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Miami - United States
Miami's cultural diversity is apparent from the moment you set foot on its soil and hear the rise and fall of a dozen different languages being spoken. It is an easygoing beach town, a refugee camp, and a 24-hour party all at once.
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 the action. Although years have passed and times have changed, the beach remains a perennial hot spot. Enormous luxury resorts such as Fontainebleau and Eden Roc rise majestically against the skyline. Shops and restaurants line the streets, and who could forget the miles of white sand beach?
Once home to a number of retired citizens and starving artists, South Beach has now risen to international fame as a popular vacation destination. Every block is packed with restaurants, bars, shops, and - of course - dance clubs, each trendier, more glamorous and cutting-edge than the last. One could spend days soaking in the sights and sounds of South Beach. Take a walking tour along Ocean Drive or down Lincoln Road, where the beautiful people come out to play. Whether it's three in the morning or three in the afternoon, there is bound to be plenty to do.
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. (If you're on a budget, this isn't the place to dine or shop!)
Although primarily a business district, there's a lot to see and do downtown. Tour the design district between Northeast 36th and 41st Streets, or check out the museums in the Metro-Dade Cultural Center. Shoppers will delight in the Bayside Marketplace with its retail shops, open-air crafts market, half-dozen restaurants and pier. The Port of Miami is next to Bayside, where you can easily find a boat to take you on a tour around the bay.
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, Venetian Pool and Miracle Mile. Excellent shopping and dining can be found on the Miracle Mile as well as on the side streets surrounding it.
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.
Though located just over the Rickenbacker Causeway, Key Biscayne might as well be 1000 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!
This area is located west of Brickell Avenue and runs along the thoroughfare known as Calle Ocho (Southwest 8th Street). Many immigrants and 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 enjoy authentic salsa music, indulge in a complete Cuban meal that's light on your wallet, or try a steaming cup of shockingly strong café cubano in an outdoor cafe.
West Miami is a quieter, more residential area. It's spread out and almost impossible to sightsee without a car. Hialeah and Miami Lakes, two residential communities, are located in this area. Miami International Airport is also situated here along with Hialeah Park Racetrack.
While it may be slightly out of the way, Aventura is easy to reach even without a car, thanks to the shuttle buses 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.
While Broward County is not officially a part of Miami, it might as well be — it's 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 city of Fort Lauderdale 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.