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Welcome to Miami

Fans in town for the All-Star Game can find much more than sand, surf and a vibrant social scene
Special to MLB.com

People think South Florida has no seasons because you rarely need a sweater. (Outdoors, that is; inside, the air-conditioning makes one almost mandatory.) For years, those of us who lived here would explain that we had two very distinct periods of the year: tourist season and summer. By June, the beaches, restaurants and roadways would all thin out as vacationers -- with the exception of some brave Scandinavians -- moved to less steamy destinations.  

But that was a while ago; now, visitors come to Miami no matter the month. Every season is tourist season, even the once-muted summer. It's not just because of air-conditioned baseball, although plenty of fans make the trek south to see one of MLB's most distinctive and art-filled stadiums. No, Miami has become a year-round destination because it has become a well rounded city. The parts that have always attracted tourists (and locals) have grown more interesting, and they've been joined by upstart neighborhoods that have not only added to the richness, but created a more connected whole.

People think South Florida has no seasons because you rarely need a sweater. (Outdoors, that is; inside, the air-conditioning makes one almost mandatory.) For years, those of us who lived here would explain that we had two very distinct periods of the year: tourist season and summer. By June, the beaches, restaurants and roadways would all thin out as vacationers -- with the exception of some brave Scandinavians -- moved to less steamy destinations.  

But that was a while ago; now, visitors come to Miami no matter the month. Every season is tourist season, even the once-muted summer. It's not just because of air-conditioned baseball, although plenty of fans make the trek south to see one of MLB's most distinctive and art-filled stadiums. No, Miami has become a year-round destination because it has become a well rounded city. The parts that have always attracted tourists (and locals) have grown more interesting, and they've been joined by upstart neighborhoods that have not only added to the richness, but created a more connected whole.

Miami Beach

Tweet from @AllStarGame: The Miami Beach Convention Center #FanFest transformation is underway!�� @BillytheMarlin! pic.twitter.com/0yypxpEgPW

Sand, surf, clubs, Art Deco -- this is what many people think of when they think of Miami, when in fact Miami Beach is a separate city reached by causeways from the mainland. Ocean Drive, with its dollhouse hotels, is still one of the most beautiful streets in the United States, but the crowds can be overwhelming at night. Best to stroll it early in the morning.

If it's a Wednesday or Thursday evening, stop at The Betsy for jazz in the lobby. (The hotel also hosts poetry readings.) More enjoyable for walking is Lincoln Road, the beautifully landscaped pedestrian street lined with cafes, restaurants and shops. At its western end rises the world's most highly acclaimed parking garage, designed by the Swiss firm of Herzog & de Meuron, which looks especially dramatic at night. Espanola Way, just off Washington Avenue, is a touristy block of festiveness, but if you walk past the sizzling fajitas and singing waiters you'll find locals enjoying buckwheat crepes and Breton cider at the charming A La Folie. For something different, visit the Wolfsonian on Washington and marvel at the collection of decorative and persuasive art from 1850-1950.

Coconut Grove

This leafy, venerable neighborhood bordering Biscayne Bay no longer attracts artists and hippies -- they can't afford the housing prices -- but it still retains its village feel despite dazzling additions like Bjarke Ingels' twisting pair of condo towers. The sidewalk cafes have been joined by a number of excellent restaurants, from the casual LoKal (burgers and craft beers) to the casually elegant Glass & Vine, where -- inside or out -- you can watch children playing in Peacock Park.

Coral Gables

Miracle Mile is getting a facelift, adding wide, decorative sidewalks that allow for more outdoor dining at places like Ortanique on the Mile, which for years has been delighting diners with its Caribbean-influenced cuisine. But there's a lot going on in this city beyond the Mile, and it's not just about food, though you should check out Bulla (one block south), for its bar scene and tapas, and Chocolate Fashion for its phenomenal flourless chocolate cookies.

On the other side of the Mile, Aragon Avenue boasts Books & Books, the epicenter of the city's literary life with nightly author readings and music in the courtyard on weekends. The Coral Gables Art Cinema resides across the street. And you shouldn't leave the Gables without a stop at the Venetian Pool -- an atypical public swimming pool with grottos and waterfalls -- or a stroll through the majestic Biltmore Hotel, best approached down the tunnel of ficus on Columbus Boulevard. Both are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Little Havana

Just north of the Gables sits Versailles, whose sign overlooking SW 8th Street (Calle Ocho) declares it the "World's Most Famous Cuban Restaurant." You'll probably stand in a line, but it moves fast. After your delicious vaca frita (fried beef) and black beans and rice, head outside for a cafecito at the window with the men in guayaberas. Then get in the car, because the other heart of Little Havana lies 20 blocks east. On the way, take a detour to the futuristic Marlins Park, built where the Orange Bowl once stood.

