Miami Travel, Florida
Palm Court, Miami Design District, FL. Miami Travel Photo by Ra Haus.
Why Miami Travel?
Miami possesses a bright and buzzing ambience loaded with Caribbean and Hispanic influences, including a wild and colourful night life and terrific dining experiences around the clock. Massive white sand Miami Beach running along much of Downtown’s length is comfortable, well-serviced and great for people-watching while the unique art deco touches provide a special glamour, not to mention the chic fashionistas that make the city (one of) their homes!
Miami is located near one of Florida’s top natural attraction – the Everglades – and to the tropical island chain stretching south, the Florida Keys.
Lastly, the city is generally warm and sunny in winter when much of America is cold, gray or white and makes a convenient jumping off place for travel to the Caribbean, Central America and South America.
‘Miami Beach is where neon goes to die’ Lenny Bruce
Miami Beach, Beacon Hotel, Florida
• Opportunistic crime directed towards naive newbies, generally at night outside tourist zones.
• Heat, humidity, hurricanes and mosquitoes in summertime, July-September.
A typical Miami summer storm. Photo by Marc Averette.
Best: December – April (average temperatures 16C to 28C), but the water is cold for swimming.
OK: May – July is good for swimming or hanging out at the beach.
Worst: August – September (average temperatures 24C to 33C). Hot and sticky with frequent thunderstorms in the afternoon or occasional hurricanes.
Miami Main Attractions
Greater Miami is a confusing sprawl, but the most interesting bits are fortunately centralised around Miami Beach and the downtown area. Photo by MrWallpaper.
Apart from the superb beach, clean seas and efficient facilities, the adjacent Art Deco Historic District sports over 800 buildings from the 1920’s-30’s – most of which are hotels and public buildings – with no shortage of wacky outdoor bars scattered among them for relaxed visual appreciation. There are guided or self-guided walking tours of the Art Deco district available.
Beaches along Ocean Drive include the must-see, world famous South Beach for partying and people-watching; Haulover Beach for naturalists/gays (one of few in USA) and body-boarding; Oleta River State Park, for natural beauty and outdoor activities.
The city houses a number of excellent displays at: Bass Museum of Art – mainly contemporary arts; the Wolfsonian (Florida International University) – a collection of design and decorative arts.
Try Jungle Island zoo and one of Miami’s most popular attractions; or
The nearby Children’s Museum with a mass of kid-friendly interactive displays
Have a giggle at the WEAM (World Erotic Art Museum), over 18 years.
Shopping, try the pedestrian-friendly Lincoln Road Mall with some notable architecture such as the Lincoln Theatre and Miami Beach Community Church.
Key Biscayne in Bill Baggs State Park. Photo by Ebyabe.
This up-market residential barrier island in Biscayne Bay is just a few minutes (5m/8km) south of Miami. It is home to a couple of nature parks and spacious beaches, offering good outdoor facilities and activities. Head for Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, including Cape Florida Lighthouse, south Florida’s oldest structure, decent walking trails and stunning sandy beaches.
Next door is more wilderness. Virginia Key with a kid-friendly Miami Seaquarium, a marine park and Virginia Key Beach Park, is known for its mangrove forest, the State’s largest.
Buses: These run the length of the beach on Collins Avenue and cost US$2 each way.
Taxis: hard to find on the street so get your hotel to call one.
Car hire: Renting a car is a great idea if you are planning day trips out of town, but it’s not advisable if you are only staying at the beach. Parking in Miami Beach is difficult and expensive, and overnight parking fees at hotels can be very pricey.
Miamidade run various interconnected services such as the little free overhead metro system called Metromover that connects many major buildings and attractions in a loop Downtown, including Brickell Avenue financial district; 5 a.m.-12 midnight every day.
Then there’s the real metro, MiamiDade Metrorail serving greater Miami with stations at South Miami, Coconut Grove, Brickell as well as a Metrobus system running over 800 buses daily.
Bikes can be carried on most forms of transport tho’ for Metrorail bikers need a permit and must be at least 12 years old. However, permits are available from staff at stations.
Otherwise Downtown is compact and walkable – though take care at night.
Around South Beach cycles and scooters are popular but cycling is not recommended for trips into central Miami. You can rent bikes at any number of locations, including the Miami Beach Bicycle Center at 601 Fifth Street. Rental typically cost US$24 (about £15) a day, US$80 a week.
Short Trips Out of Miami
The Southernmost house in USA, Key West. Photo by Averette
A couple of hours drive from Miami, the Keys are good for scuba diving, modest beaches and a tropical ambience.
Key West is the most visited island, the most southerly of the chain and still pretty though overcrowded. The Hemingway Home and Museum is popular, beaches are OK, diving is great; it’s 160/250km miles from Miami. Accommodation will be practically impossible to find over the New Year celebration or student’s Spring Break (mostly starting March 8th or 15th).
Fort Lauderdale beach.
