Credit: © Ian G Dagnall / Alamy

In the 1950s and 1960s, Biscayne Boulevard was an avenue of tropical dreams leading to downtown Miami, adorned with a slew of whimsical Jetson-esque Miami Modern (MiMo) motels. After some rough years, Biscayne Boulevard is back to its former glory—packed with high-design hotels, a dynamic food scene, and a wonderful selection of shopping and cultural activities on offer. People visit Miami all the time for a beach getaway; here’s our case for making that trip focus entirely on this vibrant stretch.

Where to Stay

In downtown Miami, the 41–story JW Marriott Marquis Miami is a grand property, equipped with a full basketball court (the Miami Heat play nearby) and a db Bistro Moderne from acclaimed French chef Daniel Boulud. Rooms are spacious and clean, though décor leans a bit on the side of standard business traveler ambience.

On the upper end of Biscayne, the decidedly retro Vagabond Hotel is marked by a vintage 1950s-era neon sign, and its easy, breezy pool bar scene. Rooms are funky, with colorful, mid-century modern-inspired furniture and trimmings. The Vagabond restaurant—helmed by the young Mexican-Chinese chef Alex Chang, formerly with Animal in Los Angeles—serves such innovative dishes as beef hearts, Japanese hot-pot style.

What to Eat

The upper end of Biscayne Boulevard is emerging as a culinary destination. Ms. Cheezious, which also operates a roving food truck, draws crowds for its elevated with Frito Pie Melts, a gooey, addictive blend of grilled American cheese with chili, Fritos, jalapenos, and onions. The profoundly inexpensive Cake Thai Kitchen specializes in perfectly balanced Thai street, items like Pad Thai Tiger Prawns. In nearby Wynwood, Coyo Taco serves the real thing (we’re partial to the carnitas de pato taco, made with crispy duck and Serrano salsa), and has a hidden, speakeasy-style tequila bar in the back.

See and Do

At Perez Art Museum Miami, which specializes in modern and contemporary art from the last two centruies, the restaurant Verde (owned by Stephen Starr, who just opened The Continental Miami on South Beach) features dishes echoing exhibits on view: the current “Poetics of Relation” show about the diaspora communities of Miami, has inspired a special menu with fluke crudo and Moroccan spiced chicken tagine.

Where to Shop

A few blocks off Biscayne, the Miami Ironside complex mixes retail with design, galleries, and more, mixing everything from a bocce ball court to the deeply international Imperio jp, which sells bags, shawls, and art objects that hail from exotic locales around the world. In Little Haiti, which may soon be the next Wynwood Arts District, buy first-rate contemporary art at Michael Jon Gallery, which features such artists as Kelly Akashi and JPW3.

Tom Austin is based in Miami and covers the Florida beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter at @TomAustin__.