48 hours in...Miami

From Art Deco architecture and a world-class arts scene to Latino food with a twist, the Sunshine State's sunniest city has it all
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The Independent Travel

Why go now?

Why go now?

The city has certainly come a long way since the Vice days of the Eighties. However, if unabashed luxury hotels and a burgeoning world-class arts scene aren't enough to tempt you, then the beaches and the Art Deco boutique hotels that originally put this city on the map almost certainly will. At the moment, though, it seems you can't move in this seaside city without a Four Seasons or a Ritz-Carlton popping up. After the thoroughly successful regeneration of South Beach's dilapidated Art Deco buildings into boutique hotels in the Nineties, the big luxury five-stars have been avidly following suit. And many of Miami's top hotels are cramming their foyers with priceless works of art as well as taking the lead of such high-flying international art festivals as Art Basel (now held annually here in December).

Get your bearings

Miami airport is seven miles west of Downtown. Taxis charge a flat rate from $26 (£14.50) for the 20-minute journey to South Beach. A much cheaper option is a door-to-door share taxi service with Super Shuttle (001 305 871 2000; www.supershuttle.com). It has fares of around $16 (£9) to South Beach.

The city of Miami is fragmented between the mainland and several barrier islands. This exotic sprawl is best negotiated by car. The main draw for most tourists is the beach scene: Miami Beach and its South Beach are on an isthmus just east of the Downtown area. But make time for the wilder beaches of Key Biscayne, five miles south, off the mainland. Just south of Downtown lies the Cuban enclave of Little Havana, the wealthy neighbourhoods of Coral Gables, and Coconut Grove south again from there. The Miami Convention and Visitor Bureau main office (001 305 539 3000; www.tropicoolmiami.com) is Downtown at 701 Brickell Ave.

Check in

The Sagamore (001 305 535 8088; www.sagamorehotel.com) 1671 Collins Ave, has a huge, rotating collection of contemporary art in the lobby - the sister hotel to New York's 60 Thompson could not be more exemplary of Miami's new status as a key city on the modern arts scene. The bedrooms are impeccably furnished and all have kitchens. Doubles start at $215 (£120), room only.

Also conveniently set at the central Collins Ave hub, The Kent, 1131 Collins Ave (001 305 04 5068; www.kenthotelsouthbeach.com) is a soothing Art Deco conversion with rooms from $163 (£90).

Set a block back from the beach, Century (001 305 674 8855; www.centurysouth-beach.com) at 140 Ocean Drive, is a work of art in itself. It was built by Henry Hohauser in 1939, and its Art Deco façade is one of the most postcard-perfect that South Beach has to offer. Needless to say, its interiors are minimalist and very stylish. Doubles are from $95 (£53) including breakfast.

Take a view

Miami's sparkling skyline is best appreciated from the tip of Key Biscayne. The bicycle paths and boardwalks of Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Recreation Area (001 305 361 5811; www.floridastateparks.org) offer superb views of Miami's pop-up skyline. Or climb the 118 steps to the top of the 1820s Cape Florida Lighthouse at the park's southern end. The park is open daily from 8am until dusk. Admission is $5 per car (£2.75).

Take a hike

...around South Beach's Art Deco district. Start at the Gallery Hotel at 444 Ocean Drive with a façade of bas-reliefs depicting tropical birds, plants and nudes. A little north on Ocean (at 640), the Park Central hotel was also designed by Hohauser, the father of Miami's Art Deco Design Movement. The neon sign at Hotel Colony (736 Ocean) often appears as a characteristic Miami movie shot, while nautical themes can be seen in the Waldorf Towers' ornamental lighthouse, next door. Ditto the central towers at the Breakwater Hotel (at 900 Ocean), which look like ships' funnels. Over on Collins Avenue, the pinnacles of the Tiffany (at 801) and Hotel Kent (at 1131) stand jewelled head and shoulders above the rest of the area. Finish up at Hotel Marlin, its façade one of the finest of Tropical Deco.

