Miami’s flamboyance is world famous thanks to the dozens of movies and television shows that have immortalised the city.
Located on the southeastern Florida coast, the city is renowned for its beach culture — but the delights of this destination stretch far beyond the white sands, pastel coloured beachfront hotels, vintage cars and pumping nightclubs along Ocean Drive in Miami Beach. Artists, musicians, bohos, business tycoons and celebrity chefs all call Miami home, and the result is a unique energy you won’t find anywhere else in the USA. The city’s cultural credentials can’t be ignored either. It’s a hub for bold contemporary art, and cutting edge architecture and design.
Miami offers visitors access to an array of attractions, museums and tours. The Miami Sightseeing Pass includes entry to up to six attractions (depending on the type of pass purchased), along with discounts at a variety of restaurants and retail outlets.
Enjoy this Miami travel guide.
Miami for history lovers
Miami constantly reinvents itself but one of the most cherished chapters in its history is on display throughout the Miami Beach Architectural District.
To learn more about this rainbow-coloured mix of Art Deco, Mediterranean Revival and Miami Modern architectural styles, sign up for a 90-minute Miami Design Preservation League Tour. Since the 70s, the League’s excellent guides have been revealing the stories behind the hundreds of classic buildings that adorn numerous postcards.
Take another opportunity to step back in time at the nearby Wolfsonian-FIU museum. Here you can trace the evolution of art, design, politics and even race relations in the city – from the mid 1880s to the 1950s. Learn to recognise the various design movements that each left their mark on Miami.
Of the many mansions that rose along the Miami coastline during the Gilded Age of America, the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is amongst the most awe-inspiring. Built a century ago, the luxurious Italian Renaissance-styled villa is now a museum — and one of the city’s top attractions. Each room teems with classical artworks and fine furniture. The gardens are just as lavish, with elaborate fountains, antique sculptures and cleverly trimmed mazes to rival any royal estate. Leave yourself plenty of time to explore.
During the Cold War, the CIA recruited local Cuban exiles for an audacious military attempt to topple Cuba’s Fidel Castro. The invasion failed but the events are remembered at the Bay of Pigs Museum and Library. The story (one side of it at least) is brought to life through a series of emotive displays and artefacts.
When it was first proposed, the Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach courted controversy over the choice of location, but today the completed memorial is a particularly moving tribute to those who lost their lives in the Nazi genocide. South Florida is home to a large number of Holocaust survivors.
Top cultural experiences in Miami
Located just west of Downtown, Little Havana is the heart and soul of Miami’s Cuban community, and is home to several other immigrant populations as well.
As such, it’s the spot to experience the fusion of influences that underscore Miami’s robust cultural make-up. Take a stroll along the famous Calle Ocho strip with its cafes, family owned restaurants, bars and galleries. A guided food tour will introduce you to the eclectic tastes of the precinct.
The rich history of Cuban immigration to Miami is anchored to Downtown’s Gesu Catholic Church — the oldest Catholic church in South Florida. View the grand altar, bathed in rich colour from the east coast sunshine that streams in through the stained glass windows.
Street art is a vibrant part of Miami’s culture, and blank walls across the city have become giant canvases. Visit the epicentre of the mural movement at the Wynwood Walls, where huge psychedelic murals of the Dalai Lama, wild animals and political expression tower over the viewer. There are some 400 works on display.
While you’re there, pay a visit to the gallery of celebrated American visual artist Peter Tunney. It’s filled with the artist’s luminous works, inspired by his global travels. You might pick-up the perfect piece for that feature wall back home.
Bayfront Park has an amazing outlook over the Biscayne Bay, and a couple of great live music venues. The grounds reverberate with the rapid beats of electronica at the annual Ultra Music Festival. Since the first festival opened 19 years ago, the concept has grown into a worldwide phenomenon — spreading Miami beats to Europe, Africa and Asia.
Great places to eat in Miami
Ethnic influences permeate Miami’s amazing culinary scene at every level.
You’ll encounter the tastes of Cuba, Mexico, Argentina and Peru during your visit, and ‘Floribbean’ cuisine rules many of the city’s menus. Begin with a local speciality for brunch at the Pincho Factory. Pastelitos de guayaba are hamburgers topped with melted cheese and sandwiched between two fluffy, crispy sheets of quava-flavoured puff pastry. Sensational!
In general, choosing where to eat in Miami can be daunting for the first time visitor. There are so many options. However, you can break the city down into bite size chunks and get a local’s perspective on the hottest spots to chow down, by taking a guided food tour. We’ve already mentioned a Little Havana tour, but here are two more options to add to your culinary to-do list.
Fast-track your SoBe search for amazing flavours on the acclaimed Tastes of South Beach walking tour. Sample New American, Peruvian and Cuban fare, and finish with a sweet stop at The Frieze Ice Cream Factory (where they make their tasty wares onsite daily).
Next, combine great tucker and cool art on a guided stroll through the Wynwood Art District. You’ll visit several of the precinct’s most innovative eateries and get a handle on the popping street art that defines this part of the city.
For a top Miami restaurant recommendation, you can’t go past the traditional Italian hospitality at Crust. Feast on generous portions of grilled octopus, seafood linguine, turkey and beef meatballs, funghi pizza and eggplant parma, before finishing with a dessert of Zabaione (the classic Italian mousse topped with fresh berries).
Where to shop in Miami
Bayside Marketplace is indeed by the bay and offers one of the city’s most relaxed retail experiences.
The largely outdoor waterfront market is home to a host of brand stores, along with food outlets and souvenir stands. The market often has live entertainment, and is a great spot for a sunny stroll.
During the long Cuban travel embargo, the cravings of Miami cigar aficionados were satisfied by the Little Havana Cigar Factory. Call in to watch cigars being rolled by hand in the traditional way, and shop for exotic pipes, lighters and ornate humidors. For something that will do you far less harm, pick up a bag of La Coladita — the city’s best Cuban coffee beans.
On your way to the airport, make a pit stop at the gigantic Dolphin Mall — which hosts hundreds of speciality stores offering everything from designer brands to Halloween novelties. Fuel your shopping expedition with snacks of churros, bourbon chicken, crepes and tex mex at the extensive food court.
Ways to relax in Miami
Miami’s Trolley System offers a relaxed and mostly free way to explore the city.
Deciphering the online map is probably the biggest hurdle for visitors, but once you’ve accomplished that, sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.
No visit to Miami would be complete without a lazy day at the beach, and South Beach provides the quintessential surf, sand and sun experience. Further north, Surfside Beach offers a slightly less frenetic pace, while Haulover Beach has a ‘clothing optional’ section and a beautifully landscaped park. Virginia Key Beach is popular with families and also offers easy access to the Miami Seaquarium.
For those that want to take a break from the city, one of the USA’s greatest natural treasures is located right on Miami’s doorstep. The 1.5-million-acre Everglades National Park is home to a plethora of plant and wildlife species, and there are hundreds of ways to explore the pristine wetlands. An airboat tour is a fun and exciting way to do it.
For more information, please visit www.miamiandbeaches.com.
Do you have any tips to add to our Miami travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Barry Johnson is a freelance writer living in Sydney, but with a trail of Aussie souvenirs scattered throughout previous homes in Europe, America, Asia and the Middle East. Barry believes travelling is an adventure where the highlights push you on to the next trip and the lowlights can be laughed at with hindsight. Without a passport, he’d have missed getting lost in the Californian forest a week after the Blair Witch Project went viral, building a giant Buddha on a Cambodian mountain, camel racing in an Egyptian desert and teaching English to Peruvian children as they taught him Quechuan — the language of the Incas.