Miami is a major global city located on the coast in southeastern Florida, in the United States. Miami is the county seat of Miami-Dade County, the most populous county in Florida. The Miami Urbanized Area (as defined by the Census Bureau) was the fifth most populous urbanized area in the U.S. in the 2000 census with a population of 4,919,036. The United Nations estimated that in 2007, Miami had become the fourth largest urbanized area in the United States, behind New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
Miami is well known as a global city because of its importance in finance, commerce, culture, fashion, media, entertainment, arts and international trade. An international center for popular entertainment in television, music, fashion, film, and the performing arts, Miami also has a powerful influence internationally. The city is also home to the largest concentration of international banks in the United States, as well as home to many international company headquarters, and television studios. The city's Port of Miami is the number one cruise/passenger port in the world and is known for accommodating the largest volume of cruise ships in the world, and is home to many major cruise line headquarters.
Bayfront Park, on the east side of Biscayne Boulevard, was redesigned in the 1980s. An attractive feature is the electronically controlled Pepper Fountain. Other highlights include an amphitheatre used for musical performances of all kinds, a tower for laser illuminations, and three important monuments: the Torch of Friendship, symbolising Miami's relationships with the countries of Central and South America; the World War II Memorial; and the Challenger Memorial, commemorating the crew of the Challenger spacecraft which exploded in 1986.
Bayside Marketplace is a large mall with more than 150 specialty and tourist shops, numerous cafes and restaurants and daily live entertainment. Tour boats leave from here, which visit locations around Biscayne Bay. As well, there is a water taxi service to Miami Beach and downtown hotels located here.
The Cuban center of Miami, Little Havana isn't know for its wealth of tourist attractions but more for its distinctive cultural flavor. There are restaurants, specialty food shops and Latin music is always in the air. Calle Ocho is the main thoroughfare running through the district and home to much of the activity here.
From Bayfront Park (Brickell Avenue) 8th Street runs west over the Miami River. Outside the city centre with its skyscrapers it is known as Calle Ocho, and continues into the Tamiami Trail, which runs through the Everglades. The district on the west side of downtown Miami through which it runs is known as Little Havana because of the many Latinos, particularly Cuban exiles, who live here: hence also the Spanish name Calle Ocho ("Street 8"). Between SW 12th Avenue and SW 27th Avenue is an area of shops, small markets and cheerful cafes and restaurants with a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. The everyday language of Little Havana is Spanish. Planning controls seek to maintain the "Cuban" character of 8th Street.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens was the former home of early 20th century industrialist, James Deering. Built in 1916, the mansion features 34 rooms arranged around a central courtyard. This 28-acre estate and Italian Renaissance-style villa is filled with European furniture and decorative arts from the 15th to 19th century. It took more than 1,100 workers and craftsmen to complete the Vizcaya project, many of whom were brought over from Europe to ensure authenticity in design.
The gardens contain a number of Italian and French fountains, pools and sculptures. A breakwater at the base of the steps leading into Biscayne Bay is carved into the form of female figures. The name "Vizcaya" is a Basque word meaning "an elevated place "
The estate has hosted a number of world leaders and important historical events including the meeting between Pope John Paul II and the former president Reagan in 1987 as well as Queen Elizabeth II during her 1991 tour of America.
Best Party Beach
In Key Biscayne, Crandon Park Beach, on Crandon Boulevard, is National Lampoon's Vacation on the sand. It's got a diverse crowd consisting of dedicated beach bums and lots of leisure-seeking families, set to a soundtrack of salsa, disco, and reggae music blaring from a number of competing stereos. With 3 miles of oceanfront beach, bathrooms, changing facilities, 493 acres of park, 75 grills, three parking lots, several soccer and softball fields, and a public 18-hole championship golf course, Crandon is like a theme park on the sand. More recently, they added Eco-Adventure Tours, including kayaking and snorkeling. For more information, call tel. 305/365-3018. It's open daily from 8am to sunset.
Best Beach for People-Watching
Lummus Park Beach, aka Glitter Beach, runs along Ocean Drive from about 6th to 14th streets on South Beach. It's the best place to go if you're seeking entertainment as well as a great tan. On any day of the week, you might spy models primping for a photo shoot, nearly naked (topless is legal here) sun-worshippers avoiding tan lines, and an assembly line of washboard abs off of which you could (but shouldn't) bounce your bottle of sunscreen. Bathrooms and changing facilities are available on the beach, but don't expect to have a Cindy Crawford encounter in one of these. Most people tend to prefer using the somewhat drier, cleaner bathrooms of the restaurants on Ocean Drive.
