Miami: Recreation


Visitors to Miami will find a variety of activities, from an adventure-filled day at a nature park to a nostalgic stroll through a historic district. The city's principal attraction is Miami Seaquarium, south Florida's largest tropical aquarium and home of Flipper, television's star dolphin. At Seaquarium, Flipper, Lolita the Killer Whale, and Salty the Sea Lion appear in three shows daily. Seaquarium also features thousands of other sea creatures in display tanks, as well as tropical gardens and a wildlife sanctuary. Another popular family-oriented wildlife/nature park is Monkey Jungle, where hundreds of monkeys, gorillas, and trained chimpanzees swing freely through a natural rain forest. Chimpanzees perform daily. Similar to Monkey Jungle, Parrot Jungle Island presents more than 1,100 tropical birds that fly free. Featured are trained birds that perform daily in 40-minute shows, riding bicycles, playing poker, roller skating, and demonstrating arithmetic. Located between downtown Miami and South Beach, Parrot Jungle occupies 18.6-acres with an Everglades exhibit, children's area with petting zoo, animal barn, playground and water play areas, baby bird and plant nurseries, picnic pavilions, food court, 500-seat theater, two amphitheaters, jungle trails, and aviaries.

Perhaps the ultimate wildlife experience can be found at Miami MetroZoo, rated the top attraction in Miami in 2004 by Zagat Survey. This cageless zoo is set on approximately 300 acres of natural habitats, where hundreds of species of the world's animals roam on islands separated from visitors by moats. Animal shows are presented daily, and elephant rides, monorail tours, walking tours, the children's petting zoo, PAWS, and an outdoor concert series are also available.

The Miami area maintains some of the nation's most beautiful tropical gardens. Fairchild Tropical Garden, in nearby Coral Gables, is the largest botanical garden in the continental United States. It features paths that wind through a rain forest, sunken gardens, a rare plant house, and 11 lakes displaying a wide variety of tropical vegetation. When the gardens sustained massive damage from Hurricane Andrew in 1992, scientists from around the globe gathered to begin to help restore this world-class botanical paradise. The Richard H. Simons Rainforest is a two-acre exhibit that features a 500-foot gurgling stream, waterfalls, paved paths, and rest areas.

Miami has preserved much of its rich past and embraced its social and ethnic diversity. A 30-block strip called Calle Ocho showcases Miami's Cuban culture in restaurants, nightclubs, sidewalk coffee shops, parks, cigar factories, and boutiques. The Art Deco District in Miami Beach contains more than 800 buildings designed in the Art Deco architecture and pastel colors of the 1930s. Another reminder of the past is Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, a 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palace with beautiful formal gardens overlooking Biscayne Bay. Vizcaya—which was built by James Deering, the founder of International Harvester—houses a collection of fifteenth- to early nineteenth-century European art.

Arts and Culture

The primary venues for concerts and theatrical performances in Miami are the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, the Jackie Gleason Theater of the Performing Arts (called TOPA), and the Miami-Dade County Auditorium. The Gusman Center, an ornate Baroque-style theater, has been transformed from a 1920s movie palace into an elegant stage for the performing arts. Its 40-week season includes classical music concerts by the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra and the New World Symphony (who are housed at the Lincoln Theatre in the Lincoln Road Shopping District). The Jackie Gleason Theater hosts the Miami Beach Symphony Orchestra and other entertainments. The Miami-Dade County Auditorium, featuring Art Deco revival decor, is a performance site for many local and international artists. At the historic Coconut Grove Playhouse, for more than 50 years south Florida's principal regional theater, Broadway and Off-Broadway shows are presented. The Florida Shakespeare Theater performs in a new space in the Historic Biltmore Hotel. The Miami Light Project, which performs artistic works such as musicals, stand-up comedy, and dance, performs in various locations. The Greater Miami Performing Arts Center is scheduled to open its doors in the 2005-2006 season, and will be one of the few facilities in the nation to feature three separate performance halls for ballet, opera, theater, and symphonic music. It will be home to the Concert Association of Florida, Florida Grand Opera, Miami City Ballet, and the New World Symphony.

The Metro-Dade Cultural Center, which consists of the Miami-Dade Public Library, the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, and the Miami Art Museum, is part of a reviving downtown Miami. The Historical Museum traces the 10,000-year history of humans in south Florida through permanent and traveling exhibits. The Miami Art Museum presents a variety of traveling exhibits.

