as charter fishing boats and all can be booked from the Bayside docks. While there are no major department stores, the mall has about 150 shops, restaurants and an international food court. You can sit at an outside table situated on a terrace above the docks and feast on Italian from Lombardi’s restaurant. Or, if you prefer, grab a margarita and listen to live Latin music at the mall’s center square. And, of course, there’s Hooters and the Hard Rock Cafe.
Just across the Miami River from Bayside is Tobacco Road, one of the oldest restaurants and blues clubs in Miami. Once a hangout for Al Capone, it has become a trendy destination for the hip and successful–while retaining the friendliness and character of a neighborhood bar. It has great food (try the Death Burger) and great music seven nights a week. Can’t get a table? Don’t worry, Tobacco Road stays open until 5 a.m.
Café Cubano y Cigarros: Little Havana
Moving just a little inward from Tobacco Road to SW 8th, you arrive at Little Havana. Little Havana might be seen as a neighborhood grafted on to a highway, that being Route 41 or the Tamiami Trail, a.k.a. SW 8th street, a.k.a. Calle Ocho. The Tamiami Trail itself originated as a highway connecting Tampa–the home of many of the Cubans who emigrated during the first major Cuban migration to the United States in the late 1800s–to Miami, the home of the most recent migration of Cubans from Communist Cuba. It has become the spiritual center for Cuban and Latin American immigrants.
Regardless of the name used, you’ll find it lined with Cuban cigar factories, restaurants and coffee shops. If you’re a coffee aficionado, be sure to try the café Cubano or the café con leche.
One of the best known restaurants in Little Havana is Versailles (3555 SW 8th street), offering moderate prices and authentic Cuban cuisine.
If you really want to experience Miami’s Latin soul, you need to visit in March (March 9th in 2003). That’s when the Calle Ocho Festival takes place. It’s a huge street festival covering 23 blocks with over 40 stages (featuring merengue, salsa, Caribbean and pop) and many, many food kiosks. Last year’s festival attracted over a million people.
Checking Out Coral Gables
As you drive down Calle Ocho past Versailles, you will come to Granada Boulevard. Turn left onto Granada to enter Coral Gables. The creation of developer and visionary George Merrick, this community is built primarily in Mediterranean Revival style with strong influences from the work of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead–the man who designed New York’s Central Park. Merrick also founded the University of Miami (located in Coral Gables) and helped to design the Venetian Pool and to build the Biltmore Hotel–both of which are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Take another left onto Almera and then a left onto Desoto and you are at the Venetian Pool, known as "the world’s most beautiful pool." Originally a coral rock quarry, the pool is spring fed and is often–and aptly–described as a lagoon. It has grottoes, cascading waterfalls, caves and–of course–architectural elements that mimic Venice, Italy. In the 1920s and 30s, it was a hangout for such luminaries as Esther Williams and Johnny Weismuller (one of the most famous Tarzans). Today, because of its beauty, it is often used for photo shoots– proving that South Beach is not the only place in Miami where models strut their stuff.
Leaving the Venetian Pool, go south on Desoto and you will arrive at the Biltmore Hotel. A resort famous for hosting American Presidents and a slew of dignitaries such as the Vanderbilts and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, it was modeled after the Giralda Tower in the Cathedral of Seville, in Spain. The pool–the largest hotel pool in the country–is ringed by statuary and it was here, in 1926, that Johnny Weismuller broke the 200 meter American swimming record.
But on the thirteenth floor–in the tower–lies the most infamous of the hotel’s attractions: the Everglades Suite, or more popularly, the Al Capone Suite. In the 1920s, it served as a speakeasy and gambling casino. And it was here, in 1926, that Capone mobster Thomas "Fatty" Walsh was murdered. Today, for $2,850 you can rent the suite for a night and talk to Fatty’s ghost. If that’s too pricey, you might try the hotel’s famous $50 champagne brunch.
Art and Banyan Trees: Coconut Grove
If you drive southeast from Coral Gables, you will arrive at Coconut Grove. The Grove (as it is called by locals) has traditionally served as an artistic mecca, serving as the home of Robert Frost, Tennessee Williams, Alexander Graham Bell and Madonna. During the 50s and 60s, artists flocked to the Grove and eventually many of them banded together to form the One Ear Society (in honor of Vincent van Gogh). Since 1963, they have sponsored the Coconut Grove Arts Festival –one of the top arts festivals in the country (held every February on Presidents’ Day Weekend).
But if you’re not there in mid-February, Coconut Grove is still a great place for shopping, dining and nightlife. CocoWalk (an open air shopping area) and the adjacent Streets of Mayfair strolling zone serve as the heart of the Grove. Specialty shops, open air cafés and exotic neighborhood bars abound. One of the highlights is Cafe Tu Tu Tango, located on an upper level at CocoWalk and featuring "food for the starving artist." Without a doubt, this café is best when you have a large group of people; their specialty is tasty appetizers, ideal for sharing. And while you’re munching on your Cajun Chicken Egg Rolls, there will very likely be a flamenco dancer working her way between the tables.This article last updated on Sunday 12th February 2012