Known as one of the most eclectic cities in the United States, Miami exudes an air of cultural diversity mixed with a laid-back beach town feel. It is one of the hottest vacation destinations in the country–in terms of both temperature and popularity, due to its southern location, proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean islands, and its bustling social and nightlife scene. Many visitors come to Miami to relax on its numerous beautiful beaches and enjoy the warm tropical savanna climate, which keeps summer temperatures between 70°F and 80°F and winter temperatures around 60°F to 70°F. The city also boasts a melting pot of cultures, especially Latin American, Caribbean, and Cuban ethnicities, which all contribute to the great diversity of music, food, and language that Miami is so famous for.
Miami’s history dates back to around the year 1200 when native tribes of the area settled near the Miami River. The Tequesta tribes inhabited the land around Miami when European explorers stumbled upon the Americas around 1513. They were hunters and gatherers and mainly lived on roots, berries, and many kinds of seafood that they harvested from fishing around Miami and the Florida Keys islands.
Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon landed for a short time at a bay on the eastern coast of Florida in 1513, but it wasn’t until around 1565 that a more detailed written record was found. It was around this time that the ships of Spanish Admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés landed near Biscayne Bay for shelter. He and his crew were taken in by the Tequesta tribes and cared for during the passing storm. Afterward, the expedition left 30 soldiers and a Jesuit priest behind to set up a mission and convert the natives to Christianity. The mission didn’t last long, and was abandoned by 1570.
During the French and Indian War in the mid-1700s, the Spanish, who never did attain very much success colonizing Miami, supported the French against the British in the fight over ownership of the land. Later, in 1783, the Spanish briefly gained control of the area, but ended up relinquishing it to the United States in a deal agreed upon in 1821 for about $5 million. In 1836, Fort Dallas was built in Miami as a U.S. post during the Seminole Wars. The Wars were devastating for the United States, who lost over 1500 soldiers, but were even more devastating for the Seminole tribes, who eventually were driven to live in the swampy Everglades region of Florida.
After the wars ended around 1858, very few soldiers and settlers stayed in the Miami area; in fact, sources say that the name ‘Miami’ can’t even be found in public record books in 1860. Finally, the city began to grow in the 1870s, as investors came in, bought up land titles, and began to develop the area. A wealthy woman named Julia Tuttle is generally credited with founding the city of Miami, as she relocated there, decided it would be a good place for a resort settlement, and convinced railroad magnate Henry Flagler to bring the railroad to Miami. The city was officially incorporated in 1896, with a total population of 444 residents.
During and after World War I, Miami flourished due to the construction of a U.S. aviation training center that was built there, as well as legal gambling laws, and loose liquor laws that allowed alcohol in the city even during the strict Prohibition times. The city grew steadily through the 20th century, thanks to a steady influx of immigrants from nearby Cuba and other Caribbean islands. Some years saw more immigrants moving to Miami than others—most notably 1965, when over 100,000 mostly middle-class Cuban residents uprooted their friends and families and settled permanently in southern Florida. Then again, in 1980, a wave of less-prosperous Cubans immigrated to Miami in numbers that totaled over 150,000, making this influx one of the largest in United States history.
Miami is located on the southern tip of the panhandle of Florida, and enjoys a warm climate thanks to its geographical location and proximity to the warm currents of the Gulf Stream. Although the city enjoys a very mild climate that attracts millions of visitors each year, it also is subject to the tumultuous storms that churn off of the Atlantic. Many hurricanes have hit Miami since its existence, such as hurricane Cleo (1964), Andrew (1992), Irene (1999), Katrina and Wilma (2005), and others, including a variety of tropical storms.
The city is one of the smallest in the United States in terms of total land area (only about 37 square miles, or 92 square kilometers), but has a metro population of over 2.5 million people. It’s also one of the only major cities in the country that is lucky to be bordered by two national parks–Everglades National Park to the west and Biscayne National Park to the east.