Known as the ‘Venice of America’ for its extensive canal network, the city’s star attraction is
Fort Lauderdale Beach, known as ‘the Strip’, especially the section between Las Olas Blvd and Sunrise Blvd, where lively bars, restaurants and casinos compete for trade alongside the beach road.
For more action downtown, head to East Las Olas Blvd for up-market shops while West Las Olas Blvd attracts younger crowds with hip clubs and restaurants. Check out other popular beaches such as Hollywood Beach with retro ambiance and Dania Beach, a hidden gem, 40 km/25miles north of Miami.
65 miles north of Miami, Palm Beach is one of the wealthiest areas in USA, a small community of fantasy properties. Cruise past the hedges on South Ocean Boulevard, visit the Flagler Museum, tan and splash on South Ocean Boulevard beaches, windowshop the glitzy stores and have a drink at the Breakers Hotel.
Biscayne National Park
An hour’s drive south of Miami Beach this massive wilderness park and lagoon is excellent for canoeing, kayaking, glass-bottom boat trips, scuba diving, snorkelling, fishing, hiking and wildlife-watching (including manatees, crocodiles and wild birds).
Head 40 minutes south of Miami Beach for two must-sees. The palatial 1920s Biltmore Hotel was a favourite of royalty – the Duke and Duchess of Windsor – as well as movie stars including Marlene Dietrich and Clark Gable, and gangster Al Capone. Have a snack there or even a drink beside the largest pool in America.
Then 15 minutes away is spacious and fantastic Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden at 10901 Old Cutler Road.
Scuba diving and Snorkeling
Wreck Trek, a shallow artificial reef located north of Miami Beach, or Biscayne National Park, just south of Downtown, are good, easy options, or try Key Biscayne for the Biscayne wreck.
For colourful reefs the Pennekamp Coral Reef Park is the best and for large wrecks, head for the 510-foot Spiegel Grove at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, both accessible from Key Largo. The shallow waters in Dry Tortugas National Park, west of Key West, are perfect for snorkelling and the nearby Windjammer wreck for diving.
Canoeing and Kayaking
Everglades Wilderness waterway is for people who love exercise and adventure as well as nature, while the Florida Keys are agreeable for sea-kayaking, especially John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
With its flat land, warm climate and more than 200km of paved paths in the city, cycling is becoming more popular as exercise or transport among locals in recent years.
The promenade on southern South Beach is delightful to cruise for people-watching tho’ not for scenery. Cycling is also a fantastic way to explore villages such as Coconut Grove and Coral Gables. For more serious biking the nearest bike trails are: Oleta River State Park Trails north of Miami; Shark Valley Tram Road Trail in the Everglades; Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail for touring the Keys, total 106.5 miles (172km).
In-line skating is also a ideal activity in and around Miami for the same reasons.
The Everglades Water Conservation area holds Florida’s record for the highest number of fish caught per person, per hour, and is especially good for bass fishing. Some of the best fishing can be found in the Keys for deep-sea, big game fish such as tuna, marlin and sailfish. Try Bahia Honda State Park in Big Pine Key and John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park. A fishing licence is required.
Art Deco Walks
The Miami Design Preservation League’s historians and architects host 90-minute walking tours of the Art Deco district. Get tickets from the Art Deco Gift Shop, 1001 Ocean Drive at 10th Street, SoBe.
Tours run from Friday-Wednesday at 10.30am; Thursday at 6.30pm. Or there are self-guided tours with a little help from an MP3 player daily, 9.30am-5pm. All tours last 90 minutes.
404 bldg in Miami, Florida. Photo by stefenetti emiliano
Miami Beach Boardwalk
This is the locals’ favourite place to jog and walk though skaters and bikers are prohibited. It extends from South Pointe Park past Ocean Drive up above 40th Street and will eventually be more than six miles long ending at North Shore Park and 88th Street.
South Pointe Park
This 17.5-acre space on the southernmost tip of South Beach is a great place to cycle, skate, jog, stroll or sit and embraces a kid’s play park and marina.
Opening times: Daily, sunrise-10pm, admission free.
Arts, Culture, Museums
Miami Seaquarium, Virginia Key. A superb and well organised home to killer whales, manatees and lots more sea beasts.
The interactive Children’s Museum in Miami Beach; the Miami Science Museum, north of Coconut Grove focuses on marine and Everglades wildlife, with a Planetarium.
The Hemingway Home and Museum, Key West, is a big draw for literary fans. Forget the kids!
For art lovers: the contemporary Bass Museum of Art; the design museum of the Wolfsonian at Florida International University in Miami Beach; Museum of Latin American Art Downtown and…
The Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami houses an outstanding modern art collection. There’s free outdoor jazz (rain or shine at 8pm) on the last Friday of every month.
Address: 770 NE 125th Street, North Miami.
Opening times: Tue, Thurs, Fri and Sat, 11am-5pm; Wed, 1-9pm; Sun, 12 noon-5pm.
Miami Art Museum, Florida
Miami’s principal art museum is situated in a cultural plaza next to The Historical Museum of Southern Florida. It is now in a 29-acre museum park overlooking Biscayne Bay, a space designed by top European architects.
