Miami Introduction Walk (Self Guided), Miami

The coastal sunny city of Miami is a world-class destination for tourists, rich in sights and public venues. Currently ranked the third-richest in the United States and the eighth-richest in the world, the city was off to a humble start on July 28, 1896 with a population of just over 300 people. Miami owes its existence to a woman and is the only major U.S. city founded by a female. Julia Tuttle, "the mother of Miami", was a local citrus grower who originally owned the land the city was built on; she succeeded in convincing railroad tycoon Henry Flagler to extend his Florida East Coast Railway to the region and thus the city was born.

Miami and the eponymous river it stands on derive their name from the Native American tribe that once inhabited the area, Mayaimi. A village of hundreds of people, located at the mouth of the Miami River, predated the arrival of Europeans here by almost 2,000 years. The entire tribe is said to have migrated to Cuba by the mid-1700s. In the late 19th century, the Miami River neighborhood was seen as a promising wilderness and "one of the finest building sites in Florida". The Great Freeze of 1894–95 hastened Miami's growth, as the crops here were the only ones in Florida that survived. Another crucial role in Miami's early development played African American labor.

During the early 20th century, migrants from the Bahamas and African-Americans took up 40% of the local population. Miami prospered throughout the 1920s thanks to the influx of settlers from up north. However, the collapse of the Florida land boom of the 1920s, the 1926 Miami Hurricane, and the Great Depression in the 1930s slowed its development. During WWII, Miami served as a base for U.S. defense against German submarines and once again enjoyed rapid growth in population, earning the nickname “Magic City” among the winter visitors who remarked that it grew so drastically from one year to the next, as if by magic. After Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in 1959, many wealthy Cubans fled to Miami, further adding to its increase. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Miami became a major international, financial, and cultural center with many new businesses and cultural amenities.

Being the second-largest U.S. city with a Spanish-speaking majority (after El Paso, Texas), and the largest city with a Cuban-American plurality, Miami is jokingly referred to as the "Capital of Latin America". Another title – the "Cruise Capital of the World" – has been attributed to Miami as the world's busiest port in passenger traffic and cruise lines. In large part for this, Miami is also a major tourist hub and a much loved destination for annual conventions and conferences, receiving more than 16 million visitors per year.

To see some of the most popular tourist destinations in Miami and to explore its heritage, take this self-guided orientation walk.
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Miami Introduction Walk Map

Guide Name: Miami Introduction Walk
Guide Location: USA » Miami (See other walking tours in Miami)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: stacey
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Pérez Art Museum Miami
  • American Airlines Arena
  • Freedom Tower
  • Bayside Marketplace
  • Torch of Friendship
  • Gesu Catholic Church
  • Olympia Theater
  • Bayfront Park
1
Pérez Art Museum Miami

1) Pérez Art Museum Miami (must see)

The Pérez Art Museum Miami is dedicated to contemporary art, reflecting the diverse cultures of Miami with the emphasis laid on showcasing the art from Europe, the Americas and Africa, representing three major ethnic populations of the city.

The Pérez Art Museum Miami was established in 1984 as the Center for Fine Arts. In 1996, the name was changed to the Miami Art Museum. In 2010, the construction of a new building to house the museum began in Museum Park; the facility was designed by Swiss firm, Herzog and de Meuron. The new museum covers an area of 20,000 square feet and opened for public viewing in 2013. It is a world class repository of contemporary art and a center for visual arts information and education.

The museum has a vast collection of 20th and 21st century works from the 1940s to the present. It also hosts local, national and international temporary exhibitions of theme-based modern art. Visitors and groups need to book in advance to go on a guided tour conducted by an artist or art expert for an in-depth understanding of the exhibits.

Why You Should Visit:
Miami’s flagship art museum highlighting the city's diverse community and pivotal geographic location at the crossroads of the Americas. In addition to exploring the galleries, visitors can: enjoy waterfront dining at Verde restaurant; shop a unique selection of art books, furnishings and handmade items at the museum’s gift store; and take in the spectacular views of Biscayne Bay and the elaborate hanging gardens.

Operation hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday - Sunday: 10:00 am - 6:00 pm; Thursday: 10:00 am - 9:00 pm
2
American Airlines Arena

2) American Airlines Arena

Known locally as the "triple-A" or "A³" (A cubed), The American Airlines Arena is a popular sports and entertainment venue located in Downtown Miami alongside Biscayne Bay. The arena was constructed from 1998 and was intended to replace the Miami Arena, serving as a home to the Miami Heat of the National Basketball Association.

