One of the features that sets Miami apart from other big cities is the way it integrates itself with the water. To witness this, look no further than the downtown waterfront area. Whether you're interested in history, shopping, art, or entertainment, you can't miss this scenic part of town!
If you are embarking on a cruise from Miami, this is the perfect place to relax for a few hours. You may not want to leave! Remember to take precautions against the sun and heat, though. Most of the waterfront area is outdoors. Also, if you're touring between the months of May and October, don't forget your umbrella, or you're asking to be hit by one of the daily passing rainstorms!
We'll begin the tour at Bayfront Park -- the southernmost point on this short walking tour. To get there, take the Metromover to the Bayfront Park station. If you're driving, you can park in any one of the parking lots on Biscayne Boulevard between SE 2nd Sreet and NE 2nd St.; Cross Biscayne Boulevard and we're on our way!
If you have a little extra free time, take a look around Bayfront Park and you'll see monuments to Senator Claude Pepper, John F. Kennedy, the unknown Cuban rafters lost at sea seeking freedom, Christopher Columbus, Ponce de Leon, and the Challenger astronauts. This park is a hotbed of activity during the cool season, offering outdoor entertainment, festivals, and other interesting events.
Walk under the large sign for Bayfront Park and continue straight ahead. In front of you looms the AT&T Amphitheater. Since its opening in 1999, this outdoor theater has been the site of many entertainment and cultural events, including alternative, jazz, and reggae festivals as well as ballet and comedy events.
On any given day, the lawn of the amphitheater is home to sunbathers and picnickers looking for a few moments of quiet and solitude. Although the view of the water is obstructed, the smell of the salt air is unmistakably present, as are the sounds of passing ships.
One of the most interesting events the amphitheater hosts is the All Saints Day Festival. The Voodoo religion breathes a life of its own as the city's large Haitian community gathers to celebrate its departed. Entertainers and Voodoo priests fly in from Haiti to commemorate this sacred holiday. This is truly a unique experience each October!
Leaving the amphitheater and following the path to the right, you will arrive at the Bayside Marketplace. Even those who dislike shopping will enjoy the open-air feeling of Bayside! You can pose for a picture with tropical parrots under the palm trees or enjoy a fresh café Cubano and arepas from the Latin eateries.
There are plenty of places to buy souvenirs and gifts exclusive to Miami. There are also retail stores such as Gap, Victoria's Secret, and Brookstone to pick up anything you may have forgotten to pack. For the kids, there are temporary tattoos and henna, face painting, and rides.
If eating is your thing, then Bayside is sure to have what you need. With an impressive offering of restaurants ranging from Creole to sushi to vegetarian, you can let your taste buds take a vacation from their ordinary fare. If steak's your game, you'll enjoy a stop at Lombardi's (yes, owned by Vince himself!) In addition to the meal, the atmosphere is relaxing; many of the restaurants have outdoor dining where you can watch the charter boats, yachts and cruise ships glide by. Speaking of which…
Once you're done with your meal, exit Bayside and walk towards the water. You'll come across a series of docks hosting a variety of boats available for charters and afternoon excursions. Step aboard the Island Queen for a tour of "Millionaire's Row", the exclusive community of multi-million dollar homes located on exclusive Star and Fisher Islands.
If you're a gambler at heart, Casino Princessa sets sail for international waters several times each day featuring three-hour cruises replete with poker, blackjack, craps, and tons of slot machines willing to eat your spare change. You'll find food on board, but if you're looking for culinary delights, you may wish to consider one of the several dinner cruises that depart Bayside nightly.
Anglers will find enough fishing charters available to keep them busy for months. Whether you're looking for a brief cruise around Biscayne Bay or a lengthy excursion to the Florida Keys, you're bound to find a captain willing to indulge your fishing fantasies.
The original Pier 5 was Miami's top tourist attraction in the 1950's. Similar to San Francisco's Wharf, it was a place for fisherman to dock at the end of the day, housewives to buy fish for supper, and other locals to congregate and talk. When it was destroyed by a hurricane, it was not rebuilt, but today's Pier 5 stands on the original site.
If you're lucky, you may catch some live entertainment. There are planned concert events held outdoors, as well as street performers bringing smiles to the faces of all those that pass by. If you're feeling artistic, bring an easel and capture the feel of this little piece of day-to-day life on the water. Once you've reflected on the life we enjoy here in Miami, it's time to head off to…
As you return to Biscayne Boulevard and continue north, you can't miss the large tower looming over you. That's the famous Miami Freedom Tower. If you're a student of architecture, you might notice that the tower has a Spanish appearance. When it was constructed in 1925, architects modeled it after Spain's Giralda Tower.
The tower is often referred to as the "Ellis Island of the South." The U.S. government purchased this Miami landmark from a newspaper in 1957 and began using it to process the flood of Cuban refugees seeking asylum from the Castro regime in the 1960s and 70s.
In 1997, it was purchased by the Cuban American National Foundation who embarked upon a massive renovation program aimed at restoring the tower to its former glory and cultivating it as a historical landmark.
When the $40 million renovation is complete, visitors will be treated to a courtyard of native Cuban plants, a library and research center, and an interactive museum aimed at helping contemporary society understand the plight of Cuban immigrants. The museum includes a virtual reality experience simulating the journey as they navigated the stormy seas between Cuba and South Florida in poorly constructed rafts.
That's the end of our walking tour of the waterfront region. Hopefully, you've learned something new about the fair city during your stroll.