There's nowhere in the U.S. quite like Miami-Dade County. It's larger than Rhode Island, has twice as many people, and is bordered by two national parks. Its 2.5 million residents are among the most diverse in the nation. And they live in a smattering of 34 incorporated cities, which range from 400,000-person metropolises to 86 solitary residents.
But we're not here to celebrate all of those unique statistics. We're here to argue about which of those 34 cities is best. What follows is the definitive ranking of each and every one of those communities.
See also: Eight Best Places to Go Stoned in Miami
34. Florida City
Pros: It's the southernmost U.S. city on mainland territory, so that's something. It's the last stop before the Keys and Everglades National Park.
Cons: Mayor-for-life Otis Wallace might be Miami-Dade's worst politician, and that's saying something. Any federal funding or taxpayer money that's gone Florida City's way has rarely been put toward its intended use. But, then again, when you're called Florida City, you're bound to encompass Florida's worst aspects.
Bottom line: Keep on driving to the Keys or the Glades — nothing to see here.
33. Indian Creek
Pros: Paparazzi heaven! The tiny, superexclusive village counts the Iglesias clan, Adriana Lima, Carl Icahn, and former Dolphins coach Don Shula as residents.
Cons: With only 86 people, Indian Creek exists not so much as a real place but as the kind of spoiled, wealthy enclave that makes everyone think Miami is an elitist paradise. Squabbles like Indian Creek's years-long rift between property owners and the local country club over police budgets don't help that image.
Bottom line: You will never live here and probably won't even visit (the island is closed to the public), but the reality is that without places like Indian Creek, Miami wouldn't quite be Miami. Whether that's a good thing is an open question.
32. Bal Harbour
Pros: Malls so fancy. You already know.
Cons: (1) It's spelled "Harbor," idiots, but then they just made the "Bal" part up completely and like to pretend it means "Bay and Atlantic." Even this city's name is pretentious. (2) The mall stands where a prisoner-of-war camp once stood. (3) The only thing an average person can afford here is the postcard.
Bottom line: A little slice of Palm Beach in Miami-Dade.
Pros: With 1,110 registered industries and just 1,059 human beings wedged into eight square miles near the airport, Medley is one of the only towns in America with more businesses than people.
Cons: How do you feel about heavy industry? Because nearly every square inch of Medley consists of rows of warehouses, freight train depots, and industrial plants.
Bottom line: All business, no play.
30. Virginia Gardens
Pros: They love horses! No, really! The town exists only because its curmudgeonly neighbor Miami Springs tried to outlaw horses back in the '40s and all the Mr. Ed aficionados rebelled and seceded to make their own town.
Cons: There aren't really any horses left today, just a couple of square miles of suburban houses and a single sleepy park.
Bottom line: Cool origin story, poor follow-through.
29. Hialeah Gardens
Pros: Do you want to live in a city shaped like a row of jagged shark teeth emerging from Okeechobee Road? Hialeah Gardens is literally the only place on Earth that matches that description.
Cons: Less than nothing happens in this town of 20,000. The most exciting thing Hialeah Gardens can boast of on Wikipedia is being pretty close to the Palmetto Expressway.
Bottom line: Paradise for those who find Hialeah proper too thrilling and have a strong affinity for the Palmetto Expressway.
28. Biscayne Park
Pros: The village's administrative offices are located inside an 80-year-old log cabin. So that's cool. There's also a nice recreation center and leafy, quiet neighborhoods free of the corruption and scandals that plague much of Miami-Dade.
Cons: Never mind! Just this past March, the village's police chief and two other officers were abruptly suspended in a shroud of secrecy (village leaders later alleged the top cop had taken an improper loan from an officer), and in 2012 the village paid a settlement of $100,000 for sexual abuse of a 5-year-old boy that took place years earlier at a village-run summer camp.
Bottom line: Don't trust anyone, ever — even people in towns that have historic log cabins as police stations.
27. Sunny Isles Beach
Pros: Best Russian food in town!
Cons: Lots of cons may own property here, but they're like the classy international ones who prefer to use apartments in Donald Trump-branded towers as their way of laundering money. Also, have you tried to go to the beach here in the afternoon? This place is so jam-packed with high-rises directly on the sand that it pretty much blocks out the sun.
Bottom line: Sunny may be in the name, but this place is a little too shady.
Pros: Formerly a patch of barren swampland, Doral has lately become a surging economic engine, home to corporate giants like Carnival and now the Miami Herald. Its golf course is world-famous. And it's got so many Venezuelan expats (and the nation's first Venezuelan-American mayor) that everyone calls it Doralzuela. Arepas for everyone!
