Photograph by Andy Caulfield/Getty
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Ocean Drive in South Beach comes alive at dusk when the art deco hotels glow with colored lights.

Photograph by Andy Caulfield/Getty

Miami Must-Dos

Our experts recommend the top attractions in and around Miami—with advice on how to get the most out of your visit.

Art Deco District
"Preservationists, artists, models, businesses, nightclubs, restaurants, and tourists come together in a hip neighborhood on this beautiful island in the Atlantic. Offers unparalleled tropical Art Deco architecture in a compact, urban neighborhood where visitors are easily transported back in time to 1930s elegance."—Scott Timm, director of programs and outreach, Miami Design Preservation League. Neon and cupcake-colored buildings dot the walkable streets in this South Beach neighborhood, named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The main thoroughfare is Ocean Drive, with its bumper-to-bumper traffic on weekend nights and pedestrians showing a lot of skin jamming the sidewalk from 5th to 15th streets; best sunset view is from the second-floor deck at Wet Willie's bar, 760 Ocean Dr. Art Deco Welcome Center, 1001 Ocean Dr., South Beach; tel. +1 305 672 2014.

The Beaches
"Sand in your toes cures every ill or stress."—Donna Shalala, University of Miami president and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. Among the choices: A racy Euro-style topless scene at the Third Street beach in South Beach, where colorful Art Deco lifeguard stations provide an ideal photo op; families flock to the two-mile (three-kilometer) beach at Crandon Park Beach on Key Biscayne, where a water playground and merry-go-round also provide distractions (tel. +1 305 361 7385;; Matheson Hammock Park is a haven for those with toddlers because it has a shallow man-made pool flushed naturally by Biscayne Bay tides (tel. +1 305 665 5475;; Miami's only nude beach is at the north end of Haulover Park at the northern end of Miami Beach (tel. +1 305 947 3525);

Coconut Grove
A tree-lined, waterfront neighborhood with outdoor cafés and boutiques within the city of Miami that describes itself on local bumper stickers as "a quaint drinking village with a fishing problem;" a major strolling zone, especially on weekends and Thursday nights, when it fills up with college students.

Everglades National Park
"Must-see for visitors to experience what nearly all of South Florida looked like before settlers decided to drain and irrigate it into looking like concrete planting beds in the tropics. The real beauty comes out on a full moon, when visitors can participate in a ranger-guided bike tour of the Shark Valley trail. You don't have to worry about heat exhaustion or sunburn, and many of the night critters are out for view in the moonlight."—Alex Montalvo, interim executive director for the enviromental awareness group Citizens for a Better South Florida. The River of Grass—one of the last great wildernesses of America and an unusual public park, with 1.5 million acres (600,000 hectares) of swamps, saw-grass prairies, and sub-tropical jungles from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico; home to more than a dozen rare and endangered species, including the American crocodile, the Florida panther, and the West Indian manatee; much of it is impenetrable and explored only by researchers and adventurous types, but anyone can bike, walk, or take a two-hour tram on a 15-mile (24.1-kilometer) paved loop in Shark Valley. Admission $10 per vehicle; bike rentals available. Shark Valley Visitor Center, 36000 SW 8th St., Miami; tel. +1 305 221 8776.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
"Fairchild is one of our scintillating jewels. The garden is simply incredible to behold, and both the rain forest exhibit and the conservatory include many fascinating orchids and rare tropical plants."—Robert Fuchs, president, R.F. Orchids in Homestead, one of the country's most prestigious orchid nurseries. Premier research and education-based garden devoted to the conservation of tropical plants and named after botanist-explorer David Fairchild; houses the world's greatest living collection of palms and cycads; and hosts art, planting and cooking classes, plant sales, and popular events such as the International Mango Festival. Admission $20 adults, $15 seniors, $10 children 6-17, free for kids under 5. 10901 Old Cutler Rd., Coral Gables; tel. +1 305 667 1651.

