about the city
Throw the stereotypes of fake boobs, knockoff designer purses, and spray tans aside, and get ready for an art haven, collision of Latin American cultures, and tropical vibes right at America's front door. If you're like me and live in a city full of army green, gray, and black uniforms, rejuvenate in a land of colors. Walking past the clear turquoise waters and pastel orange art deco homes, you'll be grinning ear to ear with the soundtrack of Latino music blaring out of each passing car.
From Colombia, Cuba, Venezuela, and more, the residents of Miami are full of soul and ready to share their cultures with you. They are proudly and distinctly from their homelands but with an intense gratitude of fulfilling their dream of making it to the United States and being in Miami. You cannot help but have that joy and enthusiasm rub off on you. Get ready for a nonstop party and a bit of confusion as to whether you're in the U.S. or not.
Before you go
Don't let the non-stop parties cover up the hardships that many of Miami's residents have gone through. Many have fled terrible situations back home, and the cultures they have brought with them have had a huge influence on the city of today- both good and bad. Watch the documentary "Miami Our City" to learn more.
where to stay
Avoid spring break season and stay in South Beach. I mean, come on, they have great food, tons of nightlife, and one of the most beautiful Caribbean-like beaches, and you might as well be within walking distance.
Sense Beach House- A friend that comes to Miami a lot for work says she stays here without exception. While in South Beach, it doesn't attract the party crowd that some of the larger hotels do. It's a quiet place where she enjoys resting and stepping out to dip her toes in the sand in the morning and again at the end of the day to unwind. It's also walking distance to some of the main strips of restaurants, cafes, etc.
If you don't want to be in South Beach, stay in an AirBnB in the Wynwood area, Miami's hipster, artistic neighborhood, where many of my recommendations are, so it's very walkable.
what to do
Just writing this makes me want to book another trip back to Miami, as there are so many things left to do! Here are some to get you started:
Wynwood Walls- I'm by no means an art expert, but I do know that artists geek out here, a section of the trendy, hipster Wynwood neighborhood with a winding path through courtyards outlined with mural-painted walls. If you know a thing or two about art, you'll be amazed by the murals painted by renowned artists. If you don't, you'll still be amazed by this colorful little wonderland and get an awesome Instagram or Facebook profile picture about it (see my current Insta pic).
South Pointe Park- You'll truly feel like you've made it to Miami when you set foot here! At the very southern tip of Miami Beach you'll find this long stretch of palm tree-lined walking path where you might have to duck out of the way of roller bladers or joggers taking in the sun. Head out to the pier and get a killer view looking back onto the beach and skyscrapers of Miami Beach and get up close to the sailboats headed out for the day.
Lincoln Road- This is a tourist destination! I'm telling you now. But if it's your first time in Miami, take it all in as you stroll down the open air "mall" with outdoor patio restaurants along the center of the boulevard and plenty of shopping options along each side (this is where you can get you Miami flatbill cap or spray-painted tank top). It feels more like the stereotype of Miami, but I think that's essential to see at least on your first visit.
Española Way- Not far from Lincoln Road, you'll find this classier strip that feels more European than Latin (hence, the name "Spanish Way"). Lush plants and twinkle lights distinguish this section of the road that is closed off to cars, and you can find plenty of restaurants and cafes where you can sit out in front and enjoy a cup of coffee.
Swim at Miami Beach- This is a big fat duh, but in case it's not obvious enough, spend plenty of time relaxing on the long stretch of beach at Miami Beach. The beaches are wide and white, and you can wade out into the water for at least 50 feet without getting your hair wet. The water is perfectly turquoise and clear and actually swimably warm most of the year- a real treat for a West Coaster like me!
where to eat
This was hard! Miami is a food lover's dream. I have to go again if only to complete my food tour because I only just got started. If you're going for just the beach and nightlife, you're seriously missing out.
Versailles- Near the airport on the east side town, this most likely isn't the closest place to where you'll be spending most of your time. However, it is well worth the trip! It's not a real trip to Miami without eating Cuban food, and this is the place to do it. You will feel a bit like you stepped back in time, as the waiters continue to serve you decked out in green and yellow uniforms, and the decor is definitely from the seventies, but I wouldn't change a thing. This is the real deal. Go with a friend and split the holy-cow-unbelievably-delicious Cuban sandwich (the regular size has two pieces, the large has three) and the Criollo Special combo platter that includes hearty rice and beans, tender, flavorful meat, and sweet plantains that transport you to Latin America. I plan on making this a must-stop every time I go back. Attached is a bakery that I was sadly too full to try out, but now you've been warned. Save room.
Nikki Beach- Almost the opposite experience from Versailles is Nikki Beach, which, during the off-season is actually a pretty peaceful play to grab a fruity cocktail amongst a jungle of palm trees and white cabana umbrellas. Avoid during the summers and nights though when this is just a giant party. I'm sorry Latin America, but these were actually the best yuca fries I've ever had! Make sure to get a side order to your sushi and conch fritters. Then, step right out to the white beach when you're done.
Dirt- Craving something healthy after piling up on sugary drinks, Cuban sandwiches and conch fritters? Step on in to DIRT for some clean eating (that's got to have been a purposefully ironic choice of names...). Grain bowls and green juice will reinvigorate you to keep on trekking and feel good after a warm day of tanning on the beach that's within walking distance.
Cecconi's- Warning: this place is overpriced, but the atmosphere makes you feel like you're a celebrity, so maybe that's worth the added dollars for a night. Twinkle lights on a breezy patio will frame your evening, and you can dine on seafood, small plates, white wine. This is connected to Soho Beach House, an exclusive members-only club with beach chairs, a pool, sangria nights, and separate dining area, so you can pretend that you're living that life (or find a friend with a membership like I did!).
Miami Mojito Company- Looking for a drink? Grab a mojito, caipirinha, or caipirosk at this pop-up in Wynwood that is modeled off of tiki bars in Brazil. Cool off under the palm trees in this little urban nook.
R HOUSE- A funky, open restaurant at the edge of Wynwood, R HOUSE houses a rotating art gallery and has a huge outdoor patio. Come during the Beat the Clock happy hour Wednesdays - Saturdays when cocktails are $6, and small bites are $3 at 3, $4 at 4, up until $7 at 7 - such a deal!
SUGARCANE- So fun! If you're already feeling like you don't know whether you're in the States or Latin America, prepare to be even more confused while eating at SUGARCANE. Their menu is full of small plates from all over the world, and they somehow manage to pull off everything. It's best to go here in a group so that you can try a whole lot of things.