Top Things to See and Do in Miami
People watch on South Beach:
This is the major hotspot in the city. From shopping to partying, this area of Miami Beach is well known for being trendy and full of shops and bars. South Beach is the most popular among all the best beaches in Miami. It’s all about tourist action and the party crowd, especially at the weekends. The beach is well maintained and regularly cleaned every morning so if you prefer quiet, go on weekday morning. There are beach umbrellas and chairs for rent and a few public concessions.
Each hotel with beach access also has a booth on the beach that caters to their guests. Many restaurants, shops, and bars are along the famous Ocean Drive across from the beach. Parking can get expensive so take public transportation or walk/bike from your hotel. The Art Basel was on while we were there so keep an eye out for events happening around the area.
South Beach can be more expensive than other areas, but it’s worth checking out while you are there. Topless bathing is permitted. It is the quintessential Miami beach experience as it has a great vibe to it. Despite South Beach being an upper-class area you will most certainly come across some strange people. One guy was pondering around in a ladies bikini, high top trainers with a tattoo saying “Hola” across his forehead.
There is a very active nightlife in Miami and if you like clubs, Miami is one of the best places in the world to go clubbing. There is usually a $20-30 USD cover to get into the clubs and most drinks are around $10-20 USD. Nikki Beach is my favourite place to be during the Day on a Sunday and the club at night is equally entertaining. You can reserve a day bed with a $350 USD minimum spend. Sarah and I decided that we would get ourselves a bed if the beach club was busy. We turned up and the beds we empty and so was the dance area!! We literally gave each other a cheeky look and said to the hostess ‘we’ll take a day bed and a bottle of Belvedere please’ NOW LETS GET THIS PARTY STARTED! Luckily the venue started to fill up, we made some new friends and the DJ, Sax and percussionist got everybody in the mood to celebrate being in one of the coolest cities on plant earth.
Later on that evening our new friends turned up to pick us up in a Mustang convertible ready for Nikki Beach take 2- The nighclub! After driving round drinking Moet out the bottle i’m surprised the club let us wind swept drunken animals in! The great thing about going to both is that if you don’t finish your bottle during the day, the hostess will arrange for your remaining alcohol to be put in a VIP booth in the evening for you to finish off without having to pay for the area again. The tequila shots are double the size of what we get in Australia so after a couple of those it wasn’t long till Sarah was asleep in our booth using her Louis Vuitton for a pillow! TAXI!
Fire & Ice is a great starting point for an evening out and finishing off at LIV is a must. The dresscode is strict at LIV and ques can be lengthy so talk to a promoter about getting a package deal with transfers and VIP. Surprisingly this isn’t much more expensive than buying a ticket and catching a cab. We did this with a limousine taking us for a pre-party first, drinks inclusive for the $50 USD cost however we missed our ride because we were already rather tipsy in a bar on the beach! We caught up in a taxi and finished of at LIV where P Diddy and Mary J Blige were hanging out. Mary J actually got on the microphone and belted out a couple of her old school tracks.
Visit the Everglades:
Everglades National Park has 1.5 million acres of swamps, prairies, and sub-tropical jungles. It is one of the most unique public parks in the United States. It is home to 14 rare and endangered species, including the American Crocodile, the Florida Panther, and the West Indian Manatee.
Ponder the Fruit and Spice Park:
This park is the only of its kind in the country. It contains 500 species of fruit and spice plants and trees on 30 acres of land. At certain points in the year, the park also hosts festivals, so check a calendar for details when you’re in town.
Miami Beach Botanical Gardens- The tiny 4.5 acre Botanical Garden is located opposite the Convention Centre on Convention Centre Drive, adjacent to the Holocaust Memorial. If you are staying in South Beach there is a shuttle that circles every 10-15 minutes and entrance to the garden is free. It is a tropical oasis in the heart of South Beach featuring bromeliads, Japanese garden, native garden, palms, a “living wall” vertical landscape, flowering trees and vines collection. They often have cultural performances too. Please be mindful that the gardens are closed on Monday. Walking tours of garden are available with prior reservation.
Visit Little Havana:
If you’re not around in March, simply pay a visit to Little Havana, Miami’s Cuban neighborhood, which centers around “Calle Ocho” (SW 8th Street). Eat in one of the little restaurants; walk the vibrant streets, or get in some salsa dancing. There is a wonderful feel here and is something out of the ordinary for most holiday makers.
See Coral Castle:
Coral Castle is a very unique attraction. This attraction was built by a Latvian-born Miami resident named Ed Leedskalnin as a monument to his lover. After 28 years of effort, he introduced his 1100-ton coral creation to the world. It’s a bit of a trip from downtown, but well worth it! Buses are a cheap and easy way to get around.
Take the Underworld Tour:
This is one of several tours that explore the Art Deco District. It will take you to former hotspots of illegal activity like Al Capone’s office.
Visit the Ancient Spanish Monastery:
Originally built in Segovia, Spain in 1141, this monastery was originally to be a part of William Randolph Hearst’s property in California. Because the United States would not allow the monastery to be built in California, the monastery remained in New York Harbor until 1954, when a couple of businessmen bought the property and assembled it in Miami. Today the monastery is a church as well as a popular marriage location.
