Banish thoughts of Miami Vice or ‘God’s waiting room’. The Sunshine State’s most flamboyant city is rapidly changing and there’s more to discover than golden sand and neon nightclubs. Down-at-heel neighbourhoods are being revitalised, the art scene is spreading and with its variety of cultural influences from Latin to Caribbean, Miami has grown into a city full of fantastic food.
Miami’s makeover: shaking things up in the Sunshine State
Art in all shapes and sizes
Art Basel and its celebrity-studded parties have become a regular December fixture, but Miami is home to a thriving community of artists, designers and collectors and you can find art year round.
Wynwood, a decaying district in Miami’s midtown, has been transformed into an arty enclave. Warehouse walls were a blank canvas for local artists and now Wynwood Walls is one of the world’s largest collections of street art. Exhibition spaces range from impressive private galleries, such as the Rubell Family Collection and the Margulies Collection, to experimental pop ups. Every second Saturday, Wynwood Art Walk run gallery and graffiti tours.
The state-of-the-art Perez Art Museum Miami, opened in December 2013, showcasing contemporary art from the Americas, Western Europe and Africa. Then came the inauguration of Museum Park, the waterfront space overlooking Biscayne Bay in which PAMM is located, where the Frost Museum of Science will open in 2016.
Midtown’s Design District is home to the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami and the De La Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space and by the end of the year, the Paseo Ponti, will end in the public art-filled Paradise Plaza.
The glamorous island playground of Miami Beach also celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Its living museum of Art Deco design is best explored on foot, with a walking tour from the Miami Design Preservation League, or by bike.
Miami used to be all about down-at-heel diners and style-over-substance restaurants, but now there’s everything from hotel dining from star chefs to farm-to-fork restaurants and gourmet food trucks.
Miami's culinary revival began in the 1990s with the Mango Gang, four pioneering local chefs who were inspired by South Florida’s indigenous ingredients and mixed them up with Caribbean cooking to create Floribbean cuisine.
At the food trucks, taste Latin flavours in Colombian empanadas, Peruvian ceviche, Puerto Rican mofongo and doorstep-sized Cuban medianoches (slow-roasted pork sandwiches). Or you can feast off the tourist track at one of the ever-expanding range of down-to-earth restaurants.
There are also hundreds of hole-in-the-wall joints. A good way to uncover the best bites and get a real taste of Miami culture is to go on a foodie walkabout around South Beach, Little Havana or the Wynwood Arts District with Miami Culinary Tours.
For a locals' hotspot, try one of the ever-expanding range of Pubbelly restaurants created by three Miami chefs, including Pubbelly Sushi, PB Steak, the pop-up Taco Belly, or the original Pubbelly gastropub. The atmosphere is laidback, tables are communal and the food is great – wash it down with beer from a local microbrewery.
From mega-malls to independent shops, Miami has enough to satisfy the most ardent shopaholic.
The warehouses of midtown Miami, now converted into the Design District, see international luxury brands rub shoulders with galleries and restaurants from the world’s top chefs. Still under construction, by the end of 2016 there’ll be more than 200 retailers in this compact space.
For more haute design head to Bal Harbour Mall in North Miami Beach. Known as the ‘Shopping Hall of Fame’, it's home to all the top European designers; the open-air mall’s architecture is unmistakably 1950s Miami-Modern, or MiMo.
Another architectural gem is The Alchemist in Lincoln Road. The brainchild of a former fashion editor, this sixty-foot-high glass box perched on top of a garage is the place to shop for high-end labels.
The Webster’s exclusive collaborations with up-and-coming designers and regular events make it a fashionista's favourite. Also popular with A-listers and their stylists, C. Madeleine's Vintage Showroom is where gorgeous vintage gets reincarnated.
The city’s makeover also extends to its accommodation. Sleek, design-led hotels seem to open by the week, all paying homage to Miami’s rich architectural history.
Newcomers include the Metropolitan by COMO, its art deco lines complemented by Paola Navone interiors, a Bali-inspired COMO Shambhala Spa, a seafood-focused restaurant and a tranquil stretch of beachfront.
This year, the eco-conscious, 426-room 1 Hotel South Beach opened in a 1925 Art Deco building, channelling green-but-glam with reclaimed wood, living walls and hemp-filled mattresses, with farm-to-table food from Tom Colicchio and the city’s largest rooftop pool.
The Edition, a collaboration between Ian Schrager and Marriott Hotels, occupies a renovated 1950s landmark on Collins Avenue, where many of the 294 minimalist rooms and suites boast ocean views and you can try disco bowling downstairs.
And the 380-room beachfront Thompson Miami Beach set in a 1940s skyscraper captures the mid-century modern aesthetic with eclectic furnishings and colourful interiors.
In November, Faena’s reworking of the historic Saxony Hotel will include a cabaret theatre, an enormous spa and an Argentinian restaurant with an alfresco barbecue. While the Faena-owned boutique Casa Claridge’s offers accommodation in ornate Mediterranean Revival style.