Back on Calle Ocho, at the corner of SW 15th Avenue, is Domino Park, where seniors shuffle and clack their black-dotted tiles. The Art Deco Tower Theater, another art movie house, rises across a dominos-decorated promenade, while down the block, cigar and souvenir shops lure tourists off double-decker buses. Cross the street and step into Azucar for a guava or dulce de leche ice cream cone (there's also an outpost in Marlins Park), then head next door to Ball & Chain, an old neighborhood bar recently brought back to life. There's live salsa and jazz -- it's not unusual to see couples dancing on the sidewalk -- while the Pineapple Stage out back hosts concerts and karaoke.

Brickell & Downtown

Tweet from @MarlinsPark: Those Downtown Miami views. �� #LetsPlay pic.twitter.com/2a0FYyVkuN

Calle Ocho runs east into Mary Brickell Village which, contrary to its homey name, is the city's dense, urban, high-rise hood. Yet it comes with Miami touches, like pockets of palm and banyan trees. (Perricone's Marketplace & Cafe, a rustic Italian restaurant, hunkers almost hidden among banyans.) And the new Brickell City Centre is not your typical hermetic mall, but a sleek, multilevel, open-air collection of international shops and restaurants under a ceiling that resembles a giant mobile. It's called the Climate Ribbon for its ability to direct the breezes from Biscayne Bay. The adjoining hotel EAST, Miami, designed by the local firm Arquitectonica, boasts a lushly landscaped rooftop bar with big city views, while the streets below are dotted with fine restaurants like 1111 Peruvian Bistro, offering exceptional ceviche and lomo saltado.

Across the Miami River -- the city's birthplace -- lies the old downtown, which is feeding off the energy to the south. A fairly new boutique hotel, the Langford, also offers a popular rooftop bar, where old movies are often projected onto the wall of a nearby building. The campus of Miami Dade College -- Hall of Famer Mike Piazza attended -- hosts numerous events, and, at one intersection, displays a graffiti-daubed piece of the Berlin Wall.

A few blocks north, there's the American Airlines Arena, home of the NBA's Heat, across the street from the iconic Freedom Tower. And a little north of that, there's the new Frost Museum of Science (with an emphasis, not surprisingly, on ocean life), the Perez Art Museum (with hanging gardens and a cafe terrace overlooking the port), and the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, with its own branch of Books & Books and accompanying cafe. And everything -- concert halls, museums, downtown, Brickell -- can be reached via the free, elevated Metromover, which at one point transverses an opening in an apartment tower.

Wynwood & the Design District

People flock to Wynwood to check out the fantastic murals that now blanket the neighborhood; the marquee ones are at Wynwood Walls, the outdoor "museum" that constitutes the heart of this old warehouse zone-turned-thriving arts district. The art walks held every second Saturday are extremely popular, although many artists have been priced out. Now mixed in with the murals and galleries are stylish boutiques, trendy restaurants and microbreweries. Concrete Beach makes a Stiltsville Pilsner, the name a nod to the wooden houses on stilts out in Biscayne Bay. Wynwood is also home to Zak the Baker, Miami's bread king, and Alter, a 2016 semifinalist for the James Beard Award in the Best New Restaurant category.

A little to the north, the Design District is still evolving, although it has already moved from lusterless blocks of furniture stores to spotless streets dotted with Cartier, Dior, Armani and Givenchy. More elegant shops rim the Palm Court, which, in addition to 50 palms of various species, showcases a geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller. Michael's Genuine Food & Drink remains one of the city's best restaurants, with an option of al fresco dining out in the breezeway. On the less expensive side, Mandolin serves tasty Greek and Turkish food in a romantic, quiet (a rare gift in Miami), garden setting.

Everglades National Park

Tweet from @EvergladesNPS: Everglades in Summer 101 - The park comes to life! The park turns green, mosquitoes buzz, flowers bloom, frogs sing, gators hatch... #NPS101 pic.twitter.com/SzZzzdAibF

The main entrance is 35 miles southwest of the city, but at this point you'll be in need of a field trip, and you don't want to miss one of the country's natural wonders, even in summer. Yes, the mosquitos are plentiful, but isn't seeing wildlife one of the attractions of national parks? Unlike many of the others, the Everglades is subtle; it gives you no dramatic views, though an anhinga (a water bird adept at spearing fish) will sometimes put on a show with its fresh catch. You can drive around the park, walk the well marked paths and boardwalks, or go on a "slough slog" to a cypress dome with one of the rangers. (Call ahead to set this up, and bring extra pairs of pants and shoes, as you'll be up to your thighs in water.)

However you choose to see the park, you'll be awed by the spaciousness, the strangeness, the variety of animals -- birds, fish, reptiles, insects -- that exist so close to a major urban area. And at night -- the park never closes -- you'll gaze up with wonder at a sky that is all stars, so fitting this week in Miami.

This article appears in the 2017 MLB Official All-Star Game Program. Read more features on allstargame.com.

Thomas Swick is the author of three books, the most recent being The Joys of Travel: And Stories That Illuminate Them.

Miami Marlins