Welcome to Miami. Bienvenido a Miami!
We’re here to tell you there’s a lot more to Miami than celeb’ sightings and late nights on South Beach. South Beach is actually a neighborhood within Miami Beach, a separate island city across the Biscayne Bay.
In our Miami Travel Guide, we’ll talk about what to do and see on the mainland.
Miami is the ultimate melting pot of Latin culture, and at its base you’ll find a long-standing Cuban population that has shaped the city’s history. The South Florida metropolis has grown tremendously over the last couple of years. Dozens of new high-rises dot the city’s impressive, bay-hugging skyline, and unique neighborhoods once deemed dangerous are now hip-and-happening. New cafes, art galleries, restaurants and bars are springing up on every corner.
What to do?
The Wynwood Walls are a collection of colorful murals by artists from all over the globe in the Wynwood Arts District, an old warehouse district that has morphed into a major tourist attraction. Art galleries, coffee joints and thrift shops now stand where decrepit warehouses once stood. Photographers, visitors and tourists are all drawn to the neighborhood as you won’t find a bare wall within its borders, so it makes for some pretty awesome photos. It’s also free to sightsee!
Perez Art Museum Miami + The Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science
Miami’s art museum (“PAMM”) is a relatively new venue boasting seasonal modern art exhibits and unique views of the Biscayne Bay. Located in a lush, tree-lined area called Museum Park, the venue itself is a striking sight with tropical plants hanging from its ceiling. Next door you’ll find Miami’s newest museum, the Frost Museum of Science, which features a planetarium and a 500,000-gallon aquarium.
Also known as Eighth Street, Calle Ocho is the main artery running through Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. Here cigar bars, domino parks and salsa clubs offer a true reflection of Cuban culture. We can’t forget to mention the endless number of hole-in-the-wall Cuban eateries offering an authentic — and affordable — taste of the island country.
Sugar at the EAST Hotel
If you’ve been to the EAST Hotel in Hong Kong, you’ll find this bar familiar. Miami’s tallest rooftop bar is modeled after the Asian venue, located atop the brand new EAST Hotel. Offering an expansive view that stems from downtown Miami all the way to Miami Beach, this is the place to be for happy hour. We suggest sticking around for sunset.
Equivalent to L.A.’s Rodeo Drive, this newly built, high-end shopping Mecca is lined with stores like Cartier and Hermès. While this is no place for the budget traveler to shop, the neighborhood’s chic sidewalks are adorned with elaborate art displays making it one of the most picturesque places in town.
OK, we may take you off the mainland for this one, but what’s a trip to Miami without taking a dip in the ocean? We’ll recommend our two favorites: South Pointe and Virginia Key Beach Parks.
South Pointe, located at the tip of South Beach, is a lot calmer than beaches on extremely touristy Ocean Drive. There are restaurants nearby, as well as a popular day club called Nikki Beach. You can also occasionally spot massive cruise ships leaving the Miami port.
Virginia Key is a barrier island a few minutes south of downtown Miami. You can easily get there by car or bike, and the ride there is beautiful. We enjoy this park for its Caribbean-like island vibes. This is the place to find secluded, seemingly untouched beaches away from the over-populated sands of Miami Beach. You’ll find barbecue grills in some locations, as well as biking trails and kayak rentals.
If you choose to rent a car while you’re visiting, you could drive down to the Florida Keys or Everglades National Park.
The Florida Keys are a string of tropical islands stretching 120 miles from the southern tip of Florida. Known for boating, snorkeling and scuba diving, the island chain is anchored by Key West, an eclectic community and spring break hotspot. The keys display the quintessential Florida lifestyle where life on the water trumps life on land.
The Everglades National Park is composed of 1.5 million acres of wetland, or in other words, it’s a massive swamp teeming with wildlife. Several companies offer airboat tours that zip you through the park, introducing you to both the alligators and crocodiles that call its murky waters home. You can also hike and kayak within the Everglades, which stretches from coast to coast on the southern edge of Florida.
What to eat?
Cuban food: You must try Miami’s most authentic Latin cuisine, including the Cuban “cafecito,” a shot of caffeine and sugar that will leave you wired for hours. Think finely toasted Cuban bread slathered with butter coupled with strong coffee for breakfast; and rice, beans and grilled chicken for lunch.
There are tons of affordable options in Little Havana, including the iconic Versailles Restaurant.
Kush Wynwood: This local beer and burger joint in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood is tiny and always packed. Their food is locally sourced, and they have a cool bar next door where you can grab a drink while waiting for a table — and you will most likely wait. Our favorite menu items are the Frita Burger served with guava jelly and the Florida Alligator Bites.
Salty Donut: Donut-lovers need to head over here. The Miami-born, artisanal donut shop offers weekly flavors like “Banana Bread” and “Peaches + Brie,” as well as yearlong staples like “Nutella” (described as a 24-hour raised brioche donut with Nutella filling, a cocoa glaze and topped with crushed hazelnuts).
Panther Coffee: Another local shop offering fantastic coffee from a few locations around town.
Lung Yai Thai Tapas: If you’re a fan of Asian food, this hole-in-the-wall restaurant serves the best Thai food we’ve had in South Florida. While located in Little Havana it carries no assemblance to its Cuban surroundings. The menu is tapas style and you can only order one time, so make sure to choose at least four dishes if you’re sharing between two people. It’s incredibly affordable!
Miami is known for its numerous waterfront restaurants like the Rusty Pelican, Crazy About You, Juvia and Smith & Wollensky, although those water views come with a price. While not the best option for travelers on a budget, they offer a fantastic experience for those willing to splurge a bit.
How to get around
The Metromover is a free transit system that takes you around the downtown Miami area. It can take you to the Perez Art Museum and the Frost Museum of Science, Bayfront Park and Brickell Avenue, among other destinations in those neighborhoods.
The trolley system is also free and allows you to travel further than the Metromover. It can take you to Wynwood, Little Havana, Coconut Grove, and nearby cities like Coral Gables.
Uber and Lyft work well there, and you can snag some pretty cheap rates by sharing your ride with others through the “Uber pool” option.
The Metrorail system is like Miami’s subway, except it’s an elevated track that runs from Miami International Airport (MIA) to downtown, then continues south to nearby cities. It’s not a heavily used system as its trains are a bit aged. Locals don’t necessarily view it as the safest or most effective mode of transportation, but trips cost no more than $2-3.
Where to stay?
There are endless hotel options across Miami and Miami Beach (the hospitality industry is one of South Florida’s main economic drivers), but a good chunk of them cater to the high-end traveler. The region boasts some of the highest daily hotel rates in the nation.
You’ll probably find more hostels on Miami Beach. More affordable, 3-star hotels are found north of downtown Miami near the MiMo District.
Try to avoid staying in Overtown, Liberty City and Allapattah.
Be careful when using Airbnb in both Miami and Miami Beach as the service is illegal in most high-rise buildings. You run the risk of being kicked out by the condo staff, even if you had no knowledge that Airbnb was banned in that area.