After living in Miami for 13 years and spending 11 of those years on South Beach, I feel qualified to give you a comprehensive guide for a great Miami vacation, complete with places only locals know about. I will separate this guide into South Beach and the rest of Miami, also known as “Mainland Miami”. If you only have a couple of days I would suggest just visiting South Beach. If you have a week, you will want to see more of the city.
Miami’s South Beach
South Beach is the most famous part of Miami and the part often seen on television. It is the southern most part of Miami Beach which stretches from 1st street to 40th street. It’s glamorous, wild, and beautiful with stunning hotels along the beach and historic art deco buildings. From Miami airport it is only 11 miles and takes about 20 minutes without traffic.
Things To Do in South Beach
No visit to Miami is complete without seeing the turquoise glittering beaches. The southernmost beaches are the party beaches. Further north and close to the upscale hotels, the beaches are calmer and quieter.
2. Ocean Drive
This iconic strip has art deco buildings and is full of restaurants with happy hours that start at 1100 am, so get ready to have some mojitos and enjoy some great people watching!
3. South Pointe Park
This is a local’s favorite. It is a beautiful park at the tip of south beach. You can watch the cruise ships depart from the port here on weekends around 4 or 5 pm.
4. Española Way
This small charming street is easy to miss. It has a Spanish vibe with small boutiques and restaurants. It is located between 14th and 15th streets, between Washington and Pennsylvania Avenues.
5. Paddle Boarding
If you haven’t done this, it is surprisingly relaxing, not to mention, a great workout. There are many places to do this and you can often find Groupon deals for discounts. You can do this in the bay or the ocean. The bay is calmer and therefore less challenging.
This activity looks much harder than it actually is. If you have decent balance skills you can do it. I suggest telling the operator you’ve done it before, otherwise they may make you take a lesson.
On Purdy Avenue on the bay side of the beach just north of Dade Blvd, there is a kayak/paddle board rental place called Miami Beach PaddleBoard.
Miami Beach is home to many amazing spas. One of my favorites is The Standard Hotel, on the Venetian Causeway just minutes from the beach. It is stunningly beautiful. Children are not permitted at the pool, but dogs are! You can opt to just have meal on the water, but I suggest booking a spa appointment. Once you spend over $100, you get a free day pass to the rest of the facilities. Totally worth it because they charge more than that for a day pass. It’s a whimsical and relaxing spot. Another fantastic spa is at the Setai Hotel.
7. The Boardwalk
The boardwalk stretches from 23rd to 46th street . Prior to this, starting just north of Nikki Beach around 5th street is a paved ocean side walkway that eventually turns into a traditional wooden boardwalk, and then around 30th street, a paved walkway behind all the hotels.
Unless you are staying at one of the fancy hotels along the boardwalk you may not ever see it. Note that there are no roller blades or bikes permitted north of 21st street.
It is a nice walk along a scenic park of the beach. Plus you can see the “backyards” of all the fancy hotels with the cool pools.
8. New World Symphony
Get some culture in your life and enjoy some beautiful music at the New World Symphony.
At least just come by and gawk at the stunning architecture and gorgeous landscaping complete with interesting arty structures. You can bring a blanket, some wine, some food and picnic or simply lie under the stars and listen to the symphony from the state of the art outdoor speakers and watch on the giant screen as the symphony performs inside.
This is one of the best free activities that Miami has to offer. The wall cast concerts are usually on Saturdays. Check the schedule at their website.
On Wednesdays they show an old movie. They even have Saturday morning free yoga here in this beautiful space!
9 Lincoln Road
This is a pedestrian only street full of shops, cafes and restaurants that runs east to west from the beach to the bay. It is located between 16th and 17th streets. Lincoln road is always bustling with activity and is a great spot for people watching.
Hotels to Consider in South Beach
- Mid-Range: Dream Hotel
For less than $300 for 2 nights you can enjoy a beautiful rooftop pool overlooking the ocean.
- Luxury hotel: SLS
This is the place to be seen. It truly embodies South Beach with the white breezy Philippe Starck decor. It also hosts Jose Andres’ Bazaar restaurant and Hyde Beach Club.
But you can find hotels in all price ranges in South Beach and hostels as well. I suggest checking Booking.com.
