Commence with an opulent all-you-can-eat brunch at one of The Ritz-Carlton's three idyllic locations: in South Beach, Key Biscayne (more convenient for those staying downtown), or Coconut Grove (close to Coral Gables). All feature lavish, bountiful buffets, plus custom cooking stations that run the lengths of the dining rooms and terraces.
If brunch has you feeling fortified enough to brave Miami's manic drivers, head east across the Rickenbacker Causeway (just south of downtown), and in minutes you'll be at Miami Seaquarium, where Sally the sea lion and a chorus line of dolphins perform for the family. Further down the same road you'll come to Key Biscayne, a picturesque community with the feel of a tropical resort. White sandy beaches extend from Crandon Park (which also includes picnic tables, grills, cabanas, bicycle paths, and the Crandon Park Golf Course) to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Recreation Area. This region features some of South Florida's finest snorkeling venues.
For those desiring another (mostly) beach day, slather on the sun screen for a safe sunbathing stint, then retreat just a few steps west to one of Ocean Drive's many casual-chic establishments for a mojito (a refreshing drink made from fresh mint leaves, simple syrup and rum). Gay men have long favored the sassy Palace Café, on the corner of 10th Street. But there's a better beach view from the elevated steps of The Tides South Beach, a block-and-a-half uptown, where loungers can also enjoy sophisticated shrimp fritters (tempura batter-coated whole huge prawns) with yuzu pepper/crème fraiche dip, crab cakes with sweet/tangy corn salsa, and other nibbles from the Tides' La Marea restaurant. Afterwards, walk off your buzz with a leisurely stroll along Collins Avenue where, particularly between 6th and 12th Streets, prestigious shops like Armani and Barney's line up with chains such as Banana Republic and the Gap.
For more devoted shoppers, further opportunities abound on Miami-Dade County's northern border in Aventura, which has one of Florida 's most comprehensive shopping centers: some 250 prime shops and boutiques anchored by Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Sears. Bayside Marketplace downtown, and Cocowalk in Coconut Grove are both outdoor promenades with smaller shops and cafés. Particularly opulent shopping's to be found south in Coral Gables' Village of Merrick Park mall, and, just north of Miami Beach, The Shoppes At Bal Harbour showcase a who's who of haute retailers—Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci and Cartier, to name but a few.
The latter upscale mall is especially handy for couples in a mixed marriage—one a shop-till-you-drop fiend, the other a veg-out vacationer—since the city's Guerlain Spa, North America's first outpost of the French company, is practically across the street, in the The Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour, Miami. Treatments run the gamut from make-up to massage. But having specialized in skin care since 1828, Guerlain produces especially gratifying instantly-visible results with its individually customized facials.
It's always nice to close out a trip with a memorable dinner. Stunning views complement pristine cuisine at Azul, a divine gem set in the glittering Mandarin Oriental, Miami, surrounded by Biscayne Bay on Brickell Key. In the same Brickell neighborhood, The Oceanaire Seafood Room, though landlocked, offers the greatest variety of fresh local and flown-in fish in town, whether you opt for the upscale chain's tempting All American core menu or local chef Sean Bernal's own Latin/Asian-influenced dishes.
Cap your last evening with cocktails under the stars, quaffed in a romantic poolside cabana at The Raleigh Hotel. For over half a century, the historic hotel's gracefully scalloped body of water, often called the most beautiful pool in America, has attracted some of the country's most attractive bodies, and its outdoor bar is still one of the most alluring celebrity magnets in all of MIA.
"MIA", by the way, is another of those nicknames—both an acronym for Miami, and the official code for Miami's airport. It is also, of course, the wartime abbreviation for "Missing In Action"… Which is appropriate considering how many vacationers to MIA go AWOL and stay to become residents. But if you must go, no worries. You'll be back.
For more information, visit the Miami Visitors Bureau, www.MiamiandBeaches.com.
* Sunrise image courtesy of Greater
Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau
Lighthouse image from www.floridastateparks.org/capeflorida
* Key Biscayne image by www.key-biscayne.com
* Lincoln Road image by