Miami, Florida is a sun-(and occasionally hurricane)-drenched metropolis in the southeastern United States. Famous for shows like Miami Vice and movies like Bad Boys II and even video games like GTA: Vice City, Miami has a reputation that it gleefully lives up to. This is the land of 24-hour clubs and year-round beaches, of beautiful people and beautiful cars.
On top of all the superficiality, there is real culture here. Only 90 miles from Cuba, Miami was the recipient of several waves of refugees during and after the revolution that concluded in 1959. Because of that mass exodus, today Miami’s population is over 34% Cuban. There is also a sizable Haitian presence; in fact, it’s not uncommon to see street signs in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole.
The city has undergone a severe building boom in recent years, giving it the third-tallest skyline in the US, behind New York City and Chicago, and welcomes the second-largest number of foreign visitors to the US, second only to New York City. Parts of the urban core, particularly the Brickell neighborhood, have been nicknamed “Little Manhattan.” There’s a dense urban jungle aspect that some may enjoy simply wandering around in.
Getting around Miami, if you’re sticking to the downtown and touristy areas, is easy. The urban core is walkable, and you have the Metrorail and numerous bus lines at your disposal. For going farther afield, Uber and Lyft are prevalent throughout the city, although let me be the first to tell you that the traffic can be horrendous; the number of drawbridges linking the different neighborhoods adds to the congestion already present in a large American city. Trust me though, it’s worth it.
Read on for 11 fun things to do in Miami! Be forewarned, Miami is an excellent food town, so this list is pretty restaurant-heavy. However I’ve also included a number of other thing to see and do for every visitor to “The Capital of Latin America.” You’ll have a great time no matter what you like to do.
There are a number of islands just off the coast of Miami proper, the largest of which is Miami Beach, to the east of Downtown Miami. While Miami Beach has nothing but beach running all along its eastern shore, the preeminent one is South Beach, also referred to as “SoBe.” This is one of the most famous beaches in the entire country, and can get crowded, but the water is perfect, and it’s large enough that there’s always a place to lay your towel down. There’s not a bad seat in the house at South Beach.
After enjoying several hours at this gorgeous beach, be sure to walk down Ocean Drive, where you’ll find plenty of lodgings, restaurants, and Instagram opportunities.
Pro Tip: At the beach, look for stands selling lockable mini-safes to store your phone and wallet. These little white pill-shaped safes cost $5/hour, and are invaluable for leaving your valuables behind while hitting the waves. You may even be able to fit a DSLR camera inside, if you remove the lens from the body.
Going to Miami and not going to Little Havana is like going to Las Vegas and not walking along the Strip. Sure, you might have been there, but you haven’t really been there. The Cuban culture is so inextricably tied to the soul of Miami that you really have to pay it a visit.
The epicenter of that Cuban expat culture is Calle Ocho (8th Street), which you’ve probably heard about in any song by Miami-born rapper Pitbull. Be sure to walk down the Calle Ocho Walk of Fame, which honors famous Cubans and Cuban-Americans. There are Cultural Fridays, which showcase the work of local artisans, and the main street puts on a vibrant Carnival every year.
Of course, you’ve got to try the local food. Cuban food incorporates a lot of pork (masas de cerdo, for example) and to a lesser extent, beef (try some ropa vieja), with typical sides of white rice, black beans, tomato, and fried plantains. You won’t go wrong with a Cuban sandwich, which has pork, cheese, mayo, mustard, and pickles, and is toasted.
As far as drinks go, the coffee is strong, and is served in tiny cups loaded with sugar. You can stop in to any souvenir shop lining Calle Ocho and grab a bag of Cafe Bustelo or other Cuban coffee. If you drink, you should also try either a Mojito or a Cuba Libre (rum & coke).
The food is delicious, but it’s also not for vegetarians. I remember being in one Cuban restaurant and asking if they had salad. Seeing the waiter’s clear confusion, I repeated the request in both English and Spanish. The waiter literally had no idea what I was talking about.
