There’s more to Florida than just its beaches. The state is also filled with trendy downtown areas perfect for attendees to explore between meetings.
One of the hippest places in the Sunshine State is Miami Beach, specifically South Beach. It’s not only a celebrity haunt, it’s also a top meeting destination. Collins Avenue is chock full of restored Art Deco hotels while Ocean Drive virtually erupts with alfresco dining and jaw-dropping people watching.
In the last decade, downtown Miami, which locals say used to be the place that rolled up its sidewalks after dark, has emerged as a cultural mecca, replete with museums, top restaurants and a vibrant nightlife.
“The transformation of downtown has been remarkable,” said Suzette Espinosa, vice president of communications for downtown’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County. “There is so much to do and so much building going on that when I look outside my window I see 12 different buildings going up.”
Opened in 2006, the Arsht Center is the largest cultural institution in downtown Miami and also the largest performing arts organization in all of Miami-Dade County. The Arsht hosted Major League Soccer when it was announced soccer was coming to Miami courtesy of David Beckham, another draw to the downtown area.
In Naples, downtown’s Fifth Avenue South area is known for its art festivals and other events.
“It’s a great option for a downtown dine-around since there are about 40 restaurants within walking distance, most of them locally owned and chef-driven,” said JoNell Modys, public relations and communications manager for the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB.
The Inn on Fifth is located on Fifth Avenue South, as well. The property has 119 guest rooms, including 32 Club Level suites, and several meeting options, such as the outdoor courtyard overlooking the Inn’s picturesque pool deck, a popular choice for events of up to 250.
North of downtown Fort Lauderdale, the Flagler Arts & Technology Village (FATVillage) is an evolving four-block creative district where artists ply their trades. The last Saturday of each month features an Art Walk allowing visitors to stroll through galleries, artists’ studios, or see a play in one of two theaters.
A new rooftop bar called Rooftop @ 1WLO has become a hot spot. With an open-air 4,000-square-foot patio over Las Olas Boulevard and the New River, guests can sip handcrafted cocktails while drinking in the panoramic view of the downtown skyline.
Tampa has a variety of unique neighborhoods, including historic Hyde Park and Ybor City, once home to thousands of Cuban immigrants. But these days, Tampa Heights is the one getting all the attention. Once a dormant corner of Tampa Bay, Tampa Heights is now bursting with life thanks to ambitious projects like mixed-use Armature Works, The Hall on Franklin food hall and restaurant Ulele, according to Santiago C. Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay.
“The neighborhood has a funky, fun vibe owing to an army of young entrepreneurs who are making their mark there,” he said.
Armature Works, once storage for Tampa’s streetcars, is now a marketplace with shops and restaurants. The Hall on Franklin features seven distinct restaurants and Ulele is a unique eatery and brewery on Tampa’s Riverwalk.
Jacksonville has some “in” neighborhoods, including Riverside, considered one of the city’s first shopping areas and now on the National Register of Historic Places. Here, multimillion-dollar historic homes and the world-class Cummer Museum look down at the breathtaking St. Johns River.
Five Points, an area in Riverside, has vintage shopping, boutiques and top restaurants like Derby on Park and Black Sheep 5 Points, which features rooftop dining with views of Riverside and Downtown Jacksonville.
Downtown Orlando is a collection of neighborhoods, each with a unique look and feel. Church Street has numerous restaurants and clubs, and Thornton Park, off Lake Eola, is a popular place to stroll around the lake during Sunday’s farmers market.
Many acclaimed restaurants, including The Rusty Spoon, from James Beard Award- nominated chef Kathleen Blake, surround Orange Avenue, considered the center of downtown. Nearby is the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts for concerts and Broadway plays.
One of the best places to relax and drink in the old-world charm of St. Augustine is Aviles Street, said to be the oldest street in the country. The area’s arts scene dates back to America’s Gilded Age when entrepreneur Henry Flagler began building luxurious hotels, including the Hotel Ponce de Leon (now Flagler College), with art studios in the rooms.
Flagler invited artists to enjoy the sun and use the studios so that his guests were entertained by artists’ demonstrations and they could then purchase these works. Today, Aviles Street is filled with restaurants, shops and galleries exhibiting the artwork of talented local and regional artists.
Jill Vance, director of sales for The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel CVB, said what makes Fort Myers trendy is the historic River District in downtown with its vibrant, edgy arts scene, sure to appeal to all ages.
“The River District Alliance features an Art Walk on alternating Fridays each month, a delightful way to spend or start their evenings in downtown Fort Myers,” Vance said. “In addition, unique shopping, such as The Franklin Shops, an elegant shopping emporium, offers an amazing retail mix of jewelry, fashion, beauty and art.”
In Downtown West Palm Beach, Clematis Street sits along the waterfront with the Lake Worth Lagoon as its scenic backdrop. Just a free trolley ride away is CityPlace and the Palm Beach County Convention Center, both home to a range of events, making it ideal for visitors to enjoy business and play in the West Palm Beach Arts & Entertainment District.
Broadway performances are set at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts and exceptional art collections can be seen at the Norton Museum of Art. The Flagler Museum gets high marks from visitors. Called Whitehall when it was first built for Henry Flagler, the New York Herald proclaimed the Flagler “more wonderful than any palace in Europe…”
Rosemary Beach in South Walton has a charming European downtown ambience and sits right on the water. Groups love the Hemingway-themed Havana Beach Bar & Grill in The Pearl Hotel, according to David Demarest, director of communications, Visit South Walton.
“There’s also the town of Seaside, a classic Florida beach cottage-style town with beachfront restaurants, shopping, wine bars and ‘Airstream Row’, with those funky, vintage food trucks,” he said. “Also not to be missed is Alys Beach, with its Bermuda-inspired architecture and home of the 100-foot Caliza Pool.”
Downtown Fort Walton Beach is a quaint seaside area with interesting shops and museums and full of fun and local history. Minutes away from the beaches of Okaloosa Island, this community is home to an antique district, various bars, and a number of unique owner-operated boutiques and restaurants, many of which feature Gulf-to-Table cuisine, according to Jennifer Adams, tourism director, Emerald Coast CVB.
“Brew masters—of both coffee and of beer—exist here at local favorites like Maas Coffee Roasters and Props Craft Brewery. There’s a jamming kite-surfing and paddleboarding scene in Fort Walton Beach, too. Not to mention the Emerald Coast’s iconic sand dunes, birding hot spots and the awe-inspiring Gulf Islands National Seashore,” Adams said.
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