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Miami’s endless sunshine, Art Deco glam and buzzing nightlife are enough to make it a top U.S. destination. But there’s so much more to discover if you just venture off the beach long enough to find it. Between a bright, funky arts district and Gilded-Age waterfront mansions, don’t leave the Magic City without ticking off these essential experiences.

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1. Stay in Art Deco decadence in South Beach

The Julia, Miami Beach

The Julia, Miami Beach

Art Deco hotels are an iconic part of Miami Beach, and The Julia, a 29-room adults-only boutique hotel in the burgeoning SoFi (South of Fifth) neighborhood, is one of its finest examples. The hotel features traditional Art Deco styles that stay true to the hotel’s 1930s roots, while new modern comforts and gorgeous art installations from local artists give it an updated sheen. Don’t miss the complimentary happy hours, where you can relax on the outdoor patio while sipping wine and noshing on cheese. To stay closer the heart of the action, the incredibly iconic but reasonably-priced Colony Hotel is a sure bet. In fact, the 1939 property with its hard-to-miss blue neon sign is one of the most photographed art deco hotels on Ocean Drive.

2. Bike the beachfront in Miami Beach

Bikes on Miami Beach

South Florida beachfront

Whether you’re staying where the action is (South Beach), where the bargains are (North Beach) or somewhere in between (Mid-Beach), you can see it all, thanks to Citi Bike Miami bike rentals. You’ll find stations all along the waterfront, and a bikable boardwalk that will you take you most of the way.

3. Steep yourself in edgy art in Wynwood

Wynwood Walls

Wynwood Walls, located in what’s arguably Miami’s coolest neighborhood, draws thousands of visitors every second Saturday of the month with its Art Walk. If that doesn’t fit with your travel schedule, come anyway: You’ll still get to admire hundreds of large-scale outdoor murals and edgy galleries. This is also where some of the city’s hottest restaurants, breweries and bars are located.

4. Stay out late for the city’s sizzling bar and club scene

nightclubbing

Miami’s nightlife has a flavor all its own. Most out-of-towners probably immediately think of Miami’s booming mega clubs like LIV inside the famed Fontainebleau hotel in South Beach, and while it is one of Miami’s most celebrated nightlife spots, memorialized in song by everyone from Kanye to Drake, there are other “only in Miami” spots worth checking out. Locals also love laidback waterfront hangouts like Monty’s in Coconut Grove, with its excellent happy hour, as well as vintage-vibed spots like the Ball & Chain in Little Havana, where you’ll find free salsa lessons, live bands, killer mojitos and some of the most skilled, passionate dancing you’ve ever laid eyes on.

5. Get a taste of Cuba by way of Little Havana

A Cuban sandwich

Little Havana, the neighborhood that once served as a first entry point for Cuban immigrants into their new lives in the U.S. now has a slightly hipper vibe, with sleek shops and eateries popping up along Calle 8 (or 8th Street), the neighborhood’s main artery. But there’s still plenty of authentic Cuban flavor here, too, from cigar shops and art galleries to bars and restaurants. Two of Miami’s best spots for Cuban food are located here: Stop into either La Carreta or Versailles for popular dishes such as the Cuban sandwich, croquetas and lechon asado. If you’ve got room for dessert, duck into famed ice cream emporium Azucar, featuring tropical tropical flavors like plantain, flan and—the most famous of all—Abuela Maria, which is vanilla mixed with guava, chunks of cream cheese and maria cookies. Ready to dance? Prep your salsa skills for Ball & Chain, a beloved bar whose colorful history goes back to 1935, and features live jazz and Latin bands.

6. Swim in a historic lagoon-like public pool

Image courtesy of vineveramiami.com

Cool off at the Venetian Pool, a 1923 lagoon-like public swimming pool in Coral Gables that’s on the National Register of Historical Places. The Mediterranean-style pool, which was built from an old quarry and is fed with natural spring water, features waterfalls, cave-like grottos, palms and bright tilework throughout. The pool is open February through November. Get there early; entrance is limited. Kids under 3 are not allowed.

7. Ply the waters among million dollar mansions

Kayaking in Miami

Kayaking near downtown Miami

You don’t have to hit a beach or hire a boat to get out on the water. Join Kayak South Beach for a SUP or kayak tour around Sunset Island. You’ll cruise past posh mansions owned by celebrities and take in views of the Miami skyline. Keep your eyes peeled for sea creatures like manatees, dolphins and iguanas. Continue on past the Venetian Islands to Flagler Memorial Island for a swim there.

8. Discover Miami’s fashion, art and design hubs—all in one place

Image courtesy Miami Design District

The sleek, well-heeled master planned Miami Design District is the place to go for high-end shopping and dining, as well as free weekly concerts and events like fashion shows, car shows and yoga in the plaza. Regular art openings and live music are also pretty common occurrences in the neighborhood.

9. Marvel at Gilded Age extravagance at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

Vizcaya Museum and Garden

Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

In the Coconut Grove neighborhood just south of downtown Miami, you’ll find the grandiose Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, which once served as the posh winter estate of James Deering, a Chicago businessman and one-time head of the International Harvester corporation. He built the home as a seasonal retreat in 1916, and hired about a thousand locals to help him run it. Visitors can tour the home, marvel at the tycoon’s collection of Renaissance furniture, tapestries and art, and stroll its 10 acres of formal gardens.

10. Try to wrap you head around the Coral Castle

Flickr CC: Simon Davison

If you’re in town long enough for a day trip, the mysterious and mystical Coral Castle about 40 minutes from downtown Miami makes for an interesting excursion. Located near Homestead, the compound is neither coral nor a castle but it’s fascinating nonetheless. Like a South Florida Stonehenge, the Coral Castle was mysteriously built by Latvian-American eccentric Edward Leedskalnin and defies known engineering techniques.The European immigrant constructed it secretly, often at night, for his young-bride-to-be—who then jilted him the day before the wedding. As guides will tell you, the oolite limestone compound was built from 1923 to 1951, carved from more than 1,100 tons of rock without the help of any modern machinery. While Leedskalnin claimed the “secrets of the pyramids” helped him, locals speculated he had supernatural powers on his side.

 

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