Mentions of Miami and South Beach may prompt visions of beautiful people on the boardwalk, glitzy nightclubs, and pool parties, but there's more than just nightlife in Florida's most glamorous city. From rich Cuban culture and museums to natural wonders and art walks, it can feel like there's no end of activities to choose from, here are our favorite things to do in Miami.
The Best Things to Do in Miami
Founded in 1971, Versailles Restaurant is known for its cheap, authentic, Cuban meal. Although tourists have found the restaurant, it's still filled with locals, and even gets the occasional stop from politicians for photo ops. It's hard to beat the Cuban sandwich, and the roast pork and fried plantains also have a lot of fans.
The Gates epitomizes the SoBe lifestyle as a newly reimagined boutique hotel located in a historic South Beach building (once the Ankara Motel) right on Collins Avenue, conveniently next to Ocean Drive, Miami's nightlife epicenter and sought after beach destination. Guests can take their signature SoBe Tuk-Tuk on a 5-minute open-air ride to the beach, where they'll find beach chairs and towels. The hotel's decor flourishes with award-winning photographer Jorge de la Torriente of de La Gallery's artwork, which depicts vibrant scenes of South Floridan culture.
Sample specialty cocktails or some of the 100 imported tequilas and mezcals at the newly launched Mexican-inspired restaurant Agaveros Cantina. The hotel also has an expanded pool deck with custom double-sided cabanas mixed as well as communal tables for outdoor dining, and a bar between the pool area and restaurant.
Of course, you'd be remiss not to take a bike ride along the beach to explore Miami’s most instagrammed place, Wynwood Walls. You can also venture to El Titan — the Calle Ocho factory that's made handcrafted, traditional Cuban cigars for more than 20 years and learn how to roll your own.
Sitting down to a table at one of Ricardo Sanz's Kabuki restaurants in Madrid would be a splurge even without the flight to Spain. Luckily the Michelin-starred chef has taken his sauces, ingredients, and technique to Miami in a food truck called Kuenko, which just opened in May. It serves Japanese-Spanish donburi, or rice bowls, each with a different protein and a fried egg, for just over $10.
Miami is no doubt a party city, and the variety of Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the area are hardly a surprise. While many bars and restaurants offer cheap food and drink specials, there are also freebies aplenty, such as admission to the rooftop party at the Gale Hotel, which features music, margaritas, and even pet adoptions.
Just south of downtown Miami, seeming to rise straight up out of the ocean, are 6,566 stadium seats underneath a 326-foot roof. Built in 1963, the Miami Marine Stadium was the first stadium for powerboat racing in the country. In its heyday, it was the site for a number of well-known sporting and entertainment events, but in 1992, in the wake of Hurricane Andrew, it was declared unsafe for the public. Since then, the unusual site has become a playground for parkour (physical movements intended to get the practitioner from one point to another as efficiently as possible) and a canvas for eye-catching, candy-colored graffiti. The facilities may have lost their former elegance but the sweeping views of downtown Miami, Miami Beach, and the barrier islands have only become more breathtaking.
There's more to do than sit at the lush outdoor patio of Miami Beach's Broken Shaker at the Freehand hotel, where diners can also enjoy the pool, hammock, ping pong table, or bocce court while sampling local fish tacos, cheap beers, and drink specials. Among the new, upscale hostels cropping up in the U.S., The Freehand stands out for its "summer camp for adults" traits: art classes, pop-up events and one-off experiences. In the vein of a luxe boutique hotel, the South Beach hostel has cultivated a top-notch food and beverage program. Featuring weekly rotating inventive cocktails with property-grown ingredients -- Broken Shaker has been nominated for two James Beard Awards and deemed one of "The World's 50 Best Bars."
Miami has more pet stores and veterinarians per capita than any other city analyzed by the report, which means it's a city that truly loves its animal companions. There are also more than 40 pet-friendly activities in the city. Among the top-ranked experiences is the dog park at Haulover Park, with more than 3 acres featuring separate spaces for small and large dogs to exercise off-leash, as well as doggie play equipment, and dog and people water fountains.
