South Beach, Miami

Miami, on the southeast coast of Florida, is one of the most populous cities in the United States with population 5.5 million. It has a heavy Cuban influence which you can find in its food, cigar shops, culture, and architecture. It’s also home to Miami Beach, a glamorous neighborhood for the rich, famous, beautiful people. Miami Beach has white sand beaches with beautiful turquoise water, colorful buildings lining the main strip, and trendsetting nightclubs. The city has been ranked one of the cleanest, richest, most economically advanced cities in America.

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What to Do in Miami

As a leading city in business, commerce, culture, music, art, and entertainment, there is something to do for every taste in Miami. Miami has dozens of different neighborhoods with both official and unofficial boundaries.

South Beach is one of the most famous neighborhoods in Miami. With miles of beaches, trendy restaurants, artsy hotels, and hot nightclubs, South Beach has something to attract everyone, no matter how individualistic. It’s true that models and other beautiful people flock to South Beach, but you can also find eccentric locals, Northern snowbirds, spring breakers, party animals, and international tourists. However, South Beach does seem to be falling victim to commercialism and if you go in the off-season, you might find less of what you expect and find yourself holding your valuables a little closer – plan your timing accordingly! If you find yourself in South Beach, check out Nikki Beach on the far south end or rent a bike from the bike sharing and rental system, which you can find all over Ocean Drive.

South Beach, Miami
South Beach, Miami

Miami Beach was a hot spot in the 1950’s for celebrities like the Rat Pack and mobsters like Al Capone. Huge resort hotels like Fontainebleau have posters dedicated to the celebrities who have spent time there. Miami Beach is becoming more desirable to tourists and international visitors than South Beach. Visit Millionaire’s Row in Miami Beach to see the pinnacle of luxury living.

Fontainbleau’s pool in Miami Beach

The northern part of Miami Beach includes the Sunny Isles and Bal Harbour has great beaches and is a bit cheaper to stay, although it can be a little rough around the edges. It’s a more residential area with a more diverse population. Bal Harbour is a more exclusive and ritzy area with gated communities and expensive five-figure price tag stores.

North Miami Beach is a bit confusing and not actually part of Miami Beach. It’s on the mainland of Miami with no beaches, but it does have some of Miami’s best shops and restaurants. It also includes the exclusive residential community of Aventura, known for expensive condos and the Aventura Mall.

Downtown Miami is a vibrant community on the mainland of Miami, just over the bridge from South Beach. You’ll find business people, students, street vendors, shoppers, and everything else in Downtown Miami. There are some great restaurants, an outdoor mall, a sports stadium, and an arena. However, there are some questionable areas of Downtown if you stray too far from the main road. If you’re looking for nightlife, stick with South Beach.

Wynwood is Miami’s newest, hippest district. If you’re wondering where the beautiful people of South Beach have gone, take a trip to Wynwood. There aren’t as many restaurants, bars, and nightclubs as some of the more touristy areas of Miami but this area is growing and slowly becoming the most popular area to see and be seen among locals. Wynwood is an edgy, creative neighborhood that houses a younger crowd. Here you’ll find Wynwood Brewing Company, the area’s first craft production brewery with a bar that pours a large selection of seasonal and limited beers. You’ll also find some great restaurants, clubs, and shops.

Brickell is an urban neighborhood in Greater Downtown Miami. This neighborhood is home to young professionals, particularly in the financial field. Expect to see business highrises, luxury condo complexes, and metrorails that pass above this part of the city. AirBnB calls Brickell “Miami’s Manhattan of the South.” A warm, sunny, laid back financial center sounds like a great place to do business!

Little Havana is the closest you’ll come to Cuba without leaving the United States. If you don’t speak any English, Little Havana is a great place to live. Everyone speaks Spanish, everything is written in Spanish, and even the street signs are in Spanish. The sounds, tastes, and smells are all reminiscent of Havana. Visit Calle Ocho to try some of the most authentic Cuban coffee shops and restaurants or shop for authentic Cuban goods in the stores on this street. Smoke a cigar, listen to salsa and merengue, or bask in the artistic atmosphere of street performers. If you love the hispanic culture and lifestyle, Little Havana is the place to be.

Key Biscayne is a barrier island located just south of Miami Beach and is not actually part of the Florida Keys. It’s a residential community with million dollar homes, great public beaches, and a few good restaurants. Windsurfers, boaters, and jet skiers should head to Hobie Beach in Key Biscayne. Bikers, hikers, and picnickers should head to Bill Baggs State Park on the southern tip of the island.

Where to Eat in Miami

Kiki on the River features modern Greek cuisine right on the Miami River with excellent views of Downtown Miami. Boaters will pull their yachts right up to the restaurants docks, which is a much more impressive first view than entering from the street side. With most of the restaurant outside, this is the perfect spot for a date night. It’s a little pricey, although some Miami locals might find it more on the cheaper side. A la carte entrees run about $30-$40. Tip: show up a little early or late for a better chance of getting a riverside table.

Kiki on the River
Kiki on the River

Heat Seekers on the Food Network featured Cvi.che 105 in Downtown Miami. Cvi.che 105 has the best ceviche I’ve ever had. Thought I don’t like octopus, many others recommended the grilled octopus appetizer as well. The entrees were okay but salty, and I would have been happy with a just few orders of ceviche. The restaurant packs the place and the acoustics aren’t great so it’s not the best choice for a date or meeting but if you’re looking for good ceviche, this is the place to go. Tip: try the ceviche anconero, featured on Heat Seekers.

