The Home of Florida's Magic City
In the late 1800s, a small community in southeastern Florida went from quiet to bustling in just one year's time. Because of this rapid population growth, Miami was dubbed the Magic City.
Today, the Magic City and the surrounding area are even more populous. With almost three million residents, Miami-Dade is Florida's most populous county, and the seventh most populous county in the United States. Nearly 30% of Floridians live in the state's southeastern region, which is comprised of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties.
Miami-Dade County is incredibly diverse. Not only do the people hail from a wide range of backgrounds, but the county's landscapes boast great variety as well. Within this one county, you'll find both lively urban centers and vast acres of untamed wetlands.
Miami-Dade County Through the Years
Thousands of years ago, nomadic people groups traveled through the region that is now known as Miami-Dade County. A Native American tribe, perhaps the Tequesta Indians, developed a ceremonial site in the area about 2,000 years ago. Now known as the Miami Circle, this landmark features a 38-foot-wide circular arrangement of holes carved into the limestone bedrock.
In 1513, Ponce de Leon journeyed through the Miami area. The region's first mission was established by a Spaniard in 1567. The Spanish controlled the area until 1821. Then, the Spanish government sold the land to the United States.
In the early days of the Territory of Florida, the Miami area was included in St. John's County. It became part of the newly formed Monroe County in 1823. With another subdivision in 1836, Dade County was established for the first time. It was named for Major Francis Dade, a military leader who was killed during the Dade Massacre of 1835.
In 1844, when Miami had fewer than 100 residents, it was chosen as the county seat. Over the next few decades, a handful of people were encouraged by the Homestead Act to stake their claims in Dade County, but population growth remained slow for a while. Shortly before the turn of the century, fewer than 1,000 people resided in the county.
The first railroad reached the region in 1896, however. That's the same year that the city of Miami was incorporated. To accommodate travelers, Henry Flagler established the Royal Palm Hotel near Biscayne Bay. These new additions set the region up for success. The 1920s brought rapid growth in both the tourism industry and the year-round population.
The Great Depression temporarily put the brakes on local development, but things turned around during World War II. Both the Army and the Navy had training bases in the area. After the war, many of the military personnel who had come to Miami for training returned to make the area their permanent home.
Immigration further contributed to the region's growth. For example, many Cubans arrived in the 1960s, and groups from Haiti came during the 1990s.
In 1997, Dade County voters approved a name change. The area is now officially known as Miami-Dade County.
At the Tip of Florida
Miami-Dade County encompasses 2,431 square miles -- more than twice the square miles of the entire state of Rhode Island!
The county is located at the southern tip of Florida. Miami-Dade is on the eastern half of the tip, and Monroe County claims the western side. Broward County sits north of Miami-Dade.
This is a coastal county. The eastern border is formed by Biscayne Bay. If you travel out of the bay, you'll be in the Atlantic Ocean.
To the south, there's a chain of barrier islands known as the Florida Keys. Access to the Keys runs through Miami-Dade County, but most of the islands belong to Monroe County rather than Miami-Dade.
There are more than 30 incorporated municipalities in Miami-Dade County. In addition to the city of Miami, the next 10 largest communities include Hialeah, Miami Gardens, Miami Beach, Homestead, North Miami, Coral Gables, Doral, North Miami Beach, Cutler Bay and Aventura.
Although the eastern part of the county is metropolitan, the western portion is dedicated to wetlands. It's part of Everglades National Park. Miami-Dade County is also the site of Biscayne National Park, which includes portions of Biscayne Bay as well as land in the northern Keys.
Diversity of Miami-Dade County
Over 13% of Florida's population lives in Miami-Dade. The county is home to more than 2.7 million people. From 2010 to 2021, the population grew by more than 11%.
There's a great deal of diversity in Miami-Dade County. As of 2019, 79% of the population is white, and nearly 18% is Black. Just over 1.5% is Asian, and about 0.3% is Native American. Almost seven out of every 10 people have Hispanic or Latino heritage.
Over half of the people in Miami-Dade County were born outside of the U.S. Almost 75% of county residents speak a language other than English at home.
Tourism and So Much More
When Henry Flagler built his luxury hotel in the late 1800s, it was just the start of the area's booming tourism industry. Today, the tourism and hospitality sector is a major player in the Miami-Dade economy. Cruises frequently depart from PortMiami, and Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruises are some of the area's top employers. Hotels, such as Intercontinental Miami and the Biltmore Hotel, employ many locals and draw countless tourists to the area.
Miami-Dade County isn't just for tourism, though. Other key economic sectors include healthcare and education. Hospital systems like Baptist Health South Florida and Nicklaus Children's Hospital provide health services for area residents while also creating a large number of jobs. Miami-Dade County is also home to higher education institutions like the University of Miami and Florida International University.
Government agencies have a large presence in the county. Municipal and county governments are some of the area's top employers, but there are many state and federal jobs in the region as well. Plus, Homestead Air Reserve Base is located in Miami-Dade. During the 2020 fiscal year, the base contributed nearly $400 million to the local economy.
From City Centers to Watery Wilds
Miami-Dade County is a multicultural mecca. The area's attractions reflect the residents' diverse backgrounds. At the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, you can listen to live music, enroll in an art class or browse market stalls. The Miccosukee Indian Village offers a museum about Native American culture and hosts daily alligator demonstrations. On a visit to the Black Precinct Courthouse and Museum, you can learn the story of Black police officers who served in this region during the mid-20th century.
The Calle Ocho Music Festival is an annual event held in the Little Havana district of Miami. Of course, you don't have to wait until festival week to check out this neighborhood's rich Cuban heritage. Maximo Gomez Park, also known as Domino Park, and the Tower Theater are worth a visit at any time of the year.
Throughout this county, you'll find delicious eats from around the world. Whether you want to sample Cuban, Jamaican or Peruvian cooking, the restaurants of Miami-Dade County can satisfy your cravings. Empanadas, a tasty treat hailing from various Latin countries, are a must-try dish.
You won't want to miss Miami-Dade County's beaches. There are over 20 miles of coastline to explore. South Beach is one of the best-known areas, but other popular spots to splash and sunbathe include Bal Harbour, Crandon Park Beach and Surfside Beach. You can also check out the beaches at Oleta River State Park and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.
Not only can you connect with nature at the state parks, but you can also venture through the wilderness of the two national parks. Popular activities at Everglades National Park include canoeing and fishing. You can also take boat tours or participate in slogging, which is off-trail hiking through swampy waters.
At Biscayne National Park, you can watch for feathered friends along the Biscayne Birding Trail or snorkel among shipwrecks on the Maritime Heritage Trail. Only 5% of this park is on land, so boats — whether canoes, kayaks, pontoons or sailboats — offer some of the best opportunities to see the sights.
You can also attend a game or race at one of several professional sporting venues in Miami-Dade County. If you've never been to one, the county has virtually everything. It is home to the Miami Heat (NBA), the Miami Dolphins (NFL), the Miami Marlins (MLB), and the Florida Panthers (NHL). NASCAR fans will want to check out the final race of the regular season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Whether you prefer land or water, city streets or wide-open spaces, there's plenty to see and do in Florida's Miami-Dade County.