Sure, it's hot in Florida in the middle of July. But I live in Baltimore . . . it's hot here too in the middle of July! So, what better time to head to a beach...especially one that wouldn't be as crowded in high summer as the closer Maryland beaches where everyone heads "down-y ocean," as they say in this part of the world.

So, off I went to sunny (and yes, hot *and* humid!) Florida for a summer beach vacation. And you know what? Summer or winter, Florida is an ideal vacation destination (Not that that's a major newsflash, of course, but I thought I'd confirm it just in case you had any doubts!).

I flew from Baltimore to Ft. Lauderdale, not Miami. The airports were equi-distant from my hotels, and I found the Ft. Lauderdale airport much more manageable than the larger Miami airport.




Click photo to book the
32-story Trump International
Sonesta Beach Resort, which
has its own art collection & vintage car museum.

I spent the first three nights at the Trump International Sonesta Beach Resort on Sunny Isles Beach, just north of Miami Beach. And yes, "The Donald" is a part-owner, and, never one to miss a marketing opportunity, T-shirts saying "You're Fired" are for sale in the gift shop.

This 32-story resort has 390 guestrooms including one- and two-bedroom suites. I had a one-bedroom suite—which I would be perfectly happy to move into!—that came complete with living room, dining room, full kitchen, laundry room, floor to ceiling windows overlooking the ocean and the pool, and the most comfortable bed I've ever slept in. Apparently other people feel the same because the beds, and the linens, can be bought. Talk about a souvenir!

The hotel also houses the "American Classics Collection," a $5 million collection of 30 classic automobiles, numerous road signs, gas pumps, posters, radios, and other antiques. Some of the highlights include a 1928 Duesenberg, 1950 Mercury, 1949 Chrysler "Town & Country" convertible, 1964 Ford Mustang, 1958 Ford Edsel, 1967 Amphibious, and a 1946 Bubbler Wurlitzer Juke Box. This is a treat for young and old alike!




Floor to ceiling windows at the
Trump Sonesta Beach afford
guests this enticing view.

One of Miami's best new restaurants is Timo (17624 Collins Avenue, Sunny Isles; 305/936-1008), just across the street and up a block or two from the Trump Sonesta. Located in a strip mall, the restaurant boasts a "rustic chic" décor, and offers an unusual take on Italian dining, from foie gras crostini with caramelized oranges and fleur de sel to homemade pastas, freshly caught fish such as monkfish and black grouper, and, of course, pizza, but with choices such as spicy salami with hot peppers and black olives, or white shellfish pizza with roasted garlic and spinach. Save room for dessert since Timo's offers some of the best desserts I've ever eaten (and I know my desserts!). Our party shared just about all the desserts on the menu (there were 10 of us!), including macadamia brittle and gelato, polenta cake with strawberries, blackberry cheesecake, chocolate cake with roasted banana ice cream and liquid caramel.




Sonesta Key Biscayne guestroom.

I spent the second two nights of my stay at the Sonesta Beach Resort Key Biscayne, an eight-story, 300-room resort on Key Biscayne. More of a family resort than the Trump International, the Key Biscayne is just ten minutes from downtown Miami but the tranquil atmosphere of Key Biscayne makes you feel like you're worlds away. Key Biscayne is also an eco-tourism destination; you can learn about the area's ecosystem at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center at Crandon Park, or enjoy the tropical vegetation and exotic birds at Bill Baggs State Park (also home to the Cape Florida Lighthouse, built in 1825).




Catch some rays with
Geno's piña colada in hand.

Both hotels also have a spa; at the Trump I indulged in a hand and foot massage that left my entire body in a state of sheer relaxation, while at the Sonesta Key Biscayne I opted for a neck, shoulder, and back massage (my theory being that the shorter massage would give me time to get out to the beach before dinner . . . I was so relaxed, however, that it was all I could do to make it up to my room and collapse on the bed for a delicious nap! Treat yourself to some of the spa products available for sale so you can relive the experience at home. (Sorry, masseurs not included!)

Don't miss Geno's piña coladas at the Sonesta Key Biscayne. If you don't care for alcoholic beverages, ask for a "virgin," but this is a treat you won't want to pass up . . . without a doubt, the best pina colada (OK, actually, the best pina coladas, plural!) I've ever had.

If you're a shopper (and even if you're not!), visit the Bal Harbour Shops (www.balharbourshops.com), which was the country's first all-exclusive high-fashion shopping center. Located between the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay in the affluent village of Bal Harbour, this lushly landscaped, open-air mall does not look like any mall you're used to going to! According to Women's Wear Daily, this is the top-selling retail center in the country, and it's not hard to see why, with more than 100 stores such as Louis Vuitton, Roberto Cavalli, Hermes, Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, Valentino, Chanel, Bulgari, Cartier, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue…and more. Even if you don't want to part with your money, this is an ideal spot for window-shopping or simply lunching while watching the beautiful people stroll by.

More to Miami Than the Beaches

Yes, Miami is an ideal destination for sun and surf, but if you can pull yourself away from the beach, it's also a thriving arts center. Sparked in large part by the city's diverse, sophisticated population, the number of cultural groups in the Miami area in the past 20 years has soared from 100 to more than 700.



The Miami Beach corridor offers
cultural arts and entertainment.

Since 2002, every December the art world focuses on South Florida as it hosts Art Basel Miami Beach. This annual art event is a sister fair to Art Basel Switzerland and is said to be the most successful art fair in America. Exhibits, parties, lectures, alternative and crossover events, and complementary exhibits draw collectors, dealers, curators, and critics-not to mention celebrities and "just plain folk"-from all over the world.

