Miami is a place of beautiful beaches, super-clubs and overpriced bottle service – but it’s also so much more than that. The Floridian city’s art and culture scene is thriving so much of the action is found away from the beach and while it’s fun to stay out late, there’s too many must-do daytime activities to sleep the day away.
Don’t spend all your time at the beach, as beautiful as the Caribbean water of South Beach is.
Instead, peel yourself off that day bed for at least a few hours and visit Wynwood Walls. Once a run-down former manufacturing area, it’s been revived to become an outdoor art hub, where the exteriors of the old warehouses are now covered in colourful murals, making it comparable to the East Side Gallery in Berlin or The Bushwick Collective in New York. Wynwood Walls is packed with art galleries, cafés, bars, restaurants, food trucks, design boutiques and micro-breweries. Spend an afternoon watching the street artists at work, then go for dinner at The Wynwood Yard, an outdoor eatery with rotating pop-up restaurants or KYU, a modern-Asian restaurant with a southern barbecue twist.
Don’t jam-pack your itinerary. In Miami, slowing down and soaking up the glamorous, old-Hollywood-by-the-sea atmosphere is part of the experience. That means not booking the kind of accommodation you plan only to shower and sleep in.
Instead, choose a stylish hotel with a pool and/or beach club. Quietly cool The Betsy South Beach occupies two Art Deco buildings and has a rooftop pool with ocean and city views and a colonial-style bar in the foyer. The W South Beach has a more contemporary, glitzy vibe. House music pumps at poolside day club Wet Bar and Grille, where the cool crowd sips cocktails on striped monochrome day beds.
Don’t dismiss Downtown Miami.
Instead, be sure to spend time in Brickell, a neighbourhood in Miami’s waterfront financial district that’s undergone a renaissance. Explore the art- and tropical plant-filled space at the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAAM), which moved to its sustainable digs in 2013, then dine at Verde, the museum’s casually elegant restaurant with views over Biscayne Bay. Brickell City Centre has some of the best shopping in Miami, including a Saks Fifth Avenue. Allow time for Vizcaya Museums & Gardens, a Mediterranean-style villa built circa 1920 for millionaire James Deering, a Jay Gatsby-type character. Despite its proximity to Downtown Miami, the mansion and its lush garden is a quiet oasis. There’s also a surprising number of speakeasies with good cocktail game in Brickell that stay open until late; try Sidebar Miami, Blackbird Ordinary or Better Days.
Don’t assume Miami is all about debauchery. Yes, there’s a world-class nightclub scene with super-clubs such as LIV or WALL Lounge, which deserve a visit if you’re in the mood to dance, but don’t stay up until sunrise every single day.
Instead, wake up before everyone else does and stroll South Beach in the morning quiet with a coffee from Panther Coffee Shop, located in the foyer of The Betsy. Collins Avenue and Ocean Drive are densely packed with historic Art Deco buildings painted in pastel hues. The Webster (1220 Collins Avenue), Jerry’s Famous Deli (1450 Collins Avenue), The Carlyle (1250 Ocean Drive) and The Breakwater (940 Ocean Drive) are a few architectural marvels sure to impress your Instagram followers (if you’re a design geek, organising a formal walking tour could be worthwhile). The early hours also a good time to walk the path that winds along the beach, which is busy every morning with joggers and a surprising number of people on rollerblades and skates.
Don’t spend all your time on land.
Instead, experience the Miami of R&B music videos and charter a private yacht or sailing boat for the day. Companies such as Miami Sailing offer four- or eight-hour itineraries that cruise around Biscayne Bay, offering a new perspective of the city from the water. Stops to snorkel and swim, lunch on board, exploring exclusive Miami neighbourhoods such as Key Biscayne's Millionaire's Row and sunset drinks can be included, depending on the company and time of day you set off. Not the cheapest way to spend a day but a quintessentially Miami one.
Don’t overlook Miami’s Cuban culture.
Instead, visit Little Havana, the neighbourhood just west of Downtown that Cuban immigrants have flocked to since the 1960s. It’s become popular with tourists in recent years but it still offers an authentic experience of Cuban culture – especially if there’s no time in your itinerary to make the short flight from Miami to Havana. Whether you can dance salsa or prefer to sit and watch the revelry, grab a mojito at Ball & Chain, a bar and nightclub where the likes of Billie Holiday performed in the 1950s. After a renovation in 2014, it’s once again a lounge and live Latin music venue. Don’t just stick to the main drag, Calle Ocho, either: Little Havana’s best restaurants can be found down side streets. Grab a Cuban sandwich – ham, cheese, mustard and pickles – and a café con leche at Versailles Restaurant, or for dinner try La Rosa, a family-run restaurant where the signature dishes include Carne de Puerco, a pork dish, and Zarzuela de Mariscos, seafood in creole sauce.