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By Thurston Hatcher

Glitzy South Beach has become the obvious go-to destination on any Miami vacation. And for good reason — swanky hotels, offbeat art deco architecture, hip restaurants and clubs, and those impossibly beautiful people.

But if you spend all your time slacking off on Ocean Drive, you might miss some of the slightly lesser-known attractions that Miamians (including natives like me) have come to know and love.

Lincoln Road Mall: This is South Beach, but a few blocks off the main
drag. Designed a half-century ago by Morris Lapidus — the architect
behind the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc hotels — it’s aseven-block,
open-air, pedestrian-only collection of restaurants, offbeat and
upscale shops, art galleries and theaters, not to mention the respected
New World Symphony. If nothing else, it’s a fun place to hang out and
watch the characters pass by.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
: This gorgeous, 83-acre preserve on Biscayne Bay offers a glimpse of what south Florida looked
like before developers and concrete moved in. Its walking paths wind through a wealth of rare, exotic
greenery and wildlife. Iguanas have overrun the place in recent years,
but they’re harmless, and kind of cool.

Scotty’s Landing
: Amazingly, there aren’t really that many places in
Miami where you can dine right on the waterfront. One is Scotty’s
Landing, a casual, inexpensive hangout tucked behind a boat storage
building at Coconut Grove’s Dinner Key Marina. Diners sit under a giant canopy, and breezes off the bay make it pleasant even on the most brutal summer
afternoons. For me, a trip to Miami isn’t complete without a beer, a
fish sandwich and side of conch fritters at Scotty’s.

Knaus Berry Farm
: When you first spot the staff at this south
Miami-Dade bakery and produce market, you might think you took a wrong turn
off the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Often mistaken for Amish, these German
Baptists — or dunkers — set up shop in Homestead each winter to the
delight of locals, who wait in long lines (always my job on Christmas Eve) for their fresh produce,
pies, strawberry milkshakes, and heavenly slabs of soft, sticky
cinnamon buns. If you’re heading to the Everglades, Knaus is a quick,
satisfying side trip off U.S. 1.

Runners-up: Pinecrest Gardens (the former Parrot Jungle), Vizcaya, Venetian Pool in Coral Gables, Big Fish restaurant on the Miami River, black beans and rice just about anywhere between S.W. 8th Street and Bird Road.

Thurston Hatcher is an Orbitz editor who lives in Chicago but remains an ever-hopeful Miami Dolphins fan.

Tagged: Florida

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