Thursday, February 26, 2009

Miami & South Beach

We have just returned from two weeks in Florida, taking the opportunity to warm up during the chilly winter months.

We began our trip by flying to Miami. We hadn't heard many good things about Miami so had decided not to stay here. However we wanted to take a quick look at South Beach with its famous art deco architecture so on our first morning we headed straight from the airport hotel to South Beach with the intention of having breakfast there before heading off to our main destination, The Keys.

Our first impression of Miami wasn't too great......a large sprawling metropolis with an infamous crime rate. Although we didn't actually photograph them the City of Miami has colour-coded their direction roadsigns from the airport to the main tourist areas to help prevent holidaymakers straying into the 'wrong' neighbourhoods. It's great that they take this kind of initiative but sad that it's even necessary.

Heading towards the highrises of Miami

We were headed for South Beach, which is a neighbourhood of Miami Beach which is in turn a separate 'city' to Miami. The drive through urban Miami isnt too endearing - a kind of Birmingham in the sun.

That said, once you get past the downtown area and onto the island that is Miami Beach the view back towards downtown is more impressive.

So we arrived on Ocean Drive, the heart of the art deco district of Miami Beach.

A massive hurricane in 1926 flattened the original largely agricultural town which had grown on Miami Beach. However demand for the location as a tourist destination was already growing so the new city to be developed sprang up as hotels & restaurants along the miles upon miles of sandy beaches. Being predominately developed in the 1930's the new South Beach area of Miami Beach became famous for it's almost entirely art deco style of architecture.

By the early 1980's the area was run-down and crime-ridden. However, a group of visionaries led by a New Yorker named Barbara Baer Capitman saw this neighbourhood as architecturally significant and worth protecting from the bulldozers which were threatening to move in.

The movement gathered public attention and support and preservationists worked together to restore building interiors and repaint exteriors of the classic South Beach buildings.

South Beach is now distinguished as the first 20th century district to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places with over 800 significant buildings protected.

This patch of greenery between buildings was a shaded open-air courtyard restaurant called The News where we stopped and had breakfast. Quite a pleasant change from Vancouver in February, sat outside in the sun, mid 20's temperatures eating breakfast !

On the East side of Ocean Drive is South Beach. This is the view South down the beach.

And this is the view North up the beach. You don't appreciate the enormity of the beach here as some marquees have been erected for an event.

David and I on South Beach.

More views along Ocean Drive

Many of the buildings along the seafront are hotels, often with open air restaurants along the pavement

This hotel The Carlyle was the centrepiece of the film The Birdcage where it was staged as a nightclub owned by Robin Williams.

More South Beach architecture

We really enjoyed our morning in South Beach and in hindsight would have happily spent a night or two there. If we are back in the South Florida area again we will probably spend a little more time exploring Miami Beach and Key Biscayne which is a State Park island just off the coast south of Miami.

However, on this trip we had to get down to Key West where our accommodation that evening was booked. We had arranged to have a convertible hire car so that we could enjoy the sun & warmth while we were traveling.

Heading off the island that is Miami Beach, you appreciate the the vast amount of waterfront the city enjoys. Numerous small private gated communities with large villas littered the waterways between Miami Beach and the city of Miami.

The various 'yachts' moored outside the homes weren't too shabby either......

Miami really is a city of such extremes......we passed terrible, poor neighbourhoods within minutes of these areas of blatant opulence.

We were glad to be heading out towards The Keys.


chocolateshoesandcoffee said...

Miami Beach is definitely better then Miami. Coral Gables and over there is really nice. I actually just moved to South Beach from Boulder, Colorado. Fun to see your pics of my neighborhood.

Accommodation Miami Beach said...

A great trip! Looking forward to reading more about your travel!