Tuesday, March 15, 2011

City Tour #4 -- Miami, Florida


The name alone conjures so many different images that it's often difficult to know where to start. Palm trees? Bikini-clad women? Miami Vice? Bad Boys? Dexter?

Like Los Angeles, I had a pre-conceived image of Miami from various reality shows and movies. I felt a natural instinct to reject it based on its image alone. But when I arrived while Baltimore was in the midst of a blizzard and felt the warm Florida sun on my face, I let all that celebrity and reality show bullshit fall away. And since then I view Miami the eyes that actually drank in the city instead of the eyes that watched TV shows and movies based in Miami.

Ironically, Miami has been kind of a rest stop to me, having driven through it on three separate occasions to reach the Florida Keys. And with the Keys a little over an hour away, it almost felt like there was no reason to stop in Miami. Why would you want to spend time in a city all the way down here instead of pristine vacant beaches? If you wanted to do that, you should have stayed in Ocean City.

And that is probably why I enjoyed Miami so thoroughly, because in many ways, it reminded me of my childhood memories of a city on a beach -- Ocean City, MD. But about a million times better.

I should also specify, I didn't set foot in downtown Miami. So this review could probably be called South Beach just as easily, but do people really travel to Miami for leisure and spend time downtown?

I don't think so. It's South Beach or nothing.

1. Art & Culture --5-- Just saying the word "South Beach" evokes many images: bikinis, palm trees, blue water and art deco architecture. The city's Cuban, Latin America and Caribbean influences make it feel like the most foreign city on U.S. soil -- all while being an incredibly clean and well-kept city. Also, Miami has been the setting for some of the best TV shows and movies in the history of the medium. Perhaps that's because of Miami's infamous history as the cocaine capital of America. That said, Miami seems to be missing something that most other cities have...a surviving nucleus at its core that goes back to the beginning of the city itself. The Miami we all know and love seems to have been established within the last 30 or so years and maybe that's why beside some art deco buildings, there isn't many major sites to see in the city other than the newest trendy restaurant or bar.

2. Food --8-- Nowhere else can Miami's many cultural influences be seen more than in its food. Cuban, Mexican, Caribbean...it's all there on every street corner and in every restaurant. I bought a six pack of Quilmes beer at the local liquor store, which is from Argentina. And although I am sure you can find it at many liquor stores across America, it felt right at home in Miami, as if the city said to me, "You're almost in Argentina. Try it."

3. Mass Transit --6-- Although Miami lacks a comprehensive rail-based system, it does have a monorail line that runs north to south and a people mover in the downtown area. While I didn't use any of that while I was there, I did use a very effective bus that picked me up at the airport and took me to South Beach -- all for $2.50 each way. That's a steal. You can get a lot of places on the city's bus system, and while that may not be as sexy as a metro subway or a light rail system, it works for now.

4. Look & Feel --7-- Despite it's lack of major sites to see, Miami remains a very attractive city in every sense of the word. It's CBD skyline is colorful in a playful way and the same can be said of South Beach, especially at night, with the marquees of the many hotels lining Ocean Drive illuminated by neon signs. Their art deco architecture takes you back to the early 1900's while the crowds popping in and out of the swanky restaurants and bars located in many of the hotels remind you that you are here, now. The feel of Miami is relaxed, with the desperation of being seen, yet so many people in the city try to remain discreet in a tented chez lounge at an upscale hotel pool or VIP lounge.

5. Overall --8-- Miami is a cool city. I mean, come on...Will Smith wrote a song about it. That said, Miami lacks a certain historical aspect that makes many northern cities more aesthetically pleasing. But this is Florida, after all. You're supposed to relax, enjoy the sun, and wear as little as possible. Miami remains America's gateway to the Caribbean and Latin America, and for that reason alone, it's one of America's most unique cities.

Total -- 34/50


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