The venue can be configured for concerts, family events, musical theater and other stage performances. Housed within the AAA Waterfront Theater is Florida's largest theater, capable of seating between 3,000 and 5,800 spectators at a time. For concerts in an arena configuration, its end stage capacity can vary between 12,202 for 180° shows and 18,309 for 360° shows. For center stage concerts the arena can seat up to 19,000+ viewers. Over the years, the AAA has seen the likes of international performers such as Mariah Carey, Cher, Britney Spears, U2, Shakira, Tina Turner, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, Katy Perry, Janet Jackson, Rihanna, and Adele.

Among many other things, the arena is known for its unusual scoreboard designed by artist Christopher Janney. Drawing on the underwater anemone forms, this scoreboard can change colors depending on the atmosphere.
Sight description based on wikipedia
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Freedom Tower

3) Freedom Tower (must see)

The Freedom Tower is a 17-floor structure located on the Wolfson campus of Miami Dade College. It has become the symbol of freedom to Cuban refugees who fled the communist regime of Fidel Castro to Florida.

The Freedom Tower was built in Mediterranean revivalist style in 1925. It housed the offices and printing facility of the newspaper called The Miami News. The design closely resembles that of the Giralda Tower in Seville, Spain. It has a height of 78 meters and the cupola once had a decorative beacon. The Miami News offices relocated in 1957 and the US Federal Government used the tower as a processing center for refugees fleeing from the communist regime in Cuba during the 1960s. Jorge Mas Canosa, the founder of the Cuban National American Foundation, purchased Freedom Tower and converted it into a monument for Cuban refugees in 1997, incorporating a museum, library, convention center and the offices of the Cuban National American Foundation.

Today, the Freedom Tower belongs to the Miami Dade University and is used as a cultural and educational center. The university has plans to house a permanent exhibition commemorating the major newspaper that was once published here, featuring exhibits relating to the days when the Tower served as a major Cuban refugee processing center.

Why You Should Visit:
Beautiful photo opportunities, especially at night, when the tower is lit up with an array of colors.

Opening Hours:
Wed-Fri, Sun: 1-6pm; Sat: 1-8pm
4
Bayside Marketplace

4) Bayside Marketplace (must see)

Bayside Marketplace is a festival marketplace in the heart of Downtown Miami, located between Bayfront Park to the south end and the American Airlines Arena to the north. Just as the name suggests, the venue wraps along the banks of the Biscayne Bay. Visitors to Bayside can experience real Miami as a home of impeccable international cuisine, fine shops and exotic music in a beautiful, waterfront setting.

The two-level, open-air festival center opened its doors for the first time in 1987 amid a major real estate boom in the city. Instead of being planned to revitalize a specific area, this entertainment complex complements an existing marina with more than 150 shops, including unique and national retailers such as Guess, GAP, and Victoria's Secret, as well as 12 delicious restaurants, such as Bubba Gump, Hard Rock Café, and The Knife.

The shopping center has been frequently featured on the crime drama TV series, Miami Vice. Being the number one most visited tourist attraction in Miami, Bayside attracts on average 15 million people annually who come to enjoy sunshine and a dose of Latin flavor combined with a few drinks by the water or seek to hop on a refreshing Bay cruise.

Why You Should Visit:
Restaurants overlooking the dock, many boating activities – jet boats, sunset cruises, etc. Overall, friendly and very culturally diverse.
Nice atmosphere through the day, but especially in the evenings, when there's always something going on, live, on the main podium.

Operation Hours:
Mon-Thu: 10am-10pm; Fri, Sat: 10am-11pm; Sun: 11am-9pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
5
Torch of Friendship

5) Torch of Friendship

The Torch of Friendship is a monument located at the northwest corner of Bayfront Park in downtown Miami. It was opened in 1960 to welcome the friends and neighbors of Florida from the Caribbean and South America.

The Torch was installed by the City of Miami to signify the city’s status as the gateway to the Caribbean. The inscription on the monument reads, “The Torch of Friendship dedicated by the City of Miami to the everlasting friendship of our neighboring countries.” It has a gas-fired torch installed at the top of an 18-foot pedestal with an everlasting flame that was meant to be a welcoming beacon for visitors and immigrants.

