Let’s be honest, the beaches are what bring flocks of tourists to Miami. That 35-mile stretch of sand and ocean from the southern tip of South Beach to Sunny Isles in the North is a wondrous thing of beauty that can bring you calm or provide you with energy, depending on the strip you occupy. In other words, the natural beauty of the area is the star of Miami’s show, and she is STUNNING. Therefore, we would be doing a disservice to you if we didn’t give you the details of Miami’s biggest attraction: those famous beaches.
However, there are also other interesting and adventurous things to be found inland among the pastel-colored condominiums and flashy high-rises, in a city that is defined by an iconic culture that is an intricate melting pot of souls. Therefore, peruse our well-rounded collection of places to visit that will keep you busy when you need a break from the surf and sand. Here are our 10 best things to do in Miami Florida.
1- Lummus Park Beach: Better Known as South Beach
The individual traits of Miami’s beaches are as diverse as the people of the city. You can find tranquility and solitude that makes you forget that you are in America’s seventh most-populous metro area, or you can sunbathe in a crowd beneath towering buildings. You can find activities like surfing and swimming, or good old-fashioned socializing, with a mix of environments that run the gamut from family-friendly to clothing-optional, and from senior-friendly to gay-friendly. While there are few surprises in most beach towns, in Miami it is best to know your beach, unless you’re game for anything and there are no kids in your party.
The area of South Beach-proper lies between Alton road and the Atlantic from east to west, and between Dale Boulevard and 6th Street from north to south. Besides the sand and surf, the South Beach area is composed of the biggest consolidation of art deco architecture in the world. After a devastating hurricane in 1926, the area was transformed into the Art Deco District, illustrating the style of the day brought to the world during the 1925 Paris International of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts. In South Beach alone, there are more than 800 Art Deco structures that are alive with sharp edges and stylized geometrical details in all shades of pastel.
Outside of the architecture, you will find 10 miles of beach highlighted by eccentric locals and tourists, their curious observers, and the occasional celebrity. Here, at Lummus Park Beach, individuality and progressiveness are WIDELY accepted, and conservatism is hard to find. We saw model-level beauties, male and female, a liberal population of gender-benders, hipsters, and senior citizens in bikinis. If there is a better place to people-watch in the U.S., we haven’t found it yet.
Along South Beach, there is a 1.5-mile boardwalk that runs from 21st Street to 46th Street, and each segment of the beach has a unique population of attendees. For example, South Beach’s 12th Street Beach makes up the gay scene, and the beaches from 15th Street and further to the south are where the topless crowd usually congregates. The senior crowd settles on 35th Street (tourists) and 72nd Street (locals), and, in general, 53rd street is where things become peaceful if you’re looking for serenity and family-friendly beaches, and the further north you head, the fewer people you will find.
2 – Biscayne Bay Beaches
Bill Baggs Lighthouse by Ebayabe on cc2.0
Across the Rickenbacker Causeway, which will cost you a toll of $1.75, you will find three “key” public beaches that offer softer sand and less development. Key Biscayne is another world from South Beach in tone, though they are only a few miles apart. This is where you can find a bit of privacy away from the circus atmosphere of South Beach.
On the south end of Key Biscayne, we found a long stretch of lonely beach as well as Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, which has the oldest surviving structure in Miami-Dade County, a white lighthouse that was built in 1825. We climbed the 109 steps of the lighthouse to an amazing view of the sea that surrounds Miami, and then we swam in crystal-clear water, before grabbing a cold beer at Boater’s Grill.
Virginia Key Beach is on a key north of Biscayne. It has trails, nature boardwalks, bike paths, and a relaxing atmosphere among mangrove trees and songbirds. Virginia Key also hosts Virginia Key Beach Park, a once “colored-only” part of Miami that opened in 1945. After closing in 1982 because of maintenance costs, the 82-acre historic park reopened in the early 2000s as a series of multi-million dollar facelifts began, which revamped the beach and surrounding environment, bringing a tiki-styled picnic pavilion, cabins, playground, carousel, and train ride.
Right of the causeway before reaching Key Biscayne, you will find Hobie Beach, which is a water-sport playground. Fans of Jet Skis, sailboats, windsurfing, kayaking, sailboarding, and other watercraft fun are able to rent a plethora of items and even get lessons while viewing the Miami skyline. This is also the “doggie beach,” the only beach in Miami where your canine can run free without a leash.
Finally, the Biscayne Bay Sightseeing Boat Cruise is an 80-minute tour around Biscayne Bay and the Venetian Islands. You will be served food and beverages as you view the beauty of the bay on a large boat, and scan downtown Miami from the sea, as well as top tourist attractions and the homes of South Beach’s rich and famous.