Best Beach for Communing with Nature
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is the pot of gold at the end of Key Biscayne, with over a mile of unfettered beach, a historic lighthouse, and nature trails that take you back to the days when South Florida was a tropical wilderness.
Best Swimming Beach
The 85th Street Beach, along Collins Avenue, is the best place to swim away from the maddening crowds. It's one of Miami's only stretches of sand with no condos or hotels looming over sunbathers. Lifeguards patrol the area throughout the day and bathrooms are available, though they are not exactly the benchmark of cleanliness.
Best Windsurfing Beach
Hobie Beach, on the side of the causeway leading to Key Biscayne, is not really a beach, but an inlet with predictable winds and a number of places where you can rent windsurf boards. Bathrooms are available but not exactly the cleanest.
Best Shell-Hunting Beach
You'll find plenty of colorful shells at Bal Harbour Beach, Collins Avenue at 96th Street. There's also an exercise course and good shade -- but no lifeguards, bathrooms, or changing facilities.
Best (Ahem) All-Around Tanning Beach
For that all-over tan, head to Haulover Beach, just north of the Bal Harbour border, and join nudists from around the world in a top-to-bottom tanning session. Should you choose to keep your swimsuit on, however, there are changing rooms and bathrooms.
Best Surfing Beach
Haulover Beach, just over the causeway from Bal Harbour, seems to get Miami's biggest swells. Go early to avoid getting mauled by the aggressive young locals prepping for Maui. Rancid bathrooms are available if you absolutely must. Surfers also like the southern tip of South Beach, not necessarily for the waves, but for the surfers themselves.
Best Scenic Beach
Matheson Hammock Park Beach, at 9610 Old Cutler Rd. in South Miami (tel. 305/665-5475), is the epitome of tranquillity. And while it's scenic, it's not too much of a scene. It's a great beach for those seeking "alone time." Bathrooms and changing facilities are available.
Best Family Beach
Because of its man-made lagoon, which is fed naturally by the tidal movement of the adjacent Biscayne Bay, the waters of Matheson Hammock Park Beach are extremely calm, not to mention safe and secluded enough for families to keep an eye on the kids. Clean bathrooms are a plus.
Best Beach for Seclusion
Virginia Key on Key Biscayne is where people go when they don't want to be found. It's also incredibly picturesque. Bathrooms are decent.
Best for Gay Beachgoers: South Beach's 12th Street Beach is the place to be for Miami's best gay beach scene. Here you'll see strutting, kibitzing, and gossiping among some of Miami's most beautiful gay population. You might even find yourself lucky enough to happen upon a feisty South Beach party while you're soaking up some rays here. If you can hold it, skip the public bathroom and head over to the Palace on Ocean Drive and use their bathroom.
Miami International Airport (ICAO: KMIA, IATA: MIA) is located just west of the city in an unincorporated suburban area. It is an important hub for traffic between North America and Latin America, and one of the largest airports in the world. As a result, Spanish is just as likely to be understood as English. The international traffic makes MIA a large and congested place. Be sure to allow extra time when departing MIA, particularly if flying internationally, as you may face an hour-long line just to check your bags. Curbside check-in is an excellent idea.
The predominant carrier at MIA is American Airlines, which has direct flights to most major cities in the Americas, and several European cities as well. European, Latin-American and Caribbean carriers are well-represented at MIA. The airport has no non-stop service to Asia, Africa or Oceania. The recent construction of two new terminals at MIA has helped with the airport's passenger capacities as well as the efficiency in going through customs and baggage claim.
MIA also has several restaurants ranging from local chains such as La Carreta to national chains such as Dunkin’ Donuts, Burger King and Starbucks. Be aware that some restaurants serve beer, wine and/or cocktails. If you drink too much the airlines can refuse your boarding on a plane. MIA also has several retail stores, including several magazine stands and bookstores (including a Borders). Other retail stores include, but are not limited to, Brookstone, K-B Toys and Ron Jon Surf Shop. There is also a hotel connected to the airport.
Money can be exchanged for US dollars at the airport. Wireless internet is also available at MIA for a small fee.
Fort Lauderdale International Airport (IATA: FLL) is 25-40 minutes north of Miami proper, depending on traffic, and does not have nearly as many international routes. It only offers a small variety. However, it is smaller and less trafficked than MIA, making customs, immigration and security a bit easier to go through. Southwest Airlines, JetBlue and other low-cost carriers generally use Miami's other airport, FLL, instead of MIA, making FLL a cheaper alternative in many cases as well.
