10 Must-Visit Miami Attractions

Sip a mojito, snag some sun and kick back with the 10 finest beaches, museums and nightspots in beautiful Miami.

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1. Deco District

SoBe's Art Deco District consists of some 800 preserved buildings, the cream of them along Ocean Drive. This splendid array of structures embodies Miami's unique interpretation of the Art Deco style, which took the world by storm in the 1920s and 1930s. Florida's take on it is often called Tropical Deco, which befits the fun-and-sun approach to life. Often hotels were made to look like ocean liners (Nautical Moderen) or given the iconography of speed (Streamline Moderne).

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2. SoBe Life

The nickname for Miami's beautiful South Beach was inspired by Manhattan's SoHo, and it's become every bit as fashionable and hip as its New York counterpart. Now the "American Riviera" is an ebullient mix of beach life, club-crawling, lounge-lizarding and alter-native chic, attracting devotees from around the globe. Yet, SoBe's modern posh character is also nicely blended with just the right amount of tacky kitsch and downright sleaze.

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3. Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

A trumped-up pastiche it may be, but Vizcaya Museum is undeniably grand and glorious, with the authentic feel of a European-inspired mansion. Which is exactly what its makers, industrial magnate James Deering, designer Paul Chalfin, and architect F. Burrall Hoffman, intended when they built it in the early 1900s. Embodying a 400-year range of styles, both the genuine and ersatz have been skillfully assembled to evoke another culture, another continent and another age.

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4. Gold Coast Highway A1A

The very best way to get a feel for the quality of life along the Gold Coast is to take a leisurely drive north of A1A. The road hugs the beach almost all the way and passes through some of the most beautiful natural settings and some of the wealthiest communities in the U.S. The 50-mile (80-km) route can be traversed in a day, but it's worth spending more time to take in the local colour, from tropical nature preserves to fabulous mansions, all within sight of the sugary blond sands and the azure Atlantic.

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5. Calle Ocho, Little Havana

Cubans live all over South Florida, but Little Havana has been their surrogate homeland since they first started fleeing Cuba in the 1960s. Don't expect much in the way of sights in this district - your time here is most profitably spent out in the streets, soaking up the atmosphere. The heart of the area is Southwest 8th Street, better known by its Spanish name, Calle Ocho. Its liveliest stretch, between SW 11th and SW 17th avenues, is best enjoyed on foot, but other points of interest are more easily reached by car.

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6. Key West

First recorded by Spanish explorers in 1513, this tiny island (key), just two miles by four (3.2x6.4 km) has changed in status from a pirates' den to the most prosperous city per capita in the US. Always attracting free-thinkers, eccentrics and misfits, Key West has a uniquely oddball character that is still apparent despite the upscale tourism that has developed since the 1990s. The self-named Conch ("conk") inhabitants include may writers, artists and New-Agers.

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7. The Everglades

One of the planet's most fascinating ecosystems, the Everglades is a vast, shallow river system of swamps and wetlands, whose waters can take a year or more to meander from the Kissimmee River, northwest of Miami, into the Florida Bay. At least 45 plant varieties grow here that are found nowhere else on Earth. It is also home to over 350 kinds of birds, 500 types of fish and dozens of reptile and mammal species.

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8. Merrick's Coral Gables Fantasies

Coral Gables, one of the country's richest neighbourhoods, is a separate city within Greater Miami, and feels it. Aptly described as the City Beautiful, its swanky homes line avenues shaded by giant banyans and oak, backing up to hidden canals. Regulations ensure that new buildings use the same architectural vocabularly advocated by George Merrick when he planned the community in the 1920s. Merrick's taste sometime ran to the Disneyesque, but undeniably he created a wonderland of a place that has not lost its aesthetic impact.

(Photo courtesy of The Miami Story/Flickr)

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9. Lowe Art Museum

Founded in 1950, the Lowe was built in 1950-52 thanks to a donation from philathropists Joe and Emily Lowe, and it has since become Miami's premier art museum. More than 17,500 pieces showcase many of the world's most important artistic traditions. Collectors keep on donating works so that even more expansion to the galleries is now necessary to display them all. Nevertheless, the most significant works are always on display, unless on loan to other museums.

(Photo courtesy of Adrian Salgado/Flickr)

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10. The Wolfsonian - FIU

Strangely, the museum began life in the 1920s as the Washington Storage Company - Miami's wealthier winter residents used to store their valuables here when they were away. Evnetually, in 1986, one Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. decided to buy it outright as a home for his vast assemblage of the rich detritus of modernity. It opened to the public in 1995. Approximately 200,000 objects include decorative and propaganda art, furniture and more.

(Photo courtesy of Steve Goddard/Flickr)

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