3 – Best Stop in Little Havana: Calle Ocho Strip
Little Havana By Phillip Pessar – cc2.0
Without a trip to Little Havana, it is difficult to say if you have actually experienced the “real” Miami. Little Havana is the bedrock of the city, which was built by immigrants from the Caribbean and Latin America. This particular area is THE HUB of Miami’s cultural heart, which is just west of downtown. In particular, the Calle Ocho strip is a testament to the American Dream, which has been throttled of late but does still exist. On Calle Ocho, which means “8th Street,” the Dream is visible everywhere and provides a warp to another reality and a living museum of the Cuban (and Latin) people with authentic coffee shops, fruit stands with fresh-squeezed juice, Cuban cigars, and salsa music to skip to. There is also Maximo Gomex Park where old-timers drink cortado and play dominoes all day. Colorful festivals are abundant in the spring, but every day in Little Havana is a celebration of the people of Cuba and their history.
4- Best Night Spot in Miami: Segafredo Zanetti Espresso Cafe
Miami nightlife is HOT; it has been that way for a while, and it isn’t cooling off any time soon. For the people-watching alone, it is worth your time to enter one of Miami’s dens of decadence, which are alive with colorful characters and hotshot divas.
When we began our quest to find the very best nightclub in Miami, we felt a bit insecure. See, the liveliest clubs have velvet ropes, long lines, and henchmen outside of the door, whom we assumed allowed only the most beautiful, fashionable, and noteworthy people through. Well, that is the case in a few high-toned places, but in most nightclubs in Miami, you will be allowed access as long as you meet the club’s posted dress code and you are willing to wait in a line a while. For us, we took a chance and asked our hotel concierge if he could get us on a guest list to the best Miami nightclub, “Story,” and sure enough, it worked!
“Story” is Miami’s latest mega-club, and it is regularly noted as being one of the top 10 clubs in the United States. It is the spot that the Miami Heat chose to celebrate their 2013 NBA Championship, and a throng of celebrities attend regularly like Nikki Minaj, Justin Bieber, and the Kardashians. It is definitely a disco inferno with a dizzying light show and dramatic sound system that keeps your heart beating.
While Story is certainly the Mecca of the Miami club scene, our choice for the best nightspot—if you’re throwing your chip in for one great experience—is the Segafedo Espresso. This inconspicuous coffee shop—by day—with a gray exterior becomes a cosmopolitan club around dusk. Tropical cocktails, martinis, wine, and champagne line their seven-page drink menu along with their spiked, signature Italian coffees that will provide the fuel you need to get you through the night. This is the command post for Europeans looking for an American creation of a Euro-café, while providing “lounge life” as well, and a huge exhale of dancing dames and dudes.
The Club Scene in Miami runs far deep than our limited exposure and a top 100 list could easily be curated. So outside of our top two picks, there are several honorable mentions. All well worth a visit, depending on your musical tastes.
“Story”, gets its fair share of superstars DJ’s playing in Miami but when the KING is in town he plays LIV. Yep, Calvin Harris’s favorite nightspot in town is LIV and if that is not enough of a recommendation then it was the favorite haunt of the late and great Avicii. So If EDM is your thing you would be hard pushed to top LIV also a favorite hangout of partying Celebs.
Bâoli Lounge Miami
A super cool upmarket lounge bar with a more relaxed vibe than the superclub scene. Things get going at the weekend as the night goes on and Baoli is a real place to be seen!
Mango’s Tropical Cafe
The Mango Cafe is a Miami Icon. This Tropical themed Bar really brings the Latin Flavour of the City. Expect loud Latin Beats, Fruity Tropical Cocktails, Burlesque style Dancers, and lots of decadent, Cuban style. The Perfect South Beach Experience.
Things to remember before heading out into the Miami night: there are often high cover charges in order to gain entrance to clubs so that you can drink wildly expensive drinks, and the real party starts around 11 p.m., as the nocturnal night-clubbers finally reach their peak and leave their coffins. However, if you are driving, arrive early to the scene in order to find parking while it is available.
5 – Best Swimming Spot in Miami that is NOT South Beach: Venetian Pool
Venitian pool by Banger-Frans Mulder – CC2.0
Built in 1923, Coral Gable’s Venetian Pool might be the most unique and beautiful pool in the United States. From two underground wells, spring water pumps into an 820,000-gallon pool that is contained within pastel stucco walls. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this cool and clean freshwater “lagoon” also has waterfalls and fountains. For a fee of $5-$20, depending on age and season, you can swim and sunbathe all day in the most glamorous municipal pool in the world.
6 – Best Museum in Miami: Wolfsonian
Wolfsonian by Phillip Pessar – CC2.0
This wasn’t any decision. There are four wildly interesting museums in Miami, and they are all very different. If you have small children, Miami Children’s Museum is a great family museum. This high-tech, multi-media wonderland has an art and music space where kids can record their own song or paint, along with other adventures throughout this two-story museum.
If you are an art connoisseur, you cannot go wrong with two fabulously-curated museums, the Perez Art Museum Miami, where you can find collections from Marcel Duchamp, Louise Nevelson, and Roy Lichtenstein; and the Bass Museum of Art, which holds the works of many European and American masters and 3,000 works of art that stretch back to ancient Egypt and Greece.
