Ultimate Guide to Miami

Ultimate Guide to Miami

Your ultimate guide to Miami (my hometown!) including where to stay, where to eat, and what to do.

Let’s get to it!

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PLANNING & LOGISTICS


BEST TIME TO VISIT

WINTER (Dec-Mar) is the best time to visit Miami. Temperatures hover in the mid-70s, the weather is (generally) dry, and there are tons of events and festivals such as Art Basel (early December), the South Beach Wine & Food Festival (February), and Winter Music Conference for electronic music (March).

Of course, this means more tourists and “snowbirds” (people from the colder parts of North America, especially Canada, who migrate to Florida every year), so be prepared for longer lines, heavier traffic, and higher prices.

SPRING (late Mar-May) is also a good time to visit. However, beware spring breakers and those flocking to the Ultra Music Festival, which usually kicks off the season every year in late March.

SUMMER (Jun-Aug) should be avoided if possible. It’s sweltering hot, humid, and smack dab in hurricane season, which lasts from June 1-November 30. On the bright side, it’s cheaper and less crowded!

FALL (Sept-Nov) also falls in hurricane season, but at least the weather is more bearable. It’s considered shoulder season in Miami, which is my favorite season to visit any destination. Just be sure to monitor the weather for any incoming storms! 

AIRPORT ARRIVAL

MIAMI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (MIA): The twelfth busiest airport in the United States according to World Atlas. This behemoth is known for its long security lines, confusing signage, and flight delays. Avoid flying through here if possible! Check out Fort Lauderdale Airport instead (more on that below).

Getting from MIA to Miami: Taxis charge a flat rate of $35 to South Beach. You can also take the SuperShuttle shared van service ($22 to South Beach) or the Miami Beach Airport Express, aka bus 150 ($2.65 flat fare with multiple stops along Miami Beach). 

FORT LAUDERDALE AIRPORT (FLL): I recommend flying into FLL instead of MIA unless you’re staying realllyyy close to Miami International Airport. I grew up in Miami and I’ve always flown in and out of FLL, with one or two exceptions.

FLL is smaller than MIA and farther from South Beach, but flights can be cheaper, it’s less crowded with less traffic, and it’s easier to navigate. 

Getting from FLL to Miami: A taxi costs approximately $75 to South Beach and $65 to downtown Miami. You can also take a GO Airport Shuttle shared van for $25 to South Beach.

TRANSPORTATION

DRIVING: Miami is a car city. Everyone drives because it really is the easiest way to get around. You can rent a car, but keep in mind that parking can be kind of a nightmare in Miami Beach and the city’s drivers are not known for following the road rules (or using their turn signals).

If you do rent a car, download the PayByPhone app to make paying for your parking spot a breeze. The app has a built-in timer that sends you text message alerts when the meter is expiring and allows you to extend the time to avoid parking tickets.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: Public transportation in Miami sucks. There’s a metrorail, city buses, and a trolley system, but I wouldn’t rely on any of them to get around, especially if you’re venturing outside Miami Beach proper. Like Los Angeles, Miami is a sprawling metro area with attractions spread throughout different neighborhoods (not just South Beach), and it’s not worth the headache trying to use public transport to navigate it all.

RIDESHARES: Uber and Lyft are both available in Miami. Check out the Miami tourism board website for more information on Lyft Miami and Uber Miami rates.

WHERE TO STAY IN MIAMI


FAENA HOTEL: You’ve probably seen the Faena’s ultra-photogenic gold mammoth skeleton all over Instagram, but the hotel is a destination in its own right. Movie director Baz Luhrmann (of Moulin Rouge fame) and his set designer/costumer wife Catherine Martin helped design the property, resulting in plenty of red, gold, velvet, and Old World glamour. 

THE FONTAINEBLEAU: A sprawling icon whose property encompasses a spa, four signature fine dining restaurants (plus a few more casual options), and two nightlife venues, including the famous LIV. You may know it from when Victoria’s Secret hosted its annual fashion show here in 2008.

THE FREEHAND: A boutique hotel/luxury hostel with a beloved and very Instagrammable outdoor bar called Broken Shaker. Private rooms are available, but you can also choose a shared room for a fraction of the price (shared rooms are either coed or all-female). Cute, colorful, and cozier than your typical Miami glitz, the Freehand is a particular favorite of the hipster set.

MIAMI BEACH EDITION: A luxury boutique design hotel that soothes with a beachy color scheme, its accommodations are a mix of rooms, suites, and bungalows. It also features a spa, two swimming pools, and an underground nightclub called The Basement, complete with a bowling alley and indoor ice skating rink. Ice skating in Miami – who woulda thunk it? 

