Miami Sizzles for GLBT Travelers
During the cold snap a couple of weeks ago, I found myself at 3 a.m. waiting for a SamTrans bus at the temporary Transbay Terminal in San Francisco, wishing I had dressed warmer. A long-sleeved shirt, sweater, jacket, and scarf were not enough. But relief would come soon. I was heading to San Francisco International Airport to catch an early flight to Miami.
In a reversal of fortunes, the next bus stop at which I found myself was outside the Miami airport. I found myself stripping off layers of clothes as I searched for a shady place to wait in 85-degree weather.
Ultimately, the year-round warm weather is what lures most people to Miami, but there are plenty of things to see and do there even if you are not much of a beach person. The greater Miami area is home to a rich cultural history and natural attractions that keep visitors returning every year.
While most visitors think of it all as Miami, the greater Miami area is made up of the city of Miami and its suburbs on the mainland and the oceanfront city of Miami Beach and several other tourist-centric cities on the barrier islands across Biscayne Bay from Miami.
Miami Beach is world-famous for the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world. It wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the devastating hurricane of 1926 that flattened the city. The hurricane coincided with the advent of the Art Deco architectural period, so builders rode the wave of popularity and remade the oceanfront hotels in the Deco style.
Gays were a big part of the renaissance of South Beach in the 1970s when it had gone out of fashion in favor of the larger resort hotels farther north. The resurgence of South Beach continues today with more high-end retailers moving in and hotels skewing even more to the upscale.
Gay Miami Beach has a beautiful 2,500 square foot LGBT Visitor Center in the old Miami Beach City Hall building on Washington Avenue near 12th Street. It is open every day and hosts a Friday night cocktail mixer. You can get information there on the latest LGBT happenings in Miami. It also has lounge with free Wi-Fi and computers if you want to stop by and check your email. Check the center’s website at www.GoGayMiami.com.
While many places have an unofficial gay beach, Miami Beach makes it official. Miami’s gay beach is the 12th Street Beach, the section of Miami Beach across from where 12th Street intersects with Ocean Drive. The city requires the company that runs the concession stands to put up rainbow flags every day.
The gay-popular, clothing optional Haulover Beach is about a 25-minute drive or 45-minute bus ride from South Beach. The clothing-optional section is on the north end of the beach, north of the yellow lighthouse.
The best way to see the top attractions of Miami and Miami Beach without getting lost is to take an organized tour. The Big Bus runs every half hour on loops through the beach area and the city of Miami. You can hop off at any of the attractions the catch your attention.
The strip of Art Deco hotels along Ocean Drive is one of the biggest attractions for tourists to Miami Beach. The strip is packed with restaurants and shops that occupy the first floors of the hotels. If you’ve seen the movie The Birdcage, the Carlyle Hotel on Ocean Drive was the setting for the Birdcage nightclub. One of the few buildings on Ocean Drive not Art Deco is the Versace Mansion (now called Casa Casuarina). The mansion marks a shocking and sad chapter in LGBT history as the place where serial killer Andrew Cunanan gunned down designer Gianni Versace on the steps of the mansion in 1997. Jordache Enterprises, makers of Jordache jeans, bought the property in September and plan to keep operating it as a hotel.
One of Miami Beach’s newer landmarks, the Holocaust Memorial, opened in South Beach in 1990. It is a very touching and important tribute to the victims of one of history’s darkest hours. The memorial is centered around a sculpture of an arm with an extended hand reaching to the sky with naked figures clinging to it.
San Francisco’s own Michael Tilson Thomas is the artistic director at another modern landmark, the New World Symphony building in South Beach, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. The big white wall of the building is the screen for the free movie night every Wednesday at 8 p.m.
The World Erotic Art Museum in South Beach boasts the world’s largest public collections of erotic art and includes gay and lesbian erotica. The tacky-looking entrance to the museum on Washington Street doesn’t look like much, but don’t let that throw you, the museum is first-rate and provides visitors a fascinating look into sexuality in various cultures and eras.
The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami provides visitors with a good glimpse into the history of Florida. The estate’s centerpiece is an Italian Renaissance-style mansion surrounded by 10 acres of gardens. James Deering, who made a fortune making tractors and farm equipment, built the property and wintered there between 1916-1925. Deering was a "life-long bachelor." He has been thought by many to be gay, but if he was, like so many other gay men of his era, he kept that part of his life hidden.
If you are in the mood to splurge, the city of Bal Harbour, north of Miami Beach, has Florida’s version of Rodeo Drive set in an open-air mall called the Bal Harbour Shops.
More moderately priced shops can be found in the city of Miami. The Bayfront Park Bayside shopping area is the Pier 39 of Miami and is part of the rejuvenated previously rundown section of downtown next to the American Airlines Arena, which opened in 2000. The park is across the street from the Freedom Tower, one of the oldest attractions of the city. It was Miami’s first skyscraper and once housed a newspaper office. It was dubbed the Freedom Tower when refugees from Cuba were processed through there following the Cuban revolution in 1959.