The city of Miami, Florida elicits a number of images: Miami Vice, South Beach, and Little Havana. It’s where dozens of Caribbean cultures come together, including Cuban, Haitian, Dominican and much more. Miami is surrounded by water so there are miles of beaches stretching from the north and to both coasts of Miami Beach. Downtown has a historic district with buildings dating back to the 1800s. The city has also become a hub for the arts, hosting the yearly Art Basel event. You can see artists working year-round in the Wynwood Arts District.
Miami is divided mostly into two areas with smaller neighborhoods in between them. Miami Beach includes South Beach, Bal Harbour, North Beach, and Bayshore. Downtown you’ll find even more places, including Wynwood, Little Haiti, Little Havana, and Coconut Grove. Each has its own restaurants, shops, and atmosphere to offer visitors.
South Beach is the hub of most tourist activity, especially for people who want to see the iconic Art Deco hotels across from the beach. Here you’ll find people roller blading along the boardwalk and others sunning themselves. The neighborhood is also known for classic eateries like Joe’s Stone Crab and nightclubs like Nikki Beach Club.
Wynwood was formerly a run-down warehouse district, but some forward-thinking locals and graffiti artists beautified the area. Today, it’s home to art galleries, shops, restaurants, and nightclubs. The Wynwood Walls, a permanent mural installation, is the area’s biggest draw.
Little Havana is where many of the Cuban immigrants fled to from the 1950s onward. This is where you’ll find the best sandwiches and strongest coffee in town. Check out Calle Ocho and the Marlins baseball stadium for a game.
Restaurants and Cafes
Miami has a range of eateries for every budget. Sometimes the best food is the simplest like the plantains, rice, and chicken from the bodega deli counters. Others are best enjoyed with real tables and place settings. You’ll find flavors for every palette. For more on eating in Miami, check out the tours from Miami Culinary Tours.
Yardbird Southern Table & Bar brings Southern food to South Florida diners. See the slideshow of famous Southerners like Johnny Cash and Elvis as it plays on the wall and dine on the hearty fried chicken biscuits, washed down with cocktails in mason jars.
Islas Canarias Restaurant is an authentic Cuban eatery in Little Havana. The portions are large, especially when it comes to the arroz con pollo. The restaurant and cafe has been a favorite for over 30 years.
27 Restaurant & Bar is located inside a house at the Freehand Miami. They serve Caribbean-inspired and locally sourced dishes. Brunch is a great time to go, as you can share a carafe of mimosas among friends with your Mediterranean eggs.
Versailles is another Miami staple, one of the most notable Cuban restaurants in the country. They’re open daily from 8 am into the early hours of the morning for a strong coffee and hearty food.
Juice & Java offers clean eating options including fruit and veggie juices, wraps and vegetarian-friendly meals. An acai bowl makes the perfect breakfast or grab your liquid lunch to go as you head over to the beach.
Panther Coffee is Miami’s most famous coffee shop with a handful of locations around town. Learn more about how they make their coffee at monthly cupping or grab a nitro cold brew to go.
Bars and Nightlife
Partying til dawn is the norm for many visitors to Miami. You’ll find nightclubs in South Beach, Wynwood and beyond, as well as funky, local watering holes. Drinks emphasize on the tropical, but you’ll also find craft breweries.
The Broken Shaker is a James Beard award semifinalist that is a favorite of locals as much as it is for hostel guests at The Freehand. Cocktails are made from unique, local ingredients, as are the punch bowls that you can share amongst friends.
Basement Miami is the Edition’s nightlife spot, open for bowling, ice skating and old-school fun from 10 pm nightly. A DJ keeps the entertainment going well into the night and morning.
Wynwood Brewing Company was one of the first to pop up in downtown Miami. Set in a graffiti-covered warehouse, the beers are tasty and there is plenty of entertainment on hand. Board games are available and food trucks set up outside, as do artists.
Concrete Beach Brewery, located right down the street, has outdoor seating and games. Their beers have a tropical flair, starting with the drinkable Stiltsville and moving on to the Tropic of Passion passionfruit wheat ale.
