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Miami's LGBT Scene: Way Beyond Circuit Parties

If you think you’ve “been there, done that” in Miami, America’s Gay Riviera, think again.

Although Miami will always be a sensual “sun and fun” playground, the gay and lesbian scene has evolved way beyond circuit parties – offering more urbane options for those looking for more than just casual diversions.

“Miami has finally graduated from party town to something more sophisticated,” said Mike Albo recently in an Advocate article. “Over the past 10 years, the city has zipped itself up, with Art Basel lending an air of international sophistication. The Design District has given the city its own promenade of chic stores and restaurants, and style boutiques like the Webster and Alchemist have elevated fashion beyond the beach look.”

Greater Miami and the Beaches’ gay universe is undoubtedly sexy and sassy, but you’ll still respect it in the morning when you explore everything it has to offer.  True, we were named “Best Beach to See and Be Seen” in GayCities.com’s 2010 Best Gay Beach Cities survey, and ranked among About.com’s World’s Best Gay Urban Beach Destinations in 2012, but we offer more than premium eye-candy.

The social scene here is highly integrated, rather than segregated in terms of gay versus straight hotels and clubs – although you can find those oases if you like.  A great place to make your plans is the new LGBT Visitor Center in South Beach (1130 Washington Ave.), one of the first in the country, operated and funded by the MDGLCC Foundation, Inc., the non-profit arm of the Miami Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Designed to specifically meet an LGBT’s traveler’s needs, and sponsored by MetLife, the visitor center is a one-stop destination for information, publications, wireless internet access, LGBT curious and weekly community events. The LGBT Visitor Center can also assist with any last minute needs such as hotel and excursion reservations, dining and attraction recommendations.  The Chamber offers a unique Pink Flamingo Certification for businesses which guarantee a welcoming space for LGBT travelers. Another great resource for inspiration is GoGayMiami.com, featuring a great community calendar listing all events happening in the area.

Astounding Arts Scene

Miami’s culture scene has grown up, but still pushes boundaries. If you’re a cinemaphile, you won’t want to miss the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival or the world-renowned Miami International Film Festival. Another ‘must see’ is Miami Beach Cinematheque (Miami’s hip art house cinema), with offices at the Old City Hall and the “straight friendly” Lords South Beach Hotel. Across the street is the ever-popular World Erotic Art Museum, hosting the world’s largest collection of exotic/erotic art, a short walk from the Wolfsonian–Florida International University Museum, which explores how art and design shape and reflect the human experience. The Bass Museum further north features a fabulous collection of European art, while the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami offers the latest modern art.

Those looking for even more artistic sustenance for the soul can visit the Cesar Pelli-designed Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on the mainland, Florida’s largest performing arts center, a major symbol that Miami has firmly established itself as a sophisticated arts destination. The center houses the Florida Grand Opera and the Miami City Ballet and many world class events, and in terms of size is second in the U.S. only to New York’s Lincoln Center.   Soon to come just down the street is Museum Park, a state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly bayfront facility housing the renowned Miami Science Museum, the Historical Museum of Southern Florida and the new Miami Art Museum. The 29-acre grounds, located at what is now Bicentennial Park, will include gardens and sculpture installations that the public can enjoy for free.

Another sign of Miami’s renaissance is its cutting edge urban evolution, led by Miami real-estate visionaries like Craig Robins in the Design District and Tony Goldman in the Wynwood district on the northern edge of downtown Miami – both great places for high-style shopping and entertainment. The Design District, dotted with the leading home designer brand stores but open to the public, is redefining how fashion is merchandised, according to Robins, who announced in January 2012 a deal to soon bring other fashion icon brands such as Christian Dior, Fendi, Bulgari, Pucci, De Beers, Celine and Marc by Marc Jacobs. Recently opened is Cartier, Tom Ford, Zegna and Burberry.

Adjacent to the Design District and carrying on the tropical SoHo vibe is Wynwood, home to the astonishing Wynwood Walls, an open air par dedicated to cutting-edge museum quality contemporary urban murals. Both neighborhoods host gallery nights (as do many of Miami’s neighborhoods!) on the second Saturday of the month, with locals and visitors passing back and forth between the adjacent neighborhoods to explore the latest art trends.

Year-Round Events for Every Expression

One of the most fabulous things about Miami is that you can lounge away from it all on a beach or in one of our many spas, or you can be plugged into it with many of our year-round mega events, from the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival, Art Basel Miami Beach and Coconut Grove Arts Festival to the Miami International Boat Show, Miami Book Fair International and Carnaval Miami.