Pet-Friendly Hotel: Kimpton Epic Miami is another hotel that rolls out the red carpet for your family pet, no matter what that pet happens to be -- furry, feathery, or even scaly. There are also no size, weight, or breed limits, or any extra charges for bringing a pet.
The striking Overseas Highway, also known here as Highway 1 or the "Highway That Goes to the Sea," includes 112 miles of roadway and a total of 42 overseas bridges from Miami to Key West. The entire span can be traveled in about four hours, but it's better to take time to enjoy the trip. Keep an eye out for restaurants and attractions along the way. Stopping at Anne's Beach for a mid-trip wade on Islamorada is free, and so is the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key.
Florida is a massive state with no dearth of wings, but Miami is absolutely saturated with wing joints. The best of the bunch lean heavily on a crisp, charred exterior and house sauces and dry rubs, but House of Wings has been throwing everything it has at its wings since 2003. Its sauce menu features dozens of dry rubs (lemon pepper, Cajun), barbecue sauces (honey hickory smoke, habanero mango), sweet sauces (sweet and sour, Jamaican wine), savory sauces (mumbo sauce, bourbon) and hot sauces. However, this combination of jerk seasonings and Buffalo sauce stands out from the pack.
Don't lose your head over this decadent dessert inspired by Marie Antoinette. At the Barton G. restaurants in Los Angeles and Miami, it is known as Let Them Eat Cake, an over-the-top dish featuring a towering 2-foot high bubblegum cotton candy pompadour on top of a mannequin's head. It is served with retro candy, a bananas Foster panna cotta, and souvenir sunglasses.
You never know what the day will bring at Whip'n Dip Ice Cream Shoppe with assorted flavors prepared every morning in-house using local ingredients. You might find sweet flavors like Heath Bar Brownie or Bulldog Blitz. Even if you're watching your figure, the Lite Cream is surprisingly delicious/light/fluffy for being calorie/fat/cholesterol free.
Everglades National Park, the largest tropical wilderness in the United States, is just an hour west of Miami. The entry fee is $25 per car and it's good for seven days, leaving plenty of time to explore the park's fantastically diverse environment, which includes mangrove swamps, freshwater sloughs, and cypress forests. The park is home to a dazzling array of wildlife, ranging from crocodiles, manatees, and panthers to more than 350 species of birds and 300 species of fresh and saltwater fish.
While the Magic City is full of incredible sushi destinations like NAOE and Makoto, the best sushi can arguably be found on four wheels. Myumi offers a traditional omakase experience from the window of a food truck served by talented chefs. You won't find any wacky rolls here, just exceptional nigiri like red snapper with ume and Japanese basil or uni from Hokkaido. Admittedly pricier than most food trucks, it's a unique experience worth the splurge. And don't forget to BYOB.
Joe's has come a long way from its humble beginning as a lunch counter in 1913 -- now it's a large, swanky affair with servers in tuxes. One thing that hasn't changed, reviewers say, is the mouth-watering food. The chilled stone crab legs are a must -- go for the jumbo size if you're extra hungry (and flush with cash) -- and cap it off with Key lime pie.
There's more to Miami Beach than sun-kissed beaches, stunning views, and hot nightlife. See the ecosystems of Biscayne National Park, south of Miami, including Biscayne Bay and its offshore reefs; discover the historic Art Deco District; get active with beach volleyball, walking, and biking trails, a tennis center, and kiteboarding at Crandon Park; people-watch on Ocean Drive; and check out Miami's vibrant art scene with walks among its galleries.
Related: 20 Free and Cheap Things to Do in Miami
The famed desert resort city of Palm Springs in Southern California doesn't exactly have a reputation for budget travel. It's ritzy and glitzy -- a hot, almost relentlessly sunny getaway for the rich and famous. But there are free and cheap activities in the area as well, many focused on nature, history, and the arts. Here are 20 ideas that will keep singles, couples, or families with children entertained on a budget.
If vacation in Miami happens to include the last Friday of the month, head to the Museum of Contemporary Art for free live jazz. Crowds gather at the plaza outside at 8 p.m. General admission to the museum itself is only $5, and there are no admission fees for veterans, children under 12, and Bank of America cardholders.
