Drop your mental picture of pastel-clad retirees lining up for the blue-plate specials. Miami is an ethnic melting pot that marries a global trade capital with a major international tourism destination. The city has the greatest concentration of international banks in the U.S. and is the 21st richest city in the world (2011) in terms of net earnings.
With the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Everglades to the west, Miami-Dade County (population 2.5 million) runs north-south, fronted by 83 miles of coastline.
See also: America's healthiest hometowns.
In 2008, Forbes ranked Miami as America's cleanest city for its year-round good air quality, big green spaces, clean drinking water, clean streets and citywide recycling programs. The metro area's recreation score is one of the highest in the country. The bars, clubs and restaurants range from dockside casual to guest-list exclusive.
The Miami zoo and aquarium hold their own but the real action is often found on the city's beaches. Standouts include the famously hip South Beach, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne and 85th Street Beach, which isn't shadowed by tall buildings. Biscayne National Park offers excellent diving, fishing and boating.
Miami flexes its arts and culture muscle in myriad ways, including in the galleries of Ocean Drive, which the American Planning Association named one of America's Great Streets. The Miami City Ballet is internationally acclaimed, and the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts is an architectural gem that leads a long list of top-notch theaters.
Miami's ethnic and racial diversity mirror its status as the unofficial capital of Latin America. Cuban Americans are fully integrated into Miami's neighborhoods, but their spiritual center remains in Calle Ocho (Eighth Avenue), where a huge annual carnival takes place in March. Kendall has one of the largest Colombian-American populations in the United States. A high number of foreign-born Haitians and Africans add to the metro area's already large native-born black population.
Miami's metropolitan rail lines are extensive and popular; carpooling is also popular, because traffic congestion is horrendous. Mortality is low, especially from cancer, and there is a high concentration of physicians and specialists. Surveys of the metro area also report low rates of obesity and smoking, but a high rate of binge drinking.
Downsides include high crime rates and a frustratingly slow rebound from the economic slump.
Next: Atlanta »