The Torch of Friendship was rededicated four years after its installation to the memory of the assassinated President John F. Kennedy. The burning candle was regarded as an extension of the candle that burns at Kennedy's gravesite in Arlington. Today, the candle has stopped burning. Some believe that it was a deliberate act, while others reckon that the gas pipe supplying the fuel must have been damaged. Recently, the Torch of Friendship Monument has become a venue for gatherings, commemorations and peaceful protests against national and international injustices.
6
Gesu Catholic Church

6) Gesu Catholic Church

The Gesu Catholic church is the oldest church in Miami. It was first established by a pioneer and landowning couple, William and Evelyn Wagner, in 1872. The full name of the church is The Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church but it is popularly called “Gesu” which is the Italian name for Jesus.

The Gesu Church relocated to its present site in 1896 on the land donated by Henry Flagler, a Presbyterian landowner. As the congregation outgrew the building, the more spacious structure was erected in 1925. The present church has the capacity of seating 800 parishioners. The altars are made of Italian marble and the temple has polychrome crystal leaded windows, portraying events in the life of Jesus and Mary, brought from Germany. In 1974, the building was included in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Gesu Memorial Church has an elementary school run by Jesuits, established in 1961. On the site it has a canteen dining room that serves meals for the elderly through the week. The priests visit and offer their services to the sick in hospitals and convalescent homes. Throughout history, the church has welcomed members of the armed forces and refugees, particularly those who fled the communist regime in Cuba and refugees from Haiti.

The interior of the temple features intricate mosaics depicting the Six Days of Creation, the Hosts of Heaven, and the Stations of the Cross. The stained glass windows portray scenes from the life of Jesus and several scenes from the Old Testament. The cathedral has a culturally diverse congregation and opens its doors to all, offering programs and outreach to help the local community in many ways.
7
Olympia Theater

7) Olympia Theater (must see)

The Olympia Theater began in 1927 as a venue where silent movies were screened. It was designed by well-known theater architect, John Eberson, with Moorish style exteriors and atmospheric interior design featuring red velvet seating, Moorish-inspired hand-painted moldings and arches throughout. The building was also known for its perfect acoustics, simulated night sky ceiling with drifting clouds and twinkling stars, and as the first air-conditioned theater in the South. Eventually, talking films and Vaudeville shows became major part of the Olympia program, and it continued to be one of the last theaters to stage Vaudeville performances in the U.S.

In the 1970s, the building suffered neglect until the local tycoon, Maurice Gusman, saved it, along with the adjacent office buildings, from deterioration. He gave the renovated complex to the city of Miami who then named it after Gusman in gratitude. The building underwent restoration and structural stabilization work prior to reopening as a modern and structurally safe theater.

In addition to some of the best-known Vaudeville artists, Olympia Theater has the history of hosting performances by some of the world's best-known performers, such as Elvis Presley, Luciano Pavarotti and B.B. King.

Why You Should Visit:
Hidden gem of a theater in the heart of downtown Miami dating back 100 years. Exquisite architecture and elegant decor inside and outside the auditorium. Well worth stopping and catching a concert or movie, if visiting Miami, for a little piece of local history! Highly recommended!
8
Bayfront Park

8) Bayfront Park (must see)

Bayfront Park is a large green space in downtown Miami sprawled near the financial district and the American Airlines Arena. The park is located on Biscayne Bay and is the venue of many commemorative events.

Bayfront covers an area of 32 acres and was established after the city of Miami acquired a strip of waterfront land from the Florida East Coast Railway. The first designs were made by architect Warren Henry Manning and the park was opened to the public in 1925. In 1980, it was extensively remodeled by the Japanese American modernist artist and landscape architect, Isamu Noguchi, who is rightfully considered to be one of America’s greatest 20th-century artists.

Bayfront Park is now managed by a limited agency of the City of Miami, called the Bayfront Park Management Trust. It is the venue of many important celebrations like the Independence Day Celebrations and the Official New Years Eve party. There is an amphitheater within the park that seats over 10,000 people, a small open-air pavilion called the Tina Hills Pavilion with a seating capacity for 1,000 people, and in the southeast corner of the park there is a monument dedicated to the astronauts who lost their lives in the tragic space accident in the 1980s.

Why You Should Visit:
The closeness of water, enhanced by the latest extension to the Miami River, makes this place very special.
The area allows visitors to enjoy beautiful downtown skyline and bay views. Live music in the amphitheater and the always friendly mood makes it particularly inviting.

Tip:
Check online schedule for the many activities that are always happening in this park.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am-11pm

Walking Tours in Miami, Florida

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.3 Km or 1.4 Miles
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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.0 Km or 2.5 Miles

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