Miami

World Facts Index > United States > Miami

Each person you ask to describe Miami will give you a different answer. It is at once a vacation spot and a refugee camp, a 24-hour party and a secluded desert island, a fashion center and a retirement community. The city's astounding cultural diversity is apparent from the moment you set foot in it and hear the rise and fall of a dozen different languages being spoken simultaneously. It becomes more apparent as you wander through the many different districts which make up Greater Miami.

Miami Beach
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 action. Although years have passed and times have changed, the Beach remains a perennial hot spot. Enormous luxury resorts such as the Fontainebleau and the Eden Roc rise majestically against the skyline. Shops and restaurants line the streets. And who could forget the miles of white sand beach?

South Beach
Once the home of retired citizens and starving artists, South Beach has risen in the last 10 years to international fame as a vacation destination. Every block is packed with restaurants, bars, shops, and--of course--dance clubs, each more glamorous, trendy, and cutting-edge than the last. One could spend days ambling through South Beach, taking in the sights and sounds. 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's bound to be plenty to do.

Bal Harbour
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--you'll have a harder time finding fast food.

Downtown Miami
Although primarily a business district, there's lots to see and do downtown. Tour the design district between NorthEast 36th and 41st Streets, or check out the museums in the Miami-Dade Cultural Center. Shoppers will delight in the Bayside Marketplace, with its retail shops, an open-air crafts market, a half dozen restaurants, and a pier. The Port of Miami is just next to Bayside; it's easy to find a boat to take you on a tour around the bay.

Coral Gables
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,The Venetian Pool and the Miracle Mile. Excellent shopping and dining can be found on the Miracle Mile as well as on the side streets surrounding it.

Coconut Grove
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.

Key Biscayne
It's located just over the Rickenbacker Causeway, but it might as well be a thousand 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.

Little Havana
This area is located west of Brickell Avenue, and runs along the thoroughfare known as Calle Ocho (SouthWest Eighth Street). Many 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 hear authentic salsa music, enjoy a full meal of Cuban food for under $5, or try a steaming cup of shockingly strong caf茅 cubano in an outdoor cafe.

West Miami
West Miami is a quieter, more residential area. It is very spread out and almost impossible to sightsee without a car. Hialeah and Miami Lakes, two residential communities, are located in this area. Major tourist destinations include the Miami International Airport and the race tracks at Hialeah Park.

North Miami/Aventura
While it may be slightly out of the way, Aventura is easy to reach even without a car, thanks to the shuttle busses 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.

Broward County
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 town of Fort Lauderdale--official Spring Break destination of a million college students--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.

History of Miami

Driving down the 395 from Miami Beach, one can only gaze in wonder at the downtown skyline set against the tropical waters and blue skies. It's amazing to think that merely 100 years ago, the area was dominated by swampland vegetation and mosquitoes. In such a short period of time, the city has emerged as a major cosmopolitan center for international business, tourism, fashion, and nightlife.

Long before the trendy street cafes of the Grove or the pastel buildings of the Art Deco district existed, the Tequesta Indians lived here for an estimated 2,000 years. The Spanish built a mission here in 1567, when the area was known as 'Mayaimi,' but it remained secluded and generally inactive until the American acquisition of Florida in 1821. Hundreds of pioneers settled the region around the Miami River, but growth was stymied by the lack of a speedy and efficient land route north.

Motivated either by a vision of the region's potential or simply by a desire for civilization, settler Julia Tuttle convinced magnate Henry Flagler to extend the route of the railroad he was building. In 1896, the completion of the Florida East Coast Railroad opened Miami to the rest of the United States, and marked the birth of a new city.

Flagler opened one of Miami's first luxury hotels, the Royal Palm, and its success inspired others to join him. In the 1910s, John S. Collins and Carl F. Fisher collaborated on an ambitious real estate project that transformed a mangrove swamp into present-day Miami Beach. A decade later, George E. Merrick developed the well-planned residential area of Coral Gables with its plazas, fountains, Spanish street names carved on white stones, broad boulevards, and shady oak trees. To complement the residential developments, Merrick created the elegant Biltmore Hotel, elaborately designed in a Mediterranean style.

Other individuals decided to apply their investments to their personal estates. James Deering built his exquisite 16th Century Italian Villa Vizcaya by the bay and filled the architectural masterpiece with a collection of art works.

The 1920s are widely associated with extravagant spending and ostentatious lifestyles. With the sudden property boom and influx of investment capital, Miami was in full swing in this era of abundance. Its population burgeoned, and the Art Deco movement brought a unique flavor to Miami Beach. But just as Miami began to enjoy this prosperity, the Depression and two devastating hurricanes temporarily halted progress.

In the 1940s, Miami became home for soldiers living in the city's military training camps. Always known for attracting a diverse blend of people, Miami also became the residence of the outlaw Al Capone. In the 1950s, the tourism industry continued to grow. The white sandy beaches and warm climate provided the perfect setting for winter vacations. But Miami was still mainly a tourist playground, and had yet to reach its full potential as a metropolis.

The mass Cuban immigration following Castro's 1959 revolution has been greatly responsible for Miami's growth since then as an area of international business and commerce. The first wave of political exiles included many educated professionals with a desire to apply their knowledge and skills to the city's growth. The Cuban community developed their own economic and social enclave, and fostered ties to the Latin American market. International business took Miami's downtown by storm as the city rapidly grew into more than just a tourist town.

As with any big city, Miami began to experience problems in its transitional growth. Crime rose tremendously in the 1980s. Race relations grew tense, riots broke out, and the historic Art Deco district in South Beach was left to deteriorate. But crime is now down and restoration projects abound.

Miami has come a long way since the days of Julia Tuttle and Henry Flagler. As the gateway to Latin America, Miami serves as the headquarters for many international companies and as home to the leading Spanish-language media in the United States. South Beach has become one of the country's hottest hubs of style, fashion, and nightlife. The ethnically diverse city continues to attract a multitude of cultures. Miami is truly unique--a tropical paradise with an interesting history, a diverse population, and a 'not quite in the United States' feel.

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