The city of Miami thrives on attention, from its much-photographed Art Deco architecture to its celebrated beaches, glitzy clubs and hotels where the lobbies are more like catwalks. But there’s also a more refined side to this multicultural metropolis, which boasts an art and design scene the equal of any in the world. Where you’re an arty type or a party type, Miami is one unforgettable 24 hours.
Rise early in Miami Beach – the island community south-west of Miami proper -- to join the outgoing tide of joggers as they meet the incoming swell of dishevelled club-goers along the ocean boardwalk, which runs from 21st Street to 46th Street. The scene in tacky-glamorous South Beach (considered by its detractors to be Vegas without the gambling) is high-octane enough that you might want to skip that second espresso at The News Stand Cafe (800 Ocean Drive), a 24-hour South Beach fixture. Settle in with one of the myriad newspapers from all over the globe -- an increasingly quaint notion in the age of iPads.
This neighbourhood is home to some remarkable examples of Art Deco architecture. In 1926 South Beach was flattened by the most destructive hurricane in American history, and the subsequent building boom celebrated every permutation of Art Deco, from Streamline Moderne to Mediterranean. The Miami Design Preservation League conducts walking tours, but if you prefer going it alone, just zigzag south between Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue, where many of the most impressive examples of the movement can be found. The Edison (960 Ocean Drive), The Beacon (720 Ocean Drive), The Chesterfield (855 Collins) and The Mercury (100 Collins) are four hotels worth donning Miami Vice pastel for, although film buffs will want to save their adoration for The Carlyle (1250 Ocean Drive at 13th street), where the classic gangster flick Scarface was shot.
Continue south to the recently restored Jewish Museum (301 Washington). The Jewish population in South Beach has virtually vanished (many preferring North Miami Beach or regions further afield) but, at one time, Jewish hotels, schools and grocers were on every corner.
Stop in at Joe’s Stone Crabs (11 Washington Avenue) a Miami institution since 1913, which makes it not much younger than the city itself. The restaurant is only open during Stone Crab season (mid October to mid May) when the Atlantic delicacy is plentiful: it’s worth lining up for the jumbo claws with mustard dipping sauce. Walk off the calories by heading to South Pointe Park for killer views over the water to Miami’s downtown area.
Swap people-watching for animal-hugging at the mainland Miami Seaquarium (4400 Rickenbacker Causeway) on Biscayne Bay. Here, you can enjoy a face to face encounter with the gentle – and strangely adorable – manatee which graze lazily in the aquatic grasslands of South Florida. Bring your swimsuit as the Seaquarium also offer a swim with dolphins program for anyone over 52 inches (132 cm) tall.
After you’ve dried off, catch a cab north to Biscayne Boulevard between 36th and 43rd street. More than a hundred galleries pack this area, which has earned the mantle of Miami’s design district. Even if you miss Art Basel Miami Beach, the swanky design-fest held annually in early December, the district plays host to Art & Design Night on the second Saturday of every month, during which galleries woo the public with refreshments and a kind of Art Basel vibe. Head to Locust Projects (155 NE 38th Street) to check out avant-garde artworks and installations, or 101 Exhibit (101 NE 40th Street) for eclectic works include the disturbing watercolours of one time Florida resident Marilyn Manson.
After all that art appreciation you’ve earned a refreshment at the Democratic Republic of Beer (255 N.E. 14th Street), a bar stocking 500 brews from Ethiopia to Finland and pretty much everywhere in between. If sugar is more your scene, head to King’s Ice Cream Shop (1831 SW 8th Street) in Little Havana and order a scoop of custardy, tart guanábana flavour.
As the sun goes down, swing by the neighbourhood of Little Havana, the Latin heart and soul of Miami, where Spanish is more widely spoken than English and the strains of salsa and hip-hop pour from windows all night long. Grab a Cuban sandwich at Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop (2830 N.E. 2nd Avenue) and settle in to watch the old-timers playing dominoes on the street.
Head back across the bridge to Miami Beach for a cocktail at the newly opened Soho Beach House (4385 Collins Avenue), an outpost of the New York private club where you’ll rub shoulders with models, art dealers and moguls. Finally, it’s time for Bed – though not the slumbering variety. At this buzzy club (located at 929 Washington Avenue), whose conveniently raunchy acronym stands for Beverages Entertainment Dining, scantily-clad guests lounge on mattresses while the air throbs to the beat of an ever-changing array of international DJs.