Things to Do
Miami is a town full of museums and many of them relate to the arts. You’ll also find activities for families, sports enthusiasts and outdoor lovers. Just keep in mind that you may need to rent a car or book a tour to get around.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is the former Deering winter estate, where the mogul created an Italianate villa for himself. Today the mansion serves as a museum, preserved from when he lived there, and lavish gardens that are a popular spot for photo shoots.
The Wolfsonian-Florida International University is a part of the university system but offers free admission on Friday nights. The unique museum has not only paintings but also sculptures, architectural pieces, and propaganda posters.
Wynwood Walls are just one part of the massive neighborhood known for street art. This gated area features installations guarded by security to prevent defacing. It’s open every day for you to take pictures. Best of all, it’s free to visit.
There are plenty more free things to do in town. Museums offer free days throughout the month. Miami’s Best Graffiti Guide offers free weekly BYO bike tours of Wynwood’s best murals. Take advantage of free yoga and workout classes every week in the local beaches and parks or a movie at Soundscape at the New World Center. Urban Adventures runs tours of Little Havana and Wynwood.
Day trips to the Everglades and the Florida Keys will take up much of your day, so leave early with enough time to stop at the offbeat attractions in Florida City and Homestead. And, of course, no trip to Miami is complete without attending sporting events, whether your chosen favorite is baseball, football or basketball.
You’ll find outposts of luxury brands and unique boutiques alike in Miami. There’s no telling what types of deals you’ll find. Lincoln Road Mall is a pedestrian shopping and dining area where you’ll find the Apple store, H&M and more. Collins and Washington avenues have their own range of stores. Sunset Harbor Shops and Wynwood have more locally-owned boutiques like Nomad Tribe Wynwood, which sells products made all over the world that provide social impact. Wynwood also has recent outposts of stores like Shinola and Warby Parker.
Where to Stay
Over the course of a few years, the trend has gone from the iconic Art Deco hotels to the oceanfront modern hotels. There’s something for every price range when it comes to accommodation in Miami, depending on where in town you want to stay. Most travelers will want to be in Miami Beach, specifically South Beach.
Luxury hostels like Freehand Miami are popular, featuring a pool, cocktail bar, restaurant and hip design by Roman and Williams. Beds ‘N Drinks is another, a short walk from the beach and offering nightclub crawls throughout the week.
If you’re willing to spend a little bit more, boutique hotels have been popping up around town recently.
Circa 39 Hotel Miami Beach has brightly decorated rooms with its own pool, beachside chairs, and a cocktail bar. They serve top-notch rum and locally roasted Panther Coffee.
Edition Hotel is the newest outpost of this boutique Marriott brand, designed by Ian Schrager. It’s set right on the ocean and has its own bars and restaurants.
Vagabond Hotel Miami has a funky vintage vibe and rooms under $150 per night. Their pool is a favorite hangout, as is the restaurant and bar.
For those looking to splurge, you’ll be hard pressed to decide on just one luxury hotel that you want to stay at.
Carillon Miami Beach has the largest stretch of private beach. All rooms are suites and have access to the luxurious spa.
Gale South Beach is a sleekly designed hotel in the middle of it all off Collins Avenue. The decor is all white and the bars and restaurants bring in locals and visitors alike.
You can even find camping in the greater Miami area at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne. Larry and Penny Thompson Memorial Park is located near the zoo and has campground and pavilion facilities.
Another option for local experiences is staying in homes with AirBnB. Get $20 towards your first stay by using this link.
Getting around Miami can be tricky, especially if you want to see beyond downtown and South Beach. I don’t recommend driving because of chaotic highways and a lack of free parking around town. Walking is fairly easy, especially if you’re staying in Miami Beach. There is a boardwalk that extends for much of the beach where you can walk or run.
Miami’s public transportation includes trains, buses, and light rail, but may take some organization to use. In the days before ride sharing, I took two buses to get to Wynwood and another two back. EASY cards let you top up amounts to use on all systems and rides cost less than $3.
You can also rent bikes through independent operators or through CitiBike (formerly DecoBike) stations around town. There are convenient docking stations throughout Miami Beach and Downtown.
Taxis are plentiful, but I’ve found Uber and Lyft to be cheaper and easier. I took an Uber pool from the airport to Miami Beach for only $7 and a Lyft back to the airport for only $14. Get a free ride on Lyft by entering the code “CAROLINE868074”.