24 hours in Miami

Rob McFarland feels the heat of a city with white beaches, bronzed bathers and Latin rhythm.

A contender for sexiest city in the US, Miami is a product of its location. As an American city with close ties to Central and South America, it is a melting pot for Latin-infused culture.

You'll find Cuban, Mexican and even Brazilian influences in everything from the music to the food and fashion. The location delivers a hot, humid, tropical climate that, combined with some of the world's best beaches, makes it a magnet for holidaymakers.

Miami is really two towns separated by Biscayne Bay. Downtown Miami is where the city goes to work; South Beach is where the city goes to play.

9am

Although one of Miami's biggest drawcards is the access it provides to the Florida Keys (a 215-kilometre chain of islands), they're just too far away to get there and back in a day. Instead, grab a coffee on the run for breakfast and take the six-kilometre Rickenbacker Causeway that links downtown Miami to a little island paradise named Key Biscayne.

It'll give you a taste of the relaxed lifestyle for which the Keys is famous and you'll drive past a world-class attraction on the way.

Miami Seaquarium is the home of aquatic superstars Flipper the dolphin and Lolita the killer whale and both partake in a regular program of shows and demonstrations throughout the day.

Should you wish to get even closer to the action, there's an innovative dolphin-encounter program that allows you to get in the water and interact with the mammals.

Miami Seaquarium, entry $US40 ($40) adults, $US30 children; dolphin encounter $US139; see miamiseaquarium.com. 

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12.30pm

For lunch, settle into the Pelican Cafe on Ocean Drive in South Beach, pop on your shades and prepare to be entertained. This is a people-watching paradise: Lamborghini-driving rap stars; beach-bronzed, Baywatch-like goddesses; glistening, swaggering, steroid-pumped man-mountains and the occasional celebrity entourage - they are all here in an endlessly entertaining 24-hour outdoor carnival. Bring your camera.

Pelican Cafe, 826 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach.

3pm

Grab your swimmers and hop over the road to South Beach, one of the best city beaches in the US. Wide, with fine white sand and warm water, there is plenty of space to spread out on even the busiest of weekends.

European-style topless bathing and barely-there bikinis are the norm so expect to be confronted with a festival of flesh.

5pm

Time for some culture. The Wolfsonian FIU has an intriguing collection of American and European decorative art produced between 1885 and 1945. Showing everything from paintings to postcards, its aim is to illustrate how art and design have both influenced and adapted to the modern world.

For something less highbrow but equally compelling, The Villa by Barton G is the 1930s former home of fashion designer Gianni Versace and the place where he was gunned down in 1997. Now a high-end boutique hotel, its rooms cost from $US800 a night but you can eat in the restaurant, take a tour for $US65 and ogle the intricate marble work, Renaissance-style mosaics and outrageously opulent interiors.

For fine arts, visit the Adrienne Arsht Centre for the Performing Arts in Downtown. It's the second-biggest performing arts venue in the US.

Wolfsonian FIU, 1001 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach, entry $US7, see wolfsonian.org; The Villa by Barton G, 1116 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, see thevillabybartong.com; the Adrienne Arsht Centre for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, see arshtcenter.org.

 8pm

Miami has a huge variety of Latin and Caribbean cuisine alongside the traditional US fast-food chains and diners. For a romantic night out, head to the cute Espanola Way, a cobbled arcade lined with Italian, Mexican and Spanish restaurants decorated in delicate pink hues with outdoor seating and flattering lighting. Try Tapas Y Tintos, an authentic Spanish eatery with an impressive menu of tapas and an intoxicating selection of sangria.

Tapas Y Tintos, 448 Espanola Way, Miami Beach, see tapasytintos.com. Mains from $US8-$US25.

10pm

Walk off dinner with a stroll along Ocean Drive and marvel at the art deco architecture. Almost every hotel on South Beach has elements of the bold neon signage, pastel colours, clean lines and stucco exteriors that characterise this 20th-century school of design.

Midnight

It's time to party and the only question is where. For stunning views and cooling breezes, try the Gansevoort Hotel's rooftop bar. For an alfresco Mojito surrounded by models, head to the Redroom at the Shore Club. For sophistication and world-class art, try the Gallery Dining Room at the Sagamore. The list of lounges, bars and clubs is long and it's not hard to find a dance floor open until 5am. Cover charges range from $US10-25.

When it's time to retire, you'd be wise to choose somewhere central. The Pelican Hotel on Ocean Drive is well located and is a refreshing change from the Philippe Starck-style starkness found in so many of Miami's most popular hotels.

Each of the Pelican's 29 cheekily named rooms is unique, with quirky design touches, free Wi-Fi and recycled-oak floors. Most requested room? Room 215, named the ''Best Whorehouse''.

Plunge, Gansevoort Hotel, 2377 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, see gansevoortmiamibeach.com; Redroom, Shore Club, 1901 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, see shoreclub.com; the Sagamore, 1671 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, see sagamorehotel.com; the Pelican Hotel, 826 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, see pelicanhotel.com. Rooms cost from $US160.

Rob McFarland travelled courtesy of V Australia and the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.

V Australia has a fare to Los Angeles for about $1180 low-season return from Melbourne and Sydney (14hr) including tax. From LA, American Airlines flies to Miami (5hr) for about $400 return including tax. Australians must apply for US travel authorisation before departure, at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov.

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