Miami is a bit hard to describe. It’s a multicultural mosaic. Paradise on the beach. An eclectic mix of glamor, energy and escapism. It’s also a center of trade, art, fashion, finance, tourism and history.
Trendy. Retro. Hot. Cool. Miami is, well, Miami.
Named after the Mayaimi, a Native American tribe that lived around Lake Okeechobee until sometime in the beginning of the 18th century, the city has always welcomed a steady stream of immigrants. As such, its culture is heavily influenced by a large population of Cuban and Latin American immigrants, as well as Caribbean expats.
Depending on who you ask, Miami is divided into two (some say three) distinct areas: Greater Downtown Miami on the mainland and Miami Beach/South Beach, situated on an island across a causeway. Downtown’s Financial District has one of the largest concentrations of international banks in the U.S. Its Health District is a major center for hospitals, as well as the biotechnology and medical research industries. Meanwhile, Port Miami — the “Cargo Gateway of the Americas” and the world’s busiest cruise port — is located on its own nearby island.
Upon crossing the causeway to Miami Beach/South Beach, you’ll find a playground for celebrities, families, hotel hoppers and thrill-seekers. Art Deco masterpieces sit side-by-side with 1960s “Miami Modern” complexes, luxury condos, Mediterranean villas and some of the world’s most famous examples of Brutalist architecture. Nothing to scoff at, its culinary scene ensures Cuban coffee windows exist in harmony with world-class cuisine.
Wherever you go and whatever you do, the roads are abustle with everything from suburban SUVs to Rolls-Royces and free trolleys. From the elite to the masses, there’s a little something for everyone. That means plenty for you to enjoy, too.
Immerse yourself in Miami with Mayflower’s Miami City Guide.
Where to Get a Culture Fix in Miami
With Art Deco buildings all around you, there’s always a great excuse for a stroll. Get enriched with an operator like Art Deco Tours, which offers walking tours, cocktail tours and a cigar and rum or food and culture tour of Little Havana.
Make a beeline for the striking, postmodern Adrienne Arsht Center, the city’s epicenter for the performing arts. Partly built on the site of a former Sears department store — an Art Deco building constructed in 1929 — the downtown venue is home to the Miami City Ballet and the Florida Grand Opera. It sometimes hosts the Cleveland Orchestra and New World Symphony, too, as well as children’s performances, musicals and Broadway shows.
A modern and contemporary art museum favored by those in-the-know, the Perez Art Museum is dedicated to collecting and exhibiting international art of the 20th and 21st centuries. Located just across the street from Frost Museum of Science, they make for a great one-two punch. Be sure to check out Frost’s planetarium, a dome-like structure reminiscent of Buckminster Fuller.
Just north of Downtown Miami, Wynwood is a former warehouse-district-turned-major-mecca for the arts, one with murals, street art, sculptures and graffiti. A place to party, eat and drink, it’s where you’ll find the city’s hottest galleries; score tipples at the trendy bars and breweries; and sample fare from much-hyped eateries. Be sure to check out Wynwood Falls. Begun in 2009 by Tony Goldman, it is Miami’s only outdoor museum, showcasing street art from global artists.
North of Wynwood is Miami’s Design District, with its collection of European and American interior design showrooms, as well as fine art galleries. The lively neighborhood regularly hosts events, including a Second Saturday Art Walk.
Things You Can Only See and Experience in Miami
Among the most hauntingly beautiful cemeteries around, Neptune Memorial Reef is inspired by the Lost City of Atlantis. An underwater labyrinth of massive Roman columns, stone roads and carved lions, the 16-acre cemetery rests 40 feet below the sea’s surface. Serving as an artificial reef and the final resting place for famous divers and ocean lovers, people come to pay respects to the remains as well as witness its rich marine life. Experienced divers can opt to visit the site for free, though booking a tour with these dive operators is recommended.
