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Miami: The Beaches and Beyond

See why Miami continues to be a popular tropical playground, with gorgeous beaches, culinary hotspots, historic landmarks and plenty of attractions for kids and adults alike.

 

When you think of Miami, you think beaches, sun and fun. Known for incredible nightlife, extensive water sports, professional sports teams and champion golf courses, Miami has even more to offer. Miami’s additional attractions range from museums to film festivals to historic landmarks to national parks. Labeled the Cruise Capital of the World, the Port of Miami is home to more than 20 different cruise lines, making it the largest home port in the world.

Miami History

Prior to being claimed by the Spanish in 1566, Miami was inhabited by the Tequesta Indians and was better known as Biscayne Bay Country. After a local citrus grower convinced railroad tycoon Henry Flagler to extend his railroad to Miami, the city was officially born in 1896.

Miami’s history is deeply rooted in Spanish culture, both from early settlements and an influx of Cubans seeking refuge after Fidel Castro rose to power in 1959. This is very evident in the city’s architecture and historic landmarks. Despite ups and downs, hurricanes, controversy and drug wars, Miami has grown into an international destination, welcoming millions of tourists from around the world.

Visitors on Miami weekend getaways or family vacations have no lack of places to see and things to do. This Miami guide offers up some of the highlights and travel tips to a city that welcomes its visitors with open arms.

Trip Planning Essentials

Best Time to Visit

Although Miami offers year-round activities, the high season runs from December through April, when most of the festivals and events take place. The winter months offer the best weather, so if you dislike the heat and humidity, it’s advisable to visit before May or after October.

The summer is however a great time for family vacations, especially if you are on a budget, as most of the hotels offer great deals and reduced rates during the off-season. Hurricane season runs from June through November, and although that may be a deterrent for some, there is always fair warning before a hurricane hits, giving tourists enough time to make alternative plans, if necessary.

How Long to Stay

A Miami vacation makes for a great weekend getaway, especially if you’re looking for a romantic escape. If you plan on bringing the family, allow at least a week to give you time to visit all the attractions and sample Miami’s great hospitality.

Getting Around

If you are staying on the beach, you don’t need to rent a car as it’s easy to get around via taxi, scooter or GoCar. There are several rental places that offer a variety of fun vehicles which come fully equipped with talking GPS. If you’re staying down south or intend on visiting any of the major tourist attractions, it’s advisable to rent a car during your stay.

Transportation from the airport is pretty inexpensive, either by taxi or shuttle. The majority of visitors fly into Miami International Airport (MIA), however Fort Lauderdale Airport (FLL) is only about 40 minutes from South Beach. For the most part, flights into Fort Lauderdale are a lot cheaper if you’re flying domestically.

 

Next: Miami Neighborhoods & Architecture 

The Many Faces of Miami—Neighborhoods & Architecture

Miami Beach & SoBe (South Beach)

Miami’s neighborhoods are diverse and unique, encompassing the many different cultures that make up the city. Among other things, South Beach is famous for its architecturally preserved, historic Art Deco buildings dating back to the 1930s and 40s. Also, nightlife is most prominent here—especially after the area’s revival in the 1990s—playing host to world-renowned celebrity hangouts, clubs, bars, resorts, boutique hotels and of course, the beach. Even the residents are diverse and somewhat eccentric in their own special way.

Located on the peninsula and separated from the mainland by Biscayne Bay, Miami Beach consists of elegant hotels, resorts, 1950s motels and high-rise apartments. From Bal Harbor, Sunny Isles and Surfside to Haulover Park, the area is more of a permanent resort town encompassing everything from boating, fishing, kiting, golfing and sandy beaches. Whether looking for a relaxing day on the beach, rollerblading along the coast or partying in the park, you’ll find it all in Miami Beach.

Aventura

Classified as North Miami Beach, Aventura is a relatively new city, incorporated in 1995. An elegant mix of high-rise apartments, family homes and stylish residents, Aventura is a beautiful city with tropical foliage, blooming flowers and neatly tended gardens. Located on the mainland, the views along the intercoastals are extraordinary. Affluent and modern, Aventura offers stylish restaurants, Founders Park, the Aventura Mall, a country club, golf course and several great resorts and spas. It also has a very active business district and is home to many young professionals.

Coral Gables & Coconut Grove

From its conception, Coconut Grove has been a haven for the creative, attracting musicians, artists, authors and many a free spirit. Situated on the bay, it boasts gorgeous scenery, a marina, a waterfront park, a host of art galleries, sidewalk cafés, boutiques, open-air shopping mall and numerous excellent restaurants. The annual Coconut Grove Art Festival is definitely the place for creative souls to hang.

