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By Kenneth Ng

Art Deco Historic District, South Beach, Miami

South Beach's heart is its Art Deco Historic District, from 18th St. and south along Ocean Dr and Collins Ave - one of the largest area in the USA on the National Register of Historic Places. In fact, the District's rejuvenations and rebirth as a major tourist destination results directly from it's protection as a historic place in 1979.

The National Register designation prevents developers from wholeheartedly razing significant portions of what was, in the 1980s, a crime-ridden collection of crumbling eyesores populated primarily by drug-crazed lunatics, Cuba's refugees and elderly residents. It's a far cry from that now, with a lively mix of neighbors including gay men, for winters only, plus a sprinkling of old timer holdouts. Today, hotel and apartment facades are decidedly colorful, with pastel architectural details.

Your First stop here should be the Art Deco Welcome Center (305-531-3484; 1001 Ocean Dr; 10am-7:30am Mon-Sat, to 6pm Sun). which will provide you with a good sense of this much beloved but often misunderstood district. You'll find an informative permanent exhibit in the gallery, a bevy of walking tours you can sign up for (including an excellent self-guided audio tour), and a very well stocked gift shop hawking souvenirs from old-fashioned postcards to deco-style jewelry.

Venetian Pool, Miami

As tons of earth and rock were taken for Merrick's building boom, soon a very large limestone quarry formed. Then a creative thinker thought; why not transform this eyesore by letting it fill with water to become an extraordinary beautiful swimming hole? Now of the National Register of Historic Places, this 1924 spring-fed pool (305-460-5306; 2701 DeSoto Blvd; adult/child Nov-Mar $6.25/3.25, Apr-Oct $9.50/5.25; vary by season but generally 11am-5pm), with a capacity of 820,000 gallons, boasts coral rock caves, cascading waterfalls, a palm fringed island, vine-covered loggias and Venetian-style moorings. It was designed by Merrick's uncle, the ubiquitous muralist Denman Fink, and is large enough to accommodate a big waterfall, a kiddies area and an adults' area of lap swimming. In fact, during its 1920s heyday, it hosted synchronized swimmer Esther Williams and Johnny 'Tarzan' Weismuller, both seen in historic photos at the pool. Whether you want to swim in it or not, this pool is a sight worth seeing.

Mallory Square, Key West

Mallory Square is the belly of the beast. While just another waterfront park lined with shops by day, by early evening the area transforms into a wacky sunset soirée - an over-the-top display of craft hawkers, fire-eaters, singers, unicyclists, mimes and other sundry characters, all competing for the tourist dollar. as folks mill about and gather round the most outrageous performers, the event quickly turns into a mob scene. But, love it or hate it, it's an integral part of Key West culture, so be sure to check it out at least once. You can always soothe yourself by actually watching the glorious sunset.

Author : Kenneth Ng, Lonely Planet

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Author Name : Kenneth Ng
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