NOBU MIAMI BEACH: You’ve likely heard of the world-renowned Nobu sushi restaurant, but Nobu is also a beautiful hotel in Miami Beach. Between its three swimming pools, expansive spa, and namesake Japanese restaurant, there’s no shortage of amenities for guests to enjoy. 

WHERE TO EAT IN MIAMI


HOW GOOD DOES THIS LOOK? The hot chocolate lover in me is dying.

THE ALCHEMIST AVENTURA (CAFE): A touch of English charm in the Miami suburb of Aventura. This cafe is beyond cute with sciencey/magic vibes (I read a Yelp review that said the vibes remind them of Harry Potter and they’re not wrong)! The oat milk hot chocolate is epic and I also enjoyed the croissant sandwich with turkey, cheese, and avocado.

Tip: The hot chocolate comes with chocolate on the side for you to stir in yourself. Don’t be like me and eat the squares while sipping the milk separately. That is the wrong way to drink it. But it was still good.

Also, note that the drinks are quite pricey. $6.50 for the hot chocolate and $7.50 for a matcha latte. Worth it? Only one way to find out.

 

Complimentary fries and interior at Bourbon Steak.

BOURBON STEAK BY MICHAEL MINA (Steakhouse): An excellent steakhouse located in Aventura’s JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Hotel. It’s not in Miami proper (Aventura is about a half hour drive from South Beach) but the food is well worth it. Even my mom enjoyed the New York strip, and she doesn’t like steak! The service was excellent and I liked that they served a trio of fries instead of the usual bread basket. There’s a reason it’s consistently named one of the best steakhouses in Miami.

CALL ME GABY (Italian): A cozy, adorable restaurant that wouldn’t be out of place on the French Riviera. There’s nothing wrong with the indoor dining area but dine al fresco if possible – the patio is beautiful, especially at night, when twinkling lights illuminate the lush greenery, black-and-white striped umbrellas, and colorful floral pillows. And of course, order plenty of wine, pizza, and pasta.

GOLD MARQUESS FINE CHINESE CUISINE (Chinese): Chinese locals flock here every weekend for dim sum, and it’s one of three restaurants my grandmother deigns to visit (she hates eating out). The food can be hit or miss depending on the day, but compared to other Chinese restaurants in Miami it’s a cut above the rest. 

Some classic dim sum items to try: steamed pork buns, custard tarts, stuffed eggplant, pan-fried turnip cakes, har gow crystal shrimp dumplings, shumai dumplings, chicken feet, BBQ pork puffs, fried taro dumplings.

GREENSTREET CAFE (American): A great brunch spot in Coconut Grove. Soak up the sun and people-watch on its outdoor patio while enjoying mimosas and the famous coconut-crusted French toast. You’ll want to order the coconut-crusted French toast. Trust me.

Tip: Pair a meal here with a visit to nearby Vizcaya, one of my favorite places in Miami (more on Vizcaya in the “What to Do” section below).

JOE’S STONE CRAB (Seafood): A Miami institution. Famous for its – you guessed it – stone crab, Joe’s is pricey but worth a visit if you’ve never been before. They don’t take reservations, so be sure to get there early! Guests are seated on a first-come, first-serve basis, and the wait can take upwards of two hours if you arrive at peak dinner time. 

If you want the food but don’t want to deal with the crowds, come for lunch, when it’s way less crowded. For a more laid-back experience, you can also check out Joe’s Take Away, which features bistro tables and a wine bar.

MICHAEL’S GENUINE FOOD & DRINK (American): A staple for Miami foodies since it opened in 2007. From its simple, airy interior to its locally sourced ingredients, Michael’s is a welcome respite from the city’s usual glitz and glamour – even if is a favorite of celebrities. It makes an appearance on just about every list of the best restaurants in Miami.

The fried chicken and waffles at Morgan’s *drool*

MORGAN’S RESTAURANT (American): One of the most popular brunch spots in the trendy neighborhood of Wynwood. Prepare to wait if you come on the weekend. Their most popular items are the chicken and waffles and mascarpone stuffed raspberry French toast. I had the chicken and waffles and let me tell you, it was amazing. Totally worth the wait.

VERSAILLES (Cuban): Versailles is, hands down, Miami’s most iconic Cuban restaurant.  Located in Little Havana, it’s a requisite stop for locals and tourists alike. Fill up on Cuban coffee, Cuban sandwiches, and four decades of history (the restaurant has been open since 1971)! 