Cons: Grab a random Miamian, tell him he has to go to Doral, and get ready for an anguished groan. A distant suburban gridlock of brutal traffic and awful planning, Doral is codespeak for all the ills of urban sprawl. Donald Trump bought the golf course and will probably ruin it. Also, the name comes from combining the first names of its two founders — Doris and Al Kaskel — which is really super lame.
Bottom line: Paradise for well-off Venezuelans is hell for Herald staffers and anyone else cursed with this commute.
25. Bay Harbor Islands
Pros: An abundance of 1940s and '50s Miami Modern architecture, which a historic preservation group recently zeroed in on as among the nation's most deserving of protection. Also the islands are shaped like two human lungs.
Cons: On the flip side, not everyone thinks MiMo architecture is actually worth preserving.
Bottom line: Cool shape, bro! Not much else cooking.
Pros: Home to one of the world's biggest collections of Moorish revival architecture, including a trippy city hall straight out of Arabian Nights. The city's full name, taken from a Seminole word, is the hardest in town to say when drunk: Opa-tisha-wocka-locka.
Cons: Crushing poverty, terrifying violence. As recently as 2004, ranked by the FBI as the most dangerous town its size in the nation.
Bottom line: Come for the cool buildings, flee in terror from the gang warfare.
23. Miami Lakes
Pros: Once a dairy farm owned by longtime state Sen. Ernest "Cap" Graham, thanks to some Harvard planners in the '60s, the town is an early example of New Urbanism — you know, the hipster thing where you can walk to businesses instead of driving everywhere.
Cons: The alleged "lakes" are more like puddles. And the town descended into anarchy earlier this year after colorful Mayor Michael Pizzi beat corruption charges but his replacement refused to leave office.
Bottom line: Mildly forward-thinking suburbia with some spicy political shenanigans.
Pros: If you've got the money, Pinecrest can provide a suburban Miami experience like no other. The local public school, Miami Palmetto High School, gives kids some of the best MDCPS-provided education. And remember Parrot Jungle? It's now Pinecrest Gardens, a 20-acre botanical escape.
Cons: Rampant affluenza. When you meet someone from Pinecrest, he'll never let you forget it. We get it, kid! You can stop rolling around the neighborhood in the BMW your daddy bought you.
Bottom line: Looking to give your kids an idyllic Miami childhood? This is the place to do it. But don't be surprised if you child turns out to be an awful adult.
21. North Bay Village
Pros: These three little islands in Biscayne Bay are home to a cluster of TV and radio stations, including Gol TV, several Clear Channel stations, and WSVN. Also, a lot of Brazilians, and apparently Frank Sinatra used to hang at swanky area nightclubs.
Cons: Much of the village's land was literally dredged from the sea, meaning North Bay Village shouldn't really even exist. Sinatra is dead. Also, its best bar, the dockside Shuckers, collapsed into the bay during a Heat game last year, which was bad.
Bottom line: North Bay Village's glory days are gone. But Shuckers is back!
20. Miami Gardens
Pros: Game day home of the Miami Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes!
Cons: While the overall crime rate has notably dropped in recent years, the town continues to have a murder rate more than five times the national average and there are at least a dozen known gangs operating in its borders. Since incorporating as its own city in 2003, city leaders have tried to redevelop the city and attract business investments to break the cycle of poverty and violence, but gains are slow. There are no jokes to be had here, folks.
Bottom line: Everyone comes here for football games, and pretends it doesn't exist the rest of the time.
Pros: If your idea of Florida is pleasant but bland, then this is the town for you. Residents tend to be wealthy, but not obscenely so, and the proportion of elderly people living here is over 2.5 times what it is in the rest of the county. Basically, it's like a fancy part of Broward that just happens to be in Miami-Dade, and the people who live there like it like that.
Cons: See pros.
Bottom line: Mall.
18. Golden Beach
Pros: With all apologies to some Eric Clapton album, the most important historical event that ever happened here is the filming of Beyoncé and Jay-Z's "Drunk in Love" video. Which is pretty damn important actually. You can surfbort on the exact same sands where Ms. Carter Knowles once surfborted!
Building high-rises is also forbidden here, which is mainly for the benefit of the roughly 919 rich people who live here in single-family homes, but at least it means not every inch of Miami-Dade shoreline is overdeveloped.
Cons: This place is a notorious speed trap. To fund an alarmingly large police force to protect those 919 rich people, cops here will pull you over and ticket you for just about anything.
Bottom line: It's nice if you can afford to live here, but particularly hostile to outsiders — unless they're Beyoncé. Surfbort!
17. Miami Springs
Pros: It was founded by aviation legend Glenn Curtiss way back in 1926, so that's kinda cool. There's some interesting Southwestern-style architecture around and a decent golf course.
Cons: More like Meh-ami Springs, amirite? At just 2.9 miles and with 14,000 people, there's not a whole lotta excitement in the neighborhood.
