A guide to historic Miami (and its top sights)

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For most travelers, Miami is synonymous with sunshine, beaches and warm ocean water, fine dining and upscale shopping, art deco hotels and a bustling cruise port where thousands of ships sail to destinations in the Caribbean and beyond. Historical sites are unlikely to be a priority, but the city has a fascinating history, and much of it is recorded not only in museums, but also in the buildings, churches and parks that tourists visit. visit every day.

Originally inhabited by Native Americans, notably the Tequesta, Miami was incorporated in 1896 after the United States purchased the land from Spain, which had claimed it 200 years earlier. The city’s Native American roots can be seen in several places, including Arch Creek Park in North Miami Beach, once the site of a heavily traveled trail long before the Spanish even arrived. And then there’s the Miami Circle National Historic Landmark, an important Native American archaeological site dating back approximately 2,000 years and located in downtown Miami at the head of the Miami River. But the most obvious newer historical aspect of Miami to visitors is architectural in the city’s impressive Art Deco District.

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South Beach hotels, boutiques designed in a classic Art Deco style

Originating in France in the early 20th century, Art Deco architecture, known for its geometric shapes, simple lines and bold colors, reached its peak in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. Miami is located in South Beach, along Ocean Drive and on Collins and Washington Avenues. Many boutique hotels were built in the art deco style, and tourists can stroll around the neighborhood to admire the architecture up close. Some transit routes on the Miami Trolley include Collins Avenue for those who prefer not to walk.


Some of the best examples of Art Deco include:

The Breakwater Hotel on Ocean Drive is widely considered the icon of the Art Deco District, with its bright blue neon sign. Built in 1936 with clean and colorful lines, the establishment of character offers 100 guest rooms in the heart of the district.

The Carlyle on Ocean Drive, with its famous green and white exterior, is home to residential condos and has been known for its star factor since being featured in hit films such as “The Birdcage” and “Scarface.” The building opened in 1941.

The 1939 Webster Miami was designed by Henry Hohauser, considered one of the leading art deco architects of his time. The Collins Avenue building is known for its classic art deco look and now houses several high-end clothing boutiques after operating as a hotel.


The Delano South Beach on Collins Avenue was considered Miami Beach’s tallest building when it was built in 1947. Known for its four-sided art deco tower, the property was named in honor of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Delano has been closed since 2020, but visitors can admire the exterior of the historic building.

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Other must-see Art Deco classics include the Bass Museum, one of Miami Beach’s oldest Art Deco buildings, built in Collins Park in 1930; the Miami Beach Post Office on Washington Avenue, dating from 1937; and the Betsy Hotel, built in 1942 by L. Murray Dixon, another Art Deco pioneer.


Tourists can stop at Art Deco Visitor Center to sign up for guided tours and learn more about the history of the architectural style. The center also includes the Art Deco Museum, which offers exhibitions, lectures and workshops related to the style. The center is on Ocean Drive.

Explore the Golden Age at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in the Coconut Grove section of Miami dates from the turn of the 20th century and was once owned by industrialist James Deering. The waterside mansion represents the Golden Age and is best known for its grand Italian Renaissance gardens. Designed in the Mediterranean Revival architectural style, the 70-room main house features gilt panelling, frescoed ceilings imported from Italy and France, marble floors, stained glass doors, and a treasure trove of historical artifacts dating back to the Fifteenth century.


The museum is owned by Miami-Dade County. Tickets are required for entry.

There is a so-called hidden historical gem in North Miami Beach. This is the old Spanish monastery, originally built in Segovia, Spain, then dismantled and shipped to the United States in 1925 by industrialist William Randolph Hearst. The monastery had been occupied by Cistercian monks for several hundred years. Hearst bought the cloisters and some outbuildings and sent them to America, where they were rebuilt stone by stone. Located on Dixie Highway, the monastery is open to the public and available for weddings.

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Another religious site is also of historical importance: the Gesu Catholic Church, the oldest church in Miami. Established by wealthy landowners in 1872, the church was moved to its current location on Northeast 2nd Street in 1896. Visitors will find crystal stained glass windows and Italian marble altars. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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