Anyone who watched the 2014 movie "Chef" likely came away craving an authentic Cuban sandwich. Head to Enriqueta's Sandwich Shop for an old-fashioned counter-style meal of delicious Cuban sandwiches stuffed with croquetas (fried tidbits, often of mashed potato) or an extra layer of pork. Yelp reviewers praise the regular specials, crispy bread, and affordable prices. Reviews identify Islas Canarias as a good spot to try croquetas on their own.
Bring the family to the Miami Children's Museum for a day of educational, hands-on exhibits. Admission is usually $20 a person, but visitors get in for free from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the third Friday of every month. Kids can build at the Construction Zone, explore the two-story Castle of Dreams, learn about animal care at Pet Central, and role-play at a kid-size supermarket.
Find free and donation-based yoga by the scenic bay and beaches in Bayfront Park. The Third Street Beach Yoga studio is active every day of the week, with donation-based sunrise and sunset classes led by certified yoga instructors. Students should bring their own towel (instead of a mat), sunscreen, and water.
Head south of South Beach for seclusion, peace, and quiet. At Key Biscayne, there are pristine beaches, a cycling trail, and beautiful views of Miami. After sunbathing, drive farther south to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park for a variety of sports and activities.
Stroll along one of the most popular, crowded roads in Miami Beach. Ocean Drive runs alongside South Beach and is packed with commercial activity, beach views, beautiful people, and singular architecture. Famous Ocean Drive sites, including the old residence of Gianni Versace, appear in a number of American films (including "Scarface" and "The Birdcage") and TV shows (including "Miami Vice" and "Dexter"). Many restaurants hand out fliers for lunch or dinner specials on Ocean Drive.
If shopping is on the to-do list, visit the farmers markets in Miami. There are plenty of locally sourced vegetables and other foods for cooking in accommodations with kitchens, as well as homemade goods and potential souvenirs to bring home. The Adrienne Arsht Center Farmers Market in downtown Miami, held from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. every Monday, adds occasional events featuring talks, live music, and cooking.
Miami is known for its art scene and plentiful galleries, and bars and restaurants are often packed with locals and tourists at the tail end of an art walk. The Coral Gables Gallery Night brings art enthusiasts around in a free city trolley the first Friday of every month, and the Wynwood Art Walk crowds Miami galleries on second Saturdays. Art of Miami lists the best art walks.
If sunbathing and drinking near the beach sounds too relaxing, head to Crandon Park on the northern tip of Key Biscayne. It's all about activities: beach volleyball, walking and biking trails, a tennis center, golf, kiteboarding, and more. Pack lunch and a day's worth of supplies (barbecue grills are available). There's a $7 parking fee on weekends.
If a taste of Cuban culture is on the itinerary, Little Havana remains a must. Thousands of Cubans fled to Miami after Fidel Castro became prime minister in 1959, making this the place to experience authentic dominos, art, music, and commerce -- including cigar rollers -- as well as the country's distinctive cuisine. Try churro ice cream, sugarcane juice, and strong coffee when hunger strikes while sightseeing along Calle Ocho and Memorial Boulevard.
HistoryMiami (formerly the Historical Museum of Southern Florida) is dedicated to maintaining and commemorating the history and culture of South Florida. Learn about the area back to prehistoric times, as well as cultural folklife, pioneering Miami Beach families, and more through artifacts and archives. Admission is free on Family Fun Days on the second Saturday of every month.
Pack comfortable walking shoes to explore the Art Deco District in South Beach, recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. Make sure phones and cameras are charged to capture the bright, pastel-colored buildings, architecture mimicking the ocean liners of the 1930s, and gleaming neon signs. Follow a walking tour compiled by National Geographic for a thorough glimpse of these preserved, unique buildings.
Learn about the oldest inhabited neighborhood of Miami on a free bicycle tour on the second and fourth Saturday morning of every month. Led by Royal Palm Tours of Miami, the route takes visitors on a scenic, educational ride through Coconut Grove. A local restaurant provides free parking, although Citi Bike rentals cost about $14.
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