Cvi.che 105
Ceviche Anconero at Cvi.che 105

Puerto Sagua in South Beach is a low-key Cuban diner with the most amazing Cuban sandwiches and other Cuban food you can imagine. It’s inexpensive and not fancy; you can show up in a bathing suit if you really want to (and yes, some girl did at 10:00 p.m.). Though there is a dining room, my recommendation is to sit at the bar for the quickest service. Don’t even bother looking at the menu: order a large Cuban sandwich to share (or a small for yourself), the chicken soup, and some pork croquettes. You won’t regret it!

Cuban sandwich and croquettes at Puerto Sagua diner
Cuban sandwich and croquettes at Puerto Sagua diner. Only missing the chicken soup!

Villa Casa Casuarina in South Beach is in Gianni Versace’s mansion. This villa was built in 1930 and purchased in 1992 by Italian fashion designer Versace. The pool contains thousands of 24k gold mosaic tiles. There are many references to Greek mythology around the open rotunda, courtyard, fountain, and mosaic garden. After Gianni Versace’s death, his sister Donatella Versace bought the mansion. It closed in the mid 2000’s and reopened as a hotel. Today, Villa Casa Casuarina operates as a luxury hotel and upscale restaurant.

Villa Casa Casuarina
Villa Casa Casuarina, Versace’s mansion

Where to Drink in Miami

For a low-key atmosphere, try Sugar at the East Hotel in Brickell. This is a boujee lounge on the 44th floor of the East Hotel that overlooks the Brickell financial district. Though the views aren’t that spectacular, it’s a classy rooftop bar for a great drink. Plus, the elevator to get to the 44th floor is pretty trippy.

Sugar, East Hotel, Miami
Sugar, East Hotel, Miami

One of the most popular watering holes is Fontainebleau Miami Beach. The resort has just about everything you could need without leaving it: 12 restaurants, 11 pool experiences, a spa, various shops, and four bars and clubs. Liv Nightclub, consistently ranked one of the best nightlife venues in the world, is located within the Fontainebleau Miami Beach.

The pools at Fontainebleau Miami Beach
The pools at Fontainebleau Miami Beach

The Clevelander Hotel in South Beach is a great place to grab a drink and dance the day away! It’s right in the heart of all the action with a big pool for day drinking that turns into a nightclub atmosphere at night. You can also grab some quality food and even a hotel room if you want to stumble to your bed after a few too many pina coladas.

The Clevelander on a rainy day in Miami
The Clevelander on a rainy day in Miami

Wet Willie’s is a frozen drink chain, but where better to drink frozen drinks than on the beach in South Beach?! Right on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, you can sit inside or outside and people watch everyone go by. Let the bartender mix up something special for a pretty, sugary, delicious frozen drink.

Swirly frozen drinks at Wet Willie's
Swirly frozen drinks at Wet Willie’s

Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives on the Food Network featured Hofbrau Beer Hall in the Lincoln Road Mall area of Miami Beach. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy some authentic German beers and brats with great outdoor seating. Try the sauerbraten, beef knuckle that’s soaked for seven days in a delicious marinade, braised, and drenched in gravy. Make sure to get the pretzels as a side or appetizer with the German dips for a really special treat! And of course, try any of the German beers. Personally, I loved the hefeweizen. Try it in a boot!

German beer and pretzels at Hofbrau Beer Hall
German beer and pretzels at Hofbrau Beer Hall

Great Places for Photos in Miami

The iconic and easily recognizable Ocean Drive in South Beach is a great spot to start a photo tour. The colorful buildings, white sand beaches, and palm trees are a perfect backdrop for a photo-op. On a good day, you can find expensive sports cars lining Ocean Drive, beautiful people walking the streets, and exuberant Deco architecture. Don’t be afraid to venture off Ocean Drive either!

White sand beaches of South Beach
White sand beaches of South Beach

The Versace Mansion, right on Ocean Drive in South Beach, is a great place for photos! It’s a three-story opulent villa where Gianni Versace entertained VIPs like Princess Diana and Madonna. It’s now a restaurant that requires reservations but if you can afford the prices, go in for a look around at this private oasis! Without reservations, you can’t even look around the house. But the hostess said it is definitely worth it!

The Delano Hotel in South Beach is a trippy, Alice In Wonderland-like hotel. From the minute you pull up outside, there’s a fake purple door amid big green bushes, but it doesn’t open. When you walk into the lobby, you see a huge throne-like chair that makes you feel like Alice just drank the shrinking potion. Then, walk through billowing white curtains into the next room with candles all over the walls and a fairytale-like chandelier. The hall after is lined with big white pillars, and eventually you’ll come to a clear piano so you can see all the gears moving as someone plays. I’d love to stay at this hotel one day, but it’s absolutely a great place to take some mind-bending pictures.

Candles on the wall of the Delano Hotel
Candles on the wall of the Delano Hotel
Huge Alice In Wonderland Chair at the Delano Hotel
Huge Alice In Wonderland Chair at the Delano Hotel

Have you been to Miami? Which is your favorite neighborhood? What’s your favorite thing to do? Let me know in the comments below!

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Miami is home to beautiful beaches, colorful buildings, Cuban culture, and trendsetting nightclubs. It's an exciting city filled with glitz and glamour.

P.S. You might also enjoy Key West or Cheap East Coast Road Trip to Fort Myers Beach (With Costs)

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