Miami is often portrayed as a mere playground for twentysomethings. In fact, this versatile city/county offers bliss to mature, moneyed adults seeking luxury, culture, a quiet refuge, fine dining and sophistication with their sunny vacation.
Key Biscayne -- A Tranquil Isle Near Downtown Miami
800-acre Crandon Park takes up the top third of the seven-mile long, two-mile wide island of Key Biscayne. Its Tennis Center hosts the annual Sony Ericsson Open (March 21 - April 3 2011), which attracts major men's (Roddick, Federer, Nadal) and women's (Venus, Serena, Kim Clisters) tennis champions and 300,000 fans. The birds-eye-view center stadium, easy-access practice courts and concession stands that sell items like fried grouper on a bed of lettuce make the center feel intimate. Crandon Golf at Key Biscayne offers a championship 18-hole public golf course surrounded by water and mangroves. Crandon Park's two-mile long beaches are blessed with placid waters, walkways, picnic spots and a marina.
Just past the small village of Key Biscayne, the main road enters Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park home to 50 butterfly and 170 bird species. Fishing, swimming, hiking, biking, picnicking and sunbathing are ideal here on a site Ponce de Leon dubbed "Cape of Florida" in 1513. The beaches are unusually quiet during the winter months. Climb the 109-step spiral iron staircase to the top of stately Cape Florida Lighthouse (ca. 1825), oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade County, and you'll get panoramic views of Miami and the teal blue ocean.
Stay Here: The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne looks like someone plunked a swank, ultra-elegant Beverly Hills hotel down on a pristine beach. The pale yellow building, with heavily marbled interiors, has 450 guestrooms, a 21-room spa (try the 80-minute Baborganic Body Treatment), two pools, and four dining venues (the fish tacos at the Mexican-themed Cantina Beach restaurant should be washed down with one of the 85 premium brand tequilas). You can meet locals at the tennis clinics run by the gregarious Mark Chellas at the 11-court Cliff Drysdale Tennis Center.
Bustling Downtown and Midtown Miami
Office buildings, condos, major hotels and palm trees line busy Brickell Avenue as it runs through downtown Miami which looks clean, urban yet tropical. At night, locals head to the neighborhood of Mary Brickell Village to dine at Rosa Mexicano (for the guacamole and ribs) or the Oceanaire Seafood Room (seared Costa Rican Mahi Mahi "Louie" with jumbo lump crab meat, dirty rice and caper beurre blanc). Or they head further north to the Wynwood Arts District, for the monthly Second Saturdays Gallery Walk, 7pm to 10pm, when crowds clog the streets streaming in and out of art galleries and shops. Stop by the Wynwood Kitchen & Bar to view stunning murals of international social activists, then stay for their desserts: brownies with rum raisin ice cream topped with caramel.
Places to Go, Things to See: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts (Hair, Whoopi Goldberg, Miami City Ballet); Miami Art Museum for shows like The Wilderness (March 27 - June 26) and Rivane Neuenschwander: A Day Like Any Other (July 17 - October 16); Rubell Family Art Collection exhibits works by Keith Haring, Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat; American Airlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat and Lebron James.
A Tropical Hotel Oasis in the Middle of the Business District: The 221 spacious guest rooms at Four Seasons Hotel Miami have spectacular views of Biscayne Bay. The vast 7th floor terrace has swimming pools, lush landscaping and cabanas that offer respite from city life. The Sunday brunch at Acqua Restaurant, arguably the best in Miami, serves the tenderest short ribs in the world. And if the calorie overload gives you guilt, head downstairs to the cavernous Sports Club/LA.
South Beach - Where Adults Can Run Wild Too!
The Jersey Shore cast has left South Beach -- it's now safe for grown-ups. Skip trendy, youth-orientated Ocean Drive, make the 10-block Lincoln Road pedestrian promenade your base as you walk by shops, cafes, restaurants theaters, galleries and experience people watching equal to that in Piazza San Marco in Venice or Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, CA.
Where to Go: Events in South Beach are easy to access and rarely sold out, so you can often buy tickets impromptu. The New World Symphony and its surrounding campus were designed by Frank Gehry, and will have a Grand Opening Gala on January 29th; Founder/Artistic Director Michael Tilson Thomas is proud of the new symphony space. The Miami Convention Center hosts the Antique Show, Miami Wine Expo, South Florida Auto Show and the world-renowned Art Basel Miami Beach. The Fillmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater, once a performance spot for groups like The Doors, now presents artists like Jorge Drexler, Jon Secada and La Ballet Grand Prix. Tennis players flock to the 17 Hart-Tru clay courts in Flamingo Park. The stone therapies at the Uhma Spa will soothe your soul and rock you to sleep.
Restaurants Aplenty: It's best to heed recommendations if you want superior cuisine for your dining dollars in South Beach, so ask around: The Spanish infused cuisine at Soleà, W Hotel serves delectable tapas (huevo frito con patatas, jamon y setas = Iberico ham and a fried egg served over wafer thin, house made crispy potatoes, chanterelle mushrooms and truffle oil) and the rack of lamb is dynamite. The Italian eatery Quattro, on Lincoln Rd., features a delicious veal chop prepared Milanese style, served on the bone with fresh tomatoes and arugula. The pan seared prime New York steak, with red bliss potato, cippolini onion, blue cheese, radicchio and red wine syrup at Wish restaurant is absolutely succulent.
A Room With a View: Location, location, Location! The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach is at the end of Lincoln Rd., on the most famous stretch of beach in Florida and faces the Atlantic Ocean. Its new interior, with 375 guestrooms, is housed in a venerable 1953, Morris Lapidus-designed, landmark building. The Olympic-sized pool, the open-air DiLido Beach Club café (dine on Florida Snapper on lentil salad, with fresh garbanzo and basmati rice crisp), the spa (all hail the rhythm massage) and the Ritz's celebrity-laden beach make it the place to stay. If Leonardo DiCaprio walks by, it's a normal day.
Key Biscayne, Downtown Miami and South Beach offer unique settings and escapes that are way too mature and highbrow for Snooki and The Situation, but perfect for discerning adults.
Visit Travel Writer Dwight Brown at www.DwightBrownInk.com.