Miami In 5...

Miami is squeezed like an orange between the Everglades and the Atlantic, the wildlife of alligators and the wild life that translates to “la vida loca.” The recession has socked this dreamy city, but the salsa keeps flowing, both dance and mango sauce, and the tropical air still beckons with a mix of new and newer, a touch of the past and a thriving cultural scene. To know Greater Miami is to know its hottest, coolest neighborhoods. Here are the five it would be foolish to miss.

5...Movin’ Over Miami

The Metromover – “people mover” - shuttles you free above the city for 4.4 miles; locals take their kids for low-key joyrides. Stops are about five minutes apart at elevated stations (see route maps at street level). Daytime rides can be crowded, nights a bit empty, but the loopy journey offers magical views when the city is awash in color.

The people mover’s Omni station is near The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts (13th St.), the second largest concert venue in the country. Two halls designed by Cesar Pelli sprawl on either side of Biscayne Blvd., united by the art-deco former Sears Tower.

In nearby Bayfront Park, Bayside Marketplace (401 Biscayne Blvd., 305-577-3344, 10am-10pm weekdays; weekends to 11pm; Sun 11am-10pm) offers mid-range shops, entertainment and restaurants. Sailboats depart for two-hour sunset sails (Miami Marina), under the Rickenbacker Causeway and by Key Biscayne for stunning skyline/water views.

New high-rise condos and beautification plans are improving things in a drab downtown. Bright spots by the people mover line: The Miami Art Museum (101 W. Flagler St., 305-375-3000) showcasing traveling exhibits, and special cultural events at the Olympia Theater, at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts (174 E. Flagler St., 305-374-2444). Built in 1926, the theater has a divine Mediterranean courtyard interior: turrets, towers, peacocks, golden balconies and stars twinkling on a teal blue ceiling.

4...Arted Up

Art Basel, Florida’s version of the world’s biggest art fair – an ultra glam, celeb-spotting week held around the city in December - has sparked a world-class Miami art scene. Wynwood, the gritty nabe from Biscayne Blvd. to Rt. 195, and from Rt. 195 to NW 17th St., is the year-round center.

Like SoHo in Manhattan, Wynwood’s warehouses and factories are converted to scores of raw, colorful, galleries and alternative art spaces. On monthly second Saturday gallery nights, lovelies in four-inch heels and men in flowered shirts flirt around the artworks, nibbling and sipping the free offerings. Locals especially like the Rubell Family Collection/Contemporary Arts Foundation (95 NW 29th St., 305-573-6090) which showcases the Rubell’s extensive works, including a major collection of Miami folk artist, Purvis Young.

For decorative arts, the nearby Design District, centered at NE second Ave. and NE 40th St., offers blocks of shops, showrooms, a few clubs and great food. Michael’s Genuine is informal, alfresco and popular for brunch (130 NE 40th St., 305-573-5550). Sra. Martinez, snazzy in a former post office, puts a Miami spin on tapas (4000 NE 2nd Ave., 305-573-5474), from star chef (and the senora herself) Michelle Bernstein.

3...Booming Brickell

Miami’s toniest avenue extends from Biscayne Boulevard, south of the Miami River and along the bay. Skyscrapers and condos line the corridor, and classy neighborhood hotels include The Four Seasons (off 14th, 305-358-3535) and The Mandarin Oriental (500 Brickell Key Drive, 305-913-8288), a five-minute causeway walk from Brickell.

Brickell Village, with galleries, shops, and clubs is a block west of the avenue, spreading between 5th and 15th streets, with a massive bronze god striding almost-naked above the plaza. At lunchtime and after five the place exudes energy, and in the evening lights strung like pearls and pulsing music rev up the scene. On Sundays, locals frequent a market among the fountains and flora.

The area offers fair prices and international cuisine. Local funky hideaways near the village: La Moon (144 SW 8th St., 305-860-6209),for a killer Perro Colombiano (sausage, hot sauce, chili, cheese, bacon, and quail egg). At Fresco California Bistro (1744 SW 3rd Ave., 305-858-0608) try the corn ravioli. And for beers, burgers and live blues stop in at Tobacco Road (626 S. Miami Ave, 305-374-1198), the oldest bar in Miami.

2...Land of Lincoln Road

This famed pedestrian thoroughfare on Miami Beach (between 16th and 17th Sts. and Alton Rd. and Washington Ave.) is centered with Miami Modern (MiMo) fountains, benches and overhangs. Lincoln Road isn’t just lively; it’s a morning-to-morning scene of umbrella-shaded cafes, palms, movies, pedestrians, doggies, tourists, boutiques, galleries, mimes, musicians and weird characters, including a man in a nude suit on a unicycle.

And there’s more. The New World Symphony’s academy of young musicians led by Michael Tilson Thomas has a new home: a see-through, interactive concert hall (one block north of Lincoln, off Washington Ave.) designed by Frank Gehry. Tip: Live concerts project on a wall overlooking the adjacent two-and-a-half acre park, for free music in the balmy air.

The drop-dead deco, newly refurbished Colony Theatre (1040 Lincoln Rd., 305-674-1040) showcases local companies, such as The Miami Contemporary Ballet. A nearby Books & Books branch (927 Lincoln Rd., 305-532-3222) offers good reads and eats. For Sunday chamber music locals visit the Mediterranean-style Miami Beach Community church (1620 Drexel Ave., 305-538-4511). An open-air market in season offers chotchkes, antiques, orchids, fresh-squeezed juices, empanadas, and mucho mas. Then nurse a drink at an outdoor sofa and watch the world stroll by.

1...SoBe to SoFi

South Beach is the place to walk, gawk – and sometimes, even talk - over a mojito or three, or six. Art-deco and art-moderne hotels line Ocean Drive, their cafes crammed with the buff, the beautiful and the wannabes. Speaking of which, you can now dine in the shell-encrusted dining room and linger by the decadent, mosaic-bottomed grotto at The Villa by Barton G (1116 Ocean Dr., 305-576-8003). This was the famed Gianni Versace mansion, Casa Casuarina.

Washington Avenue offers the hottest clubs (see for navigating the club-hopping scene), and more: The Miami Beach Cinematheque (City Hall, 1130 Washington Ave., 305-673-4567) shows artsy films and The Wolfsonian Museum (1001 Washington Ave., 305-535-2680, $7) features late-nineteenth to mid-20th century art and objects. Collins Avenue has trendy shops. Espanola Way, 14th to 15th between Washington and Jefferson, looks like an operatic Spanish village, and hosts a weekend market.

South of Fifth Street (SoFi), South Pointe Park edges Government Cut; ships pass so close it seems you can touch them. Joe’s Stone Crab (11 Washington Ave, 305-673-0365) is known for pricey crustaceans, and an hour or more wait in season. For a deal locals go to adjacent Joe’s takeout to enjoy claws, cole slaw and key lime pie right away, right there, or maybe picnic along the turquoise water.