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Downtown Miami neighborhood guide

Get to know downtown Miami with our guide to the neighborhood’s best blocks, attractions and things to do

Bayside Marketplace, Downtown Miami

The formerly faded city center is on the up. Downtown Miami's once-modest gathering of skyscrapers continues to multiply, as the architecture evolves from colorful, campy 1980s to post-millennium sleek. Not long ago, the scene at ground level was largely characterised by an assortment of tacky discount electronics stores, pawn shops, seedy immigration lawyers and 99¢ emporiums. However, the past decade has seen a major residential migration and today more than 70,000 people call the neighborhood home—almost twice as many as in 2000.

Around Flagler Street
Flagler Street is the main drag, lined with shops catering mainly to Spanish-speakers. About the only one without a 'Todo Ten Dollars' sign is Macy's, which occupies a fine 1936 streamline Depression Moderne building at 22 E Flagler. A little way east, the Seybold Building (36 NE 1st Street, at N Miami Avenue) is the heart of one of the largest jewellery districts in the country: there are more than 280 jewellers here. If you need a glittery rock, this is the place.

Further along Flagler is the 1926 Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, easily recognisable by the restored marquee and charming box office kiosk at the front. Both Rudy Vallee and Elvis Presley played this Mediterranean Revival stunner, which features extravagant plaster details, twinkling ceiling lights and 12-foot crystal chandeliers.

Despite the recent residential influx, the area is still mostly known as a business district, but it's also home to a thriving college campus. Some 27,000 students dodge the vagrants on NE 2nd Avenue to attend Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus (300 NE 2nd Avenue, at NE 3rd Street). Art enthusiasts will be more interested in the campus's third-floor Centre Gallery; the annual book fair is a delight, drawing literary names to Miami from far and wide.

A large nouveau Mediterranean complex comprises the Miami-Dade Public Library and HistoryMiami, all set around an elegant courtyard. The finest way to experience Downtown is a night view from either the Rickenbacker or MacArthur Causeways. Seen from one of these vantage points, it's one of the finest illuminated skylines in the US.

Biscayne Boulevard
Biscayne Boulevard divides Downtown from the waterfront green of Bayfront Park, a busy venue for concerts, ethnic festivals and huge Independence Day, New Year's Eve and Winter Holiday celebrations. North is a plaza marked by the JFK Torch of Friendship and adorned with statues of Christopher Columbus and Juan Ponce de León, along with plaques representing Caribbean, South and Central American countries (except Cuba, naturally). Close by is touristy Bayside Marketplace and its often-packed marina. A pedestrian bridge conveniently links Bayside to the AmericanAirlines Arena, home of local pro basketball team Miami Heat.

North of NE 5th Street
Some of the dodgier bits of Downtown lie north of NE 5th Street. The best way to visit may be via the Omni extension of the Metromover. As the Metromover crosses the Miami Beach-bound MacArthur Causeway, to the right lies the bayfront Miami Herald Building, and to the left, the Adrienne Arsht Center for Performing Arts.

South of the river
Despite its brevity, the four-mile Miami River is swampy south-east Florida's main stream. South of the river is an area known as Brickell: this is Miami's financial district, home to some of the city's 120-odd national and international banks. Conveniently enough, some of the newest and most upscale business hotels are located here, including the Mandarin Oriental and the 70-storey Four Seasons, which became the tallest building south of Atlanta when it was completed in 2002.

Dubbed Mary Brickell Village, the area has a lively after-hours scene, particularly around S Miami Avenue and SE 10th Street, which is home to several popular after-work hangouts such as Perricone's. Also not to be missed are the riverside ambience and great seafood at Garcia's.

Downtown and Brickell restaurants

La Petite Maison

Recommended

One of Nice’s most famous restaurants has found its way to Brickell, and it’s brought with it all its French flair and popular Niçoise cuisine. If you’ve been to the original, you’ll recognize the refreshing tomatini cocktail on the menu (a must!) and the plump tomatoes set on the table—which, for the uninitiated, are there for you to slice into and eat with a piece of baguette brought to you by a lovely server carrying a basket of fresh bread. From there, it’s on to a medley of seafood and fish, done up carpaccio-style, grilled, pan-fried and en papillote. Most of the dishes are light and Mediterranean inspired until you get to the heavy potato gratin (worth every caloric bite) and the french fries—which are arguably the best you’ll ever taste. These labor-intensive spuds go through a day’s worth of soaking, baking and frying before they reach your table. Second on the list of menu standouts is the cheesecake, also surprisingly light and unlike any you’ve tasted before.  

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Brickell

Bazaar Mar by José Andrés

Recommended

Fans of Bazaar’s whimsical tapas have a new smattering of small plates by José Andrés to fall in love with at Bazaar Mar. For his second Miami restaurant, Andrés devised a menu that celebrates the cuisine of his native Spain, except the ocean-inspired dishes are considerably more grounded than what you’d find at the South Beach location. Foams and parchment-poaching techniques are replaced with traditional grilling and smoking methods executed in a state-of-the-art Josper oven. Whole fish and local crustaceans, such as Florida stone crabs and spiny lobsters, round out the spread.

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Brickell

La Mar

Brunch at famed chef Gastón Acurio’s La Mar is an experience, the kind you carve hours out of your Sunday to linger over and indulge. You’ll start with arroz chaufa (Peruvian fried rice) served tableside and move on to myriad food stations curiously plated classics like crab causa and pastel de choclo (native corn cake). Then it’s on to the entree, which varies by brunch tier, and dessert. If you haven’t saved room for a sweet ending, you’ll change your mind once you’re served an artisanal dollhouse filled with treats. No, it’s not the effects of unlimited cocktails you’re experiencing. The dessert house is, in fact, spinning.

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Brickell
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