Several Miami-area museums and galleries reflect the city's varied culture. For example, the Cuban Museum of Arts and Culture exhibits works by traditional and contemporary Hispanic artists; documents and memorabilia pertaining to the Cuban culture and history are presented, along with concerts, lectures, and films. Other historical museums include the 1891 Barnacle State Historic Site in Coconut Grove, Coral Gables' restored 1920s Merrick House, and the Holocaust Memorial.

The Bass Museum of Art in the heart of the Art Deco district in Miami Beach houses a permanent collection of Old Masters, sculptures, textiles and period furniture. Newer museums in the region include the Sanford L. Ziff Jewish Museum of Florida, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Wolfsonian. The Wolfsonian boasts a collection of more than 100,000 objects, including ceramics, glass, books, and furniture. Also instrumental in Miami's cultural life is the Art in Public Places program, one of the earliest of its kind, which has installed more than 450 works in the Metro-Dade area.

Arts and Culture Information: Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, 701 Brickell Ave., Ste. 2700, Miami, FL 33131; telephone (305)539-3000; toll-free (800)933-8448

Festivals and Holidays

Miami hosts countless festivals and fair throughout the year. Many reflect the city's rich cultural heritage. The Hispanic Heritage Festival runs throughout October with art, theater, dance, and Latin folklore, and cuisine. In March, the grounds of Vizcaya Palace are transformed into a sixteenth century marketplace of arts, crafts, and performance at the Italian Renaissance Festival. The nation's largest Hispanic festival is Carnival Miami, also held in March, featuring salsa, brilliant costumes, and Cuban delicacies. It culminates in an all-day block party in the heart of Little Havana, the Calle Ocho Festival, which earned the title of the world's largest street party because it spans 23 city blocks. Cowbells, whistles, and washboard bands salute summer's Miami/Bahamas Goombay Festival, which celebrates Bahamian culture.

Art festivals abound. One of the largest and most prestigious is Art Basel Miami Beach. This fair, sister to the world famous Art Basel Switzerland, debuted in December 2002 and is now the most successful art fair in North America. January's annual Art Deco Weekend in South Miami Beach features tours of the historic Art Deco district, site of more than 800 buildings from the 1920s and 1930s, and includes an antique car show, a costume ball, films, and lectures. Other art events include the Coconut Grove Arts Festival, a three-day event held in February, as well as the Miami Beach Festival of the Arts, Art in the Tropics, and the South Miami Art Festival. Film festivals are just as common. The Miami International Film Festival showcases films from the United States, South America, Europe, the near East, and Australia that might not otherwise be seen in this country. Other festivals spotlight Jewish, gay and lesbian, Brazilian, African American, and Italian films.

The Orange Bowl Festival centers around the Orange Bowl football game on New Year's night. This festival, which has been held annually since 1933, includes the King Orange Jamboree and sports tournaments for children and adults. The season of Lent is kicked off with the Greater Miami Mardi Gras celebration. The Miami Wine & Food Festival, ranked as one of the nation's top ten wine events, is held each April. More than 100 rides and 50,000 exhibits are featured at the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition, an 18-day event held in the spring.

Sports for the Spectator

Miami offers a variety of spectator sports at both the professional and collegiate level. The Miami Dolphins of the National Football League play their home games in Pro Player Stadium, which is also home to the Florida Marlins National League baseball team. The AmericanAirlines Arena houses the professional basketball team the Miami Heat, who play from November through April. The Florida Panthers of the National Hockey League play from October through April at the National Car Rental Center in neighboring Broward County. The excitement of Major League Soccer exists for the city in the form of the Miami Fusion, who play home games at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale.

The city of Miami is the site of the Orange Bowl Classic and Festival, which features the annual New Year's Day football game between two top-ranked collegiate teams. The University of Miami Hurricanes play their home basketball games in the Orange Bowl, while the Florida International University Golden Panthers play at the Golden Panther Arena.

Other popular spectator sports in the Miami area are horse and auto racing. Hialeah Park holds thoroughbred races year-round; Calder Race Course in Miami also offers thoroughbred racing. One of Miami's major sporting events is the Grand Prix of Miami, an annual, week-long auto race in the European tradition. Held at the Metro-Dade Homestead-Miami Speedway, the event attracts more sports car entries than any other auto racing event in the United States and is televised throughout the world. It also features the season opener of the PPG Indy Car World Series. Jai-alai is played year-round at the Miami Jai-Alai fronton. Those interested in other sports can choose among golf tournaments, greyhound races, horse shows, regattas, soccer matches, and tennis tournaments. Golf enthusiasts enjoy the Royal Caribbean International Golf Classic and the Genuity Golf Championship, while tennis fans gather for the Florida Caribbean Tennis Championships, the NASDAQ-100 Open, and the Ericsson Open.