On the heels of Art Basel Miami Beach is Art Miami, which is considered one of the best venues internationally for contemporary Latin American and Spanish art as well as emerging galleries.

But art in Miami isn't limited to these annual art fairs. Throughout Greater Miami, indoors and out, you can see impressive public art projects by local, nationally, and internationally acclaimed artists, thanks to Miami-Dade Art in Public Places, a model program that is being copied throughout the country. In the southern area of Greater Miami, visit Art South, an artists' collective of working and exhibit space in downtown Homestead, while in North Miami, the Museum of Contemporary Art hosts diverse visual arts genres.

The recently renovated Bass Museum on Miami Beach has undergone an extensive expansion designed by the world-renowned architect Arata Isozaki. The museum houses a large collection of European painting, sculpture, and textiles from the Renaissance to the present, and also plans to display large-scale outdoors exhibit.




This 19th century lighthouse on
Key Biscayne reflects tranquillity.

Also on Miami Beach is the one-of-a-kind Wolfsonian Museum, located in the heart of South Beach's Art Deco District in an historic landmark building. The museum is owned by Florida International University and houses the Mitchell Wolfson Jr. collection, a comprehensive survey of the art of design. You can spend hours viewing the more than 70,000 items in the collection, including furniture, glass, ceramics, metalwork, rare books, periodicals, ephemera, works on paper, paintings, textiles, and medals of North American and European origin. Also on Miami Beach you will find the Jewish Museum of Florida, which is housed in a beautifully restored 1936 synagogue built by Miami Beach's first Jewish congregation. A few blocks north, stop at the Holocaust Memorial, an inspirational sculpture and gardens which honors the cultural influence of Miami Beach's Jewish population.

Lincoln Road — one of Miami Beach's more trendy areas-is home to Art Center South Florida. This 60,000 square foot campus was established in 1984 by a small group of artists; at the time the area was a vacant and neglected thoroughfare. There are 52 artists' studios and exhibition spaces open to the public. The Center provided the impetus for Lincoln Road's transformation into a thriving hub of culture, entertainment, retail business, and community activity.

For a look at the work of young, up-and-coming artists, visit the galleries surrounding the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. The last Friday of each month is Gallery Night and a number of galleries stay open late to showcase their young artists (wine is provided!). The Museum of Contemporary Art also hosts monthly jazz concerts.

More galleries await in Miami's Design District. Just north of downtown Miami, this community is becoming the center of the home furnishings and interior design industry in South Florida, and-unlike other design districts—all showrooms are open to the public, not only to the trade. A number of galleries have relocated to this revitalized area including Bernice Steinbaum, Kevin Bruk Gallery, Moore Space, and the Barbara Gillman Gallery. The nearby Wynwood Arts District is home to more than 20 warehouses and exhibition spaces, while the Rubell Family Collection houses one of the world's most important private collections of contemporary art, with over 1,500 pieces spanning 30 years of the contemporary art movement. Continuing south, the city's major downtown museum, Miami Art Museum exhibits and collects Western Hemisphere works of art from 1940 to the present.




The early 20th century
mansion and gardens of
Villa Vizcaya pay homage to
the Italian Renaissance.

Adjacent to the Miami Art Museum is the Historical Museum of South Florida, within the Phillip Johnson-designed Miami-Dade Cultural Center; also within the center is the main branch of the Miami Dade Public Library and the Louis Wolfson II Media History Center.

In Coconut Grove, the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is one of Miami's treasures. Once a private residence built by industrialist James Deering in 1916, the mansion was based on Italian Renaissance architecture, and is filled with European furnishings and decorative arts.

At the University of Miami in Coral Gables, the Lowe Art Museum sponsors Gables Gallery Night the first Friday of the month from October through March. Sip and nibble your way through galleries that feature Latin Masters and contemporary works. With map in hand, just hop on the art trolley that will take you from gallery to gallery.

It's never too early to expose children to the arts and the new Miami Children's Museum on Watson Island does a great job of that. The museum is one of the ten largest children's museums in the United States, with more than 50,000 square feet, and features both permanent and temporary exhibits and ongoing classes in the visual and performing arts.




Take a scenic boat ride on
the Intracoastal Waterway.

The performing arts are as important to the Miami scene as the visual arts. Greater Miami's Performing Arts Center is scheduled to open in the 2005/2006 season. Designed by world-famous architect Cesar Pelli, the center will be one of only four in the United States featuring three separate performance facilities created to present ballet, opera, theater, and symphonic music. Four companies will be in residence—the Concert Association of Florida, Florida Grand Opera, Miami City Ballet, and the New World Symphony.

Miami's musical performances also reflect the diversity of its population. Miami Light Project, a nonprofit presenting organization, encourages avant garde and experimental performance in Miami and provides space, workshops, and support for new works. (This year's eclectic schedule includes Ros Warby, Rennie Harris' Facing Mekka, and Cie Felix Ruckert in Deluxe Joy Pilot.) Other musical series throughout the year include the classics-themed Festival Miami to Subtropics, an experimental music festival.

For information on Miami's cultural and arts venues, visit www.miamiandbeaches.com. For information on heritage, visit www.miamiheritage.com. For a vacation guide, call toll-free at 888/76-MIAMI.

— By Carol Sorgen, Baltimore Correspondent.