Miami, once merely a farming and fishing village, is today one of the world’s foremost resort cities whose development has come largely during the 20th century. The city has grown from just over 300 people in the late 1800s to the 5.5 million people who now reside in the Greater Miami area. Metropolitan Miami encompasses suburbs and municipalities like Miami Beach, Virginia Key, Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, and the Key Biscayne islands. The majority of residents are Latino, making up an estimated 66% of the population whereas non-Hispanic whites comprise only about 12% and African Americans 22% of the total. The Hispanic community in Miami is predominantly from Cuba while the remainder are from Central American countries like Nicaragua, Haiti, El Salvador, and Panama, and South American countries like Colombia, most of them economic and political refugees.
The ethnic make up of Miami causes considerable tension as a result of the clash of differing cultures, which may be one of the reasons attributed to the crime that plagues the city. Nevertheless, Miami ranks high in other quality of life criteria such as education, health care, public transportation, recreation, and climate.
Each year, Miami attracts millions of people. Its airport is not only the second busiest in the nation, but its port is considered the capital of the world for cruise ships, ushering in more than three million cruise passengers annually. Chief among the reasons why Miami is so popular among tourists is its tropical climate, which never dips below an average monthly temperature of 64ºF (17ºC) even in the dead of winter.
Miami is loaded with sights and attractions. The best place to start the sightseeing is in downtown, where the commercial and financial heart of the city is located. Virginia Key also has some notable attractions and can be reached by taking the Rickenbacker Causeway from the mainland and crossing the Biscayne Bay. The key offers beaches, parks, and swimming and sports facilities. You’ll also find remnants of the mangrove swamp that used to fill Miami Beach in the north.
If you do not have a lot of time, the best way to size up Miami is to hop onto the Old Town Trolley, which typically offers a two-hour tour of different places in Miami with the aid of a commentator.
You can also take a half-day cruise or a full-day cruise that leaves from the Port of Miami. There is an eclectic range of cruises including dinner cruises and full-day cruises to the Bahamas.
Center for Fine Arts
In downtown, you’ll find the Center for Fine Arts at 101 West Flagler Street, which is an exhibition of national and international paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, and photography.
Historical Museum of Southern Florida
The Historical Museum of Southern Florida retraces the history of the region. Located at 101 West Flagler Street, it occupies the same complex that houses the Center for Fine Arts. The museum exhibits displays that depict the Native American way of life and the lifestyles of the early 19th century pioneers. There are also film shows that trace Miami’s transformation from a community to a major city.
Miami Museum of Science and Space Transit Planetarium
The Miami Museum of Science and Space Transit Planetarium at 3280 South Miami Avenue has more than 100 hands-on displays and interactive exhibits devoted to the human anatomy, biology, and natural sciences. There are also live scientific experiments conducted. Some displays employ advanced computer technology. One of the highlights is the Animal Exploratorium, which features rare specimens of natural history. The domed-planetarium holds laser and astronomy shows and offers star gazing in the evening at the Weintraub Observatory.
The H.M.S. Bounty is located in the Bayside Marketplace at 401 Biscayne Boulevard. It is a replica of the 18th century ship, which was used in the movie, Mutiny on the Bounty.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens at 3251 South Miami Avenue features paintings, antiques, and Oriental decorations in the interior of an Italian Renaissance villa. The Vizcaya is considered one of the most beautiful series of gardens and fountains in the country. It is laid out in English and French style surrounding a villa.
Planet Ocean at 3979 Rickenbacker Causeway in Virginia Key is the largest marine science museum in the world. You’ll find simulated hurricanes, icebergs on displays, and even the “April Fool”, the smallest sailing vessel to ever cross the Atlantic ocean.
The Miami Seaquarium at 400 Rickenbacker Causeway in Virginia Key features regularly scheduled dolphin shows, highlighted by a performing killer whale. There is also a shark pool and tanks with sea lions and other sea creatures.
Miami offers a variety of sports. The city is most fanatical about football. Fans can watch the Miami Dolphins play their NFL opponents on Sundays from September to January. Basketball fans can watch the Miami Heat play from November to April.
There are also more than 35 public golf courses in the Greater Miami area, including the Country Club of Miami, which is located at 6801 Northwest 186th Street, and the Fontainebleau Golf Course, which is located at 9603 Fontainebleau Boulevard.
You can also arrange with tour operators to go on fishing trips, or otherwise rent sailing boats, scuba diving equipment, windsurfing equipment, or jet skis and enjoy a nice afternoon of water recreational fun.
Miami is known for its lively nightlife, the best of which occur in downtown Miami and Little Havana. Many of the bars and clubs feature great tropical drinks to the tune of Latin jazz and marengue music. You can also find digs in Little Havana that offer flamenco dancing.
The Miami area was first settled by Richard Fitzpatrick, a Carolina planter who brought slaves over to work the banks of the Miami River in 1826. In 1842, the British saw the potential of Miami as a port and began establishing a village at the mouth of the Miami River, offering homesteads to people in England willing to come over. The population of Miami grew until the Third Seminole War erupted in 1855; it was the third installment of a long war between the Americans and the Seminole Indians.
During the Civil War, while Miami was a haven for deserters, spies, and blockade runners, it did not see any battle action. After the war, several agricultural communities were developed around Miami and a trading post was also set up to assist trade with the local Indians.
The city, however, did not blossom until the arrival of the Florida East Coast Railway link. Julia Turtle, a wealthy widow, moved to Miami in 1875 and began her persistent efforts at persuading Henry Flagler to extend a link to Miami. She even tried to bribe him with 300 acres of free land. Flagler was refused until a freak event occurred, the Great Freeze of 1895. This wiped out almost all of the state’s citrus crop except in the Miami area. Mrs. Turtle took the opportunity to send Flagler a basket of Miami oranges and Flagler, realizing the dependability of Miami’s climate, finally decided to extend his railroad. In 1896, the railway reached the city and soon afterwards, developers began constructing condominiums and hotels. A real estate and population boom ensued and the wealthy began moving into Miami and building fancy homes and private palaces overlooking the Biscayne Bay. In 1920, planter John S. Collins and his business partner Carl Fisher purchased almost the entire mangrove island off the Miami Coast, drained it, and then transformed it into Miami Beach. Instantly, it became a tourist destination in the 1920s for thousands of tourists looking to escape winter.
During the Great Depression, development of Miami continued at a modest pace. The exclusive Coral Gables was established and Miami Springs was developed into a trendy resort for winter vacationers. Miami Beach became packed with newly constructed Art Deco hotels along its beachfront. With close to a million tourists visiting every winter, Miami expanded significantly to accommodate travelers and the city sprawled uncontrollably.
Between 1959 and 1962, Miami received more than half a million refugees from Cuba as a result of the Cuban revolution. The character of the city changed substantially. Miami’s architecture, music, food, media, politics, and language were all affected by the new residents. Many of them were entrepreneurs in Cuba who fled as a result of Castro’s nationalization of property, and so they brought their business savvy with them to Miami, helping it transform into a major financial center in the U.S. Miami’s unrivalled airline connections to South America and the Caribbean also made it a popular headquarters for multinational corporations from Latin America, making the city a haven of banks and insurance companies.
Today, Miami remains an economically important hub of the southeast and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the U.S. It is also plagued by drug wars, illegal immigration, money laundering, corruption, and the occasional natural disaster like Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which caused more than $20 billion in damage.
Carroll, Donald. Insider’s Guide Florida, 2nd Edition. Edison: Hunter Publishing, Inc., 1995. ISBN: 1556504527.
“Miami.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miami>
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