Whenever somebody tells me they hate Miami, I usually reply with the following question: “Have you been to the Design District?”

I will be the first to admit: Miami is not an easy place to live.  Yes, the traffic is bad and people can be…less than polite.  And sometimes I think road construction is planned on a 3-sided poster board by a group of college kids doing their first project.  It’s an expensive city with expensive taste, and the souvenir shops here in the 305 aren’t stocked with “I (heart) Miami” t-shirts.  But I think they should be, and here’s why.

Miami is an international city, which means djs, bands, singers, and artists flock here often from all over the world for performances, exhibits, and publicity.  There is diversity in music and culture here that is pretty much unrivaled in most of the US.  The heart of this refreshing burst of musical and artistic expression is the Design District in Downtown Miami, which is just a short ride over the bridge from Miami Beach.  The art is alive in the painted walls along northwest 2nd avenue, and each venue provides a rich variety of music for every style.

The Design District plays host to several great venues for live as well as electronic music.  Bardot, for example, manages to be both upscale and cozy, and hosts a different sound in electronic, experimental, indie, and hip-hop music every Thursday for their “Living Room Sessions.”  The Stage marries coffeehouse cool, theater and film, and live music in a plush indoor and outdoor setting.  The Electric Pickle is a larger indoor and outdoor space perfect for loungers as well as those who want a higher intensity electronic dance music scene.  The Pickle will also be holding a number of Winter Music Conference events.  Down the dimly lit 23rd street rests Cafeina, which has the most South Beach luxury without losing its Downtown grit.  It is small yet swank, and its adjacent gallery is a deliberate symbol of the Wynwood area’s commitment to art. The dj spins club-style music in the outdoor patio on a real vinyl turntable.

Mamushka is almost completely Downtown grit, and I mean that in a good – no – great way.  This gallery/bar/lounge/club is definitely a bit of a well-kept secret in the District.  It’s also tough to find, which makes it that much more awesome.  Dancing here feels like dancing in an old house that your friends bought just for the sake of throwing great parties.  There’s even a boat outside.

The Vagabond is a local favorite with 3 different rooms for 3 different styles: the largest and darkest room pulsates with electronic music; the pop-rock room is slightly smaller with more seating; finally, the outdoor area is perfect for conversation, lounging, and enjoying good food from the grill.  “Fridays at the Vagabond” is their weekly dance party, put together in cahoots with another music Mecca of the District, Sweat Records.  Sweat is Miami’s place for used records and cds, vegan coffee bar, and of course, live music.  The Sweat team works hard to bring an amazing variety of musical and cultural events to different Miami spots.  At the end of April, Sweat will be hosting Sweatstock, its 2nd annual free block party, and is also a partner in the Miami Art Museum’s upcoming exhibit, “The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl.”

One of the best ways to experience the Design District at its musical and artistic best is through Gallery Walk, which occurs the 2nd Saturday of every month.  On this night, the District is packed with people of all ages wandering through galleries with wine glass in hand, or sampling from the long line of food trucks, or taking part in an impromptu electronic dance music party on the street.  During Gallery Walk, every small, medium, and large Design District locale puts on its freshest outfit to prove that, once you get through traffic, you’ll soon see that there are plenty of reasons to love Miami.