Cutting-edge artists and voracious collectors come to Art Basel Miami Beach for the adrenaline rush—and the Cuban sandwiches. Jennifer Rubell gives the ultimate art-food insider's guide.

A man and a woman, both bald and dressed in red vinyl suits with matching heels and lipstick, walk hand in hand past a crowd of art collectors, gallery owners and partygoers in the Miami Beach Convention Center. Across the hall, a motorized sculpture of a businessman—a "corporate soldier," in the artist's words—crawls by. A few hours later, uniformed maids show visitors through an art collection, and it's not clear whether the maids are part of the exhibit. Welcome to Art Basel Miami Beach, the contemporary art world's newest extravaganza, which will hit this city for the third straight year during the first week of December.

I guess my family helped create Miami's art madness. In 1996 we opened the Rubell Family Collection, a foundation for contemporary art, in a building that was once a DEA confiscated-goods warehouse. We invited major international artists, from Jeff Koons to Maurizio Cattelan, to exhibit, see the collection and meet local artists. We invited art dealers, critics and collectors. Most importantly, we invited Sam Keller.

Keller is the director of Art Basel, the world's most influential modern-art fair, held each year in Switzerland. He fell in love with Miami and, in 2002, started a sister fair here. Now every December the world's top art dealers descend on the city to set up booths at the convention center and in a temporary oceanfront village of converted shipping containers. Thousands of collectors come, as well as artists, curators, private-jet salespeople and just about anyone with any relationship to the art world. Museums put on their best shows, dealers exhibit their most promising artists, and everyone throws over-the-top parties.

Art Basel Miami Beach lasts only five days, but it has transformed the city's art scene. In the Wynwood neighborhood and the Design District, at least a dozen new art venues have joined the first few trailblazers. In a phenomenon that's rare most places but strangely common here, some major collectors—Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz and Marty Margulies, as well as my family—are willing to share their acquisitions with the public. Meanwhile, certain restaurants and bars have become hangouts for the art crowd. These aren't posh, high-design places—they're funky and idiosyncratic, like Miami itself.

Even if you don't make it to Art Basel, you can experience Miami's art scene year-round. Here, a small sample of what's going on around the city.

Cutting-edge art venues

MIAMI ART CENTRAL (MAC) Last year philanthropist Ella Fontanals Cisneros and her daughters founded MAC. Its inaugural exhibition, "Ten Floridians," brought attention to local talent; nine international curators picked their favorite South Florida artists. In Mark Handforth's sculpture, multicolored candles melted on a wrecked moped, while Luis Gispert's photographs provided the kind of hometown homage to Miami that Woody Allen's movies do for New York.

THE MARGULIES COLLECTION AT THE WAREHOUSE Real estate developer Marty Margulies has an encyclopedic collection of photography from 1910 to the present. He also has major holdings in sculpture, video and installation art. This five-year-old venue shows only a portion of Margulies's acquisitions, including Gilles Barbier's L'Hospice, a hilarious installation portraying six aging superheroes in various states of decrepitude.

THE MOORE SPACE Created in 2001 by Cuban übercollector Rosa de la Cruz with the help of real estate developer and art collector Craig Robins, the Moore Space occupies the second story of the stunning 1920s Moore Furniture Company building. For a recent solo show, Scottish artist Jim Lambie covered the entire floor of the main gallery with stripes of black and white duct tape, on which he placed sculptures made from materials like doors and mirrors. Images in "Surveillance," a 2003 group show, ranged from Andres Serrano's portrait of a Klan wizard to Josefina Posch's bathroom videos—nonfunctioning security cameras were installed in the bathrooms and monitors in the gallery space aired prerecorded footage of people using the facilities.

ROCKET PROJECTS This alternative art space puts on outrageous exhibits, with an emphasis on site-specific installations and exceptionally innovative work in a variety of formats. "Animal Farm," a recent show inspired by taxidermy, included New York artist Jason Clay Lewis's human skull sheathed in white rabbit fur.