However, as history buffs, we most enjoyed the Wolfsonian, which offers a permanent collection of European and American artifacts, design, artwork, and artisanry. More than just a group of fancy antique items, the museum offers a history lesson on society, politics, and economy from the rebirth of Rome, which reflects on Italian Fascism, to Ireland’s battle for independence, to World War II propaganda, and all things that brought this world into modern times.
7 – Best Family Attraction Outside of Miami’s Beaches: Zoo Miami
About 30-40 minutes south of Miami, you will find Zoo Miami. With space to breathe across 330 acres, you will almost feel isolated after visiting packed Miami beaches and clubs. Zoo Miami is virtually cage-free; instead, moats keep people safe from the animals (and vice-versa) while maintaining a more humane environment for beautiful lions, chimpanzees, Komodo dragons, koalas, and curious meerkats. Zoo Miami also has a 27-acre Amazon-themed area that is home to jaguars, harpy eagles, GIANT river otters, and anacondas.
In addition, there is an incredible aviary that features birds from Asia, educational and entertaining shows involving animals, and exhibits where you and your kids can interact with farm animals, parrots, stingrays, camels, giraffes, and rhinos. So, stretch your legs and get out of the Miami SCENE for a while.
8 – Best Fishing Trip: Deep Sea Fishing off the Miami Beach Coast
Just a few miles from the shore, you can drop a line and catch big game fish including marlin, sailfish, tarpon, shark, snapper, grouper, tuna, and mahi-mahi. The price to fish the deep seas for four hours cost us $450 for six people onboard Therapy IV, a 58-foot boat that rolls out from Haulover Marina in Miami Beach. We found this price to be the going rate of $75 per person for small groups. Rates are lower if you want to go with a larger group or experience it on a bigger boat with a host of other folks. If you can hang with waves that turn your stomach, you will enjoy the trip. We caught and released a sailfish along with a dozen tuna, a wahoo, and a barracuda, and were served drinks and snacks as we hunted.
9 – Best Excursion: Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary
There is only one coral reef in the Continental United States the Great Florida Reef. The 3rd Largest Barrier Reef in the world it Spans almost the entire length of the Florida Keys and is one of America’s least-known hidden gems. If you only have time to make one escape from Miami, head to Bahia Honda State Park, just 140 miles outside of the city, where the park concession operates daily snorkeling tours of the reef. These 1.5-hour trips into the Atlantic Ocean occur at 9:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 4:45 p.m.
Along with snorkeling equipment rental, we paid under $45 per person for a trip to see a miracle of a coral reef, which blew us away with a thrilling up-close and personal view of schools of colorful fish, barracudas, nurse sharks, eels, and rays, that swam about the third largest reef in the world.
10 – Best Tour: Everglade National Park Airboat Tour
Between Miami and Bahia Honda State Park (above), you will find the Everglades National Park, the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. From the National Park, you can take one of several tours that head out in all different directions. There is a boat tour through a chain of islands and mangrove islets off the Gulf in what is called “Ten Thousand Islands.” There is a tram tour through Shark Valley into the “River of Grass,” whose brackish waters provide a feeding ground for several species of sharks. And, there are several airboat tours, which glide through parts of the 1.5 million acre wetland preserve, providing you with views of wild gators, turtles, herons, and other wildlife.
Another option is the Everglades Alligator Farm & Airboat, which takes folks on an exhilarating ride through shallow, freshwater marshes. The guided tour takes passengers through South Florida’s largest alligator farm, which provides a home for 2,000 gators, as well as crocodiles and exotic snakes. The Florida Everglades is a must-see to close out the details of your Florida visit.
The Final Word on Miami Attractions
To see the city in total, check out the Hop-On Hop-Off Big Bus, which is a double-decker bus that zips you around all of the hotspots in Miami. The “Beach Loop” bus explores South Beach and Ocean Drive, and the “City Loop” bus takes you through downtown, midtown, and uptown Miami as well as Coconut Grove and Little Havana. A one-day pass allows you to “hop-off” at any point on the loop and “hop-on” later when you’re ready to see other areas of town or head to your hotel, as buses pass through every 40 minutes.
In Miami, you are allowed your independence because there are few judges on the southern coast of Florida. In fact, it is easy to lose yourself—or find yourself—in Miami. With its many attractions, you can be a nature explorer and preservationist, you can be a beach bum, be a sassy club dweller, be an artist, a culture connoisseur, an exhibitionist, or an intellectual because if you do, you’ll fit right into the Miami scene, where anything goes.
Have Your Say
Let us know your top things to do in Miami. Do you spend your time flaunting yourself on South Beach? Tearing up the Clubs in Miamis Legendary Night Life? or head out to experience Florida’s more Wild Side? Let us know in the comments below!