Miami is one of my favorite cities to visit in the United States! It’s almost like traveling to a Spanish-speaking country—there is so much Latin flavor and cultural influence, but still all the luxuries of traveling in the U.S. I’ve taken two week-long vacations in Miami, and I’ve started perfecting the art of time- and money-maximization there. From food, music, and entertainment, to history and nature, Miami has something for everyone! My favorite spots below are marked with an asterisk before the name (*).
Before I get into my list, a side note: renting a car in Miami isn’t really necessary. Parking can get expensive, so you’d be better off Ubering in most instances. Plus, Miami was one of the first big cities to have Uber Pool, which makes getting around even cheaper. We used it several times shortly after it was first released and only paid $3-$5 to travel across the city. You just have to be willing to share your Uber with other riders.
Moonlight Airbnb – Both times vacationing in Miami, I stayed in the same Airbnb in which the final scene of Moonlight was filmed. It’s super affordable (just $78/night). The king bed is amazingly comfortable, is close to many restaurants and Publix supermarket, and has a full kitchen with cookware. Plus, it’s walking distance to the beach (1-2 blocks)! However, I just checked Airbnb, and it seems the unit might be unavailable. I’d still check around North Beach for more affordable Airbnbs as hotels in Downtown and South Beach can be quite pricey.
Burgers & Shakes – This was a spot very close to our Airbnb with great juicy burgers, quick service, and a misty outdoor patio. It’s also very affordable for the area, with big burgers ranging from $6 to $7.75.
Sazon Cuban Cuisine – I hit this spot for a traditional Cuban breakfast and was very satisfied. Breakfast is served daily from 7-11:30 am. I got two fried eggs with ham, hash-browns, Cuban toast, and coffee with milk for $8.95. The menu is extensive, spanning eight pages, and can be viewed online.
Denny’s – We stopped by Denny’s for some grub before heading to a snorkeling adventure in Key Biscayne. You know what you’re getting here, simple American breakfast at affordable prices. Can you tell I’m a budget-conscious traveler? As with most establishments we visited, staff was friendly, service was relatively fast, and the food was savory and filling.
*Katana – Love love love this spot! It was so unique with little sushi boats going around the seating area in a large circle surrounding the kitchen. This is a small spot that’s popular among locals, so you may have to wait for a seat. It’s totally worth it though. You can watch the chef make all the food, then wait for your preferred dish to float in front of you and simply pick it up off the little boats. The servers charge by plate, and prices vary based on the dish. So color/pattern of each plate determines the price. Check this one out when in North Beach!
*85th Street Beach – We did some of our own snorkeling here. The water in Miami Beach is warm enough for swimming year round. The ocean reaches its warmest point from early July through mid-August, when the temperature averages 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius). The coolest month is January, when the temperature is usually around 71°F (22°C). It seriously felt like a warm bathtub and was crystal clear. We saw lots of little white fish gathering around our feet. We LOVED it!
Bal Harbour Shops – This outdoor mall offers some serious shopping for those willing to dole out major cash. We rode our rental bikes there. Side note: you can use Citi bikes by the hour or rent a bike for a week (around $70). Then we walked around and gawked at absurdly priced clothing garments. The whole area has a lot of tropical plants and beautiful decor. So it’s worth checking out, especially if you can afford high-end shopping.
Flanigan’s Seafood Bar & Grill – This was fine, but didn’t stand out as exceptional. I got the fried shrimp for $15.99. They have specials every day of the week (listed on their website) like Tumbleweed Tuesday which features free fried onions with your first beer, soda, tea, or lemonade pitcher purchase.
*Wynwood Walls – This is definitely a MUST-SEE attraction when in Miami. On day one of our second visit to Miami, we rode our bikes 10 miles from North Beach to see Wynwood Walls. The art is so beautiful all around the district! Get your camera ready and have some fun in this historic trendy neighborhood!
Wynwood Diner & Cocktails – Wynwood is a diner with Euro charm serving all-day breakfast and modernized classics, plus cocktails and craft beer. I got the Mouse Trap grilled cheese for $10. The mouse trap is made with Gruyere, aged cheddar, and caramelized onion on multi-grain toast. It’s served alongside a really zesty pomodoro bisque!
Institute of Contemporary Art – This one is for all the art lovers out there. I love to visit art and history museums, but this was honestly kind of a bust. I’m just not that appreciative of contemporary art. I walked through the museum saying to myself, “pshhh… I could do better than that.” I’m not here to subjectively debate art. If you’re into modern and contemporary art, this is probably right up your ally. I was honestly just trying to kill time before heading to the airport, and this was free.