Jungle Island
A theme park and tropical bird sanctuary with parrots, flamingos, exotic reptiles, orangutans, a petting zoo, and playground; daily animal shows; locals weren't pleased when it moved a few years ago from lush Pinecrest to a tourist-friendly spot between downtown Miami and South Beach. Tickets $27.95 adults, $22.95 kids 3-10, free for ages under 3; parking is $7 per vehicle. 1111 Parrot Jungle Trail, Watson Island; tel. +1 305 258 6453.

Lincoln Road
"You can sit down at an outside table and have a 40-dollar meal at one of the trendy eateries or just a three-dollar beer at Zeke's with a 50-cent bag of chips. It's the best place to see the prettiest people in South Florida. I love it on Halloween night."— Angel Valentin, Miami photographer for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Eight blocks of trendy shops and restaurants just north of the Art Deco District in South Beach that was turned into a pedestrian-only outdoor mall in 1960 by Modernist master Morris Lapidus; street performers, bikers, and skaters scoot around sidewalk café tables; chain stores are moving in, but there are still good finds, including the music listening/CD bar at the clothing store Base, a Jonathan Adler home design store, the Cuban coffee counter at David's Café, a Design Within Reach showroom, a small branch of Books & Books, several art galleries, and a multiplex movie theater.

Miami Seaquarium
A 38-acre (15-hectare) marine park with dolphin, killer whale, and seal shows, as well as shark and manatee exhibits; home to the Flipper TV show of the 1960s; a two-hour swim-with-our-dolphins program outfits visitors with wet suits to interact one-on-one with resident dolphins for $189. Park admission $31.95 adults, $24.95 children ages 3-9; $7 parking. 4400 Rickenbacker Causeway, Key Biscayne; tel. +1 305 361 5705.

Museum of Contemporary Art
Noteworthy museums dot South Florida, but the Charles Gwathmey-designed MoCA, which opened in 1996, has helped establish Miami as a world venue for contemporary art; art talks, classes, jazz concerts, and more than 400 permanent works by the likes of Dennis Oppenheim, Alex Katz, Julian Schnabel, Yoko Ono, and Jose Bedia; visiting exhibits have included Robert Rauschenburg, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and Roy Lichtenstein. 770 NE 125th St., North Miami; tel. +1 305 893 6211.

"It harkens back to the days of a certain lawless pioneer spirit, when people could build something wacky—like a house on stilts in the middle of the bay—without worrying about building codes."—Steven Raichlen, author of Miami Spice, The Barbecue Bible, How to Grill, and host of Barbecue University on PBS. A collection of rickety fishing and boat shacks built on pilings in the mudflats of Biscayne Bay beginning in the 1930s; only seven of the uninhabited houses remain; used by fishermen, gamblers, and partiers through the decades, it's in danger of being torn down; accessible by boat, but can be viewed from the southeastern tip of Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne.

Venetian Pool
A 1920s public swimming hole carved out of coral rock and surrounded by Venetian-style buildings; during the summer the 820,000-gallon (3.1-million-liter) pool is fed with clear cool spring water daily; waterfalls, coral rock caves to explore, a Spanish fountain, sandy beach area, cobblestone bridge, and vine-covered loggias. Admission $10 adults, $6.75 children, ages 3-12 (April-October); $5.50 adults, $3.50 children, ages 3-12 (November-March); no children under three allowed. 2701 DeSoto Blvd., Coral Gables; tel. +1 305 460 5356.

Vizcaya Museum & Gardens
James Deering's grand 1916 Italian villa on Biscayne Bay; original European antiques in 34 rooms; ten acres (four hectares) of formal gardens with fountains, pools, and gazebos coveted for modeling shoots and grand weddings. Tickets $12 adults, $5 children ages 6-12, free for children 5 and under, $9 seniors. 3251 S. Miami Ave., Miami; tel. +1 305 250 9133.