Explore the Florida Keys:
This archipelago stretches out along the south of Florida. Visit Key Biscayne, the northernmost island, for some great parks, beautiful views of Miami, and some swimming.
Let’s start with Peurto Sagua, one of the oldest and most reliable Cuban restaurants on South Beach. Tucked away from the main beachfront drag, on Collins Ave, and walking distance to many art deco hotels, this local and tourist favorite has all authentic best Cuban food in Miami Beach. There is sometimes a wait here so get there early.
Pubbelly offers a fresh, creative, flavor-packed cuisine in a cozy urban-tavern setting, with attentive service and most importantly- great value. Embracing popular dining trends such as Asian food, small plates, gastropubs, and pork belly. The small menu manages to encompass 30-plus items, and half a dozen of them contain belly meat from the pig. If you aren’t a fan of the belly meet then don’t worry as other food on the menu ranges from ramen to ravioli. On the pub side: more than a dozen bottled beers, 14-ounce draughts, two dozen boutique red and white wines, and a rotating list of sakes.
The Naked Taco on Collins Ave produces enough tortillas to meet the demand for beachgoers and South Beach residents. The amazingly crisp yet fluffy taco shells will sure make an impression on your Mexican taste buds. Go ahead, order a taco or 10 as there is a huge list to choose from. The tempura cauliflower was a personal favorite of mine while Sarah loved the crispy chicken loaded with guacamole and salsa. The staff here are all fantastic- ask Joe or Michael behind the bar about Chloe & Sarah from Australia…they can fill you in on the stories of what we got up to in there!
For cheaper dining you are best going to the little cafes which offer fresh juices, bagels, wraps and salads. You will save yourself a fortune by picking up a bagel for as little at $3.50 USD. Breakfast at a restaurant on Southbeach can creep up to $100 USD for two people. This is easily done by the time you have ordered a coffee and an orange juice with your meal- and don’t forget the American tipping culture.
Places to stay
My most recent hotel experience in Miami was Dream Hotel on South Beach which was definitely my favorite accommodation out of my three visits here. I recommend that you take the time to read my short blog on the hotel, giving you all of the details that you need to know. This is a boutique hotel and reasonably priced in the mid range. Below I have detailed a more budget friendly option and also an extremely exclusive option for those looking to splash out.
It has been many years since I have stayed in a Backpackers however when I first came to Miami on a budget round the World Trip in 2011 I stayed in Jazz on South Beach Hostel. You can stay here for as little as $31 USD per night if they have a deal on. You also get free breakfast here. I believe that Miami Beach International Travelers Hostel is a great option now, with free breakfast AND wifi although prices are a little higher than Jazz.
The Ritz Carlton is a 5* Hotel on South Beach and is one of those luxury hotels that deliver everybody’s holiday dream.
Located just steps from Ocean Drive and Lincoln Road—a 10-block pedestrian esplanade, The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach offers an oceanfront infinity pool, the beachfront DiLido Beach Club and personalized spa services. After reading that, you have probably already mentally visualized yourself there wrapped up in all of the luxury and would be surprised to hear that at certain times of the year you can receive between 20-40% off your booking directly through their website.
The hotel has a range of rooms, restaurants, room service, signature shop, fitness center, valet parking and a wonderful original art collection to be admired. Lincoln Road features the area’s best restaurants, bars, clubs, shopping and people watching.
American tipping culture:
The truth is, federal minimum wage for adults in the US is just $7.25 an hour. In industries where tipping is routine, employers are legally allowed to pay wages as low as $2.13 an hour. So while travellers may stage a quiet rebellion, refusing to tip, the bereaved party is never going to be the restaurant owners (who earns their profit through the itemised bill), but the poor waiters. I personally find this slightly annoying as my restaurant bill in America always seems to be on the pricey side anyway, then the additional 20% tip. The trouble is, until the US government raises minimum wages to Australian levels (something that will probably never happen), tipping is there to stay. Which means travelers need to accept it if choosing to holiday there. Some places automatically add an 18%-20% tip to your bill so if the service you received doesn’t warrant that then don’t be afraid to say so.
Quick Tip (excuse the pun) Get your hands on a stack of $1 bills as you will use these a lot.
If an airport porter helps you with your bags, give them $1-2 per bag. If they meet you at the gate with a wheelchair, give them $3-5.
If you’re lucky enough to have a hotel worker collect you from Arrivals, give them $10-15 for the effort.
If you take a taxi, a 15%-20% tip is good. The flat rate from MIA Airport to South Beach is $35 USD so I usually just give the driver a $50 bill however you can give a lower tip should you choose. All drivers I have had have been extremely welcoming and offered local advice, which is more than many drivers have offered in other places I have traveled.
If you arrive at the hotel and somebody opens the door for you, that’s on the house. If they carry your bags, that is not on the house. Give them $2-3 a bag.
Leave $2-5 on your pillow with a thank you note for your hotel cleaner. This ensures different cleaners get their due, and it also means they will be extra diligent for the rest of your stay. They do have to pick up your dirty towels!
Always, without exception, tip a bartender a dollar for every drink; bigger tips can mean stronger second cocktails in my experience.
To keep things simple, just work around the 15% figure and you will be safe.