The southernmost winery in America, Schnebly Redland’s Winery is nestled amid palm trees and trickling fountains. Known for its exotic fruit varietals, it also turns out the world’s first avocado wine, along with artisanal vinos crafted from mango, passion fruit, lychee and coconut.
Walk among monkeys at the 30-acre Monkey Jungle. Home to more than 300 primates, who frolic within the zoological park’s natural subtropical forest, its crab-eating residents welcome you into their Amazonian environs, a unique chance to witness some antics up close.
Originally built in 1141 in Segovia, Spain, St. Bernard de Clairvaux Episcopal Church was purchased by late American newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst in 1925. Used as a granary at the time, the dilapidated structure was then shipped to the US in 11,000 crates and restored to its former glory. Today, the gorgeous relic — one of the oldest European buildings in the Western Hemisphere — acts as a parish for the Episcopal Diocese of South Florida and can be visited by the public for a fee.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 820,000-gallon Venetian Pool in Coral Gables is open to the public and fed with spring water from an underground aquifer. Built from an abandoned, four-acre coral rock quarry and done in the Mediterranean Revival style, the 1924 stunner beauty comes courtesy of real-estate magnate George Merrick and features turquoise waters are punctuated by waterfalls and cave-like grottoes.
Where to Get Outdoors in Miami
A short jaunt from the city, the Florida Keys are an ideal place to embark on a sunset sail through crystalline waters, kayak through mangroves or simply kick back on an arch of powder-white sand. Popular activities include a visit to Bahia Honda State Park; a tour of Ernest Hemingway’s home; and snorkeling at the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary. Consider exploring breathtaking Biscayne Bay National Park in the northern Florida Keys, seeing its coral reefs, islands and mangrove forests. Or opt to travel to Dry Tortugas National Park by ferry or seaplane to marvel at its vast 19th-century fort and snorkel in crystal clear waters. From February to September, the remote island welcomes 80,000 sooty terns and 4,500 brown noddies, who make nests and raise their young on the island.
The 444-acre, 1920s Deering Estate — listed on the National Register of Historic Places — is the former home of environmentalist, philanthropist and art collector Charles Deering, the first chairman of the International Harvester Company. Today, the museum and natural park offer an array of guided tours, programs and events.
The largest subtropical wetlands in the U.S., Everglades National Park sprawls across 1.5 million wildlife-rich acres filled with rare and endangered animals, among them the manatee and American crocodile. The closest access point to the city of Miami is at Shark Valley, where you’ll find a visitor’s center.
Grab your bike — or rent one — and hit the iconic Rickenbacker Trail. Journeying nearly nine miles across Rickenbacker Causeway, it offers coastal panoramas of Biscayne Bay before ending at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park at the tip of Key Biscayne. The park’s secluded beaches offer the perfect respite before your return trip back.
Take in breathtaking flora at the 85-acre Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables. Showcasing 3,400 different plant species — including several rare tropical plants and trees — it can be explored solo, on a guided tour or during a narrated streetcar tour, which offers insight into the park’s history and plant life.
Boating is a way of life in Miami. Whether you opt for an airboat ride through the Everglades, kayak from Virginia Key North Park or set sail from Coconut Grove, getting out on the water often is a must.
Local Eats in Miami
There’s a great deal of Cuban and Latin American influence evident in Miami’s cuisine. From nothing fancy (but fun) local gems like Sazon Cuban Cuisine to the more formal and expensive Versailles — which also has an outpost in Miami International Airport — there are plenty of options and vibes to choose from.
Here are some shortlist-worthy bites and the places to consume.
Stone Crab Claws
A textural cross between shrimp and lobster, stone crab claws are a seasonal delicacy that is only available between October and May. A meal at Joe’s Stone Crab is a wonderful way to get an introduction.
A satisfying, delicious Cuban dish, vaca frita consists of picante, shredded, pan-crisped beef, served with grilled onions, rice, beans and plantains. Exemplary is the version at Versailles.