Just to the west of “The Grove” is Coral Gables, home of the University of Miami. Coral Gables was the fist to implement gated communities around its Mediterranean Revival-style homes and Spanish architecture. The downtown commercial district is laid out within a four-block radius and is home to the business district as well as the famous Miracle Mile shopping area.

Key Biscayne

Key Biscayne is an island located six miles off the coast of Miami and linked to the mainland via the Rickenbacker Causeway. Counted among Worth Magazine’s “250 Richest U.S. Towns” in 2001, this small island is only seven miles long and two miles wide. A resort community, Key Biscayne has it all, including the Miami Seaquarium and a wide variety of water sports and outdoor activities. With year-round sunshine and never a lack of things to do, Key Biscayne is a very popular vacation destination.

Downtown Miami and the Brickell Area

Brickell, the center of Miami’s financial district, lies just south of Downtown and the Miami River. Originally more of a business area, Brickell is fast becoming a trendy, vibrant neighborhood filled with sidewalk cafés, restaurants and prestigious hotels catering to business travelers and banking professionals.

Miami Design District

This 18-square block area situated just north of Downtown Miami is filled with a collection of chic and stylish galleries, trendy restaurants and contemporary furniture stores. An art lover’s paradise and culinary hotspot, the Design District has grown a worldwide reputation for being the center of the Miami’s art world, sophisticated and edgy.

Cultural Districts

From Little Haiti and Little Havana, to Liberty City, Hialeah and South Miami-Dade, each district is so culturally diverse, they might as well be countries unto themselves. The streets of Little Havana are colorful and vibrant with elderly men playing dominoes on the sidewalk while others roll cigars like true professionals, and everywhere you go, the strong smell of Cuban coffee permeates the air. Little Haiti is a true representation of life in Haiti, Creole cooking and all. If you want to experience Haitian culture, artwork and rhythms, a visit to Little Haiti is a must.  

Next: Miami’s Arts & Culture

Miami’s Arts & Culture

There’s no lack of historical landmarks, museums and performing arts in Miami. Whether you are looking for a family outing or cultural inspiration, Miami offers numerous options for visitors and locals alike:

Museums

  • Historic Museum of Southern Florida. 101 W. Flagler St., Miami; tel. 305-375-1492. Open Mon. through Sat., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; every third Thurs. until 9 p.m.; Sun., noon to 5 p.m. Adults $8, seniors and students with ID $7, children (6 to 12) $5, children under 6 admitted free. www.hmsf.org
  • Jewish Museum. 301 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; tel. 305-672-5044. Open Tues. through Sun., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Mon. Adults $6, seniors and students $5, family $12, children under 6 free. Free to all on Sat. www.jewishmuseum.com
  • Miami Science Museum. 3280 S. Miami Ave., Miami; tel. 305-646-4200. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Adults $18, seniors and students $16, children (3 to 12) $13, children under 3 admitted free. www.miamisci.org
  • Wings Over Miami Air Museum. Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport, 14710 S.W. 128 St., Miami; tel. 305-233-5197. Open Thurs. through Sun., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Mon. through Wed. Adults $10, seniors $7, children (under 12) $6. www.wingsovermiami.com
  • Miami Art Museum. 101 W. Flagler St., Miami; tel. 305-375-3000. Open Tues. through Fri., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; third Thurs., 5 to 9 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., noon to 5 p.m.; closed Mon. Adults $8, seniors $4, students and children under 12 admitted free. www.miamiartmuseum.org
  • Museum of Contemporary Art. Joan Lehman Building, 770 NE 125 St., North Miami; tel. 305-893-6211. Open Tues., Thurs., Fri. and Sat. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wed., 1 to 9 p.m.; Sun., noon to 5 p.m.; closed Mon. Adults $5, seniors and students $3, children under 12 free. www.mocanomi.org
  • Haitian Heritage Museum. 4141 NE Second Ave., Miami; tel. 305-371-5988. Open Tues. through Fri., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adults $7, students $5, children under 5 admitted free. www.haitianheritagemuseum.org
  • Bass Museum of Art. 2121 Park Ave., Miami Beach; tel. 305-673-7530. Open Tues. through Sat., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Mon. Adults $8, seniors and students $6, children under 6 free. www.bassmuseum.org