Bottom line: For aviation history buffs only.
16. Palmetto Bay
Pros: After Hurricane Andrew leveled the area, the city has come back as one of Miami's poshest suburbs. It also benefits from being zoned into Miami Palmetto High School and has its own upscale shopping destination, the Falls.
Cons: Please, try to point out on a map where Palmetto Bay is located. Don't know where it is? Didn't think so. That's because there's nothing of interest that attracts anyone who lives north of Coral Gables and Coconut Grove. Also, the area is probably one of Miami's whitest communities.
Bottom line: If people of color scare you, Palmetto Bay may be for you. And, hey, there's shopping!
15. North Miami Beach
Pros: Home to technically the oldest building in America — meaning William Randolph Hearst bought a Medieval Spanish monastery and had it shipped over and rebuilt here.
Cons: The city doesn't actually make sense. First of all, despite the name, there are no real beaches here. Second, have you looked at it on a map? The city's boundaries make no geographic sense. There's a chunk of unincorporated Miami-Dade right in the middle of it, and then there are all of these weird narrow parts jutting out of it. Cartography-wise, it doesn't even look like a city. It looks like a dog got hold of a city and chewed it up.
Bottom line: Basically just a random jumble of everything good and bad about the northeastern portion of the county.
14. El Portal
Pros: The village's Little River Mound was an important Tequesta Indian burial site. There's also a nice nature trail and bird sanctuary with peacocks and screech owls, and El Portal has long been among the most ethnically diverse communities in Miami-Dade; in 2000, Philippe Derose was elected mayor, becoming the first Haitian-American in the U.S. to lead a city.
Cons: The village also has a long history of political squabbling, and rampant gentrification over the past two decades has cut away at El Portal's historic, diverse appeal.
Bottom line: El Portal punches way above its weight even if it's turning into another boring suburb.
Pros: As the town's tourism website claims, Surfside is, in fact, pleasant, safe, and convenient. (At least for the town's 5,000 residents.) Also, nice beach. And clean! Plus a Miami New Times staff writer ran for commission here a couple years ago.
Cons: What does it say about a town when its website has to boast that it's pleasant, safe, and convenient? Also, residents soundly voted against the New Times writer for commission. Fools!
Bottom line: Nice enough place for a Sunday stroll, but gotta question local voters' wisdom.
Pros: Sheltered Nicaraguan exiles for years. Gallo pinto, baby! It was founded by retired circus midgets who wanted to make their own tiny-sized municipality. And it's close to Florida International University, which makes it an intellectual mecca (right?).
Cons: The midgets are long gone and the city even demolished their tiny to-scale houses. There's also a juicy history of political corruption. Mayor Manny Maroño was sent up for 40 months last year for taking bribes.
Bottom line: If you are a college student, a Nicaraguan loyalist, or a circus midget, this is the place to be.
11. South Miami
Pros: Suburban without being too far from Miami-Dade's urban core. The area is also conveniently located along the Metrorail's only line, making the commute a breeze.
Cons: The Shops at Sunset Place. Seriously, it's a depressing shell of a mall it attempted to be but never was. It lost its biggest anchor, Virgin Megastore, almost a decade ago and still hasn't found a permanent replacement. It lost other major tenants like Niketown and Gameworks, and recently longtime tenant Urban Outfitters left for the still-relevant Dadeland Mall. Why delay the inevitable? Raze the whole damn thing and give South Miami a proper downtown.
Bottom line: South Miami is far enough to be suburban but not far enough to feel like you're disconnected from what's happening a couple miles up US 1.
10. Miami Shores
Pros: A quiet, aesthetic village between Little Haiti and North Miami, it's home to Barry University, whose Bucky the Parrot mascot is one of the best around. The suburb also has a gay-friendly reputation and was recently named by the Huffington Post as one of the nation's best places for LGBT people to retire.
Cons: Last year the village ordered a nice, organically-minded couple to remove their beloved, 17-year-old vegetable garden because it was in the house's front yard. Not cool. This year, the city commission set off an internal war by voting against a gay marriage support resolution.
Bottom line: Good for quirky college mascots and elderly LGBT people, but not elderly LGBT people who want to stay active in their later years by planting vegetable gardens.
9. West Miami
Pros: Coral Gables' scruffier, blue collar, more Latino neighbor, West Miami may not have the charming architecture but it's got heart, darn it. Big props for its origin story: Founded in 1947 when a quartet of businessmen got pissed off at Dade's plans to reduce cocktail hours and crack down on gambling rooms. They pooled together a thousand bucks, founded their own town and partied the night away.
Cons: Blame West Miami for Marco Rubio, the Tea Partying, global warming-denying, water bottle-sippin' GOP presidential hopeful. He started his career as a commissioner here.
