Miami’s got the sun, sand and surf you’d expect from a tropical island, but with the art, food and nightlife that only big urban centres enjoy. It thrives almost as a nation unto itself – more than 60 per cent of the population speaks Spanish, and Cuban culture influences everything from politics to cocktails.

Miami’s Art Deco Historic District is one of the world’s largest concentrations of deco architecture. Around 1,200 period buildings line the streets around Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue. The Art Deco Welcome Center offers a 90-minute guided tour (; tour £12).

Miami has some of the best beaches in the USA, with white sand and turquoise water. The beaches are informally ‘zoned’ into areas with their own unique crowds, so everyone can enjoy them in their own way. The most famous is ‘SoBe’, South Beach, renowned for people-watching.

As SW 8th St heads away from downtown, it becomes Calle Ocho, and Little Havana, with a host of Cuban bars and shops. Visit on the last Friday of the month for Viernes Culturales, or Cultural Fridays, a street fair showcasing Latino musicians (; 7pm-11pm).

The Design District is home to dozens of art galleries and design showrooms. On the second Saturday of each month, there are evening gallery walks. Or drop into The Moore Space to catch the zeitgeist (00 1 786 543 7707;; 4040 NE 2nd Ave; 10am-5pm Wed-Sat; free).

An Italian Renaissance-style villa, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens has 70 rooms full of centuries-old furnishings and art. The formal gardens make for a gorgeous backdrop (00 1 305 250 9133;; 3251 S Miami Ave; 9.30am-4.30pm; £9).

Eat and drink
The 11th Street Diner is a classic art deco diner housed in a static Pullman train car. It sees round-the-clock activity, from breakfast to late-night snacks for people spilling out of the beachside clubs (00 1 305 534 6373;; 1065 Washington Ave; open 24 hours; mains from £5).

Tobacco Road has been around since the 1920s and has the oldest liquor licence in Miami-Dade County. It’s often the scene of impromptu jams by well-known guitar hounds. Be sure to fill up on the Classic Road Burger (00 1 305 374 1198;; 626 S Miami Ave; lunch and dinner; mains from £5).

Versailles is Miami’s most venerable Cuban restaurant, and a favourite with the city’s Latin political elite. It has cafeteria-style dining rooms where you can try roasted pork with special garlic mojo sauce (00 1 305 444 0240; 3555 SW 8th St; lunch, dinner and late night snacks; mains from £5).

Jerry’s Famous Deli does it all – from pastrami melts to Chinese chicken salad – and does it all day long. It also does it big, with huge portions (00 1 305 532 8030;; 1450 Collins Ave; open 24 hours; mains from £6).

There’s a good reason for the long queue at Joe’s Stone Crab Restaurant. Don a bib and find out why this is Miami’s most famous spot for fresh crab claws (001 305 673 0365;; 11 Washington Ave; lunch and dinner Tue-Sat, dinner Sun and Mon; mains from £10).

With décor that can only be classified as ‘brothel nouveau,’ the Whitelaw Hotel is a deco darling. From the cool black and white lobby and bar, proceed to hot-pink rooms with kitsch oversized bedheads and baroque furnishings (00 1 305 398 7000;; 808 Collins Ave; from £60).

Hotel St Michel has real old-world charm. Rooms are filled with period furniture and marble bathrooms have classic chrome fittings (00 1 305 444 1666;; 162 Alcazar Ave; from £90).

The name and art deco façade don’t hint at anything unusual, but the decorators went wild inside the Pelican. Rooms come in a variety of outré themes from the Best Whorehouse, with purple and silver wallpaper and red and gold trim, to the rigorously black and white Executive Zebra suite (00 1 305 673 3373;; 826 Ocean Dr; from £95).

The 1926 Biltmore is a National Historic Landmark. The grand Venetian styling makes for huge, elegant public rooms, while bedrooms have white-on-gold colour schemes and king-size beds. In the tropical garden, you’ll find the largest hotel pool in the country (00 1 305 445 1926;; 1200 Anastasia Ave; from £120).

Ian Schrager’s Delano epitomises Miami’s brash, glitzy style. The lobby, with its off-thescale furniture and billowing gossamer curtains, feels straight out of Alice in Wonderland. Relax in the rooftop spa or in the private poolside cabana. Or sip cocktails in the piano bar designed by Lenny Kravitz (00 1 305 672 2000;; 1685 Collins Ave; from £215).

Getting around
You can walk around the Art Deco District and South Beach. Further afield, Miami-Dade Transit runs the local Metrobus and Metrorail (£1.50 per trip), as well as the free Metromover monorail serving downtown (

When to go
December to February is high season, with warm, dry weather, kicking off in December with the huge Art Basel exhibition ( A good time to visit is March and April, when you’ll catch good weather and the Calle Ocho festival, the culmination of Miami’s carnival (

The article 'Mini guide to Miami, Florida' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.