Miami, Florida is a mecca for the young, beautiful, and tanned; an American city that rarely feels like one, and can be challenging to navigate if you aren’t at least conversational in Spanish. This once-sleepy retirement town has literally exploded in last 20 years. Miami-Dade county has a population of five million, a booming real estate market with no plans of slowing down, fine dining, world class shopping, and an endless supply of Florida sunshine. I was born and raised in the Magic City, and have experienced first-hand how Miami has evolved into a hub of business and luxury living. The new millennium has ushered in a wave of high-end construction, gastronomic revival, much-needed culture and arts scene, and an influx of immigrants from every corner of Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the Caribbean.
Putting in nicely, Miami is a bustling metropolis. Truthfully, it’s a muggy, hectic, eccentric place with poor public transportation options and horrifying traffic. As someone who grew up in there, I am quite familiar with the two faces of Miami. Yes it’s sexy and tropical, and there’s the convenience of having a Cuban coffee joint on every corner, but on the other hand it becomes infested with tourists, which is why us locals have had to figure out how to combat the problems associated with living in the “New York City of the south.”
These are my top five insider tips for Miami. It is my hope they will help you enjoy my hometown to the fullest.
1. Skip the Crowded Beaches
If you want to feel like a sardine baking in the sun while surrounded by booming stereos and hormonal teenagers, then by all means go to South Beach to have a swim. Most Miamians won’t step foot on South Beach during a weekend for several reasons, mostly because it’s expensive ($20 for a good parking spot) and very touristic. While there is a lot to hold you in South Beach (Lincoln Road, incredible restaurants, theatres, swanky accommodation opportunities), you could have a way more relaxing and enjoyable time if you went to Key Biscayne Beach instead. Key Biscayne is a small, mostly-residential island in Biscayne Bay, accessible by bridges from the southern end of the Brickell district. For a $1.50 entrance toll fee, you could drive into the “Key,” as referred to by locals, and have a more family-friendly beach experience. Head straight to the Bill Baggs Cape Park and set up your towels by the lighthouse. The Key conveniently has a supermarket, gas station, banks, and several restaurants along the main street, Harbor Drive.
2. Go Boating
Some of the perks of living in south Florida are being surrounded by crystal-clear water and constant sunshine. The absolute best way to take advantage of the tropical weather is to go for a sail. Miami has a strong boating culture, which is pretty obvious if you’ve ever visited one of the city’s marinas. From mega-yachts to dinghies, our boats are as varied as the cars we drive. Whether you want to fish, snorkel, swim, wine and dine, sunbathe, or just take in the breathtaking downtown skyline, the boating options are endless. Many of us opt go to the sand bars, sail past historic Stiltsville, or head down through the Mangrove tunnels of the Florida Keys. The Bahamas is also just 45 minutes away by boat. There are several reputable boating companies operating out of the Miami Beach and Coconut Grove marinas. You can really save if you go with a group.
3. Shop and Save at the Outlets
If you love shopping, then Miami will win your heart within the first few hours of arriving. Nothing says “I’m in Miami” quite like strolling the shopping districts of Lincoln Road, Coconut Grove, or Miracle Mile. We have several high-end malls including Bal Harbour Shops, Aventura Mall, and The Village at Merrick Park. But if you’re looking to score great deals, head to Sawgrass Mills Outlet Mall in Sunrise – the seventh largest mall in the United States with over 300 stores. Here you often get the same top brand fashions for a lot less. Go during a weekday to get the best parking and avoid the crowds. You could save big at outlets like Gucci, Tory Burch, Saks Off Fifth, Neiman Marcus Last Call, and Bloomingdales. You could easily spend an entire day here and not get see every store. Sawgrass Mills is about an hour drive from the downtown/Brickell area.
4. Wynwood Art Walk
Art lovers have a lot to relish now that Miami is catching up in terms of its arts scene. With the arrival of the Adrienne Arsht Center, Art Basel, and most recently, the Perez Art Museum, Miami is making big strides towards becoming a cultural hub. If you find yourself in the city on the second Saturday of the month, head to the Wynwood district in Midtown for Art Walk. This once-dilapidated warehouse zone is now full of art galleries, gastro pubs, and lounge bars, all of which are accessible to anyone on the second Saturday of the month. There’s no cover charge or excessive parking fees to enjoy Art Walk. Galleries will often host live bands and offer free cocktails to draw in crowds. There are also several great restaurants in the area, my favorites being Joey’s Pizza, Gigi’s, and Sugarcane.
5. Riverside Dining
One of the advantages of living in Miami is weather well suited for dining al fresco. With the revival of the commercial zones around the Miami River, and the construction boom of the last 10 years, several award-winning restaurants and bars have sprouted up, offering beautiful views of the Miami River. We locals have had to get creative to avoid the tourist crowds. So while they flock to Miami Beach, we created our own oasis along the Miami River. Garcia’s on the River, Sea Salt and Pepper, and the illustrious Zuma Restaurant are just a few that stand out for delicious food and chic ambiance. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself sitting next to David Beckham, Dwayne Wade, or Jennifer Lopez.
So now you have my top five insider tips, but there’s one more thing to keep in mind, and that’s knowing when not to go. The city hosts several events throughout the year, which can mean increased traffic and inflated hotel prices. Best avoid Ultra Music Festival, Memorial Day Weekend (coincides with Urban Beach Weekend), Sony Open and Art Basel weekend, unless of course you’re coming for those specifically.
Been to Miami and know about a local spot? We would love to hear from you! Leave us a comment below.