Miami is one of those American cities that falls into its own category. What does that mean? It means you could suddenly land in the middle of it blindfolded and know exactly where you are. In New York, it’s car horns and an urban orchestra that simply can’t be duplicated. Down in Miami, it’s a balmy breeze (much-welcomed) and salsa music pouring out onto the street from a nearby bar or two or ten. Down to its very core (strange and inconvenient quirks included) Miami is unique. So how do you experience that distinct Miami character in a just a short vacation? You have to know what to do in Miami when you get there because as attractive as it is, the city is much more than just South Beach.
From Downtown Miami to the Everglades, from partying to people-watching to museum-going, we’re here to cover it all so you get to see Miami in its entirety.
Explore The Everglades
Sorry to bring you out of the city to start things off, but the Everglades is one of those “you can’t get this anywhere else” deals that we think is just awesome. Whether you hop on a bike or a fan boat, Everglades National Park is Florida’s natural side at its best. You’ll see everything from roseate spoonbills to herons to alligators.
At 1.5 million acres, the national park is massive and almost completely untouched. It will be hard to believe that Miami is so close.
Admire the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
Set right on Biscayne Bay in the Coral Gables neighborhood, the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens offer a bit of Miami’s history, an impressive collection of artwork ranging anywhere from the 15th to the 19 century, immaculate tropical gardens and an excellent view out over Key Biscayne.
Built with Tuscan Italian Renaissance and Veneto influences, the architecture is gorgeous and the building planners left out no luxury. Insider tip: if you can somehow attend an event at night, the whole property lights up in a way that can be described as nothing short of magical.
Go back in time at Ball and Chain
In typical Miami fashion, one of the city’s greatest historical sites is a nightclub. Whether it’s salsa dancing on Tuesday night or live jazz on the weekend, Ball and Chain is a classic party spot that has achieved legendary status in the city.
It’s hosted everyone from bootleggers to jazz legends to the celebrities of today. From the tapas-style Cuban food to the packed dancefloor, the experience fits about as much of Miami into one place as possible.
Cool down at Azucar Ice Cream Factory
When Miami heats up, it really heats up and nothing cools things down better than ice cream. No place in Miami does ice cream better than Azucar in East Little Havana. Weathering the line and the crowds on Calle 8 is rewarded with wild Cuban flavors like guava and cream cheese or Guarapiña (sugar cane and pineapple).
Trust us, a walk around Little Havana on a hot day is going to demand a little (or a lot) of ice cream when you finish up. This is a great place to keep the theme going.
Stroll Ocean Ave and grab a drink at sunset
Whine all you want about this being too “touristy”. It’s a cool scene. You know it, we know it. Aside from the fact that you’re strolling through the most active party section (South Beach) in one of the country’s best party cities, walking under the palm trees, listening to music and watching the city turn from day to night is an awesome experience. The people-watching and the art-deco architecture are added bonuses.
The area is filled the excellent bars that look out on the water, so take your pick. A Fish Called Avalon and Havana 1957 are two of our favorites.
Wander the Pérez Art Museum
Located in downtown Miami, the Pérez Art Museum is our favorite museum in the city. With over 1,800 works on display, the collection has some of the best contemporary pieces from the Americas, Africa, and Europe. If you’re the only art enthusiast in the crew, you can sell the others on the opportunity to escape the thick Miami heat in a large air-conditioned building while you take in the incredible exhibitions. Everyone’s happy.
Ride the Metromover
Sometimes the best way to get to know a city is to spend some time exploring via public transit. The Metromover is not only an excellent way to get around downtown but also a great way to get a feel for the layout. A quick ride provides a sort of architecture tour and the views out over the water are pretty sweet as well.
Take the kids to the Venetian Pool
Families visiting Miami, we didn’t forget about you. Opened in 1923, the Venetian Pool is actually a rock quarry filled with turquoise spring water that offers an excellent alternative if you get a little tired of the sand and salt at the beach. The kids can make friends with other families exploring the pool while parents can chill out and catch some rays.
It can get a little crowded, but the jungle setting keeps it from feeling like too much of a tourist trap. We think you’ll find it a refreshing break from some of the beach chaos.
Party at LIV
This one is not for the kids. And yes, we hear you getting worked up about this being too touristy again. The fact is, LIV is one of the premier nightclubs in the U.S, if not the world. From world-class DJ’s to rappers to a whos-who celebrity guest list, the club is an attraction, to say the least. Plus, you didn’t come to Miami to hold back. LIV is decidedly the opposite of holding back. Go for it.
Opt for the mellow beach experience at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
Swimming and tanning on South Beach is cool, don’t get us wrong, but it’s not the relaxing beach experience you might be hoping for. Bill Baggs State Park is naturally beautiful and offers great picnic spots and beaches for you to unwind if LIV the night before got pretty wild. Take a spin on a bike, snap photos of the beautiful Cape Florida lighthouse, and cool down in the clear waves — the combination is hard to beat.
So get your partying in. We’re certainly not against it. But remember that a “what to do in Miami” list actually presents a long, diverse list of options. From national parks to museums to guava-flavored ice cream, there’s a lot out there begging to be explored.