Bayside Marketplace – Bayside Marketplace is an outdoor festival marketplace filled with boutiques, pop-ups, retail shops, bars, and restaurants. While I was there, I visited Bavaria Haus, Thriller Miami Speedboat Adventures, The Other Daquiri Bar, and Largo Bar & Grill. While in the area, try to take a speedboat tour for some good laughs and a nice breeze. We viewed HUGE mansions from the boat on Star Island.
*VERO Italian – VERO had DELICIOUS wood-fired pizza. We both got the Diavola for $16.50. Each pizza had Mozzarella, imported Italian tomatoes, spicy Italian salami, fire roasted red peppers, and a killer chili oil mix. On top of the delicious food, the atmosphere was great, and right in the heart of Downtown Miami.
HistoryMiami Museum – This museum is really cool for getting to know how Miami became the amazing metropolis it is today. Much of the history is fairly recent. I really enjoyed my time there, and ended up spending about three hours perusing. Adult admission is $10, students and seniors are $8, children six to 12 are $5, and children under six are free.
*Lilt Lounge – I honestly can’t explain this place better than the establishment describes itself: “an after-dark alternative in downtown Miami—a place where thoughtfully crafted libations mingle in a high-culture setting. Structured furnishings and an understated palette bring that vision to life, providing a low-key backdrop for the dramatic pops of color found throughout the space. Nightly entertainment is at the center of the LILT Lounge experience: here, serious drinks, and good music keep the vibe at a constant simmer all evening long.” The gin and vodka drinks I had were excellent, as was the service and entertainment. Search Yelp for check-in specials. I got a free glass of champagne here. Please check this one out when in Miami.
*Area 31 – This is a rooftop bar and restaurant on the 31st floor of the Epic Hotel. The views of the surrounding water and skyscrapers are absolutely breathtaking. I went here two or three times on my second trip to Miami. Go during happy hour to save some money. Happy hour is Monday through Thursday, from 5 to 8pm. On Fridays, HH is 5pm to midnight: “Chase The Clock” features drinks priced by the hour. So they’re $5 at 5pm, $6 at 6pm, $7 at 7pm and so on. They also have bar bites available for $8. The local goat cheese croquetas served with honey are delicious!
*Blackbird Ordinary – I LOVE this bar. I don’t know if the bartender, Lehrer, is still there, but he was amazing and his drinks were ON POINT. My absolute favorite was the London Sparrow made with gin, aperol, passion fruit, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper. It’s the best cocktail I’ve ever had. In fact, I love it so much, I found Lehrer on Facebook and messaged him to ask the recipe. Another great drink was the Tipp Topp which features smokey notes and a kick with hints of habanero. Check out the weekly night specials in the picture below.
*Perricone’s Marketplace & Cafe – Lovely ambiance, delicious food, and stuffy servers. I would definitely go here again because the food was truly amazing, but our server was not very friendly. I was only eating a snack because I had a late breakfast that day, and the server seemed bothered by this. My boyfriend got the penne with grilled chicken, which featured olives, sun dried tomatoes, basil and feta cheese. It was truly divine. I was mad I ended up just snacking, because I really wanted my boyfriend’s meal once I had a taste.
Better Days – We hit up Better Days after another club refused to honor my guest list pass. We ended up really enjoying this spot with it’s more laid-back atmosphere and un-stuffy vibe. The drinks were fairly priced, the lights were dim, and the music was good. Lots of young professions were around the bar dancing, while some played pool on the billiards table. Check out this local spot for a fresh take on a throw-back pop-up bar.
American Social Brickell – American Social is a sports bar turned dance club at night. This spot features a large craft beer selection, cocktails, and even self-serve beer tap tables. Someone on the street gave us free drink coupons, so we checked it out. The space was large, and on the waterfront. Although, I thought the music was actually a bit too loud, even for a club.
*Cleavelander – Cleavelander is in the heart of South Beach. This is the place to be if you want to be right in the middle of all the action, noise included. This is an outdoor club, across from the beach, with live DJs and multiple bars. We actually took a flask and bought sodas to avoid expensive cocktails. Bud Light bottles were $7 a pop. So be mindful of that if you’re on a budget. We didn’t pay a cover, but got there before 10pm. We really enjoyed the vibe of this club. So check it out!