And if you must do a circuit party, we proudly boast three of the planet’s foremost, such as White Party Week, a series of fund-raising parties events which culminates with the legendary White Party. More than 15,000 party-goers enjoy six days and nights of non-stop entertainment in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Winter Party features an extraordinary lineup of celebrity DJs, with parties and events that lead up to the world-renowned beach dance party at the end.  All proceeds benefit the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and local Miami-Dade LGBT organizations. Billed as the largest women's charity weekend in the country, Aquagirl’s lineup usually includes nights of  comedy, unique dance parties, women's art exhibits, dining events, pool parties, a mega beach party, girl's rock concerts and more.

South Beach also offers other gay-friendly and specifically gay-oriented events, such as the Winter Music Conference/Ultra Music Festival, the world’s premiere electronic music festival/ The Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade, which debuted in 2012, includes more than 40 fabulous floats lined up the length of Ocean Drive in the Art Deco District, which features the largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the world, its Miami Design Preservation League offering a variety of tours on bike and foot.  Sizzle Miami – Memorial Day Weekend, celebrates men who love men of color, and Miami Beach Bruthaz is an annual summer lifestyle event for same gender loving men and women from around the world.

Because there are so many ways to play here, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau hosts Miami Temptations, a series of ongoing monthly promotions by theme (www.MiamiTemptations.com), such as Miami Museum Month (May), Miami Romance Month (June), Miami Spa Month (July-August), Miami Spice Restaurant Month (August-September), Miami Attractions Month (October) and Live Music Month (November).

Beyond South Beach and downtown Miami

Beyond all the glitz, glamour and partying till dawn, Miami boasts a sophisticated, multi-faceted scene well beyond South Beach and downtown Miami.  Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, Little Havana, Bal Harbour, South Miami Dade and Upper East Side (i.e. MOCA) offer a head-spinning mix of world-class lodging, dining, culture, shopping and eco-tourism.                                                         

Coconut Grove was legendary in its heyday as an arts colony and today offers casual and quirky restaurants and cafés, art galleries, boutiques, farmers markets, and festivals.  The galleries open up for parties on the first Saturday of the month, inviting locals and visitors to soak up the local culture. “The Grove” is home to the “must-see” Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, an Italian Renaissance mansion and gardens overlooking Biscayne Bay.  Coral Gables, renowned for world-class dining as well as its flock of top galleries that present the crème de la crème of Latin American and Spanish art, features First Fridays, when galleries offer open houses.  “The Gables” is home to the Village of Merrick Park, one of Miami's most upscale shopping Mecca’s, with more than 100 haute couture fashion and home décor shops and boutiques. Nearby is Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, a premier tropical botanic garden with the largest selection of tropical plants, vines and flowering trees and palms in the world.  Saturated with Cuban culture, Little Havana's main thoroughfare, Calle Ocho (Eighth Street) is lined with comfort food restaurants featuring Latin specialties and cafes where men sip cafecitos and play dominos and argue about politics all day.  Here, artisans still hand-roll cigars, and tailors create custom guayaberas (traditional linen shirts), while the sounds of salsa and merengue fill the air. 

The agricultural bounty of Miami's mild climate becomes apparent as visitors head south of Miami to Redland and Homestead, with vast fields of strawberries, tomatoes and other fresh produce, en route to Miami’s two unique national parks, Everglades National Park – where you can hike, canoe, kayak or take guided boat tours -- and Biscayne Underwater National Park, great for snorkeling and scuba diving. One of the most famous farm stands in the area is Robert Is Here, a popular stop on the way to the parks. The roadside stand has garnered international acclaim for fresh fruit shakes and unusual produce.  

Many of the area's tourist most quirky attractions are also located here, including Zoo Miami, Monkey Jungle (where the people are caged), Schnebly’s Winery (wines made from tropical fruits), Everglades Alligator Farm (with cool airboat rides) and Coral Castle Museum, featured on many mystery TV shows.  The latter is an impressive stone sculpture garden, carved secretly by one man, Edward Leedskalnin from 1923 to 1951, is made from over 1,100 tons of coral rock – an accomplishment that remains a mystery today.

Hotels with Personality

While South Beach has long attracted the LGBT crowd with its stunning collection of Art Deco gems and boutique hotels with personality to burn, the luxury lodging scene has been heating up across Greater Miami.   In addition to three Ritz-Carlton Hotels, a Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental and Conrad Miami, new luxury properties have opened their doors in recent years that offer a downtown cosmopolitan vibe with spectacular Biscayne Bay views, such as the J.W. Marriott Marquis, the Viceroy, the Epic and the Hotel Beaux Arts. The legendary Morris Lapidus-designed Fountainebleau and Eden Roc resorts, made famous by the 1950's Rat Pack, recently received multimillion-dollar makeovers, while other “still hot” properties include the W Hotel, Canyon Ranch and Cipriani South Beach Ocean Resort and Club Residences. 

