Visiting the street art of Wynwood Walls in Miami

They say Wynwood Walls is one of the most Instagrammed places in the United States and judging by the number of people, of all ages and sizes, taking selfies or posing in front of the gigantic multicoloured murals, I wouldn't bet against it.

On this Miami morning in March, the spring break crowd is here in force to enjoy one of the world's great, free outdoor art galleries.

If, like me, you haven't been to Miami for a while, there's been a transformation. On the way from the airport late the previous night, I'd asked my taxi driver where in Miami I should head for when I woke up.

"Wynwood," he said decisively. "If you like art, it's a great place to hang out on a Sunday."

"Wynwood?" Last time I visited Miami, Wynwood was one of those suburbs taxi drivers told you avoid. Close to downtown, it was a no-go area, a warehouse district taken over by street gangs thriving on drugs and crime.

Yet today – on this beautiful morning when I could have strolled to Miami Beach, taken a dip and watched the old and the beautiful exercise as I ate breakfast – Wynwood is indeed a tourism hot spot, full of happy groups all seemingly intent on posting stupid images of themselves interacting with the art.

So what happened? Midtown Miami, which includes neighbourhoods such as Wynwood and Edgewater, was developed in the early 2000s raising the value of real estate. But let's give credit where it is due. The late Tony Goldman – who has been described as an "an arts visionary" and a "property developer" (an unlikely combination) –  was one of the first property developers to realise that the crumbling art deco hotels along Miami Beach could become the "American Riviera".

He died in 2012, having also made made significant architectural changes to New York's SoHo and Philadelphia's 13th Street.  He saw the moribund cast-iron industrial streets of Soho in the 1970s and the red light Centre City of Philadelphia in the 1990s, with its prostitution and adult entertainment, for what they might become.

But Wynwood is his greatest legacy because it had no obvious architectural value. Goldman bought several blocks of rundown warehouses and paid for world-renowned street artists to create giant masterpieces on the vacant walls – surfaces exposed to Miami's almost perpetual sunlight.

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Had he been here this Sunday morning, Goldman surely would have been proud. Wynwood Walls has grown exponentially. Now, apart from the Walls, there are the "Doors", guided tours of the artworks, security personnel ("Take your foot off the painting, ma'am. That's my last warning"), art galleries and restaurants.

Move a few blocks south and you'll see the old Wynwood. These are still mean streets, and there's a warning sign should you unwittingly cross the dividing line to the next suburb.

But Wynwood itself has been gentrified. Several permanent galleries have made their homes in or around Wynwood Walls. One of the first spaces you'll come to is the Peter Tunney Experience. Tunney, a former Wall Street trader, quit the stocks and shares game in 1991, opting instead for the shocks and and scares of the art world. He was the first tenant of "the Walls" and still has plenty of money if those massive chandeliers are anything to go by.

Visiting Wynwood Walls is a joyous, life-affirming experience. You won't like all the art, nor are you expected to. To be honest, watching the diverse group of humanity interacting with the art is as memorable as the street art itself – and some of it really is remarkable.

And if you suffer street art fatigue, well, it only takes an hour to walk around. And, because of the street art, there are now good restaurants less than a street away to retire to.

TRIP NOTES

Steve Meacham travelled to Wynwood at his own expense but was a guest in Miami of Regent Seven Sea Cruises.

MORE

traveller.com.au/miami

miamiandbeaches.com

EAT

There are many places to eat in Wynwood. Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, Alter, R House and Three are popular haunts. See wynwoodkitchenandbar.comaltermiami.comrhousewynwood.comthreewynwood.com/

SEE

thewynwoodwalls.com

CRUISE

Regent Seven Seas Cruises' Mariner will visit Australia and New Zealand in February and March 2020 as part of its 117-night world cruise. See rssc.com

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