The Design District, Coconut Grove, and Coral Gables
How gay are they? James Franco in a generous mood.
But really: There's a lot more to Miami than South Beach, and you're missing out if you stick to one side of the bay.
The Design District, aka Wynwood, is a formerly terrifying maze of decaying Deco buildings and warehouses. It's not very gay but it's plenty gay-friendly. Wynwood has been full of oddball galleries for two decades, and it's suddenly flush with high-end retailers -- Givenchy and Tom Ford now face each other across an intersection at which, in 2007 or 2008, I was almost mugged by a raving bald guy with one shoe and no teeth. Miami!
Come for the art and stay for the Arsht Center, a performance venue and bone-white architectural marvel that looks like a felled cubist angel. The main auditorium has outstanding acoustics, and it's the home of the venerable Florida Grand Opera.
Travel south, past the immensities of Downtown -- the Wall Street of Central America, as it's called -- and you'll arrive in the old boho hangout of Coconut Grove. This is Miami's oldest neighborhood, as well as its greenest, still full of the primeval hammocks that greeted Miami's first dredgers and builders. There's serious money down the Grove's sleepy streets. Madonna used to live here, as did Sly Stallone and LeBron James. Not far from their former abodes is the stunning Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, which is an excellent place to get gay married. There's nightlife in the Grove, too -- mostly centered around the CocoWalk, near Grand Ave and Main, though none of it's explicitly gay. (For a gay bar, you've gotta go a mile or so north to Azucar -- which, incidentally, isn't at all far from Miami's last old-school gay bathhouse, Club Aqua.)
Just a bit farther south you'll find yourself out of Miami and in Coral Gables, another lush, old-money 'hood with an understated gay presence. Go there for the theater. Actors' Playhouse on the Miracle Mile is about as good as regional theater gets in America -- I've seen Broadway-beating productions of Les Miserables, Le Cage aux Folles, and Urinetown there. You'll find more challenging fare at GableStage at the Biltmore, where director Joe Adler mounts fiercely smart productions of plays by, say, Sarah Kane, Stephen Adly Guirgis, and Martin McDonagh. (I once saw a production of Sarah Kane's Blasted there that haunted me for actual years.) Please note: The Biltmore is a stunning hotel, a relic of the Gilded Age, and you should show up to your show an hour or two early so you can wander the premises, gawp at the enormous pool, and enjoy a cocktail or three in the snug basement bar.