Most of Miami's street layout is easy to understand. Miami Beach and much of the mainland use variants on the grid system common to so many US cities. However, there are enough idiosyncrasies to confuse even the most seasoned explorer – especially in Coral Gables and Coconut Grove, where the numbered grid system goes right out the window – so a map is a must.
Ground Zero for glamour, Miami Beach is where you're likely to spend most of your time if you're here for pleasure not business. East of the mainland and accessible via causeways, the Beach is divided into several neighbourhoods.
South Beach captures the Miami of popular cliché, that part of Miami Beach that lies south of Dade Boulevard. North from here to about 63rd Street is considered Mid Beach, and from there to 79th Street is known as North Beach. From 79th Street to 96th Street is Surfside; north of there is swanky Bal Harbour; and further north, until around 170th Street, is Sunny Isles.
Centred on Flagler Street and bordered by NE/NW 15th Street to the north, Biscayne Bay to the east, SE 15th Road to the south and Interstate 95 to the west, Downtown proper is a combination of business district, ghetto and construction hell. Biscayne Corridor, however, which stretches along Biscayne Boulevard from 14th to 71st Streets and borders the Design District, is an up-and-coming area in which cafés, boutiques and bars are scattered in between by-the-hour motels and strip clubs.
Hemmed in by SW 8th Street (aka Tamiami Trail), SW 37th Avenue (aka Douglas Road), SW 72nd Street (aka Sunset Drive) and SW 57th Avenue (Red Road), the Gables was one of the first planned communities in the US. Its Mediterranean architecture is immaculately maintained, and Coral Gables remains the prettiest part of urban Miami.
While some of its arty spirit has been sapped by overdevelopment, much of the Grove's wilful eccentricity still remains. It's located directly south of Little Havana and Downtown, and to the east and south-east of Coral Gables, hugging the water of Biscayne Bay.
Calle Ocho (SW 8th Street) is the main drag of this predominantly Latino locale, west of Brickell Avenue and Downtown and (mostly) east of Coral Gables. Its roots may have sprung from Cuban exiles who came here in the '50s and '60s, but it's now home to nearly as many Nicaraguans, Guatemalans and Puerto Ricans as Cubans.
The Design District, Wynwood & Little Haiti
The Design District and Wynwood are two locales north of Downtown that host an array of arts and crafts dealers and shops. Stretching roughly between NE 50th and NW 75th Streets and centred on NE 2nd Avenue, Little Haiti, as its name suggests, is home to many Haitian immigrants. It's a very poor and occasionally dangerous area.
North Miami & Beyond
North and west of Little Haiti, Miami opens out into a morass of suburbs, among them Miami Springs, largely Spanish Hialeah, poverty-stricken Opa-Locka, North Miami Beach (no relation to Miami Beach proper) and the swanky mall-centred Aventura suburb.
South Miami & Beyond
After Coral Gables, it can seem as though all the traffic on US 1 is heading to Dadeland Mall in the southern suburb of Kendall. The homes are older and grounds more lush in Cutler and Cutler Ridge to the south and east, before the urban sprawl starts to let up as the road heads further south towards the farms of Homestead, Florida City and the Redlands.