*Bodega – This spot was awesome! And to be honest, I don’t even think the club itself is called Bodega, but I can’t remember the name. It was a club hidden within the Bodega restaurant. You’ll surely see a line in front of Bodega for the club entrance. We didn’t pay a cover, but again, Bud Light bottles were $7. This was probably my favorite night club we visited, aside from Area 31, which is more of a bar vibe anyway. Bodega had a DJ with lounge seating, lots of dance space, and really high ceilings! Definitely add this to the list if you’re checking out the nightlife scene.
Ocean’s Ten – This is another pricey spot right in the heart of South Beach. It’s outdoors with live entertainment. You can view the full food and drink menu on their website. Pretty much every cocktail is listed at $16.95. So that’ll add up real quick if you’re not careful! Beers come in around $8 and $9.
*Mango’s Tropical Cafe – Mango’s is a must visit spot in Miami. It’s the quintessential entertainment spot, with incredible live Latin dancers. Since it’s in the heart of South Beach, the drinks are pricey, but it’s totally worth it for the entertainment you witness. Here’s an excerpt from Mango’s website: “Mango’s is a showcase of international talent, cuisine, and entertainment. Mango’s performances have been compared to some of the world’s most renowned Caribbean and South American Carnivals. The family-friendly performances featuring Latin dancers run day and night with a full line up of entertainment that ranges from Salsa to Bachatta and Reggae to Pop.” Don’t miss this hot spot!
Fung Ku – Honestly, this sushi kind of sucked in my opinion. I’ve had much better for less all around Virginia. I expected much more from this place. The spicy tuna roll was $6, but I think I got three. So for $18, I was underwhelmed. Skip it.
Pizza Bar – Nothing too memorable here, aside from the GIANT size of the slices. Definitely not bad pizza (like the spot in San Francisco), but it didn’t stand out like VERO did. Pizza Bar featured New York style, and I generally prefer Neapolitan. Nonetheless, it’s worth hitting up for a cool giant slice, especially if your ravenous like I was.
*Vizcaya Museum and Gardens – This is an amazingly beautiful historic site that must be visited when in Miami. Vizcaya was created as James Deering’s subtropical winter home in the 1910s. Today it is a National Historic Landmark and accredited museum. Technically it’s not downtown, but in the Coconut Grove neighborhood. It’s open daily from 9:30am to 4:30pm. I’d try to get there early because it can get SO HOT in the summer. We went midday in August and were sweating profusely! Adult admission is $18 and flash photography is not permitted indoors.
Destinations Just Outside Miami
*Key Biscayne & Crandon Park– We did a cool kayaking tour here! Before the tour, we checked out the welcome center and played with live sea cucumbers and sea anemones. I would love to do this again! We didn’t bring any equipment, but everything was included with the kayaking tour. We saw tons of fish and a nurse shark swam right under me! This certainly wasn’t the clearest water I’ve snorkeled in, but visibility was still very good.
*Origin Asian Bistro & Sushi – We ate lunch here after snorkeling and kayaking around Key Biscayne. I got chicken pad Thai, while my boyfriend got a curry dish. Both were excellent. The ambiance was nice too. Everything was indoor, so no need to worry about the heat. We definitely needed to cool off after a half-day in the sun!
*John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park – We drove from Miami to Key Largo in about an hour. Our rental car was about $90 for the day. We payed $30 each to take a boat out to the Key Largo Coral Reef Sanctuary and it was SO WORTH IT. You can use the snorkels provided or buy your own. A dry (not semi-dry) snorkel was only $15 and it worked great. This was the best snorkeling I’ve done so far. The water was so incredibly clear, and we got to snorkel around three different sites—two reefs and a 60-foot deep shipwreck. This is completely worth doing as a day trip. When you’re done snorkeling, go to the next spot for dinner!
*Fresh Catch – Fresh Catch prepared the BEST SEAFOOD I’ve ever had in my life. I ordered the stuffed fish of the day for $18.95. My fish was stuffed with a lobster, shrimp, and crab cake and topped with key lime hollandaise. It was seriously the best seafood ever and I have been craving it ever since. I’m honestly not even a huge seafood person, aside from spicy shrimp. But this was just out of this world delicious. I venture to say it might even be worth driving here from Miami just for dinner. On top of the great food and service, there was really yummy smelling soap in the bathroom from a local soap maker. Check it out!