Nicknamed “The Magic City” because of its endless growth, anyone who has spent time exploring the decadent sandbox knows there’s more to Miami than just sky-high buildings with breathtaking views. From its crashing waves and sandy shores to its tantalizing international flavors, can’t-miss shopping opportunities, and an art scene that ranges from Broadway shows to curated graffiti, Miami’s “Magic City” moniker takes on a whole new meaning today.
Here, we’ve captured the top 14 experiences to be had in this culturally diverse and undeniably unique city.
1. Soak Up Some Rays
Visiting the beaches in Miami is a must. From spotting the eclectic and colorful lifeguard stands (South Pointe jetty) to wind surfing (Hobie Beach) and more, there’s plenty to do by the shore. Even simply enjoying an umbrella drink with your toes in the sand is an unforgettable experience.
A personal favorite is Miami Beach’s Lummus Park, or South Beach, as the locals call it. This particular stretch runs along Ocean Drive from around Fifth to Fifteenth streets and includes a boardwalk, should you get the urge to go for a stroll or jog. Here, you’ll find what South Beach is famous for: beautiful people enjoying their time in the sun. After having your fill of sun, hop over to Ocean Drive to take in the whimsical Art Deco architecture while you grab a bite to eat.
Be sure to pack your dancing shoes — and we mean the ones you can keep on well into the wee hours of the morning. While Miami is teeming with countless hotspots, its nightlife scene is renowned for mega-clubs like Liv, Story, Wall and Nikki Beach. Don’t be shocked if you recognize the name of the DJ playing that night, as top artists from around the globe are regularly flown in to get the crowd jumpin’. If you prefer a smaller setting with live music, check out Bardot, where live music happens almost nightly.
3. Cruise the Beach
One of the best ways to see Miami Beach is by bike. Deco Bike, the city’s bike-sharing program, makes cruising the beachfront a cinch and affordable. Simply punch in your credit card at any one of the small kiosks that line the beach, grab your wheels and ride the beachfront path from 5th St. all the way to 15th to take in the beach on one side and the art deco architecture of Ocean Drive to the other. Here’s a tip from the locals: Miami parties late and wakes up later. Get out of bed before 9 a.m. and you’ll have the path to yourself. Ride safe.
4. Explore the Great Outdoors
There’s more than just jumping waves when it comes to Miami’s outdoor offerings. Parks such as Oleta River State Park offer mountain biking, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking and canoeing, to name some options. You can also see the endless mangroves and their natural inhabitants. Or, if the little ones are in tow, head to South Pointe Park for playgrounds complete with fountains to keep everyone cool.
5. Get Out of Town
With all those Ferraris and all that Latin spunk, it’s easy to forget that Miami is oh-so-close to two of the most fascinating ecosystems in the country. The Florida Keys start an hour south of Miami and they live up their postcard reputation; snorkeling the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park off the coast of Key Largo is a once-in-a-lifetime must. Keep going another two hours and you’ll hit Key West, with all its bohemian, tropical wonder. Head west an hour from Port and you’ll be in the Everglades, a great place to meet an alligator, or a few thousand. Organized tours to the Keys and the Everglades are widely available.
6. Learn the Language
Miami wouldn’t be Miami without Cuban culture. And Cuban culture in Miami lives and breathes in Little Havana. Head over to Calle Ocho (Southwest Eighth Street) and the surrounding area for authentic Cuban cuisine, shopping and culture. Here, you’ll also spy men in fedoras playing dominos at the park, smoking cigars and telling stories about the motherland.
7. Eat the Local Food
Michelle Bernstein, Michael Schwartz, Michael Pirolo. Miami is ripe with talented chefs, which is why dinner here is a must. Sample the Guava con Queso Donuts at Seagrape, try one of the delicious pizzas with a pint of locally brewed beers (local hidden gem) at Harry’s Pizzeria and savor the pasta at Macchialina. For lunch, hit a local spot like La Sandwicherie in South Beach for the best sandwich you’ve ever had on a baguette while sitting elbow-to-elbow locals. And be sure to slather on the sauce.
If it’s Cuban food you’re after why not sample a little of everything on a food walking tour in Little Havana. You’ll get best of both worlds – food and culture. But if you don't have time for an entire food tour, try the famous Cuban Sandwich at Versailles Restaurant on Calle Ocho (8th Street).
8. Get a Blast From the Past
Whether or not you’re a history buff, trips to Miami’s historic spots are a must. Consider a trip to Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, an Italian renaissance-esque home and garden; a jaunt to Espanola Way in South Beach, where Spanish colonial architecture houses cute boutiques and restaurants; a dip at Venetian Pool, a quarry turned extravagant swimming hole in Coral Gables; or a stop at St. Bernard de Clairvaux Church, the medieval Spanish monastery cloister.
9. Shop ’Til You Drop
Make sure to save some extra room in your suitcase, because during a trip to Miami you’re likely to go home with more than a few new treasures. With can’t-miss shopping hubs like The Design District (home to Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Cartier) and Bal Harbour Shops (Gucci, Chanel and Prada), Miami has quickly put itself on the map as a destination for fashionistas. If your tastes are more mainstream, be sure to check out Lincoln Road Mall, an outdoor pedestrian mall where shopping is an under-the-sun affair. And for those who want to shop like a local, head over to Sunset Harbor for both national and indie boutiques (Eberjey and Frankie, respectively).
10. Get Artsy
Whether it’s at a gallery, a museum or on a wall in Wynwood, Miami is bursting at the seams with art. From the esteemed Perez Art Museum Miami’s collection to the personal stock at the Rubell Family Collection, there’s plenty to see in environments that are as beautiful as the art itself. If you prefer something a little less curated, head to Wynwood, Miami’s art district, to catch a glimpse of its street art. If you’re lucky, you may even see some in the works.
11. Explore Jungle Island
A zippy seven-minute car ride from the Port of Miami, Jungle Island is an interactive zoo that’s compact enough to cover in half a day, but still big on animal highlights. (It also has the distinct advantage of being between the Port and South Beach; it’s a great stop of families with limited time.) The big cat and bird shows are worth organizing your visit around. Don’t miss the orangutan enclosure, either. Those with deeper pockets can enjoy Jungle Island’s Animal Interactions packages—up-close meet-and-greets with a host of critters. They’re priced accordingly.
12. See a Show
Not all of the art in Miami is visual. With the Adrienne Arsht Center offering everything from Broadway shows to the famous Miami City Ballet, it’s easy to sit back and enjoy the show.
13. Check Out the Art Deco Architecture
Easily walkable, the Miami Beach Architectural District is bounded by the beach to the east, Alton Road to the west, 6th Street to the south and Dade Blvd. to the north, containing 960 historic buildings. The old hotels along Ocean Drive are the standouts. Art Deco is the architectural star, but keep an eye out for Mediterranean Revival and Miami Modern (MiMo) designs, too. The Art Deco Welcome Center at 10th and Ocean Drive offers informative walking tours.
14. Relax at the Spa
If it’s R&R you’re after, make an appointment at one of Miami’s numerous spas. From the posh Spa at Mandarin Oriental to the water journeys at Fontainebleau’s Lapis Spa and the hamam at The Standard Spa Miami Beach, there are plenty of ways to work out those kinks and knots.