A week in Miami is not unlike watching an unbelievable reality show, only this time it's actually real. Miami: the city where Jennifer Aniston went "public" with her romance to rocker John Mayer, where troubled British pop star Amy Winehouse married her incarcerated husband, and where the paparazzi camps out for days, hoping to catch a glimpse of something or someone fabulous. It's where former U.S. President Bill Clinton kibitzes with the head of a top modeling agency at a St. Tropez-ish beach club, and where Janet Reno, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon throw politically driven dance and cocktail parties at a South Beach nightclub. And about those unbelievable reality shows: A few have filmed here lately, too. Just ask the Kardashians. But that's just a small sample of the surreal, Fellini-esque world that exists way down here at the bottom of the map. Nothing in Miami is ever what it seems.
What used to be a relatively sleepy beach vacation destination has awakened from its humid slumber, upped its tempo, and finally earned its place in the Blackberries and iPhones of cutting-edge jet-setters worldwide. But don't be fooled by the hipper-than-thou, celebrity-drenched playground known as South Beach. While the chic elite do, indeed, flock to Miami's coolest enclave, it is surprisingly accessible to the average Joe, Jane, or José. Especially during the economic downturn, when there were indeed bargains to be had. For every Philippe Starck-designed, bank account-busting boutique hotel on South Beach (one actually refused to lower its prices during the evil recession despite the fact that rooms were empty), there's a kitschy, candy-coated Art Deco one that's much less taxing on the pockets. For each Pan-Mediterranean-Asian haute cuisine restaurant, there's always the down-home, no-nonsense Cuban bodega offering hearty food at ridiculously cheap prices.
Beyond the whole glitzy, Us Weekly-meets-beach-blanket-bacchanalia-as-seen-on-TV, Miami has an endless number of sporting, cultural, and recreational activities to keep you entertained. Its sparkling beaches are beyond compare. Plus, it has excellent shopping and nightlife activities, including ballet, theater, and opera (as well as all the celebrity-saturated hotels, restaurants, bars, and clubs that have helped make Miami so famous).
One thing you'll notice about Miami is the number of construction cranes dotting the skyline, languishing there as the last remnants of a real estate boom that has since crashed. For now, we take pride in watching the already majestic skyline take a new shape, albeit with empty, multimillion-dollar condos that many describe as soulless.
Leave Miami, be it for the Keys, the Gold Coast, or the Treasure Coast, and you'll expose yourself not only to more UV rays, but to a world of cultural, historical, and sybaritic surprises where you can take in a spring baseball game, walk in the footsteps of Hemingway, get up-close and personal with the area's sea life, soak up the serenity of unspoiled landscapes, catch the filming of CSI: Miami or a big-budget Hollywood flick, and much more.
Forget what you've heard about South Florida being "Heaven's Waiting Room." That slogan is as passé as the concept of early-bird dinners (which you can still get -- they just no longer define the region). In fact, according to some people, South Florida is heaven.