Fabulous Miami Weekend

Posted 12/14/2009

What a change the Miami of today is from the Miami of my childhood. Twenty years ago I can vividly recall visiting my grandparents in nearby Fort Lauderdale, and being taken to Miami to visit other relatives. My seven year old self was suitably impressed with the dire warnings about Miami being a rough city, and the need to be very careful at all times. The Miami of the mid eighties was a busy city, and indeed a bit of a rough one. The beaches were not really the cleanest or the best, the tourist attractions were slim, and the overall impression was a rather harsh one. Reading about the revitalization of Miami and seeing it in person are two very different things. Somehow this caterpillar has become a truly brilliant butterfly, and as soon as I actually saw it I knew it was true: Miami has been reborn.

The celebrities have made Miami the hottest place to be these days, and when you stroll through South Beach it is very easy to see why. South Beach was, put simply, amazing! Is it my favorite section of Miami (technically in Miami Beach), and is an absolute visual delight with its glamorous art deco architecture. The buildings are pastel candy coated delights, the beautiful beach is now clean and inviting, and the shopping and dining are, to put it mildly, high end. Early in the day I stopped by the Art Deco welcome center on Ocean Drive. It was a smart investment to buy the audio tour of the area, because it is full of fascinating and amusing tidbits about the history of the area. With so many rich and famous celebs now calling Miami home, it was no surprise to learn that there was some great shopping here. On Lincoln Road, you will find the ideal place to really explore the glitzy boutiques, art galleries, and museums. This is a huge open air mall, with the majority of it closed to auto traffic so that visitors can wander freely. On Sunset Drive, you have got the ultra high end (as in Gucci and Prada and...I am still drooling over the clothes weeks later) group of stores known as the Shops at Sunset Place. No matter where you choose to shop, in South Beach it really is just as much fun to window shop. You just don't see beauty like this in your everyday malls. I had one meal in South Beach that was so good that I will actually now say what I rarely say: If you can only eat one meal in the whole city of Miami, make it Grazie. This is Italian food the way it is supposed to be done. I found this place thanks to a tip from a friend, who told me the name of the place along with these words: "It's kind of a well kept secret." From the fantastic pineapple mojito (okay maybe I had two...) to the seafood risotto, I was quite impressed. If you get the chance, just go: It is so worth it, even at about $50 per person. South Beach can be a whole vacation by itself. You will never be bored here, and since you can walk nearly everywhere, you just may never even need to use a car.

The Miami Seaquarium is a total blast for both kids and adults. I had kind of thought of this as a kiddie activity that might be better saved for my nephews, but I am glad I decided to go anyway. I have been to several aquariums all over the United States, but there is something really special about an outdoor aquarium that just brings you much closer to the animals. They have really great animal shows here year round, thanks to this lovely warm climate. I got to see dolphins, killer whales, sea lions, and the best of all...the manatee! My favorite part, however, was the dolphin odyssey. For an additional fee of just under $200, you can meet the dolphins in a very personal way. I got to meet, pet, hug, kiss, swim with, and even ride a dolphin across the water. Expensive? Yes. Unforgettable? Yes. Worth every penny? Absolutely.

My favorite Miami destination is one I remember from my childhood: Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. As a little girl I remember feeling I had been dropped into some exotic foreign country here, and now as an adult the feeling was much the same. Vizcaya is a palatial Italian villa that was built right on the beautiful Biscayne Bay, making for a spectacular home with an equally amazing view of the water. While the outside of the villa is beautiful, it is the inside that simply makes a person's jaw drop to the floor. I had not remembered how truly posh this place really is. The formal gardens outside are especially beautiful during the spring, when I was fortunate enough to visit. This is a Miami stop that does not always make it to the top of the tourism lists, but it really should.

Miami was really a complete surprise to me. I had seen the photos of the "new and improved" city, and I had heard about how beautiful it is now, but experiencing it personally was really wonderful. This gorgeous city has truly become a perfect vacation destination, and it is one that I will look forward to returning to.

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