Lunch on the run

Make it a liquid one. Miami's Cuban coffee will knock your socks off. You can pick up a café Cubano on most street corners from walk-up windows for around $1 (55p). It's strong and sweet and served in tiny plastic cups. The syrupy shot is called a cafecito; with a splash of milk it becomes a cortadito. In Little Havana, El Pub 1548 SW 8th St, at SW 15th Ave (001 305 642 9942), whose motto is "Where the Cuba of yesterday lives today" is a traditional diner. From the blue-fringed counter window you can grab a sandwich and coffee to go.

Cultural afternoon

Around half of Miami's population is Latin American. So head for the Museum of Hispanic & Latin American Art (001 305 644 1127; www.latinartmuseum.org) to get an insight into their culture. The museum is open from Tuesday to Friday 11am-5pm and Saturday 11am-4pm Saturday. Admission is free.

Window shopping

Take your plastic to Bal Harbour Shops. This open-air "mall" has carps gliding about in the ponds and orchid-dressed palm trees stretching up above the top floor. Tiffany & Co, Channel, Cartier and Saks 5th Avenue are just a few of the permanent residents. By contrast, the "surf" shops along Washington Avenue (between 5th and Lincoln) are great places to buy cheap and cheerful beach gear. Miami Surf Style (at 1051) has bikinis and trunks from around $15 (£8). But if you really want to fill up your suitcase, drive out to the populist Dade-Land Mall at 7535 North Kendall Drive. Here you'll find all the affordable American chains, with everything from Target to JC Penny, Lord and Taylor to Macy's.

An aperitif

Pre-prandial cocktails should be taken at the supremely funky hotel bars around Collins and 16th Streets. Don't miss the indoor Rose Bar and outdoor poolside bar at Ian Schrager's pioneering Delano Hotel; or the Sky Bar at the even more achingly trendy Shores Club next door.

Dining with the locals

Dishes like "panella" and "empanada" will be familiar to Latino food lovers. But at newcomer restaurant Ola (001 305 758 9195) at 5061 Biscayne Boulevard, these rustic dishes get a decadent lift. Go for one of the $31-$50 (£17-£28) menus for four courses with wine.

Into the night

For an authentic Cuban émigré experience, visit Hoy Como Ayer's smoky den on 2212 SW 8th Street, Little Havana (001 305 541 2631; www.hoycomoayer.net). It opens 9pm-3am, Thurs-Sun, with shows on Friday and Saturday at 10.30pm.

Sunday morning, go to church

Our Lady of Charity Shrine or Ermita de la Caridad at 3609 S Miami Ave (001 305 854 3404) is in a peaceful spot by Biscayne Bay. It was built in 1966 to honour Cuba's Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre (Virgin of Charity) - a statue of Mary brought from Cuba.

Out to brunch

The Big Pink, at 157 Collins Avenue (001 305 532 4700), is a Miami institution as much for its all-day breakfasts (such as the breakfast burrito) as for its late-night eats. Main dishes are from around $12.50 (£7)

A walk in the park

The largest Botanical Gardens in the US, the Fairchild Tropical Garden (001 305 667 1651; www.fairchildgarden.org) has 83 acres of palms and other exotic fronds. From Miami, the drive here through Coral Gables offers great views of some fine old Florida mansions. Open daily, admission is $10 (£5.50).

Take a ride

Take one of Miami's little-used water taxis (001 954 467 6677; www.watertaxi.com) connecting the mainland to the beaches. For example, a trip from Bayside Marketplace to 5th Street Marina in South Beach costs $7 (£4) one-way.

The icing on the cake

The Everglades National Park (001 305 2427700, www.nps.gov/ever) is less than two hours' drive from Miami. This wetland park is home to flamingos, alligators and some 300 species of birds. The main entrance and Park Waters are open daily, 24 hours; the Shark Valley entrance is open daily, 8.30am-6pm. Admission costs $10 (£5.30) per car.