Sports for the Participant

A complete range of outdoor activities is available year-round in Miami at numerous public and private facilities. Miami-Dade County offers more than 20 public golf courses. Nearly 500 tennis courts for day and evening play are located in many parks and recreation areas throughout Miami and the county; in addition, most hotels have their own tennis facilities.

The extensive public park system in the Miami area was called "one of the most innovative systems in the country" by the National Recreation and Parks Association. Of the more than 300 parks and nature centers, two are national parks: Everglades and Biscayne. Among the recreational activities that can be pursued in Miami's parks are picnicking, canoeing, boating, hiking, camping, fishing, swimming, basketball, softball, handball, racquetball, vita course trails, and 80 miles of Class I bike trails.

Water sports are pursued with great enthusiasm in Miami's ocean and bay. Most local dive shops offer lessons, certification courses, and dive trips for scuba and skin diving. Among the favorite diving spots are Haulover Park and Biscayne National Park. For surfing one can go to Haulover Beach in Sunny Isles and South Pointe in South Miami Beach. A popular place for windsurfing is Hobie Beach in Key Biscayne. Waterskiing schools, jumps, towing services, and ski boat rentals can be found along beaches and causeways throughout the Miami area. Many beach hotels also offer water sports equipment rental.

Fishing is another favorite pastime. A fresh water fishing license, obtainable at bait and tackle stores, is required for anyone between the ages of 15 and 65 years. The Florida Game and Fresh Water Commission publishes guides to fishing regions. In the Miami area the popular spots are Tamiami Canal, from west Miami along U.S. 41, which is noted for pan fish and bass; and Thompson Park fishing camp, a 29-acre campground near Hialeah, with three fishing lakes available only to campers. No license is required for salt water fishing, but minimum size and bag limits apply. Fishing piers are located at Haulover Park, Baker's Haulover Cut, and South Pointe. Full-service charter boats and party boats for deep sea fishing are available at area marinas. Annual events include the Mayor's Cup Billfish and Miami Billfish tournaments.

Shopping and Dining

In keeping with its international image, Miami offers a cosmopolitan shopping experience. Every kind of shopping facility is available in the area, from indoor and outdoor malls to elegant specialty boutiques. Virtually all famous high-end retailers and designers, including Chanel, Versace, Saks Fifth Avenue, Cartier, and Bloomingdale's, have a presence in the area.

Aventura Mall, located in the northern portion of Miami-Dade County, is the largest super-regional mall in south Florida. It contains 250 upscale shops and restaurants, as well as a 24-screen movie theater. The Village at Merrick Park, which opened in 2002, features 115 stores and restaurants in a natural environment complete with landscaped fountains, tropical foliage, and serene gardens. At the Downtown Miami Shopping District are more than 1,000 retail businesses, including the country's second-largest jewelry district. In Little Havana ethnic shops offer a variety of exotic items, from Cuban coffee and rum-soaked pastries to mantillas and furniture. The Falls, located on the southern edge of the city and anchored by Bloomingdale's and Macy's, sets its more than 100 shops among covered walkways, footbridges, and waterfalls. In Coconut Grove, CocoWalk shopping district resembles a European village. Bal Harbor Shops are in Miami Beach in an area called the Rodeo Drive of the South because of their exclusive stores and designer boutiques. Lincoln Road Shopping District, located in the Art Deco District of Miami Beach, was the first pedestrian-only shopping street in the United States. In trendy South Miami, The Shops at Sunset Place, an entertainment-shopping complex, has waterfalls, fountains, a grand staircase, and 35-foot Banyan trees.

Dadeland Mall features more than 185 specialty stores. Biscayne Bay's open-air Bayside Marketplace, on 20 acres of waterfront property at the north end of Bayside Park, has more than 100 shops that offer merchandise not ordinarily found in regional shopping areas. Just west of Miami Beach is the Miami Design District, comprised of 18 blocks of interior design showrooms and home furnishings and furniture stores that are open to the public.

With its expanding role in international trade, cuisine from every culture as well as local specialties can be found in a wide variety of dining establishments in Miami. Enhancing the ethnic diversity of Miami's dining possibilities are the more than 30 restaurants, supper clubs, and cafeterias in Little Havana.

Visitor Information: Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, 701 Brickell Ave., Ste. 2700, Miami, FL 33131; telephone (305)539-3000; toll-free (800)933-8448