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 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
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.
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.
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.
Things to do Downtown
Everything you need to know about visiting Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, Miami's premier science facility (1101 NE Biscayne Blvd). True to its mission, the new 250,000-square-foot museum connects people of all ages with science through a range of inspiring programming—some of which is even bilingual. The new Frost Science (an upgrade from its previous Coconut Grove location) occupies four buildings—the Aquarium, the Frost Planetarium and the North and West Wings—features year-round exhibits such as "Feathers to the Stars," "River of Grass" and “MeLab,” an interactive exhibit that lets kids learn about health by using their own bodies to conduct experiments (think hands-on simulations). The "Aquarium" is a remarkable display across three levels, one of which includes the museum’s 500,000-gallon Gulf Stream aquarium that houses all sorts of sea creatures. Visiting Frost Science The downtown Miami facility is open 365 days a year and is open to people of all ages. An all-in-one-ticket, which includes museum exhibitions, aquarium, live science demonstrations and one Frost Planetarium show, is $28 for adults and $20 for children 3–11. Children under 2 are free. Available to guests is a free mobile that includes detailed visitor information as well as a scavenger hunt. The duration of a typical visit to Frost Science is five hours. Late-night and adult programming at Frost Science In spring of 2017, Frost Science launched a monthly party series called LATE,
With a collection of works from such artists as Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Frank Stella and Ana Mendieta, not to mention some high-caliber traveling exhibitions, this relatively young museum (formerly Miami Art Museum) is worth a look. Family-friendly interactive programs bring art home: during free Second Saturday (of the month) programs, museum teachers lead families in hands-on activities inspired by the works on display, while Third Thursdays play host to evenings of music and entertainment.
After many delays, a budget overrun and a few name changes, this spectacular $500 million César Pelli creation opened in 2006. The striking postmodern architecture alone makes it worth a visit. But the fact that it’s home to the Florida Grand Opera and the Miami City Ballet, and occasionally hosts the New World Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra, doesn’t hurt either. Touring Broadway shows, musicals, world music and children’s shows also feature.
Hotels in Downtown Miami
EPIC, a Kimpton Hotel, is further proof of the tourist scene blowing up Downtown. Located on the banks of the Miami River, in the midst of the city’s banking district, the hotel is a popular choice for financial wheelers and dealers. Guest rooms—all of which have balconies, some with city views, others waterfront—are big, and keep things uncomplicated with neutral tones and natural wood furnishings. Unsurprisingly, the hotel’s Area 31 restaurant has become the go-to destination for power lunches. And even the most moneyed of travelers appreciate a good freebie: complimentary morning coffee and tea and an evening wine hour are included.
With downtown Miami’s nightlife and dining scenes on the upswing, staying in South Beach puts you far away from the action. YVE Hotel, located just across the street from Bayside Marketplace, is near it all: head north five minutes to Wynwood, drive over the MacArthur Causeway to Miami Beach and walk south on Biscayne Boulevard to Brickell, where you’ll find some of the hottest restaurants and rooftop bars. Location comes at the expense of amplitude, as rooms tend to be on the smaller side. Basic amenities are included in the price of your stay, but valet is extra and rather expensive. Compensate for parking with discounted drinks at Biscayne Tavern, the downstairs pub with a daily happy hour.
A beautiful luxury hotel overlooking the water, Intercontinental is one of downtown Miami's most enduring upscale properties. Its central location is partly the reason why it's so popular with business travelers and tourists while its many ballrooms and spectacular views make it a top wedding venue for local couples. The spa, while small, has everything one needs to spending a relaxing afternoon.
Downtown music and nightlife
Everything you need to know about visiting Sugar in Brickell (788 Brickell Plaza, Miami, FL 33131). The elevator will pass 40 floors before you finally reach, Sugar, the ultra trendy rooftop lounge at the EAST hotel that’s quickly become one of the most popular bars in Brickell. Remain patient and soon you’ll be rewarded with 360-views of the city and surrounding waterways, Asian-themed cocktails (like the Sweet Life, a sugar-y cocktail blended with Thai iced tea, lemon and whiskey) and a place that feels more like a secluded, storybook garden than a bar. When to go It’s an unfortunate side effect of a popular bar, but if you time it wrong, you will have to wait in line to get to Sugar. And sometimes that line is very long. On Friday and Saturday nights, that line is almost always very long. The bar is small—maybe the size of a basketball court—so capacity is limited. If you really don’t want to wait, your best bet is to arrive early, before the happy hour crowd, and you should be fine. The cocktails The cocktail menu is simple, but should have something for everyone. A drink will cost you $12 to $15—a typical price for Brickell. The Lychee Blossom (vodka, sake and lychee) is a popular choice. There are rye, rum and gin-based options as well. We recommend the East of Miami, a refreshing zip of ginger, lime, green tea and gin that goes perfectly with the skyscraper vibes. Getting there When going really anywhere in Brickell, it’s always safe to assume that you shouldn’t
Few restaurants can double as great sports bars and boozy brunch spots the way American Social does. This Fort Lauderdale import proves itself to be more than just a watering hole, thanks to its extensive list of craft beers and impressive menu, which features American classics like chicken and waffles and some new favorites, such as the short rib mac and cheese.
This rooftop club, pool and lounge—formerly known as Fifty Ultra Lounge—has one of the best and highest views in the city. It's the ideal place to spend an evening, and many others agree. Poplife recently took over the venue for a Thursday happy hour (weekly at 6pm) with live music and $5 specialty cocktails.
Shopping in Downtown
This nighttime farmers’ market is a hit with young professionals who’d rather spend Saturday morning hanging poolside instead of shopping for fresh produce. It’s small but comprehensive, offering a selection of organic fruits and vegetables from South Florida-based farm LNB Groves, ready-made foods, Zak the Baker bread, vegan treats and other specialty items, such as African-made fashion and accessories from local Etsy store All Over Africa. Workshops, themed dinners and cooking demonstrations are scheduled occasionally, while free parking is available directly across from the market in lot C.
Exhale Miami might be better known for its fitness classes than its wellness treatments, but both deserve their share of praise. Get your butt kicked in a barre class or ease your mind with some yoga and then let one of their talented therapists rid you of all the soreness with a classic Fusion massage. The bird’s-eye view of downtown Miami from several of the treatment rooms and fitness studios is a vivid reminder of the distance between you and the stressors of everyday life. Unwind further with a dip in the Epic Hotel pool, which is open to spa guests.
Come to this bland Anytown, USA waterside development to get your fill of touristy sightseeing tours, gambling cruises and Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts. The usual suspects line up for a chance at your wallet, including Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret, Gap, Express and Sunglass Hut.