If you think Miami is sunshine and beaches, you’re right – but only partly so. Spend a few hours on the mainland and you’ll discover that world-class art and architecture are just as synonymous with the city as its glorious year-round weather. Last decade’s condo boom and the recent spate of developments across Wynwood and Downtown Miami have resulted in glittering rooftop bars, inspired street art and architectural wonders you’d sooner associate with New York. Florida’s Magic City truly surprises visitors, because for every clear day or balmy afternoon, there’s a cultural hotspot or waterfront venue begging to be explored. By Virginia Gil.
Start with a walk among the mangroves in Key Biscayne
07:30: Start your day in Key Biscayne, an island town bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay. Head to the island’s southern tip to experience that classic Florida landscape – beaches and mangroves – in Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, which opens at 8am. With its meandering roads that duck in and out of green canopies, blend into boardwalks and take in patches of rocky terrain, the park is best explored on a bicycle (rent one on site at the concession). Pedal to the Cape Florida Lighthouse, South Florida’s oldest standing structure, and ascend the 109 steps to the watch room for a great view of the ocean below. A free guided tour is available at 10am (Thursday to Monday) but a solo walk to the top is just as immersive. The cab ride out of Key Biscayne is equally remarkable: be sure not to miss the views of Downtown Miami and Coconut Grove as you make your way across Rickenbacker Causeway.
Take a Cuban coffee break
09:30: Miami is home to a stack of walk-up coffee windows – it’s where you’ll typically find the best cafecito, a Cuban-style espresso – but All Day, on North Miami Avenue in Downtown Miami, is like no other café. You choose a size (in ounces to ensure your preferred milk-to-coffee ratio) and style (“wet” or “dry”, which refers to the milk’s texture) before being handed a vintage fluted glass containing coffee made using small-batch beans sourced from around the world. If you’re hungry, a breakfast sammie is the way to go. Order the Runny & Everything for an elevated take on the bacon, egg and cheese classic or, for a Miami-style sandwich, go for the Pan con Croqueta: smoked-pork croquette with Gouda cheese and sauce gribiche, stuffed between slices of toasted Cuban bread.
Explore the design district
11:00: Taking a cab is the easiest way to get to the Miami Design District, about four kilometres north. Gentrification has transformed this once run-down area into a destination for luxury shopping and extraordinary architecture. At the centre of the neighbourhood is Palm Court with its high-end designer boutiques and public art installations by Konstantin Grcic, Matthew Ritchie and Xavier Veilhan. In the market for a Swiss timepiece? The outdoor shopping plaza is home to Vacheron Constantin, Piaget, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Panerai stores, among others. Fashion is also well represented; you’ll find the upscale boutiques of Tom Ford and European designers Prada, Miu Miu, Saint Laurent and Lanvin in the vicinity. In the Loewe store, the massive 18th-century hórreo (granary) at the centre of the space is as breathtaking as the 171-year-old label’s collections. As you exit Palm Court via Paseo Ponti, don’t miss Canadian artist Philippe Malouin’s mesmerising installation, Speed of Light.
Take in Miami's contemporary gallery – and an art-inspired lunch
13:00: Hop aboard a Freebee tip-as-you-go electric vehicle, which gives free rides in Brickell, Downtown Miami and South Beach. Ask your driver to take you to Pérez Art Museum Miami, home of the city’s most comprehensive privately owned collection of contemporary art. The building itself is a beauty – modern, chiselled, bay-facing – and upholds what’s inside: rotating exhibits by the likes of Argentine kinetic artist Julio Le Parc and New York-based abstract painter David Reed. The museum shop’s greeting cards and posters make lovely mementos and the on-site restaurant and bar, Verde, serves American fare (cheeseburgers, tacos, club sandwiches) and offers a seasonal prix-fixe menu based on the museum’s main exhibit. Enjoy your lunch outdoors on the steps facing the bay. (Note that the museum and restaurant are closed on Wednesdays.)
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Survey the street-art scene in Wynwood
15:00: To explore Miami’s vivid street-art scene, take a 10-minute cab ride north to the Wynwood Arts District, where colourful murals line the streets. Some have been commissioned and others have been painted illegally but all are vibrant and provocative and lend themselves to perfect photo opportunities. The neighbourhood’s most important cluster of frescoes is inside the contained graffiti park known as Wynwood Walls. American artist Shepard Fairey – who created the Barack Obama Hope poster – and Chaz and Bob, the founding members of British art collective The London Police, have had their work displayed on the ever-changing walls. Look closely but also keep your eyes to the ground, as the quotes stencilled on the sidewalks in Wynwood are just as poignant as the street art.
Line up for the latest food fad
17:00: For a late-afternoon pick-me-up, it’s a five-minute walk to The Salty Donut, which went from being a popular food truck to enjoying even greater success as a bricks-and- mortar shop. The queues are longest on the weekends (it’s closed on Mondays) but don’t be discouraged: they move quickly and the doughnuts are worth it. The guava-and-cream-cheese brioche doughnut topped with galleta María crumble tastes like an updated Americanised version of a Cuban pastelito. For another only-in-Miami combination, order the maple- glazed doughnut topped with Miami Smokers bacon – sweet, salty and indulgent.
Try a cocktail at Miami's best rooftop bar
18:00: Rooftop weather – which, let’s be honest, is year-round in Miami – shouldn’t be squandered by spending happy hour indoors. Watch the sun set at Sugar, the rooftop bar on the 40th floor of East hotel that has panoramic views of Biscayne Bay and Downtown Miami. Take a seat on a lounge along the perimeter and order the Mezcal Aviation, a sweet and smoky deep-pink potion that matches the colours of the sky.
Head to the yacht club for dinner
20:00: The former site of Miami’s first deepwater marina is now the location of a sparkling new yacht club and restaurant that you can walk, drive or sail to. No matter how you choose to arrive, The Deck at Island Gardens welcomes all with its Saint-Tropez-style cabanas in the luxe marina lounge and outdoor tables. While the seafood-heavy menu (whole fish, lobster risotto, raw-bar dishes) complements the restaurant’s ports-of-call theme, we also recommend the thin Italian- style pizzas. Friday and Sunday evenings turn into a big dinner party with a DJ and dancing, attracting Miami’s well heeled.
Strap on your salsa shoes
22:00: For a taste of the city’s Cuban culture, take a cab to Ball & Chain bar and lounge in Little Havana. Bands – namely jazz and salsa – perform on the outdoor Pineapple Stage most nights while a rotating list of local DJs spin tunes indoors. Not much of a dancer? You might pick up a step or two by watching the talented in-house performers shake, spin and shimmy. A mojito provides excellent liquid courage and Ball & Chain’s is as authentic and refreshing as they come.
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