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Each person you ask to describe Miami will give you a different answer. It is at once a vacation spot and a refugee camp, a 24-hour party and a secluded desert island, a fashion center and a retirement community. The citys astounding cultural diversity is apparent from the moment you set foot in it and hear the rise and fall of a dozen different languages being spoken simultaneously. It becomes more apparent as you wander through the many different districts which make up Greater Miami.

Miami Beach
When talking about Miami, the Beach is the best place to start. In the 1940s, when vacationers began to arrive, Miami Beach was the center of action. Although years have passed and times have changed, the Beach remains a perennial hot spot. Enormous luxury resorts such as the Fontainebleau and the Eden Roc rise majestically against the skyline. Shops and restaurants line the streets. And who could forget the miles of white sand beach?

South Beach
Once the home of retired citizens and starving artists, South Beach has risen in the last 10 years to international fame as a vacation destination. Every block is packed with restaurants, bars, shops, and--of course--dance clubs, each more glamorous, trendy, and cutting-edge than the last. One could spend days ambling through South Beach, taking in the sights and sounds. Take a walking tour along Ocean Drive or down Lincoln Road, where the beautiful people come out to play. Whether its three in the morning or three in the afternoon, theres bound to be plenty to do.

Bal Harbour
Located on the northern end of Miami Beach, Bal Harbour is the most exclusive neighborhood in Greater Miami. Luxury resorts sit serenely amid the lush foliage and palatial homes. No visit to this district is complete--or even begun--without a visit to the Bal Harbour Shops. Versace, Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Prada are just a few of the fashion houses that have retail outlets in this shopping center. Plenty of fine dining can be found in Bal Harbour--you'll have a harder time finding fast food.

Downtown Miami
Although primarily a business district, theres lots to see and do downtown. Tour the design district between NorthEast 36th and 41st Streets, or check out the museums in the Miami-Dade Cultural Center. Shoppers will delight in the Bayside Marketplace, with its retail shops, an open-air crafts market, a half dozen restaurants, and a pier. The Port of Miami is just next to Bayside; its easy to find a boat to take you on a tour around the bay.

Coral Gables
Coral Gables is a gated enclave crisscrossed by canals, just a few minutes' drive from Downtown Miami. This small, tree-lined village is home to many of Miami's most famous attractions, including the Biltmore Hotel,The Venetian Pool and the Miracle Mile. Excellent shopping and dining can be found on the Miracle Mile as well as on the side streets surrounding it.

Coconut Grove
Although this bustling district is one of the oldest in Miami, it seems to just be hitting its prime. Full of energy and creativity, the Grove is as busy as South Beach, but in a different way. Instead of attracting models and body builders, it draws in artists, writers, and patrons of the arts. There are hundreds of fabulous shops and restaurants crammed within this small area, most of them located on the CocoWalk or on the Streets of Mayfair. The Coconut Grove Playhouse is one of the best live theater venues in the southeastern United States.

Key Biscayne
Its located just over the Rickenbacker Causeway, but it might as well be a thousand miles away. Things are different on this peaceful tropical island. The pace slows down. People are friendly and matter of fact. If the marvelous white sand beaches and varied leisure sports aren't enough reason to go, consider the prospect of kissing a dolphin at the Miami Seaquarium.

Little Havana
This area is located west of Brickell Avenue, and runs along the thoroughfare known as Calle Ocho (SouthWest Eighth Street). Many refugees from Cuba have settled here, along with natives of Colombia, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, and other Latin American countries. It is in this district that you can hear authentic salsa music, enjoy a full meal of Cuban food for under $5, or try a steaming cup of shockingly strong café cubano in an outdoor cafe.

West Miami
West Miami is a quieter, more residential area. It is very spread out and almost impossible to sightsee without a car. Hialeah and Miami Lakes, two residential communities, are located in this area. Major tourist destinations include the Miami International Airport and the race tracks at Hialeah Park.

North Miami/Aventura
While it may be slightly out of the way, Aventura is easy to reach even without a car, thanks to the shuttle busses that run regularly from the major downtown hotels to the Aventura Mall. The mall is well worth a day trip, as it boasts over 250 shops, restaurants, and attractions. This district is also home to dozens of excellent restaurants, many of them specializing in "Floribbean" cuisine.

Broward County
While Broward County is not officially a part of Miami, it might as well be--its less than a half hour away. The thriving art community of Hollywood, the outlets at Sawgrass Mills and, last but not least, the decadent little town of Fort Lauderdale--official Spring Break destination of a million college students--are a few possible destinations in Broward. The pace is slightly more relaxed than in Miami, but people are here to have fun, make no mistake about it. Enjoy the shops on Las Olas, or dine in a restaurant that has its own private boat dock for guests traveling by water.

Lena Katz

Suggested Links
Are You Ready To Travel - Miami Hotels
Totally Travel: Miami Hotels
Metro Explorer Miami

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