Miami Beach was originally sandbar, accessed only by boat until a bridge from the mainland was built in 1913.Henry and Charles Lum built the first structure The Biscayne House of Refuge in 1876, at 72nd Street. Following an attempt to grow both coconuts and avocadoes, Miami Beach as it became know, consisted of 17 islands linked together. At the same time across the Biscayne Bay, the City of Miami was established in 1896 with the arrival of the railroad and a port.
Developing the beach area as a resort began with bath houses and food stands, the first hotel was built in 1915 at 112 Ocean Drive. Miami Beach grew to become a city in 1917 and was a spectacular winter playground until the devastating hurricane in 1926, followed by the 1929 Wall Street Crash, ending the prosperous "Florida Boom". However, this did little to stop tourists and investors which signalled the start of Art Deco era. There are now some 1,100 protected Art Deco sites to admire.
Explore Miami Beach by car - note Miami Beach has trademark pink sidewalks - there are places to stop and get out and explore -
So to start, cross the Intercoastal Waterway using the MacArthur Causeway Bridge (A1A) onto Watson Island, on your right is the seaplane base. Little much else to see here apart from huge cruise liners moored opposite on Dodge Island. Continue east on the causeway passing Palm Island, Hibiscus Island and Star Island - the place to live if you have money !
As the causeway rises slightly, look left and see the obelisk on the island in the distance - the Flagler Memorial Monument - dedicated to Henry Flagler who opened the Florida East Coast Railroad to Miami in 1986. Turn right after the bridge into Alton Road and continue past the marina which runs along the right hand side of the road behind the buildings. You will find South Pointe Park at the end where you can park and explore the pier and marina at the start of Government Cut. Here you can also see the exclusive Fisher Island - only accessible by private boat or ferry - it represents one of the wealthiest zip codes in the US.
Continue on and turn left at the end of the road into Ocean Drive. Head on down and by 5th Street you will have arrived in the Art Deco district. Take time out exploring the Floridian version of Art Deco called Tropical Deco or relax on the beach at Lummus Park. Notable hotels to view are Park Central (1937), Imperial (1939), Majestic (1940), Avalon (1941), Beacon (1936), Colony (1935) and Waldorf Towers (1937).
Turn left on to 15th Street, left again and then cruise down Collins Avenue back towards 5th Street. Turn right onto Washington Avenue to take in the restaurants, shops, delicatessens and produce markets. Also a place to stop to purchase Jewish, Cubans and Haitian books and souveniers. Further along the street you will find the Wolfsonian Museum - worth a visit if you have time. Carry on to Espanola Way (narrow, one way heading west) between 14th and 15th Street to see the narrow street of Mediterranean inspired buildings from the 1930s. Follow Espanola Way as far as Meridian Avenue and turn right. You have now reached Lincoln Road Mall area - a pedestrian row of shops, restaurants, galleries, and other businesses between Washington Avenue and Alton Road. Park at 17th Street Garage, at 1755 Meridian Avenue, currently $1 per hour up to 6 hours (2013 rate) ideal for shopping or just a short walk to the beach.
Back in the car heading east on 17th Street you will find the impressive New World Symphony building. The park is also the meeting point for the Miami Pirate Duck tour. Turn left onto Washington Avenue and you will see the massive Miami Beach Convention Centre and behind it, the Holocaust Memorial. Also, at the Fillmore Miami Beach Theatre you will find the Walk of Stars where famous stars have left their footprints and signatures in concrete - similar to Hollywood, CA.
One block east to Collins Avenue and turn right (south) you will see three large hotels - the National, Delano and Ritz - all Art Deco hotels. Turn around and head north on Collins up to 21st Street and there you will find the Bass Museum of Art. Driving north 20 blocks you will arrive at the fabulous Fontainebleau Resort - the giant of Miami Beach. Cruise on up north and turn left on to 65th Street and turn south on to Alton Road. Take any causeway heading west back to downtown Miami - your tour of Miami Beach is complete. Alternatively you can carry on driving north up the A1A as far as Dania Beach, stopping off at a beach of your choice and return to Miami that way.
For fans of the hit TV show "Dexter" - his apartment used in filming Season 1 was originally located at 1155 103rd Street on Bay Harbor Island which is close to the 922 causeway. Security has been upped since filming began but worth a trip to the area. Other locations can be found in Miami by searching the internet for Dexter tour map.
Don't forget a walking tour is also a fun way to expand your cultural horizons - this is a 90 minute colourful accompanied introduction to Art Deco - departs from 1001 Ocean Drive at 10th Street. Self guided audio tours are available. Also consider the Deco Bike tour - bikes can be rented, and returned to any of the 60 lime green kiosks, simply using a credit card.
Happy exploring !