Miami: Like No Place Else

Find out what it is that makes Miami so unlike anyplace else.
By: Amy Driscoll and Larry Lebowitz
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Miami has long been a favorite destination for tourists and retirees. Today, it's a fast-paced metropolis that's home to many diverse cultures and with an international feel that's unrivaled in the United States.

Weather and Culture

The weather in winter, with blue skies, low humidity, bright sun and palms, all of it washed down with a mojito or Cuban coffee, makes Miami like no place else. Year-round activities including golfing, fishing, boating and tennis are part of the active life that includes wearing shorts about 10 months a year.

Miami's culture has undoubtedly been shaped by its proximity to Cuba which is a mere 90-some miles away. Now, the rise of Haitian and Caribbean influence has added another layer of culture to the well-established Cuban-American population. Everyone identifies Miami as a Latin American city, but island culture dominates pockets of the area as well. Many local governments are now producing brochures and websites in English, Spanish and Creole. Curried goat and rotis are becoming staples in some parts of town.

Nature and Wildlife

If you’re into gardening, this is your locale. Besides the limes, oranges and grapefruit everyone’s heard about, you can also grow papayas, avocados and mangoes in your backyard. Vegetables are grown in the mild winter, when the sun doesn’t beat down quite so hard. Exotic flowers like hibiscus, birds of paradise and the vibrant red spikes of ginger grow by the roadsides.

Flocks of wild parrots flourish in the dense South Florida tree hammocks and tropical temps, and they fly by with flashes of bright green and orange, at home in the tops of palm trees.

The Artsy Side of Miami

Miami is known for its famed Art Deco architecture, going back to the Miami Vice 1980s and the pink, black and turquoise of the South Beach scene. But another style is gaining recognition in recent years, a sleek but often overlooked version called Miami Modern, or MiMo. It’s the playful architecture of many of Miami’s old motels with flashing neon signs and polished terrazzo floors. It’s Miami’s version of 1950s style. Clean lined and mostly unadorned, it can be found on Miami’s Upper East Side as well as scattered throughout the city.

Art Deco still reigns supreme, though, with the fantastical visions of Morris Lapidus on display at some of South Beach’s most iconic locations. Naturally, some of the most stunning pools in the Western Hemisphere are found on South Beach. Don’t miss the scallop-shaped classic at the Raleigh Hotel. Hollywood starlet Esther Williams swam here.

It’s impossible to mention Art Deco without talking about Miami Vice, the mid-1980s television show that led viewers on a crime tour of the city’s then-undiscovered beauty with a palette of ocean blues, hot pinks and highly stylized porthole windows. “Miami Vice” barely scratches the surface of the city’s rich “lower” history of gamblers, Prohibition era rumrunners and CIA-backed Latin American coups that were hatched here.

Historic Architecture and Famed Landmarks

The area is also home to a couple of unique architectural marvels. Check out the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables, a former limestone quarry that was transformed in 1924 from eyesore into a one-of-a-kind swimming experience and a casino. During its heyday, gondolas navigated the pool. Fed by underground Artesian wells and surrounded by shady porticos, the cascading waterfalls spill into a free-form lagoon with coral rock caves. The pool is currently closed to be refurbished and will open in April 2009.

Another coral rock oddity has a semi-tragic back story of unrequited love. When Edward Leedskalnin was 26 years old, he was engaged to marry his Latvian child-bride Agnes. She canceled the day before the wedding, and Leedskalnin never recovered. Years later, living in a rural stretch of Dade County farmland, he singlehandedly sculpted more than 1,100 tons of coral rock into a castle as a monument to his lost love. When encroaching subdivisions cramped his style, Leedskalnin spent three years trucking the entire Coral Castle, in pieces, 10 miles farther south, reassembling it at its present home near Homestead.

Accessible only by boat, Stiltsville is well worth the trip for an only-in-Miami experience. Built in the shallow seagrasses of Biscayne Bay at the height of Prohibition, the first shacks became offshore oases for gambling, drinking and, occasionally, prostitution. At its peak in the 1960s, there were 27 shacks in the area. Only seven remain today, the rest destroyed by hurricanes, fires and the ravages of exposure to the waves, wind and salty sea air. Conservationists and the National Parks Service are trying to preserve what’s left of this mischievous Miami landmark.

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