Address: 101 West Flagler Street.
Opening times: Tue-Fri, 10am-5pm and Sat-Sun, 12 noon-5pm.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
Miami’s version of Hearst Castle, Vizcaya was built in 1916 for industrial titan James Deering and is intended to look like a 400-year-old Italian estate. It is filled with exquisite furnishings and objets d’art from the 15th to the 19th century.
Address: 3251 S Miami Avenue, Miami
Opening times: Daily 9.30am-4.30pm except Christmas
The Wolfsonian museum displays a spectacular collection of design and decorative arts from 1885 to 1945 – from art-nouveau chairs to the earliest dishwashers.
Address: 1001 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach
Opening times: Daily (except Wednesday), 12 noon-6pm (until 9pm Fri)
Rubell Family Collection
The American equivalent of London’s Saatchi Gallery, this huge space is dedicated to A-list contemporary artists such as Marlene Dumas, Kara Walker, Neo Rauch and Luc Tuymans.
Address: 95 NW 29th Street, Wynwood.
Opening times: (December 1-August 26 only) Weds-Mon, 9am-6pm.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Miami enjoys many world-class arts and entertainment scenes at various venues including Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts (home of Florida Grand Opera), the USA’s second biggest performing arts centre after Lincoln Center in New York City. The center offers some of the best opera, ballet, music and musicals from many foreign countries.
The Bayfront Park and the Fair Expo Center have outdoor concert theatres.
The Adrienne Arsht Center offers classical concerts, opera, ballet and other such events and there are lots of Latin/rock music gigs.
Thanks to its Hispanic heritage, Miami is also a great place for dance and dance-music all kinds from Latin-American, Afro-Caribbean to techno. The city hosts one of world’s largest dance music events, Winter Music Conference. Miami also has numerous clubbing venues, especially in Miami Beach, hot for round-the-clock action.
New World Symphony
Frank Gehry’s zany new building for the New World Symphonyoffers concerts in a new space, enveloping the audience in video images to trigger an intense aural and visual experience. Concerts are often free and highly experimental.
Address: 541 Lincoln Road, So Be
Major Festivals and Parades
Early January, the Orange Bowl, one of the USA’s five big New Year football games and social events.
January, 2nd weekend, Art Deco Weekend, Miami Beach Art Deco District. 1920’s-30’s style music and parades.
Mid-February, Coconut Grove Arts Festival, an outdoor arts festival, one of Miami’s most famous art events.
Early-March, Carnival Miami with Calle Ocho (Cuban carnival) in Little Havana, a massive 9 day, citywide rave, with much Latin influence; the largest Hispanic celebration in the USA.
Late March, Miami Fashion Week in Wynwood Art District, an international fashion show.
October, a month-long Hispanic Heritage Festival, with Columbus Day Weekend, Caribbean-American Carnival and West Indian American Day Carnival.
The last Sunday of December, King Mango Strut in the streets of Coconut Grove, a tongue-in-cheek procession to celebrate the end of year; originally a parody of Orange Bowl’s King Orange Jamboree Parade, it’s peculiar and humorous.
December 31, New Years Eve at Bayfront Park with a free, colourful, and family-friendly party, featuring a giant Orange count-down Parade and a massive firework display.
If you want to catch American sport there are various opportunities in Miami such as American football (Miami Dolphins), baseball (Marlins) and basketball (Heat) all of which play nationally.
You can get tickets (at least for the bleachers with a little advance planning) and they provide interesting spectacles/experiences. You can also see more exotic sports occasions such as the Jai Alai.
Miami is an epicurean heaven with broad international representation but strong on Cuban, Haitian, Argentinean and Italian. It’s no surprise that the city supplies superb fresh seafood, such as Japanese sushi. Try Little Havana and Little Haiti for ethnic specialties or Coral Gables for a more European taste; also check up-market Mary Brickell Village.
Expensive: Miami Design District (a part of Little Haiti, located north of Midtown Miami) is an 18 block area saturated with art galleries and showrooms, fantastic for designer gear, art and antiques; find exotic souvenirs in Little Havana; for regular stuff including clothes, Cocowalk in Coconut Grove, Lincoln Road Mall in Miami Beach, Village of Merrick Park and Miracle Mile in Coral Gables and the waterfront Bayside Marketplace in Downtown or Ball Harbour Village, the poshest mall at the northern tip of Miami Beach.
Note that at least a few words of Spanish will make your life a lot easier and more enjoyable in Miami, particularly in the evenings.
Miami travel: driving
Always carry your passport and driver’s license with you when driving in the US.
You can turn right at a red traffic light provided you come to a complete stop first, there is no oncoming traffic and no sign saying ‘no turn on red’.
In most American cities, you have to park with your car pointing in the direction of the traffic on the correct side of the road, otherwise you will be fined. Been there, been busted.
Do not park within 15ft/5m of a fire hydrant.