RUBELL FAMILY COLLECTION This month, my family reopens the Collection after a year of renovation and expansion. My father now has the library of art books he always dreamed of, and my mother has her idea of the perfect closet: five thousand square feet of sliding metal art-storage walls, built by Robert Rauschenberg's assistants. There are 29 exhibition rooms of work from 1964 to the present, from my family's private reserve. Must-see pieces: Charles Ray's Oh! Charley, Charley, Charley..., a sculpture made of eight nude self-portraits of the artist engaged in a mock orgy, and Cady Noland's installation of 16,200 cans of Budweiser.

FREDRIC SNITZER GALLERY Before Miami had an art scene, before Miami artists started showing at museums around the world, before Art Basel went stateside, there was Fred. His 27-year-old gallery, which moved to its new Wynwood location earlier this year, is where just about all of Miami's most significant artists—including Naomi Fisher and Hernan Bas—got their start. Snitzer's gallery is always a great place to find Miami's up-and-coming talent.

WORLD CLASS BOXING Created by collectors Dennis and Debra Scholl in a former boxing gym, this exhibition space for large-scale sculptures and installations opened in 2002 with Olafur Eliasson's Light Ventilator Mobile, a jerry-rigged oscillating fan that created a series of moving circles of light on the wall. For this year's Art Basel, the Scholls have installed a 28-foot-long work by Simon Starling that involves live finches inside scale-model houses mounted on tree trunks. (Dennis is co-founder of Australia's Betts & Scholl winery, recently named by F&W as one of the 20 top new wineries in the world.)

Hippest art-world hangouts

DAVID'S CAFE II Walk up to the window at this 10-year-old café (a spin-off of the 28-year-old David's, also in South Beach) for the best café con leche in Miami, and probably the best people-watching too. Models, art collectors, beach bums and even people in suits (a South Beach rarity) stop by for their morning fix...and afternoon fix...and evening fix. Inside, you can order Cuban classics like the stewed, shredded beef known as ropa vieja or a dish called pork chunks, which tastes a thousand times better than it sounds.

ENRIQUETA'S SANDWICH SHOP The combination of bars on the windows and Porsches in the parking lot may seem confusing, but when you taste the chicken sandwich, you'll get it. Made with chicken, cheese and potato chips pressed between slices of bread, this sandwich is a Miami must-have. The Formica benches and loud Spanish chatter make you feel that you are, as the locals say, not far from America. In fact, you're at Wynwood artists', dealers' and collectors' favorite spot.

GARCIA'S SEAFOOD GRILLE & FISH MARKET At lunchtime, walk in the front door and check out the fish at the market, then head back past the kitchen to the dock. Sit down at one of the weathered wood tables, dig into the complimentary smoked-fish dip and saltines, and enjoy a great view of the giant Haiti-bound barges, piled high with bicycles, making their way out to sea. Order that yellowtail you saw at the fish counter; it will arrive grilled to perfection. Get a side of yellow rice with chunks of fresh fish and some sweet-as-can-be fried plantains. Look up, and among the cheerful families and uniformed customs workers you'll see Miami's next wave of collectors—young, wealthy and art-obsessed.

MACALUSO'S In a strip mall on Alton Road—South Beach's ugliest street—is this locals' favorite, where Frank Sinatra dominates the sound system and waiters greet just about everybody by name. If it's Sunday night, my brother Jason (who started collecting art at 14) is here, and so are many of the other people who make Miami go 'round, art-wise. Chef Michael Vito D'Andrea's meatballs alone are worth coming for; so is his fusilli with chickpeas and pancetta. Actually, you can't go wrong with anything here—unless you make a special request. The chef gives every such order the same answer: No. With food this good, he's allowed.

ONE NINETY On a quiet residential street halfway between the Design District and Little Haiti is a funky, boisterous, two-year-old spot with seriously good food and a major art-world following. There's music every night and a fabulous Sunday brunch that'll put you in touch with musicians, artists, designers, collectors and stylish people of every ethnicity and background. It's where Miami feels most, well, Miami. Try the Earl Grey-cured scallops with Asian seaweed salad, or the sunflower seed-crusted salmon with bok choy.

Jennifer Rubell is a Miami hotelier at work on her first book.