Those who can't imagine leaving home without their feline or canine companions will find Miami to be extraordinarily pet-friendly. Hotels welcome guests traveling with their faithful four-legged friends with an extraordinary array of offerings, ranging from the basic necessities of comfortable beds and water bowls to spa treatments, doggie yoga, yappy hours, jewel-studded collars, special menus, pet turndown service, puppy pagers, play dates, grooming services and much more.

A Vibrant, Multicultural Dining and Nightlife Scene

No class of offerings is more diverse and sometimes exotic than Miami's dining scene.  The birthplace of Nuevo Latino cuisine, Miami is home to some of America's hottest chefs, who dish up award-winning fare. And though heavily Latin-flavored, Greater Miami's multi-ethnic gumbo lets galloping-gourmet visitors make their way around the world on any budget.  Especially enticing is August-September's Miami Spice Restaurant Month, which offers special prix fixe prices at dozens of the city's top restaurants (ILoveMiamiSpice.com).  

When it comes to nightlife, Miami is red hot.  Among favorite gay hangouts are: The Palace, Score, Twist and Mova Lounge. Off the beach, the selections have increased as well.  Visitors can select from Johnny’s in Miami, Swinging Richards in North Miami Beach and, EROS Lounge in Miami.  Any visit should of course include some Latin flavor, with options such as mainstay’s Azucar and, Discotekka – both on the mainland -- having you dancing salsa until the wee hours of the morning.  Many other mixed or mostly gay nightspots are peppered throughout downtown and out to the heavily Latin areas to the west and south.  Here, you'll get a taste of a bigger cross-section of gay Latinoamérica than anyplace else in the hemisphere.  Need to accessorize?  Then visit the folks at Creative Male downtown near the performing arts center.

In recent years, party promoters have also elevated gay nightlife to a new level. Edison Farrow’s SoBe Social Club is a prime example.  Now in its seventh year, his Martini Tuesday is a weekly cocktail party that meets every Tuesday at a different venue to bring together gay locals and visitors for cocktails and conversation.  Farrow has also been promoting "Simple Life Thursdays" for the past three years at the Buck15 Lounge.  Gay men strut their stuff with the fashionistas to the sounds of hot hip-hop, dance and pop tracks.   Mango Miami covers similar ground for gay men.

Women’s promoters include Pandora Events and Icandee Productions. Each offers theme nights, weekly parties and special events at various club spaces throughout Greater Miami.  Pink Fridays, a Pandora event held at the Soho Lounge every Friday, for instance, is known for its hot bartenders, wild go-go girls and the foxiest of Miami's lesbian population getting down to reggae, hip-hop and salsa.

The Miami Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce also sponsors monthly social and professional gatherings and its website GayBizMiami.com is a great resource for up-to-the-minute information about gay happenings.  Likewise, CoralGAYbles.com sponsors monthly socials at various hotels, restaurants and clubs.

The Great Outdoors

Then, of course, the great outdoors comes in all shapes, sizes and speeds in America's most sun-worshipping big city. The gay scene at SoBe's 12th Street Beach has been celebrated far and wide, but 20 minutes north, the gay section of Haulover Beach Park (sandwiched between Bal Harbour and, Sunny Isles Beach) is just as popular with locals, if not more so (maybe something to do with the clothing-optional stretch?).  Meanwhile, 20 minutes south on Key Biscayne, the beach at Bill Baggs State Park is more low-key and romantically picturesque, complete with a lighthouse. Or avoid sand in your suit at the Gables' lush, romantic Venetian Pool, where a strong gay contingent frolics amid the waterfalls and grottoes along with everyone else.

Don't forget, too, that you can combine the outdoors with culture by taking a number of cool biking and walking tours of South Beach's Deco District and other colorful parts of Miami.  For the more active, there's volleyball on SoBe's gay beach (12th Street & Ocean Dr.) , as well as windsurfing and snorkeling off Key Biscayne and zooming along the Intracoastal Waterway on wave runners. And in addition to the national parks and abundant agritourism experiences down south, Miami-Dade Parks EcoAdventures offers a wide variety of exciting naturalist-guided excursions for nature lovers and outdoor sports enthusiasts that combine adventure, recreation, and natural history.

To provide helpful information about accommodations, tours, attractions, nightlife and other facets of Miami, the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau have published a comprehensive new gay and lesbian travel guide, "Miami: Diversity Celebrated Daily."  For a copy, visit www.GayBizMiami.com or call 305-673-4440. 

The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (GMCVB) is an independent not-for-profit sales and marketing organization whose mission is to attract visitors to Greater Miami and the Beaches for leisure, business and conventions. For a vacation guide, visit our website at www.MiamiAndBeaches.com or call 1-888-76-Miami (US/Canada only) or 305-447-7777. To reach the GMCVB offices dial 305-539-3000.  Meeting Planners may call 1-800-933-8448 (US/Canada only) or 305-539-3071 or visit www.MiamiMeetings.com.