Public transport is available to MIA and FLL. If you are arriving from FLL, there is a free shuttle to the Tri-Rail nearby train station. Tri-Rail trains connect West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. The cheapest way to get t Miami is to take the #1 Broward County Bus to Aventura Mall and transfer to the S Miami-Dade bus to downtown Miami via South Beach. This option is inadvisable if traveling with a lot of luggage.
At MIA, public transportation includes a free shuttle to the nearby Tri-Rail station, as well as to Metrorail and Metromover. Your best option is to take a taxi from the airport or rent a car, depending on what your stay involves (if you need to get around parts of Miami with no nearby Metrorail stations). MIA's car rental facilities are scattered around the airport and connected to the terminal by shuttle buses. FLL's facilities are more conveniently located in the parking garage adjacent to the terminals.
Currently at MIA, construction of the new Miami Intermodal Center is slated to become Miami's Grand Central station with hub connections of Amtrak, Metrorail, Tri-Rail, taxis, Metrobus, and all car-rental facilities. The M.I.C. is expected to be completed around 2009/2010.
Amtrak's Silver Service operates two trains daily to Miami from New York City, Washington, D.C. and other cities along the Eastern Seaboard. The ride from New York is about 24 hours but is often subject to delays, as Amtrak uses poorer-quality freight lines south of Washington and must cope with slow freight trains along the way.
There are frequent (at least 1 per hour) Tri-Rail trains every day to Miami from West Palm Beach, Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale on weekdays. However, on the weekends, the trains come every 2 hours.
There are three main highways coming into Miami. I-95 runs along the Atlantic coast of the United States and terminates in Miami. I-75 comes in from the midwestern United States and runs through Atlanta and Tampa before terminating in Miami. Florida's Turnpike is a toll road mainly useful for those driving in from Orlando. The only southbound route from Miami is US Highway 1, which runs through the Florida Keys all the way to Key West.
Miami has a large and elaborate public bus system which covers the entire county and connects to the bus system in Greater Fort Lauderdale. Recent developments have made the bus system more reliable than in the past. Even with the changes and because of high local traffic, buses tend to have a harder time remaining on schedule. However, buses run often enough through each route so as not to be a nuisance. Schedules and routes are available from the Miami-Dade Transit website or by calling +1 305 770-3131.
Metrorail is a single-line elevated rail system serving Miami and surrounding areas running 22.4mi with 22 stations . Due to low funding, Metrorail has not been greatly expanded since its opening in 1984, but serves many areas of tourist interest. These include downtown Miami, Dadeland Mall, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Lowe Art Museum, Miami Museum of Science, Village at Merrick Park and many other nearby shopping areas. Coconut Grove and downtown Coral Gables can be reached via short shuttle bus from various stations. Metrorail operates between roughly 5AM and midnight, with a bus serving all Metrorail stations operating in the overnight hours, effectively providing 24-hour service. Fare is $2 per ride ($1 for persons with disabilities or on Medicare) and a monthly pass is available for $100. Tokens, exact change, or a bus-to-rail transfer ticket are required for all fare gates.
A northern expansion of the Metrorail, the 'Orange Line', was given over $4.3 billion in funding in the 2009 Federal "Stimulus Package" and should therefore be opened around 2012-14. This new line will more than double the length of Metrorail (adding 24.4mi)—connecting it with Miami International Airport, Dolphins Stadium, Florida International University, and the suburbs of Miami Gardens and Opa-locka—and add a "Miami Intermodal Center as a focal point of all Miami-area mass transit.
Downtown Miami is served by a free elevated people mover system known as Metromover, which connects to Metrorail at two stations at Government Center in the central business district and at Brickell Station in Brickell. Metromover is free of charge and is the most efficient way to move around Downtown Miami. It is a great way to take a rest when walking around downtown, and a great time to take pictures of the skyscrapers and growing Miami skyline from above.
Currently a funding boost has set forth an expansion for the Metrorail system including a connection to Miami International Airport to be operating by 2010. Further expansion to the north toward Dolphin Stadium (the home of the NFL's Miami Dolphins) is expected to be operating by 2012. A light rail line to Miami Beach is also under development, as well as the Miami Streetcar connecting Downtown Miami to the Media and Entertainment District as well as Midtown Miami.
Taxis are generally expensive with a surcharge of $2.50 for the pick-up and an additional $0.40 for each sixth of a mile traveled. Almost all cab companies in the area have pre-determined rates for travel into the barrier islands of Miami Beach and other beach and nightclub communities popular with tourists which can range from $30-$60 depending on arrival location. For example, South Beach may be the most expensive while a residential neighborhood in Miami Beach may be the cheapest. The charge is the same regardless of pick-up location on the mainland. All taxis are fitted with maps of the barrier islands which state the cost per location. The same applies for passengers leaving the islands onto the mainland, though normal rates apply for person traveling by taxi within the islands or within the mainland.