Places to Eat in South Beach
Like the hotels, there is a large range. A few of my favorites:
- Budget: La Sandwicherie
French style sandwiches that are a hit with locals and tourists. Try the Roast Beef and Camembert with extra cornichons and dressing.
- Budget: Fratelli La Bufala
Authentic Neapolitan style pizza
- Mid-Range: Byblos
Mediterranean with a twist
- Mid-Range: Pubbelly Sushi
Inventive Sushi and Japanese fare
- Luxury: Prime 112
The steakhouse to top all steakhouses. They are known for their killer sides dishes including the best lobster bisque and truffle macaroni and cheese you will ever have.
- Luxury: The Bazaar by Jose Andres
This is an epic experience, the creative molecular gastronomy of Jose Andres. The portions are small but the food is beautiful and delicious. Be prepared to splurge!
For more information on places to eat in Miami: miami.eater.com
Clubs and Bars in South Beach
Things to do in Mainland Miami
This is one of my favorite neighborhoods. An artsy, gritty neighborhood that is home to many art galleries and boasts impressive murals on the walls. The famous Wynwood Walls attract quite a bit of attention. There are many great restaurants and bars here too.
2. Shopping in and around Miami
Shopping in Miami is plentiful and fabulous with many great malls.
Aventura Mall is a large indoor mall with a diverse mix of stores. It is located 20 minutes north of Miami in Aventura. Beware there is always traffic!
Bal Harbor Shops is considered one of most beautiful malls in the world. However, the shopping is what I would call “Luxury on Steroids”. I could easily spend an entire paycheck on just one item in one store. It is mostly high-end designer boutiques and there are a few excellent places to eat here.
The Shops at Merrick Park has a perfect combination of beauty and great shopping. Flanked by Nordstrom’s and Neiman Marcus, this outdoor Mediterranean courtyard-style shopping mall is a pleasure to walk through.
Bayside Marketplace is a touristy outdoor shopping and dining area on the bay. The restaurants here are fun and family friendly but not known for gourmet cuisine. It is only 5-10 minutes from South Beach depending on traffic.
3. Vizcaya Villa and Gardens
This Italian style villa was once the winter home of James Deering, built in 1910. It is now a museum with gardens and is a National Historic Landmark. It is a lovely place to visit on a nice day. They also host a number of events including a Halloween and New Year’s Eve party. They also do High Tea on the Terrace from time to time. You can check their calendar for event information.
For more information: Vizcaya.org
4. The Everglades
The Everglades is a two million acre wetland ecosystem that reaches from central Florida, near Orlando, all the way south to Florida Bay. South Florida was at one time mostly Everglades but construction has aggressively encroached on this river of grass that is home to hundreds of animal species including the endangered panther, the manatee, 37 types of snakes, 350 types of birds and of course, Alligators!
There are tons of ways to explore the Everglades. One of my favorites is to bike ride at Shark Valley. You can rent bikes and there is a 14 mile loop that takes you into alligator territory. Halfway through is an observation tower where you can look down into the water. You are guaranteed to see TONS of alligators. There are also beautiful birds and the scenery is tranquil nature lover’s paradise.
It’s really fun to take an airboat ride were you can really get into the heart of the Everglades and see even more gators. One of the best airboat Everglade tours is done by the Miccosukee Indians and is called Buffalo Tigers.
You can find good prices for Everglade tours via Trustedtours.com
Located directly on Biscayne Bay is the financial and business district of Miami. This is a hotspot for young professionals and this area has more of a local vibe compared to South Beach. Some of my favorite things to do in this neighborhood are:
- Perez Art Museum: Beautiful museum with a great brunch at the restaurant Verde.
- Sugar at East: Located in the East Hotel at the brand spanking new City Center, this rooftop bar and garden is beautiful and the views spectacular, but it is relatively new so there’s usually a line. Bring your standing shoes because you may have to wait in line.
- American Social: Bar/restaurant with good food and a great scene. Located on the Miami River this is a the place to have outdoor happy hour or to watch a game. The Sunday brunch here is great as well.
Hotels to Consider if Staying on Miami’s Mainland
But again if you want a complete overview of all hotels in Miami I recommend checking Booking.com
Sightseeing and Attractions in Miami
Miami has a lot to offer from shopping tours to boat tours or a day at the Miami Seaquarium. For good deals on tours and attractions in and around Miami check out Miamicitysightseeing.com
I hope you enjoy your stay in Miami, Florida!
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