WHAT TO DO


CULTURE & LEISURE

AFTERNOON TEA AT THE BILTMORE HOTEL: One of the most elegant hotels in South Florida, and one of the few venues in Miami that still offers afternoon tea, The Biltmore is worth a visit even if you don’t enjoy tea and scones. The property is gorgeous and and its Mediterranean Revival architecture will instantly transport you to Europe.

Classic car photo op in the middle of the Art Deco district. My kind of place 🙂

ART DECO HISTORIC DISTRICT: Home to the country’s largest concentration of Art Deco architecture. This is the area most people picture when they think of Miami: pastel buildings, neon signs, and palm trees galore. Stroll through the neighborhood and soak up the quintessential Miami vibes.

BAYFRONT PARK: A public urban park in Downtown Miami with two performance venues, a tropical rock garden, a playground, and several monuments. There’s always something going on here, whether it’s a concert, festival, or yoga class.

BILL BAGGS CAPE FLORIDA STATE PARK: One of my favorite spots in Miami! It’s less crowded than South Beach and boasts incredible views of the Atlantic. You can spend an entire day here sunbathing, bicycling, birding, snorkeling, and doing all sorts of water recreation activities. Fun fact: The park is home to a historic lighthouse that’s the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade County.

BRICKELL CITY CENTRE: A city within a city downtown. The sprawling, inter-connected complex includes a hotel, two residential towers, and an indoor-outdoor shopping center that’ll make your bank account weep. You can stay, play, and eat to your heart’s content without ever having to “leave” the property. 

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK: If you’re a nature person, check out the Everglades, an epic swampland located an hour outside Miami. Here, you’ll find 1.5 million acres of tropical and subtropical habitat, one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems, and plenty of alligators. There are lots of Everglades tours, so it’s up to you whether you want to explore by boat, bike, or on foot.

Gulf Stream Aquarium Oculus at the Frost Museum

FROST MUSEUM OF SCIENCE: A state-of-the-art facility with a planetarium, aquarium, and sweeping views of Biscayne Bay from its sundeck. This is a great option for rainy days and families, although admission is steep at $29 per person.

Fueling up with some watermelon juice before exploring Little Havana

LITTLE HAVANA: The heart of Miami’s Cuban community. Get a taste of authentic Cuban food in one of the neighborhood’s bustling restaurants, admire the colorful murals, and watch locals discuss politics over a game of dominoes in Domino Park before dancing the night away at a Latin club.

Palm Court in the Miami Design District

LUMMUS PARK BEACH: This South Beach stretch of oceanfront has been featured in countless movies and TV shows. It gets crowded like no other, but it’s worth at least one visit just to say you’ve been there.

MIAMI DESIGN DISTRICT: Miami Design District is chock full of high-end shops and unique architecture, including my personal favorite, the blue glass Palm Court designed by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto. This is a great spot for Insta pictures!

PEOPLE WATCH ON LINCOLN ROAD: Lincoln Road is a world-famous pedestrian street in South Beach and can’t be beat when it comes to people watching. Pull up a seat and watch the parade of colorful characters pass by. When you get hungry, there’s a huge selection of bars and restaurants to choose from.

Outdoor space at PAMM (Perez Art Museum Miami)

PEREZ ART MUSEUM MIAMI: Located right next to the Frost Museum, the Perez Art Museum Miami (also known as PAMM) is a contemporary art museum with a beautiful outdoor space. Admission to the museum costs $16 for adults and $12 for students and age 62+ seniors (with ID). Children and active U.S. military receive free admission. The first Thursdays of every month are also free 10am-9pm. Plus, anyone can enjoy the outdoor space without buying tickets for the museum! 

*Note: PAMM is closed on Wednesdays.

A lifeguard stand at South Pointe Beach

SOUTH POINTE BEACH: There are beaches all over Miami but South Pointe has the cutest lifeguard towers. For me, that’s reason enough to visit. (Plus it really is beautiful). #Priorities 

Hanging out in the relaxation lounge at the Nobu spa

SPA AT NOBU MIAMI BEACH: A huge spa located in the Nobu Miami Beach hotel. I came here for a spa day with my mom and loved it! We had the signature Nagomi Ritual, which starts off with tea and a relaxing foot bath followed by a luxurious massage and facial cleansing. After your treatment, you can relax in the spa’s beautiful oceanfront relaxation lounge. This is a great spot to unwind after a long day of sightseeing (or a long night of dancing)!

*Experience was complimentary from the spa but, as always, the opinion is 100% my own.

