Long after Sinatra and his Rat Pack pals put their mark on the Magic City, Miami continues to lure visitors looking for fun in the sun.
Discover the best things to do in Miami without breaking the bank.
Florida’s most glamorous city dishes up equal parts suave sophistication mixed with a party atmosphere to rival the best of them.
A famous cruise port, gorgeous beaches, no shortage of beautiful people and a very vibrant nightlife are just some of the reasons people flock to Miami.
But buyer beware, the glitz and glamour of Miami come at a cost. Miami is a very expensive city, a point of contention voiced by locals as well. While many will say Miami is worth the expense, locals will happily give you tips on how to beat the system and get the best bang for your buck around town.
So whether Miami is the destination or you are making a quick stop en route to somewhere else, there is still plenty to enjoy in Miami while keeping your budget in check.
Hit Miami Beach
Take a stroll down the Miami Beach boardwalk in the popular South Beach district. For a main beach boardwalk, this one is great. Contrary to what you might expect of a city beach destination, the beach is not lined with shops and restaurants, just occasional, discreet hotel access paths. Flanked by the dune vegetation, the walk has a lovely natural feel. A fantastic 4 mile stretch for joggers and walkers.
The beaches and water are picture postcard clean and if you stick to the northern end, you will find it far less crowded than the tourist-dense south end of the beach.
Indulge in Art Deco
Duck out onto Collins Street at around 15th street and indulge in the Miami Beach Architectural District or the Art Deco District as it is more commonly known. Declared a historic district in 1979, this area is so chic even Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace resided in a mansion on Ocean Drive. The area has 960 historic buildings, enough to keep even the novice Deco lover busy.
Beautifully restored hotels take you back to a truly golden age. Pop into one of the grand old art deco hotels for the happy hour. The lobby and poolside bars in the hotels are just so gorgeous you are transported back to a time where sophistication and style was a matter of course.
Jump On The Hop on Hop Off Bus
While the popular South Beach area is very walkable if you want to explore other parts of Miami you are going to need transport. Hire a car or even a scooter or, you can jump on and off the bus. The Big Bus. Yes, this is the same Big Bus you see carting tourists through cities all around the world. What people often don’t realise, it can actually be a very cheap method of transport and a great way to get your bearings in the city, especially when you are only in town for a few days.
A 24-hour ticket will cost you around $39 USD. You can hop on and off buses travelling two loops around the city; the beach loop and the city loop as much as you please within the 24 hours ($49 for 48hrs).
There are regular stops along each of the routes with buses coming every 15 minutes. This is a much cheaper option to taxi’s and easier than trying to navigate public transport.
Miami has set the scene for countless TV shows and movies. Many celebrities have also fallen under the magic cities spell and call Miami home. Use the Big Bus to see where Gloria Estefan lives, right next door to Ricky Martin apparently. Where Al Capone lived and where scenes from Miami Vice were filmed. Boat tours can also take you along a stretch of waterfront mansions belonging to the rich, famous and infamous, including where Dexter lives.
Visit Little Havana
If the Cuban influence throughout Miami is not enough for you, in Little Havana you will find it in concentration. Calle Ocho, the main street is where it all happens. Cigar stores abound, Cuban sandwiches are in plentiful supply and a game of dominoes is always available.
Maximo Gomez Park or Domino Park as it is commonly known is where local Cuban’s gather daily for some very serious dominoes. Apparently, there is no gambling allowed but by the serious nature of the games being played and spectators reactions, one could wonder if a pension or two isn’t being supplemented.
On the last Friday of the month, Little Havana holds Cultural Friday. The main street, Calle Ocho comes alive with food stalls, street markets and music. This was also where the Guinness Book Of Records was set for the world’s longest Conga line.
Head to Espanola way. This little Mediterranean influenced street is famous for its mix of outdoor dining, cool boutiques and cafes. In contrast to the art deco surrounds of South Beach, the historic Spanish village has a reputation as the bohemian corner of Miami. Once intended for high society, Espanola way has a chequered past. A regular gambling haunt for Al Capone and other gangster types as well as a popular backdrop for the 1980’s show Miami Vice.
Wine, Dine and Work The Happy Hour
As we said, Miami is expensive, especially in the tourist areas but you can get a deal if you know where to look. Follow the locals lead and work the happy hours.
Head down Lincoln Road late afternoon to what is the largest open-air mall in Miami and you will find every calibre of restaurant and bar imaginable. From around 4 pm until 8 pm all of these restaurants are vying for your business. It is happy hour on drinks and food. Drinks are either 2 for 1 or heavily discounted, by Miami standards and there is usually a good selection of happy hour menus on offer.
Quality Pizza restaurants offer pizza by the clock- Buy a pizza at 5.00, it costs 5 bucks and so on. This is a great way to enjoy some really nice restaurants at a reasonable price and the alfresco atmosphere is great for people watching.
Eat Where the Locals Eat. For great local food at reasonable prices, everyone heads to Bella Cuba or Puerto Sagua. These locals haunts are serving up great Cuban style fare for a lot less than you will pay on the main road. Expect to pay about the same at Bella Cuba for a 3-course meal, beer and wine as for a burger and a beer on the main road. You decide.
If you are looking for a good breakfast deal, most of the hotel restaurants along Collins Street are vying for the breakfast trade with all-inclusive breakfasts ranging between $8 – $15. In true American style, they are generous in size so a pretty good deal.
If you are looking to indulge in a city/beach getaway, Miami may be for you. Lounge by the beach during the day, shop in the afternoon and dine and dance by night. But for all her glitz and glamour, Miami doesn’t have to leave you entirely broke. There is plenty to do in the magic city without having to pay the earth.