Miami is home to hot styles, cool cocktails, and miles of sweeping, sparkling oceanfront. But if spending hours sunning at the beach isn’t your thing, don’t worry: There are plenty of other things to see and do in this delightful Florida city.
Here’s how to experience Miami sans sand.
1. Get A Taste Of Cuba In Little Havana
Just west of downtown is Little Havana, the Cuban heart of Miami. While this area is the center of Cuban culture in the city, Cuba’s influence can be felt throughout Miami; more than a million refugees from the island nation have come to the United States since the height of the Cold War, and most have settled in Miami.
To experience a bit of Cuba in the U.S., head to Calle Ocho, where fiercely competitive domino games fueled by coffee and cigars drive the social scene near Máximo Gómez Park. There are plenty of shops, studios, cafés, and food stands to peruse. Take your time and let the culture of this unique spot soak in. You won’t regret it.
2. Appreciate The Architecture
Miami’s Art Deco District, with its sleek lines and cool pastel tones, has been designated a National Historic District. Located in the city’s famous South Beach neighborhood, the Art Deco District is home to more than 800 structures built between 1923 and 1943, many of which display classic Art Deco features, including glass blocks, chrome accents, and murals featuring flora and fauna.
To make the most of your time there, consider a 2-hour guided walking tour led by a docent from the Miami Design Preservation League. Tickets start at $30.
3. Appreciate The Art
Miami is an absolute mecca for art lovers; there’s no shortage of museums, galleries, and public art installations.
To get a glimpse of some ultra-funky graffiti art, head to Wynwood Walls. This former warehouse district was transformed into an enormous canvas 10 years ago. Murals created by artists from around the world fill the 80,000 square feet of space.
For contemporary art in a more traditional setting, head to The Bass in Miami Beach. The museum focuses on international art in all its forms. It’s open Wednesday through Sunday, and admission costs $10.
Don’t forget the Pérez Art Museum Miami, which features global art from the 20th and 21st centuries. Wander the sculpture garden, grab a snack at the café with its gorgeous views of Biscayne Bay, and stop at the gift shop. The Pérez is open every day but Wednesday; admission costs $16.
4. Visit The Vizcaya
For a peek at Miami’s luxe past, head to the Coconut Grove neighborhood and the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens. The Italianate villa, built in the early 1900s as a winter home for millionaire James Deering, is now a National Historic Landmark. At the turn of the 20th century, Deering’s doctors prescribed Southern sun and surf in an effort to restore his failing health. He traveled to Miami and designed the 34-room mansion, which became his waterfront sanctuary. In 1917, the painter John Singer Sargent visited Vizcaya and painted Deering at the grand home.
Today, the estate — filled with Italian antiques and featuring acres of lush, formal landscapes — is a cherished Miami museum; it’s open Wednesday through Monday, and admission costs $22.
5. Go To The Gardens
It isn’t a surprise that Miami, with its year-round balmy climate, is known globally for its extensive and gorgeous botanical gardens. To get your fill of exotic flowers, plants, and trees, be sure to visit these must-see spots.
The Miami Beach Botanical Garden is a 2.6-acre oasis in the middle of the urban jungle of South Beach. One of the first things you’ll notice when you arrive is the heavenly aroma of the flowering ylang ylang trees and frangipani. The garden also features 100 species of palm trees as well as various types of orchids. Admission is free, and there’s always something blooming!
In nearby Coral Gables is the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, which opened its 83 acres to the public in 1938. Many of the garden’s more exotic species were procured by David Fairchild, who traveled the world to find them and bring them back to the Miami area. The museum bears his name and is home to an extensive collection that is considered one of the best of its kind in the world. Take the tram deep into the garden to discover all of the individual beds, glens, and forests. Fairchild is open daily; admission costs $25.
6. Cool Down In A Historic Pool
Don’t want to go to the beach, but still want to take a quick swim? Consider a trip to the historic Venetian Pool in Coral Gables. The pool, clearly inspired by the Mediterranean, was constructed in 1923 from a coral rock quarry and is fed by an underground aquifer. Waterfalls provide a scenic backdrop, and there are plenty of porticos and palm trees under which to lounge. Tickets are first come, first serve, and once the pool is full, sales stop for the day. Admission costs $20, and your pass is good for the entire day.
7. Make Time For Zoo Miami
For a cage-free exotic animal experience, make time for Zoo Miami. It’s the largest and oldest zoo in Florida, and it uses moats instead of cages to keep residents and visitors at a safe distance from each other. The animals at Zoo Miami are grouped according to geography, with species that live together peacefully in the wild placed with one another in open-air exhibits. More than 3,000 animals live in the 750-acre complex, and Zoo Miami is currently involved in more than 30 conservation projects around the globe. The zoo is open daily, and admission costs $22.50.
8. Scout Out The Swamp
Only about an hour away from the big city, the northern section of Everglades National Park is the perfect spot to take an epic nature break. This UNESCO World Heritage site comprises 1.5 million acres of wetlands and is the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. It’s so big that it can be tough to decide where to start, so it’s important to plan ahead.
On a hike through the Everglades, you’ll spot turtles, herons, and perhaps even alligators. You can kayak through cypress trees and manatee habitats; rentals are available in the park. Several ranger tours and programs are offered during the dry season (November through March).
You can drive to the park, but there’s a $30 fee to bring a car in. Alternatively, you could book a day tour from Miami that includes transportation to, in, and from the park; some operators even offer airboat rides!
Eating In Miami
Fresh, delicious, and with a decidedly Latin flair, Miami’s cuisine is in a category all its own.
Of course, you must grab a Cuban sandwich, empanadas, and yuca fries at the old-school Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana, which has been serving up those classics and much more since 1971. Grab dessert at Azucar, where you can get a Cuban scoop in flavors including plantain, flan, and calabaza (pumpkin).
For a more refined dining experience, try the Asian-fusion, James Beard-nominated KYU. Pro tip: Have your concierge call ahead for reservations — it’s tough to get a table!
If you’re heading out to the Everglades from Miami, stop at Robert Is Here in Homestead. This iconic stand offers the freshest exotic produce available, and the staff will even make you a refreshing milkshake or smoothie from your fruit of choice!
Shopping In Miami
With jetsetters from around the world stopping to play in Miami, many of the shopping options there are upscale. Make sure you’ve got room in your travel budget to splurge! Head to the Miami Design District for favorites including Gucci, Balenciaga, Burberry, and Hermès.
Take a break from shopping to check out the many independent galleries that surround the Design District. The newly constructed and ultra-hot Brickell City Centre is a development featuring shops, boutiques, cafés, and even condos. Its flagship store is a 107,000-square-foot Saks Fifth Avenue. You could easily spend the entire day there.
For a kitschier but fun shopping experience, head downtown to the Bayside Marketplace, which features a mix of mid-range retailers and dining options in an open-air bayside location.
A few of our favorite non-fashion items to buy while in Miami — and tuck away safely in your checked bag — are cigars (if you pick them up in Little Havana, they’ll be as close to Cuban as possible!), local jams and compotes, orange-blossom honey, and exotic fruit candies, including coconut patties. Also consider shipping back a case or two of Florida citrus to remind you of the Miami sunshine. Honeybell Sweets are the best, but they’re only in season in January and February.
For more on what Miami has to offer beyond the beach, check out these five unusual things to do in the city.