Service is available throughout Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Monroe counties regardless of pick-up location. The normal service charges apply for these four counties, but it is wise to ask for a pre-determined price beforehand if leaving the county as this will in most cases turn out to be cheaper and most drivers are willing to negotiate when leaving the county. If you wish to be taxied to a location outside of those four counties, you must negotiate a price and advise the cab company first. Drivers may refuse to drive outside of the metropolitan area if they are not advised to do so beforehand.
Usually you will have to call a cab company and request a pick-up. Taxis operated by the major companies are not normally allowed to pick up passengers at random locations for safety and legal reasons except at MIA, the Port of Miami and train stations. Some individual taxi drivers will not follow this rule, however. You can try hailing a taxi in the street.
All taxi drivers must have a valid license to operate. It is uncommon to hear of crimes involving unlicensed taxis anywhere in the metropolitan area since Dade County keeps track of all taxi activity in and around Miami and cooperates with other counties in getting this information. If you enter a cab and do not see a valid license placed in front of the passenger's seat, you should not enter the taxi and instead call another cab company regardless of what the driver says. If you willingly enter a taxi without a license or with an expired license and there is an incident or accident, it is possible that you may not be able to hold the driver accountable by law. When entering a cab you should make note of the driver's name, license number and cab number if any problems arise during the trip. This information should be easily found inside the taxi.It may be able to help you identify the cab driver to the police or the cab company.
Unless you plan to stay downtown or in a single location elsewhere, you will find that a car is very convenient in Miami, and car rentals are cheap in comparison to other major US cities.
You can find cheap car rentals off terminal from the Miami Airport from such companies as E-Z Rent-A-Car and Ace Rent A Car. The major car rental companies can be found in terminal be can be often more expensive for the same service and vehicles.
Surface roads in Miami are usually easy to navigate. The area's roads are designed around a grid system, where most roads are numbered based on their distance from the city center. The two main axis roads are Miami Avenue (running north to south) and Flagler Street (running east to west). These two roads intersect in downtown Miami, the county's symbolic center. All avenues run north to south, while all streets run east to west. For example, the address, "9500 NW 30th Street" would be at the intersection of NW 30th Street (to the west of Miami Avenue, and 30 blocks north of Flagler Street) and NW 95th Avenue (north of Flagler Street, and 95 blocks west of Miami Avenue). Most roads in Miami conform to this nomenclature, but due to the more than 30 municipalities within Miami-Dade County, there are a few exceptions to be aware of. Examples include Coral Gables, the Coconut Grove section of Miami (city proper), Miami Lakes, and Hialeah. Hialeah is particularly notorious since it uses it's own grid system, in addition to the overall county system. For example, NW 103rd Street is also marked as E 49th Street, or W 49th Street in Hialeah.
Note that if you cross into Broward County, the roads will be numbered based on their distance from the Fort Lauderdale city center, which is generally the same going east-west but will be very different going north-south. Most of the municipalities in Broward County use their own limited grid systems as well. Some street names also change at the county line. The coastline highway, A1A, is known as "Collins Avenue" in Miami, but becomes "Ocean Drive" in Broward. Likewise, "Red Road" in Miami becomes "Flamingo Road" in Broward.
Miami has four primary expressways. In addition to I-95 and Florida’s Turnpike, there is state highway 836 (also known as the Dolphin Expressway) and state highway 826 (also known as the Palmetto Expressway). The Dolphin Expressway runs west from downtown Miami along the edge of Miami International Airport. The Palmetto Expressway and Florida's Turnpike form "F"-shaped loops around the city. The Turnpike continues north, roughly parallel to I-95, and will take you to Orlando if you keep driving. I-95, the Palmetto and the Turnpike intersect at a junction in North Miami called the Golden Glades. You may find driving in the Glades challenging, especially if you have little experience driving in it.
New visitors to Miami should be aware that the area's drivers are particularly aggressive. AutoVantage.com's Road Rage Survey has rated Miami drivers the rudest in the country for a third year in a row. This shouldn't discourage anyone from using the roadways, but a passive approach to Miami driving can save you from an unwanted exchange with another driver, or even worse an accident. Posted speed limits are ignored by most drivers, especially on larger roads with lower speed limits. Two examples are I-95 and state road 826 (The Palmetto Expressway). The eastern portion of state road 836 (The Dolphin Expressway) between Miami International Airport and downtown Miami handles traffic that exceeds its capacity, and contains several left-hand exits, including the eastbound off-ramp to Lejuene Road (NW 42nd Avenue), which is the posted route, and the quickest route to Miami International Airport.