While in Miami for Brian and Cindy’s wedding, we had some time to be tourists too. I had never been to Miami before, so the first place we visited on Thursday was South Beach, where we had lunch at a nice cafe right on the main drag. Turns out South Beach looks exactly like my mental picture of Miami — probably because so many TV shows and movies have been filmed there!
We wandered around for a bit admiring all the art deco architecture. It was hot and humid, but being right on the shore meant there was a nice breeze that kept things bearable. I didn’t think it was possible to find a place much MORE humid than Houston was in August, but I think Miami might have Houston beat on that account. The temperature was slightly lower, but the humidity was never-ending, and completely stifling. Here in Houston, the humidity gets lower as the day progresses. In Miami, I’m not sure it did. It certainly didn’t feel that way.
After lunch in South Beach, Jose and I spent a few hours at the Miami Science Museum. It was nice enough, but pretty underwhelming considering Miami is a major city. (In fact, it made us realize how lucky we are in Houston to have the AMAZING Houston Museum of Natural Science. Compared to other museums I’ve seen, HMNS really is top notch.)
We stayed at the Doubletree Biscayne Bay, which was just north of downtown Miami. The room rate was surprisingly cheap for a major hotel, which I attribute to the fact that Miami is probably not a super popular tourist destination in August (please refer to my description of the weather, above), so we reserved a “junior suite.” When we arrived, we found out we’d been upgraded! The hotel only occupies part of the building; the rest is a high-rise condo building and the hotel leases a few of the rooms there. We ended up on the 38th floor (below only the penthouse floors) in a large 1 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom condo.
This was the view from our balcony, looking north. To the west, we could see the Miami airport about 6 miles away — we were directly lined up with one of the runways there. In the afternoons, the planes took off to the east, so we could watch the airplanes go past just north of us and only a few thousand feet higher. There are a LOT of large planes that take off from Miami in the afternoon, headed for Europe and/or South America we assumed. It was fun trying to identify what type of plane we were seeing. 747s are easy, and there were a lot of them.
On Friday, the day before the wedding, we went to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on the tip of Key Biscayne with Katie, Joel and David. There’s a small lighthouse there and we all climbed to the top to see the light itself and take in the view. It was quite pleasant in the breeze at the top, but inside the light portion it was HOT AS CRAP. Jose managed to look happy for the picture anyway.
The park itself was very nice, with lots of trees and bright blue water. If I lived in the area, I’d probably go there anytime I wanted to hit the beach. It was only a 15 minute drive from downtown Miami too, so it’s really convenient to get to, and since it’s a state park, it’s nice and quiet and relaxing!
After the lighthouse, we split up for a while. Katie and Joel snorkeled at the beach in the state park, David relaxed at a Starbucks for a while, and Jose and I headed to the Miami Seaquarium. It was different than other aquariums I’ve been to because the focus was less on tanks full of aquatic life and more on shows and presentations. There were two dolphin shows, a sea lion show, a shark feeding, a manatee talk, and a killer whale show. We saw all of them except the killer whale, since we had to leave in time to get ready for the rehearsal dinner.
We also pet some stingrays (they feel slimy) and enjoyed a section full of tropical birds. Overall, although I have to say that the aquarium was extremely overpriced, it was still a good way to spend our afternoon. Even though it was outside and thus, yet again, HOT AS CRAP. I was tempted to just jump in the water with the dolphins! It looked cooler in there.
That night was the rehearsal dinner, which was at a waterfront restaurant with a fantastic view of downtown Miami. It was fun to hang out with both families and meet — or re-meet, since I hadn’t seen them in years — some of Brian’s friends in town for the wedding.
Most of Saturday was spent with the wedding, of course, but we had some more time on Sunday since our flight didn’t leave until late in the afternoon. We spent the morning visiting the Vizcaya, an estate built by a turn-of-the-century farm equipment tycoon and now owned by the county as a museum.
It was a really, really cool house with lots of open-air patios and a huge inner courtyard. It would have been an amazing place to live at the time it was built (as a winter home, by the way), when Miami was just a tiny little town. I can imagine how this would have truly felt like an escape from the rest of the world! The architect and designers were heavily influenced by Europe, and Italy in particular.
There were many things both in the house and out that reminded me of Venice, like the scene above. (That reminds me that I still owe everyone a blog post about Venice to finish up the Italy travelogue!)
The estate also boasts large, intricate gardens. Katie, Joel and David had to leave early to get David, Mom and Dad to the airport, but Jose and I were able to spent a while wandering through the gardens too. The fountains looked a little green and overly algae-filled, but the limestone everywhere was really neat.
Our last stop in Miami was set in motion after Jose remembered seeing a Food Network show featuring a cool fruit and juice place in Little Havana. We did some googling, and while we didn’t end up at the place featured on the show, we did find El Palacio de los Jugos, aka The Juice Palace! One of the online reviews I read said that if you didn’t go here, you fail at life. Not wanting to fail at life, we decided to go.
It was definitely worth the trip! It wasn’t really a restaurant, but instead was a collection of stands selling all kinds of Cuban food and, yes, juice. Jose had guava juice while I went for the coconut. Mmm. We had sandwiches for lunch and sat on their patio, at which point we noticed a guy hacking into coconuts with a machete. Obviously we needed to take part in that as well. We finished off the trip by splitting a pineapple juice. And, if our endorsement isn’t enough to make you want to check this place out the next time you are in Miami, we ALSO randomly saw Aria from The Next Food Network Star just chilling and enjoying lunch with her family there.
I put quite a few more photos on Flickr, so check out the slideshow below for the full set!