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
Miami has its share of Latin markets and organic grab-and-gos, but it was lacking in a hybrid market/restaurant until Marion came along. The café, market, bakery and oyster bar is casual enough for a leisurely lunch yet boasts a varied menu and plenty of options, making it a worthy destination for a night out. Executive chef Jean Paul Lourdes is responsible for the comprehensive menu that goes beyond charcuterie and raw bar offerings, though these are great, too. Think hearty paellas and shareable portions of rib-eye steak and roast chicken, which is cut and served table side. You’ll want to save room for pastry chef Christina Kaelberer’s sweet creations, such as pillowy strawberry marshmallows that taste like the real fruit and a trio of profiteroles served with a drizzling of rich melted chocolate.Book now Read more
Located on the Capitol Hill of Miami’s business movers and shakers, this is the quintessential spot for a power lunch. Like the conversation, the food here is quite heavy: think dry-aged beef sirloin, filet mignon and prime rib. Although there is a serious wine list, we recommend a trip to the clubby bar for one of the very fine pineapple-saturated Stolis.Book now Read more
If Cuba’s famous Tropicana nightclub made its way to Miami, we’d imagine it’d be a lot like El Tucán: impossibly chic, exciting and with a delicious menu rivaled only by the entertainment. This is a true cabaret with a unique, dinner-and-a-show concept where, twice a night, guests will have the opportunity to witness musical and dance performances backed by the in-house, 11-piece orchestra. Like the acts who take the stage, dishes are varied and Latin-inspired, ranging from starters such as ceviche and guacamole to larger portions of octopus and wagyu beef. Helming the restaurant’s imaginative drink program is none other than local mixologists extraordinaire Bar Lab (of Freehand Miami, Broken Shaker and 27 Restaurant fame).Book now Read more
Things to do Downtown
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.Read more
Once a 1926 silent movie palace, this is now an enchanting venue for the occasional jazz and Latin gig, complete with velvet seats, Shakespearean balconies and twinkling stars on the ceiling’s painted night tableau.Read more
Hotels in Downtown Miami
This beautiful boutique hotel's beaux-arts past is splashed across every single design and architectural detail. Rooms are decorated with antique trunks and valet trays, while the elevator and hallways—complete with an original postcard shoot—look just as they did almost a century ago. It's listed on the National Register of Historic Places but nothing about the structure, from the fixtures to the spacious, subway-tiled bathrooms, feels outdated or stuffy. What's the best part about staying in this old-timey gem? Proximity to Pawn Broker, one of the city's best rooftop bars serving Prohibition-style cocktails.Read more
Located just 5 minutes’ drive from Miami International Airport, this hotel features a light continental breakfast and free WiFi in public areas of the hotel. Miami city centre is less than 15 minutes’ drive away.A flat-screen cable TV, iPod docking station, and work desk are found in each room at Hotel Aladdin - Couples Only. A minibar is also included.The reception desk of the Hotel Aladdin - Couples Only is open 24 hours to serve guests. Free parking is also available.The Miami Art Museum is 15 minutes’ drive from the hotel. Miami Beach is 20 minutes’ drive away.Read more
Just 2.6 kilometres from Miracle Mile Miami and Cocowalk Shopping Centre, Pelican Residences in Coreal Gables - Walk to Merrick Place offers free WiFi access to guests. This self-catering accommodation is located in Miami.The full kitchen comes standard with a dishwasher, microwave, and oven. Apartments also feature a private bathroom that includes a bidet and free toiletries. City views can be enjoyed from the room.An outdoor pool, spa and wellness centre, and hot tub are available to guests of Pelican Residences in Coral Gables. Other facilities include a fitness centre and shared lounge. Free parking is available.The sights of Vizcaya Museum (5.1 km) and Miami Museum of Science and Planetarium (5.3 km) are within easy access. Miami International Airport is located 8.5 kilometres' drive from the property.Read more
Downtown music and nightlife
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.Book now Read more
Local mixologist Leo Holtzman, better known as the Cocktail Conjurer, made a name for himself at now-defunct Tobacco Road before moving on to helm the bar program at the Palms Hotel & Spa and sister property Wunderbar. These days you’ll find him at SoCal Taco Co., a joint venture with partner Aj Billapando, that’s part cantina and part taqueria. Fans of Holtzman’s popular Gardner’s Margarita, a farm-to-glass take on a spicy margarita that’s flavored with red peppers, will love the Grass Clippings, an herby, tequila-based drink garnished with greens. As for purists looking for a traditional margarita, get ready to have your blown by the frothy SoCal Special, mixed with reposado tequila and topped with salted Cointreau foam.Read more
Miami's big bills can bring a player down, but just because you ball on a budget doesn't mean you don't ball. Sidebar's Cherry Pop Saturday is for the stylish deal-stealer in you. There's never a cover, and the drinks are good without costing a fortune. The tunes are always high-caliber and open-format, meaning you might hear a little bit of this and a little bit of that, whatever is hip and now mixed with some classics that never fail. The bar's big backyard keeps the place vibin' on an even keel, while the inside space offers video games and a pool table, if you're feeling frisky.Read more
Shopping in Downtown
Downtown Flowers is tucked away in one of Miami's business district’s many skyscrapers but that doesn’t mean it's unseen. This small shop is a major player in the area, in part because it offers locals perks like free delivery in downtown Miami, 15-percent commission for neighboring concierges or receptionists who recommend them and speedy service—as fast as two hours. Arrangements are seasonal, so customers can be sure all blooms will be bright and fresh.Read more
Downtown Miami’s Seybold Building is brimming with jewelry stores large and small, but this little gem on the first floor is where experienced buyers know to shop for quality diamonds, Swiss timepieces and bespoke jewelry. It is the building’s oldest tenant, after all. If your significant other is bent on an engagement ring you can’t find elsewhere, Buchwald will make it to your exact specifications and make suggestions when needed. They also offer trade-in services and have great deals on vintage Rolex watches, because even guys need to accessorize every once in a while.Read more
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.Read more