Ball & Chain
Ball & Chain is an excellent bar on Calle Ocho. The building dates from at least the 1900s, and the business has undergone several changes in management, including the Jewish mob back in the 1940s and ’50s. You won’t find a bad mojito in all of Miami, and Ball & Chain is no different. After having a couple drinks, try their salsa dancing classes. They feature all kinds of live entertainment, including salsa, jazz, and domino nights.
International visitors, note that a passport is the only form of foreign ID accepted at Ball & Chain.
1513 SW 8th St, Miami, FL 33135
Versailles is the self-proclaimed “World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant.” This awesome restaurant and bakery has been mouthwatering food at very reasonable prices since 1971. The low prices belie the high quality and upscale atmosphere of Versailles. It’s one of my favorite restaurants anywhere in the country.
It’s been said that a lot of anti-Castro political dissidents would meet at Versailles and discuss politics or even revolutionary plans over coffee and good food.
3555 SW 8th St, Miami, FL 33135
The Wynwood Walls are one of the foremost centers for urban graffiti in the country. Here, graffiti transcends “street art” and becomes something else entirely. Originally a derelict warehouse district, in 2009 the locally renown community revitalizer Tony Goldman decided to change things up. Taking advantage of the windowless warehouses, he commissioned several graffiti artists to transform these drab buildings into “the greatest street art ever seen in one place.”
The Wynwood Walls are completely free to enter and explore and photograph. There is a shop and a restaurant on premises, and even a book that you can buy to bring the Wynwood Walls to your own coffee table.
2520 NW 2nd Ave, Miami, FL 33127
Lincoln Road Mall
The Lincoln Road Mall, running parallel between 16th and 17th Streets, is a pedestrian-only walkway lined with restaurants, shops, and an awesome three-story movie theater.
My only knock against the Lincoln Road Mall is that it can get extremely crowded, and Miami seems to have a surplus of people who don’t watch where they’re going. But it is a cool area and part of a pedestrian-only movement gaining traction throughout the world.
One of the coolest bars I’ve ever been in, Bodega offers a quick takeout kitchen up front, and a spacious, relaxing, dare I say swanky bar in the back. They have some of the finest mixed drinks I’ve ever had, and there is plenty of seating and parlor games at your disposal.
Pro Tip: Don’t go if you’re in a rush to get somewhere else. This is a very popular establishment, and we unfortunately weren’t able to sample the food before having to move on. However, the drinks and the service were exceptional.
1220 16th St, Miami Beach, FL 33139
Purdy Lounge is a dance club, one of many in Miami, but one we personally can vouch for. Like a lot of other clubs in the city, Purdy has relatively late hours, being open until 5 am virtually every day. They play a lot of Hip-Hop and Top 40, and we had a great time there. It is a smaller club, so it can get crowdy, especially around the bar, but we felt like it was awesome without being douchebaggish.
1811 Purdy Ave, Miami, FL 33139
El Palacio de los Jugos
Founded in 1977 by Reinaldo and Apolonia Bermudez, El Palacio de los Jugos (The Juice Palace) today has several locations scattered throughout Metro Miami, offering both hot food and cold drinks, all with a–you guessed it!–Cuban flair. You can find pork, seafood, fresh sugarcane drinks, and more here.
Pro Tip: If you come across Iron Beer, that’s not actually beer. It’s a soda popular in Latin America.
555 Jefferson Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139 (and many other locations)
El Mago de las Fritas
A Miami institution, El Mago de las Fritas (“The Wizard of Fries”) is a hamburger joint that specializes in putting thin, crispy fries on everything.
I feel like that’s basically all I have to say here!
5828 SW 8th St, West Miami, FL 33144
Pérez Art Museum
Miami’s premier art museum since 1984, the Pérez Art Museum showcases modern art from the 20th and 21st centuries. On top of the art within the building, you can also enjoy gorgeous views of Biscayne Bay from the back steps, or enjoy a meal at the acclaimed Verde restaurant on premises.
The museum has also recently partnered with Inside|Out to bring high-quality reproductions of their exhibits to communities throughout Dade County.
1103 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33132
Miami is a great city, and whether you like relaxing at the beach, clubbing, eating delicious food, getting a culture fix, or all of the above, Miami has you covered. Did I miss anything? Let us know in the comments below!