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. Many are free or budget-friendly for individuals, couples, and families.
HEAD TO THE BEACH
Miami is lined with miles of beautiful sand and warm waters, making the beach the obvious first thing to check out. The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau has an interactive map of Miami's beaches to help tourists find the one that fits them best. Visit South Beach for music, drinking, and parties, or drive up north for a more relaxing scene. Parking may be a hassle, but it can be cheap if planned ahead. Best Parking promises the best rates around Miami and is searchable by arrival time, area, address, and attractions.
JAZZ IT UP AT THE MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART
If a 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.
TRY A CUBAN SANDWICH
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.
GET INTERACTIVE AT THE MIAMI CHILDREN'S MUSEUM
Bring the family to the Miami Children's Museum for a day of educational, hands-on exhibits. Admission is usually $20 a person ($15 for Floridians), 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, scale the Mount MichiMu rock-climbing wall, and role-play at a kid-size supermarket.
PRACTICE FREE YOGA NEAR THE BAY
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.
ESCAPE TO QUIET KEY BISCAYNE
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.
PEOPLE-WATCH ON OCEAN DRIVE
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.
BROWSE AT THE FARMERS MARKETS
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.
GO ON AN ART WALK
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.
GET ACTIVE AT CRANDON PARK
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.
STROLL AROUND LITTLE HAVANA
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.
LEARN SOMETHING NEW AT HISTORYMIAMI
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.
DISCOVER THE HISTORIC ART DECO DISTRICT
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.
TAKE THE KIDS TO BISCAYNE NATIONAL PARK
Biscayne National Park, south of Miami, preserves a variety of ecosystems, including Biscayne Bay and its offshore reefs. For a glimpse of the diverse wildlife, take a trip to the national park for Family Fun Fest on the second Sunday of the month from December through April. At free interactive activity stations, children learn about different aspects of the park's resources and earn a special button at the end of the day.
WATCH AN OUTDOOR MOVIE
The New World Center's ExoStage — equipped with an outdoor projection wall stretching over 7,000 square feet — plays features on Wednesday nights. The fall 2018 lineup includes newer releases such as "Isle of Dogs," as well as modern classics such as "Big" and occasional older fare such as "Mary Poppins." People bring blankets, food, and sometimes dogs to enjoy an evening of cinema in the park.
DISCOVER COCONUT GROVE BY BIKE
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 start at $15.
ENJOY HAPPY HOUR
VISIT A BOTANICAL GARDEN
Miami’s lush tropical climate makes for an amazingly diverse variety of plant life, and touring the Miami Beach Botanical Garden will bring that home for visitors with areas featuring native plants, orchids, and edible produce. The garden is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and admission is free.
TAKE A BREWERY TOUR
Visitors can get an education on the beer-making process with a brewery tour at Winwood Brewing Co. The brewery is known for its La Rubia Blonde Ale. Tours start at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The tours cost $10 and include a beer of your choice and a pint glass to take home.