Things to Do in Miami
A vibrant Hispanic culture permeates everything in Little Havana - colorful murals, monuments to heroes past and present, elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, and cigar rollers deeply at work amidst Little Havana’s ever-present aroma of Cuban coffee. These scenes of daily Little Havana life play out amidst a backdrop of Little Havana’s pulsating music, vibrant storefronts, unique art galleries and quaint restaurants.
The neighborhood’s colorful spirit unfolds on Calle Ocho, Little Havana’s bustling main street, packed with shops and restaurants. Farther down Calle Ocho, between SW 15th and 17th avenues, the Arts District contains a string of studios and galleries that showcase some of the best Latin American art in the country. Nearby, the Bay of Pigs Museum & Library enshrines the crew of the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion. The two blocks SW 13th street, south of Calle Ocho, contain a series of monuments of Cuban patriots and freedom fighters.
Coconut Grove is a bayside village in Miami, recognized as the oldest modern continuously inhabited neighborhood in the city. Originally settled in the 1800s, Coconut Grove is sometimes referred to as “Bohemia on the Bay.” Complete with a pedestrian-friendly village center where visitors can wander galleries, go shopping or enjoy lunch at a quaint sidewalk café. There are some recognizable chain restaurants and open-air malls but also college bars, as students from nearby Florida International University and the University of Miami flock to the area, especially as the sun goes down. Known locally as “the Grove,” its bay-front location also showcases a number of various parks.
Village West, a noted sub-area, is the modern-day historic home of Bahamian and African-American descendants of Coconut Grove’s earliest settlers. There is evidence that settlers from the Bahamas came via Key West in order to work at the Peacock Inn.
The Miami Seaquarium is a 38 acre (15 hectare) marine park that excels in preserving, protecting and educating visitors about aquatic creatures. There are dozens of shows and exhibits including a tropical reef; the Shark Channel, with feeding presentations; and Discovery Bay, a natural mangrove habitat that serves as a refuge for rehabilitating rescued sea turtles.
Check out the Pacific white-sided dolphins or the West Indian manatees being nursed back to health. Frequent shows include dazzling performances from the Seaquarium’s finest residents, including a massive killer whale, dolphins, and sea lions. Dolphin Harbor is an especially fun venue for watching marine mammals play and show off; it also offers the popular Dolphin Encounter, which allows visitors to touch and swim with dolphins in the Flipper Lagoon.
Known as a trendy arts district, Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood is one of best inner-city escapes to be had while visiting the Magic City. With more than 70 arts galleries, a slew of hip coffee shops and dozens of niche museums and artistic collections, walking through “the Wyn” will give you a good understanding of why this little alcove is called Miami’s heart and soul.
Also famous for its Wynwood Walls, the streets of the Wyn are lined with murals created by some of Miami’s famous artists. It’s a source of pride for the neighborhood, as it successfully blends work from the up-and-coming artists with that of those who are already established in the field. And when night falls, the area comes alive with fun-seekers out to grab a bite to eat at one of the many hip eateries and bars. A trip to the Wynwood neighborhood is a sure-fire way to see what makes Miami magical.
Miami is often called the Magic City, and if it truly is, this opulent Italian Renaissance-style villa, the housing equivalent to a Fabergé egg, is its most fairy-tale residence. Built for industrialist James Deering in 1916, Vizcaya Palace brims with 15th to 19th century furniture, tapestries, paintings and decorative arts.
The poetic seaside grounds, which front Biscayne Bay, are full of splendid gardens (including a secret garden), beautiful fountains, sculptures, elegant pools, a charming Florentine gazebo, canals running everywhere and lots of trails. The landscape and architecture were influenced by Veneto and Tuscan Italian Renaissance models and designed in the Mediterranean Revival architecture style. Nearly 200,000 people visit Vizcaya each year including some of the world's leading dignitaries such as President Reagan, Pope John Paul II, Queen Elizabeth of England and King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain.
Miami boasts an excellent zoo, thanks in part to a subtropical climate that allows for large swathes of natural habitat. Inside Zoo Miami (formerly Miami Metrozoo), more than 200 species roam the cageless surrounds; don’t worry, the animals are kept at bay by cleverly designed moats.
Residents at Zoo Miami include elephants, koalas, colobus monkeys, and black rhinoceroses. You’ll also see a pair of Komodo dragons and Bengal tigers, including a gorgeous white tiger. Over at the Tropical America exhibit, you can see anacondas, giant river otters, jaguars, and sting ray touch tanks. You can even feed giraffes at The Samburu Giraffe Feeding Station. Younger kids, especially, will find much to enjoy at Zoo Miami. There’s a first-class petting zoo and play area, and the zoo offers several programs designed to entertain and educate. For an overview of the park, hop on the Zoofari Monorail.
The Miami Design District is dedicated to innovative fashion, design, architecture and dining. The area juxtaposes design brands with restaurants, international art collections and permanent and temporary art installations, while its new buildings exist with transformed historic ones. Design showrooms fill the area, including Holly Hunt, Knoll, Luminaire Contract and Ann Sacks, while retailers like Christian Louboutin, Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Prada also saw the potential for the area and have opened stores here.
