Saturday, February 25, 2012

Miami at Peak Tourist Season

Miami is Florida's most interesting city. Like big cities everywhere, Miami is made up of distinctive neighborhoods. Most tourists cluster in South Beach, the neighborhood known for Art Deco architecture and nightclubs. Tourists also visit Coconut Grove, Little Havana, the Design District, and (for those taking cruises) the Port of Miami.

But how to do Miami during the peak of the winter tourist season? February hauls in the crowds for the Miami International Boat Show and the annual art festival in Coconut Grove. This on top of the crowd of tourists just coming to escape the cold at home or heading out on a Caribbean cruise. Al and I wanted to spend several days in Miami. In our budget range there were scores of pleasant hotels in outlying neighborhoods and in the suburbs. But that is dull and boring, to say the least. We opted for a different type of place, the Miami River Inn. It is located downtown on the Miami River, in a neighborhood of commercial fishing boats and other commercial marine businesses. Not the sort of neighborhood one strolls around at night. The Inn itself is a collection of old homes and apartments which have been cobbled together into 40 tidy rooms of lodging with "old Florida" style furnishings. The owner calls it a bed and breakfast. A high iron fence surrounds the Inn's buildings and parking lot. During our stay, the other guest were European and South American tourists and some 20-somethings who, like us, were seeing the area on their bikes.
The Miami River Inn

Another View of the Miami River Inn

The Miami River is a working river.
Our interest was biking in Brickell (pronounced BRICK-uhl). This is Miami's financial district. It also is home to the tallest buildings in Florida, most of them hotels and residential towers. On it's southern edge is the Rickenbacker Causeway, the 6 mile causeway to Key Biscayne which is one of the best places to ride a road bike in Miami. The weather was perfect: sunny, a nice sea breeze, the temperature peaking in the low 80s in the afternoon.

We spent a day pedalling around the area. First we wandered about the northern edge of Brickell. There were a good number of bike commuters, and we followed them to navigate the busier sections of city. We wandered along the edge of Biscayne Bay following bike routes, pedaling through waterfront parks, and watching local residents, some strolling with children or pets, some jogging. We stopped to laugh at the antics of a tiny teacup chihuahua (Lola) and her fluffy white mixed breed toy friend, as they attempted to make friends with a (thankfully) mild-mannered bull terrier.
A bull terrier, white fluffy toy dog, and teacup chihuahua (on grass, far right) have a social moment.
Sitting on the sea wall at Jade, one of the newer residential towers.
It is easy to imagine living here. There are so many wonderful residential buildings.

We pedalled south towards the Rickenbacker Causeway. We wanted to bike it towards Key Biscayne. We only wanted to go half-way to Key Biscayne before heading back. There are bikes of all varieties around. Roadies in lycra speed down the Causeway. Casual bikers poke along on their way to one of the causeway's parks. Commuter bikers pedal past us at a determined clip. Sweaty joggers chug by.

Looking out at the Rickenbacker Causeway from the mainland.
Looking down the Rickenbacker Causeway with Key Biscayne on the horizon.
Fishermen using the the causeway for a shady fishing spot (halfway down Rickenbaker towards Key Biscayne) with Miami skyline in the background.
We head back to the city. In the center of Brickell we stop at a busy coffeehouse for a double espresso and a snack. Then on to Fresh Market to buy the makings for a gourmet picnic dinner.

Love Miami. And it can be done during high tourist season without breaking your budget.