Baked, puff like pastries filled with sweet or savory fillings. are not to be missed. Get yours at El Brazo Fuerte Bakery — it has been making them for over 40 years. The line of locals is a testament to the fact that its pros are doing it right.
These are not the frozen versions everybody already knows about. Instead, Miami’s famed daiquiris are a citrusy blend of light rum, lime juice and simple syrup, served straight-up. You can enjoy it in hundreds of local bars and hotels, but why not start at Cafe La Trova?
A golden, fried finger food, croquetas feature a variety of different fillings, including cooked ham, roast pork, beef, chicken, fish or vegetables. However, the croqueta de jamón at The Bazaar by José Andrés is especially on point.
South Floridians aren’t strangers to a good Cuban sandwich. You’ll find one of the best takes at Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop in the Wynwood neighborhood. Why? The restaurant adds croquetas to its Cubano especial con croqueta preparada.
Locally Loved Miami Coffee Shops
It’s easy to enjoy the Cuban coffee scene — walk-up coffee windows are all-but found on every block. In fact, cafecito is so deeply engrained in the local culture that the city’s mayor proclaimed 3:05 p.m. Miami’s official cafecito break time.
Made of strong, sweet espresso and steamed milk, it delivers an addictive jolt of energy in little, shot glass-style cups that are meant to be shared. Score one at the “coffee windows” — ventanita — enjoying yours with flaky Cuban pastries. Our advice? Sip the stellar version at La Colada Gourmet in Little Havana.
Buzzing, classic ventanita La Carreta has multiple Miami locations serving sublime cups of rocket fuel, a great companion to its a sticky-sweet guava pastry.
From its lauded croquetas to its excellent cafecito, Amelia’s 1931 is a tchotchke-filled destination frequented by locals, who linger at the homey diner, enjoying unique Peruvian and Korean-inflected takes on Cuban fare.
When in the Wynwood neighborhood, swing by Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop for simple, authentic Cuban fare in a no-frills setting. You can also grab one on the run from the takeout window.
Miami Music Venues and Nightlife
Cubans brought the conga and rumba; Haitians, the Kompa and zouk; and the Caribbeans added reggae, calypso, and steel pan. In the 1970’s, the Miami disco sound took music in a new direction. These days, it’s southern rap, house and hip-hop that thump from most every Miami club. Of course, Miami’s music scene offers something for everyone, given plenty of rock, classical jazz, electronica and experimental music is thrown into the mix.
Here are a few of the best venues to hear traditional “Miami sounds” — as well as a cross-section of what’s new and what’s next.
Every March, all the top DJs drop their latest releases at the Winter Music Conference (the location changes year-to-year). It’s considered the premier platform for electronic dance music.
In the heart of Little Havana, Ball & Chain is a go-to for salsa and jazz, Cuban-style food and all-around great entertainment.
Admittedly, Churchill’s Pub is a dive. But this Little Haiti mecca for punk, metal, hardcore, jazz and rock is a must for lovers of these genres.
For live music, The Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater fills that comfortable void between a “major event” arena and your favorite local hangout. Styles vary and the bill often includes comedy acts, too.
It’s impossible to bring up the topic of music without it spilling over into the club scene. Miami nightlife is a hot, sexy, all-night revelry. Though it’s all a matter of your personal taste, these are some of the top Miami clubs to try: club-meets-bowling-alley Basement; cozy, boutique-y Do Not Sit on the Furniture: mostly outdoors Latin-Colombian El Patio and Club Space, where there’s a 24-hour liquor license.
Hidden Gems in Miami
Fancy yourself a cinephile? Catch a flick at Miami Beach Cinematheque, home of the Miami Beach Film Society and a bastion for independent films. With space for just 50 viewers, it’s an intimate way to catch a show before heading to the on-site café, bookstore, art gallery and library.