Bottom line: You can't pick your most famous residents, but Rubio takes away from the proletarian charm and drinkin' history.
Pros: Pastelitos and cafecitos galore! Three-fourths of the city's population is Cuban — the highest percentage in the nation. The Hialeah Park Race Track is among the oldest in America. Amelia Earhart's final flight took off from Hialeah's airfield.
Cons: Recently ranked among the most boring cities in America. Driving hell. The streets were apparently numbered by someone on a raging rum binge.
Bottom line: Forget Little Havana. If you want real blue-collar Cubano life and don't mind getting lost, Hialeah is your spot.
7. North Miami
Pros: It's home to one of Miami's best urban oasis parks, Oleta River State Park, and its own Museum of Contemporary Art, which, for a while at least, was Miami-Dade's most forward thinking art museum.
Bottom line: A pretty city that has made some ugly decisions.
6. Cutler Bay
Pro: The area was formerly known as Cutler Ridge, but it's better known as Palmetto Bay's cheaper (read: slummier) sister. While Palmetto Bay residents may look a bit down on Cutler Bay, the area is still nicer than most of Miami's urban core. Housing is cheap, and it's home to the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, a legit, improving cultural bastion.
Cons: It's far. No, let's repeat: It's fucking far. If you have to commute into downtown for work — and most likely you do, because there's nothing else but residential down there — it can be a painful daily task.
Bottom line: Housing may be cheap, but gas prices continue to rise. Are you really saving money?
5. Key Biscayne
Pros: Dude! It's an island! Crandon and Bill Baggs parks aren't half bad. The tennis stadium for the newly named Miami Open is cool. And there are nice cars and bicycling like nowhere else in the tropics.
Cons: There are so many affluent people here that you are bound to feel like a nobody. Houses — even the mansions — are packed tight. And building out here has done significant damage to sea life. Every other resident is a deposed Latin American dictator or oligarch fleeing corruption charges.
Bottom line: Did we mention, "Dude! It's an island!"?
4. Coral Gables
Pros: The City Beautiful earns its nickname: From the Biltmore to acres of impossibly charming Mediterranean revival houses and leafy medians, no town in Dade County is easier on the eyes. Home to a certain university you may have heard of and a city center with a newly revived batch of craft bars and restaurants, plus the original Books & Books.
Cons: Driving into the Gables from any other part of Dade is an expedition that would make Ernest Shackleton tremble. Bougie rich people and drunken college kids make up most of your neighbors.
Bottom line: A mostly lovely place that it's all but impossible to enter or leave.
3. Miami Beach
Pros: Beautiful bodies, beautiful buildings, and beautiful beaches.
Cons: The beautiful bodies belong to douchebags, the beautiful buildings are too expensive to live in, and the beautiful beaches are awash in EDM and E. coli.
Bottom line: South Beach is the place to party, but it's almost impossible to live here. Mid-Beach is more residential but overrun by feral cats. And North Beach is like the wilderness beyond the wall. Don't go there unless your name is Jon Snow and you have a direwolf to hold back the feline horde.
Pro: Every Miami foodie would probably love to live in Homestead. Why? It's a locavore's dream. Robert Is Here, Schnebly Redland's Winery & Brewery, Knaus Berry Farm, and so much more call the area home or are just nearby. Also, the influx of Mexicans and Central Americans means you can find some of the most authentic ethnic eats untouched by hipster food fads in all of Miami-Dade. It's also close to the Florida Keys, making a day trip a breeze.
Cons: Sometimes Homestead reminds us a bit too much of the South — you know, the South you can find in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama. We're pretty sure some of its residents don't enjoy the fact that the county mayor's last name is Gimenez. Those are the same residents who pronounce Miami as "My-a-ma" — though we admit it has some Old Florida charm.
Bottom line: If you want to eat local, Homestead is a dream come true. Sometimes that Old Florida charm is a little too authentic.
1. City of Miami
Pros: It's the Magic City! The star at the center of this universe! The whole reason we're even talking about Dade County's 33 other towns and cities! Beyond all the obvious points — Little Havana, Little Haiti, MiMo architecture, the Heat, and the Grove — we'll just throw this one out there: It's recognized as the only major U.S. city founded by a woman, thanks to Julia Tuttle.
Cons: Remember Miami Vice? Twenty years later, it's pretty much still like that. The drug traffic has slowed a little, but mortgage and Medicare fraud took its place at the heart of the local economy. City politics are only slightly less corrupt than those in Caracas, and the police force is under federal supervision after seven black men were fatally shot by cops in eight months.
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Bottom line: Maddening, beautiful, frustrating, and fascinating.
— Written by Trevor Bach, Jose D. Duran, Tim Elfrink, Michael E. Miller, Kyle Munzenrieder, and Chuck Strouse