(AP)-For travelers looking for respite from South Beach clubs and the oh-so chic Design District, the offbeat Miami Modern District, also known as MiMo, offers a welcome change of pace.
No Segway tours here. This is the real Miami, a place to pass a lazy afternoon by the bay, peruse independent boutiques and enjoy some surprisingly delicious local bistros – including celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein's flagship restaurant, Michy's.
The stretch along Route 1, which recently received a historic designation, lies just north of midtown, dividing Biscayne Bay's hidden residential neighborhoods from Miami's Little Haiti corridor. MiMo is easily distinguished by a string of 1950s-era or Mid-century Modern motels along Biscayne Boulevard, and by the original, kitschy, three-story sign of the Coppertone Girl and her dog on a building overlooking the traffic at 7300 Biscayne Blvd.
The hotels flourished in the 1950s as affordable, family friendly lodging before the advent of freeways – so too did the first franchised Playboy Club (now defunct) which flouted segregation rules in the waning years of Jim Crow.
Then, like much of Miami, the neighborhood fell into disrepair. But today, MiMo (pronounced Mee-mo) is once more on the rise, though, as in the days of old, it's helpful to have a car to explore the area.
"People come here because they want a real experience….We're not trendy. We're not trying to be something we're not,'' said Bernstein, a guest judge on the Bravo TV's Top Chef, who, like many MiMo business owners, lives in the 'hood. (Full disclosure: so does this reporter.)
Bernstein, a Miami native, was first attracted to MiMo, part of Miami's broader Upper East Side, as an untouristy place to experiment with her menu. But the crowds kept coming, so she stayed, even as she opened other restaurants in more upscale neighborhoods.
MiMo is still a mix of naughty and nice. A couple of the hotels, like the New Yorker at 6500 Biscayne Blvd., have been revamped in the sleek style of their 1950's heyday and are drawing young, European budget travelers, but midnight police sirens aren't uncommon.
Still, it's fine for day-trippers with families, who can start the morning just outside MiMo's northern border at Yiya's Gourmet Cuban Bakery and Cafe, 646 NE 79th St. An outdoor mural by Miami graffiti artist Daniel Fila, of a seagull stealing a woman's bread, makes it easy to spot. Enjoy a cafe con leche and sugar-dusted vanilla croissant or a guava cheese Danish and chat with the super-friendly staff.
Then head for the sun. Off the southeast end of MiMo is Morningside Park, where shaded benches offer tranquil views of the bay. Turn east off of Biscayne Boulevard at 58th Street and ask the guard at the gate for directions to the park. During the winter, kids will enjoy the covered playground and a mini-nature walk through mangroves. In the summer, you can rent kayaks and visit one of a handful of the bay's uninhabited islands.
Also fun for families, bay front Legion Park at 64th Street features two sets of playground equipment beneath giant mango and banyan trees.
Feeling the need to sweat indoors? Try a boxing class at Biscayne Boxing & Fitness Club at 7200 Biscayne Blvd., or a pole dancing class and a massage up the street at IronFlower Fitness, which doubles as one of several neighborhood hair and nail salons.
Unlike South Beach's Lincoln Road, when it comes to shopping, MiMo boasts a bevy of locally owned stores, ideal for fashionistas on a budget.
On the east side next to Legion Park, Rebel features trendy Miami styles and aromatherapy candles. A giant bowl of Legos means mom can try on that little black sheath in peace. Just south at Pet Mode, patrons can browse sequined doggy sweaters while their pooches get their nails polished pink.
For the kiddies, there's the hipster children's consignment shop LoudGirl Exchange at 75th Street, which lets the wee ones play with toys while their parents shop and take in works by local artists.
And for the artistically inclined, Tyler Galleries offers quality antiques, while Broadway Art & Framing showcases new artists. Other art galleries regularly sprout and fade.
On the west side of Biscayne at 72nd Street, there's the vintage store Divine Trash. Two blocks north, award-winning designer Julian Chang creates samples for his international line of women's wear. Next door, The Consignment Bar displays Gucci and Hermes beneath a ceiling of rose printed-paper and crystal chandeliers. Consignment Bar co-owner Ilissa Whitehead, who opened the store earlier this year, said she wanted to support the neighborhood in which she lives.
"There's a long way to go, but MiMo is undiscovered. It's eclectic, and things are changing a lot,'' she said.