Rediscovering Miami: Street art, glass gardens, luxury condos and more

Home to internationally acclaimed #artbasel, Miami has become an art-centric city, with galleries, outdoor exhibits, exotic tropical gardens and skylines rising to the occasion.

Returning to Miami two years after moving away, I’ve rediscovered this vibrant city in a new way.  No longer consumed by the daily grind, I have ventured beyond my customary boundaries to experience the “magic city” as a tourist.

Serving as home to one of three internationally acclaimed Art Basel shows, Miami has become art-centric.  Art is everywhere.  From the mixed media and photo exhibits of pedestrian walkways at Miami International Airport, to the sleek luxury towers and bridges downtown, decorative and visual displays abound.  Galleries have mushroomed in areas that were once dismissed as undesirable, and museums have debuted, breathing new life into this culturally diverse tourist mecca.  Similarly, Miami’s skyline has risen to the occasion, offering architectural inspirations from across the world.

Unlike the Miami I grew up in, the city now offers pedestrian-friendly venues like the Wynwood Arts District, where street art and graffiti that adorn warehouses and sidewalks lead to the “Walls” and “Doors” created by renowned artists like Fafi and Chris Ellis, a.k.a. Daze.   Walking through the courtyards of this eclectic assortment of murals and facades is an interactive experience, and getting close and personal with the art is prescribed.  Ron English’s mural featuring “hulk boy”, for example, is amongst the most popular “selfie” backdrops here, and a myriad of paintings by international and local artists make the stroll through Wynwood’s courtyards both educational and fun. Best of Wynwood tours are offered weekly, and guided gallery and underground tours are offered the Second Saturday of every month.

Similarly, the Miami Design District, where showrooms for the exclusive design trade once ruled, now offers a mix of fashion, design, architecture and dining experiences along an accessible promenade intended to engage shoppers and guests.  After a day of perusing galleries like Galleria Ca’ D’oro, Opera Gallery and Maman Fine Art, and viewing installations like Netscape, Dash Fence  and Elastika, we sated our appetites at Mandolin Aegean Bistro, feasting on a medley of some of the best Greek meze and fresh fish this side of the Atlantic.

Art exhibitions that permeate the festivals during winter months extend year-round with new venues like the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), which features contemporary works by international artists.   This unique venue, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, is nestled along Biscayne Bay, directly across from the Port of Miami, providing views of the titanic cruise ships that call there.  Its shaded verandas along the bay provide respite from Miami’s warm weather, and its tropical landscapes add a park-like ambience to the museum.  Although a bit noisy due to causeway traffic, the outdoor space can be a peaceful place to read while swaying on rope swings and sipping latte.

With so many local attractions vying for an art audience, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables has worked to distinguish itself with exhibits by Dale Chihuly.  Chihuly’s colorful glass sculptures seemingly grew out of the lush landscapes during Art Basel and the Art at Fairchild season.  Beyond the art season, the garden offers a horticulturist’s dream of garden collections and exhibits year-round.  Tours of the gardens are recommended, especially for those of us without green thumbs.

Surrounded by waterways like Biscayne Bay, city planners have created outdoor art spaces to highlight the many bridges and roadways of Miami and its beaches.  At night the MacArthur Causeway casts a purple glow against a dazzling downtown skyline, also punctuated by a rainbow of LED light displays. Not to be outdone, the Julia Tuttle Causeway’s “Welcome to Miami Beach” sign is another iconic symbol of public art, with neon necklaces adorning towering palms, announcing your entrance into this neighboring city.

Flanked by residential luxury towers, Miami’s skyline continues to grow and impress with new architectural projects rising along Brickell Avenue and surrounding areas.   The ranks include designs by Luis Revuelta (Brickell Flatiron), Moshe Cosicher (Panorama Tower), Arquitectonica (Marquis Residences) and I.M. Pei (Miami Tower), among other internationally renowned architects and developers.

While I like to experience the city sans “snowbirds”, Miami’s mild weather and abundance of festivals make winter the obvious draw for most tourists. To maximize your time in here, stay at the strategically central Doubletree by Hilton Grand Hotel Biscayne Bay, and traverse the busy causeways and expressways that link Miami Beach and surrounding suburbs to the city with ease.  Although there is light rail and Metrorail service, a car is really essential to getting around here.

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