Feeling like a princess in Vizcaya

VIZCAYA MUSEUM & GARDENS: A taste of Europe in Miami. I adore Vizcaya’s stunning gardens and can spend hours wandering through its grounds. There’s a reason why it’s such a popular spot for engagement photos and quinceaneras! I recommend getting here when it opens at 9:30am to avoid the crowds.

Note: Vizcaya is closed on Tuesdays.

The colors of Wynwood

WYNWOOD WALLS: Wynwood has transformed from an industrial warehouse district to one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods in recent years, but Wynwood Walls has always been a draw for locals and tourists alike. There’s the actual gated outdoor gallery of Wynwood Walls, and “unofficial” street art covering the walls on surrounding streets. Both are worth a visit.

NIGHTLIFE

BALL & CHAIN: A fun bar in Little Havana with live music, delicious food, and relaxed attitude. Put your dancing shoes on because this is definitely a place to salsa the night away!

BASEMENT @ THE MIAMI EDITION: With its bowling alley and small indoor ice skating rink, Basement isn’t your typical club. It’s a unique spot that’s worth checking out at least once, but be warned: it’s insanely expensive and service is spotty depending on the night.

BLACKBIRD ORDINARY: It’s rare to find a nightlife venue in Miami that isn’t dripping with pretension. This is one of those gems. Plus, there’s a pool table, board games, and a covered patio area where you can enjoy your drinks. Try their signature drink, The Blackbird (a mix of sweet tea vodka, blackberries, and lemonade).  

BROKEN SHAKER BAR @ THE FREEHAND: One of the cutest and most beloved bars in Miami. Thanks to its Insta-worthy decor and handcrafted cocktails, this place fills up fast, so make sure to get here early!

LIV @ FONTAINEBLEAU: The most famous club in Miami? Perhaps. LIV’s name has been on people’s tongues for years now, and in a town where hot clubs come and go, that’s quite a feat. Huge, glitzy, and expensive, LIV is the quintessential Miami nightclub experience. 

MANGO’S TROPICAL CAFE: Mango’s is pretty touristy, but all the out-of-towners I’ve spoken to have loved it. Dinner comes with live music and professional entertainment, and at night the restaurant turns into a club. Ain’t nothing wrong with a little touristy if you’re having fun! 

NIKKI BEACH MIAMI: Beach club by day, nightclub by night. The club is gorgeous, the views are gorgeous, the people are gorgeous. All that gorgeousness is gonna cost ya, but hey, it’s Miami. What else do you expect?

STORY: Created by MMG, the same company behind LIV, Story is a megaclub and the definition of South Beach opulence.

TREEHOUSE: For all the deep house/techno lovers out there. It boasts an impressive calendar of internationally renowned EDM DJs, but there are some “mainstream” nights with Top 40 hits as well. Double check to see you’re going on the right night for your music tastes!

TRAVEL TIPS & THINGS TO KNOW


  • When people think of Miami, they usually think of South Beach, but there’s so much more to see! The Greater Miami area has dozens of attractions and small cities besides Miami Beach. Most are cheaper than South Beach, too. Venture out and you might be pleasantly surprised.
  • Nightlife in Miami doesn’t get going until well past midnight. If you show up somewhere at 10pm you’ll likely hear crickets, so load up on caffeine and prepare to watch the sun rise along with the rest of the revelers.
  • Miami may be in the U.S., but its large Hispanic immigrant population means you might encounter instances where English won’t get you anywhere. Thankfully, hand gestures are universal and, if all else fails, there’s Google Translate.
  • Rush hour during the work week is 4-7pm and it sucks. Avoid major highways during that time period if at all possible.
  • On that note, Miami drivers are often considered the worst/rudest drivers in the country. Road rules? Turn signals? What are those? If you’re not comfortable driving here, I recommend using Uber or Lyft. Better safe than sorry!
  • The most common greeting if you’re meeting someone in Miami is the cheek kiss (the other person presses their cheek against yours). They’re not trying to hit on you or necessarily invade your personal space – it’s just the way things are done. Follow their lead and go with the flow.
  • Some restaurants already include gratuity in the total bill price. Most servers let you know before you pay but always double-check so you don’t accidentally tip double.
  • Locals operate on island time. If they say something starts at 5pm, you’ll be lucky if it starts at 5:30pm. Plan accordingly.
  • Fill up on Latin food, especially Cuban. It’s the best in the country! 

 

I hope you found this guide to Miami useful. The city can be crazy sometimes, but it’s also a lot of fun if you’re looking for warmth, nightlife, and Latin vibes without having to leave the U.S. 

Enjoy the Sunshine State and until next time!

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