Cuban food, Latin American culture, babe-filled beaches, and models, lots and lots of models — Miami is a great melting pot of all types who find themselves on the suntanned shores of the Gold Coast in search of a good time.

It is the antidote to Mickey Mouse and the gated communities and pink stucco that south Florida replicates in robotic fashion. The city suffered from the recession-and-foreclosure cyclone that shook Florida, but that means it is a better bargain than it has been in years. It is also definitely a year-round destination, so the longer you spend there, the better.

What is it known for?
The rhythm is gonna get you here. Just a wander up Lincoln Road on South Beach and a quick cortadito espresso from David's Café on Collins Avenue is all you need to get in the mood. Miami is a party town for all sorts of visitors, and not that just the kind that arrive in a speed boat, Miami Vice-style. South Beach is usually what comes to mind, with Art Deco- buildings turned into boutique-hotel paradise and the gorgeous bodies on the beach by day, stalking hotel lobbies like towering herds of giraffes in their stilettos at night. But Miami is also Florida's cultural centre: the art world descends every December for Art Basel Miami Beach and the New World Symphony's new home designed by Frank Gehry, and its SoundScape Park, where passersbys can watch "wallcasts" of concerts in the hall, has garnered rave reviews from architects, music critics and everyone in between.

Miami has had a recent uptick in its fashion cred with boutiques like The Webster (opened by a founder of the concept store Colette in Paris), the raft of pop-up stores, and the mid-century furniture stores in the Design District. There is a well-established Cuban population that has been joined by many Central American and South American groups, making it one of the best places for vaca frita, grilled corn and everything in between. Miami is also near one of the world's greatest wetlands, the Everglades. Head west on the Tamiami Trail and soon you will be in gator country, where fan boats push tourists across the water and those bumps on a log have lots of teeth.

Where do you want to live?
Not surprisingly, many buyers and renters want to be near the beach, particularly South Beach for its great nightlife, restaurants and 24-hour action. Development has stretched northward to North Miami Beach, Sunny Isles and even Aventura, and prices are good. "Miami is on sale," said Jack H. Levine, chairman of the Miami Association of Realtors. "We are on pace for a record year in transactions, better than the peak year of 2005. But in terms of price point, we are at 50 percent lower than 2005." Across the Intracoastal near downtown Miami, the boom-time condos and high-rises in the Brickell area offer lower prices in a good location near the business district and great views of Biscayne Bay. Downtown Miami has gotten a lot more residential, giving it the 24-hour life it previously lacked. The Design District and Wynwood have been gentrifying and there are plans on the drawing board for condo development that are slowing coming back online after the housing market bottom fell out in 2008.

House hunters should like Spanish-style architecture with white or yellow stucco and red tiles. Coconut Grove is south of downtown, with wide, shaded streets and a laidback vibe that make it a permanently popular location with buyers. Nearby Coral Gables is a similar story.

Side trips
The Everglades are a great day trip, as is a drive down to the most northern islands of the Florida Keys or up to the Japanese Gardens of the Morikami Museum in Delray Beach. For a weekend, the rest of the Keys are a draw: Key Largo, Islamorada, and of course, Key West, the delightfully unique and charming pinky toe of America. With multiple daily flights from Miami International Airport, the Caribbean islands make popular getaways, as does much of South America.

Miami and nearby Fort Lauderdale are the great cruise ports, leaving for points south, and Orlando is a few hours north. There are great beaches up and down the west coast, on the Gulf of Mexico, where pods of dolphins ride along playfully with jet skiers.

Practical info
Sales have hit a record high, but prices remain very low. And many foreign buyers are taking advantage of the depressed prices. "About 60 percent of the buyers are international," said Levine. "They are from South America, Europe and Canada." And lots of them pay cash, so they avoid the glacial financing process - a boon to sellers in financial hot water. Brazil is the top foreign market investing in Miami currently, and real estate agents are travelling there and to countries like Venezuela to entice buyers up north. Miami's stable community makes it an attractive option for those who experience political and financial turmoil in Latin America.

Condos are still the best option for a second or third home, or as a rental investment, and, at an average of $97,000, they are going fast. "The 'over-built' condos in Biscayne and Brickell - there were 20,000 units built - have 85 percent occupancy," said Levine. "They are a mix of rentals and owner occupied." In fact, the rental market is so hot right now that it can be tight to find one. Many people who lost their homes due to foreclosure have swelled the rental pool and that sucked up additional inventory.

"Distressed" properties and short sales make up about 70% of sales, and the farther inland you go away from Miami, the cheaper they are. But as splashy condo buildings like the Vizcayne downtown throw launch parties and a unit at Apogee on South Beach goes for $11.5 million, it looks like the good times may be rolling once more.

Further reading
Miami New Times: Local blogs, city coverage and cultural calendar
: Clubs, restaurants, events, gay and lesbian scene
Eater Miami
: From new restaurants to the best food trucks
Flavorpill Miami
: Culture, events and reviews