Historical Landmarks

  • Coral Castle. Ed Leedskalnin carved the entire castle by hand, on his own, out of 1,100 tons of coral. 28655 S. Dixie Hwy., Homestead; tel. 305-248-6345. Open Sun. through Thurs., 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Adults $7.75, seniors $5, children $4. www.coralcastle.com
  • Deering Estate at Cutler. Historical landmark dedicated to preserving the area’s ecosystem and environment. 16701 SW 72nd Ave., Miami; tel. 305-235-1668. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adults $10, children (4 to 14) $5. www.deeringestate.com

Next: Activities, Hotels and Dining

Top Activities

With some of the United States’ top beaches and outdoor activities, Miami has a lot to offer outdoor enthusiasts. Sunbathing, boating, fishing and water sports are popular. With no fewer than 16 beaches in the greater Miami area, the sand starts at South Beach and runs north to Sunny Isles Beach.

Beaches, Boats and Water Sports

South Beach is still the hot spot for crowds, entertainment, and the young and fabulous set. Mid-beach, from around 30th Street up to North Miami Beach, tend to draw more families and those seeking a bit more quiet and relaxation. There’s a nicely landscaped boardwalk the entire length of the beaches that makes it easy to move from one area (or resort) to another.

Rentals for jet skiing, windsurfing and kayaking are available. There’s plenty for divers and snorkelers to see too, with a water tower, airplanes, more than 30 ships, and hundreds of structures that have been purposefully sunk in order to create artificial reefs.

If interested in being on as opposed to in the water, consider a sightseeing tour by boat, which include Miami’s inner coastal and river waterways as well as the Atlantic Ocean. Fishing charters, yacht tours and day cruises abound. The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau has additional information.

Off-Beach Activities

For those looking for off-beach activities, the unique ecosystem of the Everglades offers all kinds of fun and interesting things for families and visitors including air boat rides, Gator Park and Shark Valley. The Miami Seaquarium, Monkey Jungle, Jungle Island and the Museum of Science & Planetarium are also great places to visit as a family, as are Biscayne National Park, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and the Fruit & Spice Park.

Sports

Miami is home to three professional sports teams—the National Football League’s Dolphins, the National Basketball Association’s Heat and Major League Baseball’s Marlins. In addition, the city hosts the tennis world’s Sony Ericsson Open and NASCAR events, so there’s no lack of games to keep sports fans happy.

There’s also no shortage of golf courses (more than 30) or tennis courts (more than 250) for those who prefer to participate as opposed to watch. Consider the Biltmore Hotel, Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne and Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club.

Festivals

Each year, Miami hosts a series of events and festivals starting with Art Basel in early December, and the Miami International Boat Show and the South Beach Wine and Food Festival in February. March brings the Miami Film Festival, followed by the Winter Music Conference which attracts famous DJs and music enthusiasts from around the world. Visitors flock to these events. Read more about how to plan your visit around a special event in our Miami Events article.

The Best Places to Stay and Eat in Miami

Recommended Hotels

Being a world-renowned tourist destination, Miami offers plenty of accommodation options. The beaches are lined with boutique hotels, resorts and hotel chains, while downtown Miami and Brickell cater more to the business traveler. However, more options are available than just your average hotel.

An increasingly popular trend, especially on the beach, is condo-hotels, providing visitors with the luxury of a hotel and the convenience of a condo. Generally a fraction of the price of hotels, this option is ideal for longer stays. Read more in our Miami Hotels article.

Recommended Dining

Miami is culinary diverse with restaurants of every nationality, description and taste. SoBe is known for its many celebrity chef-owned restaurants such as Emeril’s at the Loews Hotel and Nobu Miami Beach at the Shore Club, along with some great late night dining places.

If you are looking to satisfy your taste buds with some local Cuban food, be sure to visit Versailles or La Bodeguita del Medio on Coral Way. If you’ve never tried Haitian cuisine, Tap Tap in SoBe is definitely the place to go. The Design District is quickly becoming a new hotspot for foodies, as is Coconut Grove and Coral Gables. Read more in our Miami Restaurants and Miami Wine Bars articles.


Destinations: Miami

Themes: Art and Museums, Beach Vacations, Family Travel, Romantic Getaways

Activities: Arts and Entertainment, Eat, Museums, Parks and Playgrounds


User Comments

Miami- the beaches and beyond Great article! real down to earth descriptions, useful and inspiring at the same time.

miami beaches love kim's writing, will book my ticket today and come and visit!

Suikerbossie Very interesting & informative article - keep up the good work!

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