I was unsure about whether I would like Miami.
The city is known for having a nightclub and party scene. At the risk of sounding old and lame, I much prefer to spend my evenings out at relaxed pubs and quiet bars with cosy atmospheres.
Miami is also the one of the most visited cities in the US. With over 15 million annual visitors, I feared that the city would be a touristy sell-out and that I’d feel claustrophobic in the crowded streets.
But surprisingly, the city actually made an impression on me. Yes, it was a little touristy, and yes, there was a trashy nightclub scene, but those things didn’t ruin it. Miami had a certain beachy charm that flowed throughout the city, even in the busy areas.
We didn’t have a lot of time in Miami, but it was fairly easy to see the main attractions in a day. If you’re heading to Florida anytime soon, here’s how to spend one perfect day in Miami + a fun video of our Miami activities!
Where we stayed:
We stayed in Urbanica The Meridian Hotel, which was located just a few blocks from South Beach. Seeing as it wasn’t ‘on the beach’, it was significantly cheaper than the other hotels in the area. It was also near new and had an awesome pool and cafe area (which you’ll see in our video!).
We didn’t have a car when we were in Miami, but we ended up catching Ubers around the whole time because the public transport system is not great and Ubers are cheap. Miami’s attractions are quite a distance apart, so renting a car would be appropriate if you’re planning on moving around the city.
9AM: South Beach
South Beach is where most people stay when they visit Miami. This famous beach is where you’ll find those iconic colourful beach structures where the lifeguards hang out.
I know from experience that the most popular beach is often overrated, but I honestly loved South Beach. It wasn’t too busy, and I really enjoyed chilling on the sand and watching people surfing, paddle-boarding, jogging, and generally enjoying the pleasant December weather.
My favourite activity in Miami was riding bicycles along the concrete boardwalk at South Beach. The boardwalk starts at South Pointe Pier and follows the shoreline up to Miami Beach. We used free bikes from our hotel near South Beach, but you can also rent bicycles or use the Citibike bike share program.
If you want to learn about the history of the area while you’re roaming the beach, you can do a South Beach by bicycle tour.
11AM: Art Deco District
I’m a huge fan of Art Deco architecture. It might be because I have a background in graphic design, but I just can’t help but love the grandeur and glamour that comes along with this architectural style.
The Art Deco district lines Ocean Drive along South Beach. Most of the buildings in this historic district are just a few stories tall and have strangely charming combination of 1930s Art Deco and bright neon lights. If you want to learn about each of these unique buildings, try a South Beach art deco walking tour.
This area is also where you’ll find a whole bunch of nightclubs and beach bars. It can be rather trashy, but if that’s your thing, then by all means go back at night time, purchase some overpriced drinks, and listen to blaring club music until the early hours.
1PM: Wynwood art district
The Wynwood art district is a former warehouse/industrial area turned art hub. I’m obsessed with seeking out street art when I travel to any new city, so I really loved this place! Literally every large wall, garage door, and fence was smothered in amazing art.
Wynwood Walls is the center of all the art hype and was established in 2009 as an outdoor art museum. It starts on NW 2nd Ave between 25th and 26th street, and takes you between the buildings and into some galleries. If you want a guide to show you the art pieces in this area, hop on a Miami street art walking tour.
There are also plenty of places to eat and drink around this area, so grab lunch here if you can. We demolished an awesome veggie burger at BND Burger and had a killer cold brew at Panther Coffee. I also heard that Wynwood Brewing Co has some pretty great craft beers.
4PM: Little Havana
If you’ve seen the movie Scarface, then you’ll known that Miami has a huge Cuban influence, mostly due to an influx of migrants in the years following the Cuban revolution in 1959. These people brought much of their Cuban culture along with them and infused it into the city of Miami. You can do this area on your own or jump on a Little Havana food and culture tour.
Little Havana is the hub of Cuban culture. Start at Maximo Gomez Park as this is where you’ll see the stereotypical old men smoking cigars, playing dominoes or chess, and talking about Fidel Castro.
On the sidewalk lining SW 8th St, you’ll find the Calle Ocho Walk of Fame, which is much like the Hollywood Walk of Fame except that it features the names of Latin stars and famous personalities.
If you’re keen to buy a cigar, go to the Little Havana Cigar Factory. This store had a massive amount of choice – we ended up going with a $10 cigar from the Dominican Republic, which as per our new tradition, we smoked directly after the countdown to New Year.
As for dinner suggestions, I can’t really help much because Cuban food is not at all vegetarian friendly. We wandered up and down the main street twice, checked our options on Yelp, and ended up settling on Old’s Havana – a Cuban restaurant that sold Yuca Fries (it was the only thing we could eat!).
Add on: Everglades
If you have an extra day in Miami, head out of the city to visit the Everglades – a national park of mostly shallow river and swampland with alligators and birdlife. Check out my Everglades guide for more info on visiting the national park.