Book a boat tour to see the remnants of sea community Stiltsville. A collection of seven homes a mile off the coast, it’s set within Biscayne National Park. Hovering above shallow waters and now owned by the National Park Service, the former fishermen’s huts are built on wood or reinforced concrete pilings and are the vestiges of a once-large community of bars and social clubs from the 1930s to 1960s.
Situated 30 miles south of Miami, curious Coral Castle — the “Taj Mahal” of Homestead — is the singlehanded work of Latvian immigrant Edward Leedskalnin, who created it between 1920 and 1940 as a tribute to his fiancée, who called off their engagement the day before their wedding. The massive coral and limestone structure is hewn from 1,100 tons of coral rock.
Gas station restaurants are a thing in Miami and they are delicious. That’s especially true of El Carajo, a 1981 go-top for Spanish tapas and a wine list that’s 2,000 varietals strong. Then again, you also can nab excellent, authentic Mexican food at Taqueria Morelia in Homestead, plenty of it tucked into homemade tortillas. Then there’s Mendez Fuel in the Wynwood neighborhood, where street art joins pressed juices and smoothies within a Mobil station on Coral Way.
Getting Around in Miami
Miami-Dade County operates the city’s rail and bus systems, all of which take the EASY Card, EASY Ticket, EASY Pay app, as well as contactless payment or cash.
Fortunately, there’s a handy, downloadable app that provides all the information you need to stay on the go. Or visit Miami-Dade’s transportation page for valuable Miami transportation information.
The city’s Metrorail system has two different lines:
- The Orange Line train travels to and from Miami International Airport.
- The Green Line travels to and from the Palmetto, Okeechobee, Hialeah, Tri-Rail, Northside, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Brownsville stations.
There’s also Metromover, a free service for riders in downtown Miami and Brickell on the mainland. Major destinations include the American Airlines Arena, Bayside Marketplace and Miami-Dade College.
Metrobus serves major shopping, entertainment and cultural centers, as well as local hospitals and schools. Service is available from Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, West Miami-Dade, Broward County, Homestead, Florida City and the Middle Keys. Conveniently, the buses have bike racks attached to the front.
Need a carpool buddy? You can hook up with a crew by visiting the Ridesharing website.
In the more popular sections of Miami (like South Beach or Brickell), you can easily hail a taxi — just beware of illegal cabs. Check for a “taxi” or “cab” sign on the outside of the vehicle, knowing Miami taxis are metered and charge $2.95 for the first 1/6 mile and $.85 for each additional 1/6 mile up to 1 mile. Then, expect to pay $.40 for each 1/6 mile after that. Most take credit cards.
If you’d rather call for a cab, some good options include USA Taxi (305-897-3333), Super E-Z Taxi (305-885-5555) and Yellow Cab (305-444-4444). The Curbed app is also widely used.
Water Taxis and Trolleys
Although they haven’t really caught on with residents and commuters, there are water taxis that cater to vacationers, the best of which is Water Taxi Miami.
Then again, if you find yourself in South Beach, jump on the free, hop on/hop off trolley that provides service to the Miami Beach Convention Center, Lincoln Road, Española Way, South Pointe, Sunset Harbour and other popular locations.
Shuttles and Limos
Airport shuttles offer a convenient alternative when traveling to and from MIA. Meanwhile, popular limo services include Blacklane and Carmel. Alternately, SuperShuttle provides a low-cost, shared alternative for getting to and from the airport.
Miami’s flat terrain makes it an ideal biking town. Not surprisingly, beach cruisers are the preferred pedal. If you don’t own a bike, no worries — Miami’s CitiBike bike sharing program has you covered.
Wherever you live and whatever you do, one thing is for sure: Miami’s big, bold personality shines through. A playground for the rich, famous, notorious and otherwise — as well as an international focal point for the arts, architecture, finance, sports and tourism — this storied city brims with possibilities. Want to delve deeper into the city of Miami or other states and cities? Visit our blog for tips to help you hit the ground running.