The neighborhood continues to evolve, and new renovations continue with additional luxury brands like Givenchy, Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani and Van Cleef & Arpels slated to open shop. The long-term dream for the district is for it to exist as a renowned destination for cutting-edge fashion, art, design and culture, while maintaining its commitment to creative experiences.
Jungle Island (formerly Parrot Jungle Island) is a glorious homage to tourism kitsch. This is one of those places kids beg to go, so just give up and prepare for some bright-feathered, bird-scented fun. Actually, the 18 acre (7 hectare) waterfront facility, lushly landscaped and using a minimum of pesticides, is pretty impressive, thanks in part to the parrots, macaws, flamingos, and cockatoos flying about in outdoor aviaries.
The Cape Penguin colony is especially cute, as is Crocosaurus, a 20 foot (6 meter) long saltwater crocodile that lives in Serpentarium. Other critters include snakes, crocodiles, gibbons and orangutans, not to mention tortoises, iguanas, and a rare albino alligator on exhibit. You can even see animals in action, as Jungle Island host a number of shows starring roller-skating cockatoos, card-playing macaws, and numerous stunt-happy parrots. Nearby is Pinecrest Gardens, which has a petting zoo, mini-water park, and a lake.
More Things to Do in Miami
The De la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space contains works from the personal collection of Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz and covers 30,000 square feet with art. Before moving to this site in 2009, the original space was an extension of the couple’s home of 25 years and focused on international contemporary art.
The art space includes various rooms with rotating exhibits, including one dedicated to showcasing local Miami artists’ works. Look for lectures designed to increase public awareness of art history and modern-day art practices. To help further promote the local art scene, Miami creative often submit proposals for site-specific installations, and classes and workshops designed with local schools take place as well. The De la Cruz family has also developed internship opportunities and a scholarship program for high school and college students. The De la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space is privately owned and funded by Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz.
The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, formerly known as the Miami Science Museum, is located in Miami, Florida. Their aim is to inspire people to enjoy science and technology in order to better understand themselves and the universe around them. The museum has expanded several times since its inception and currently receives over 250,000 annual visitors of all ages.
Exhibits include a sea lab where visitors can learn about coral reefs and the sea creatures that live in the reefs. You can even touch a sea horse or sea urchin. There are also exhibits about hurricanes and other aspects of weather. These exhibits show you how hurricanes work, how climates are changing, and how humans are affecting those changes. The museum also has exhibits that teach visitors about nano science, energy, movement, health, nature, wildlife, and much more. The planetarium has a 65-foot diameter domed projection screen with 231 seats. Check ahead for show schedules.
Rickenbacker Trail is considered one of the best places for biking in Miami. Spanning the entire island of Key Biscayne, the 8.5-mile path includes well-known spots like Virginia Key Beach, Crandon Park and the Miami Seaquarium, and begins in southern Miami before continuing south along Rickerbacker Causeway/Crandon Boulevard.
There are picnic areas, coastal dunes and even an amusement center at the popular Crandon Park, which sits at the northern end of the trail. Visitors often snorkel, kayak and hike here, or visit the museum and historical lighthouse. Another spot is Bill Baggs Cape State Park, which includes one of the more low-key beaches along the trail. If you stop in Virginia Key, there are beverage, snack, and ice cream vending machines on site. Be sure to try smoked fish at Jimbo’s, a tiny restaurant shack that has earned quite a reputation.
Since 2013 this stunning glass structure with Miami coastal views has been showcasing contemporary and modern art to the masses. With one of the most impressive collections south of the Mason Dixon Line, the Perez Art Museum (known as PAMM to locals) drives to display works created in the 20 and 21st century from artists around the world. With colorful exhibits that reign from the Caribbean, South America, Africa and Australia, there’s a world of wonder inside PAMM’s doors. Museum educators host interesting talks and tours that unlock stories about the art and artists that line the halls of PAMM and a unique community-based program brings speakers, thinkers and creators to the community for informative lectures and roundtables.
The Miami Children's Museum is not so much a museum as a glorified playhouse, with areas for kids to practice all sorts of adult activities like banking and food shopping, caring for pets, playing TV news anchor in a studio and acting as a local cop or firefighter.
Kids can pretend they’re banking at the miniature Bank of America, shopping at the local Publix Supermarket, or taking a Carnival cruise ship, which even stops in the re-created port of Brazil. One of the more impressive exhibits is the World Music Studio, where budding rock stars can lay down a few tracks and play instruments.
The Miami Children’s Museum also offers educational displays about subjects ranging from Miami architecture to Brazilian culture. There are also hundreds of bilingual, interactive exhibits as well as programs, classes, and learning materials related to arts, culture, community, and communication.
South Beach is everything the hype has lead you to believe. Its 10 miles/16 kilometers of beaches filled with a buzzing, carnival-like atmosphere, and the stunning pastel-hued structures in the Art Deco District, where stands the largest concentration of Art Deco architecture in the world.
With a trendy Caribbean-chic café culture and an impossibly hip and sexy nightlife scene, South Beach is a nonstop people-watching mecca, especially on Ocean Drive. Head to lovely Lincoln Road to shop, stroll the Art Deco canyons on Collins Avenue, or wander the beach Promenade between 5th and 15th streets.
If you want to get out of the sun and away from the crowds, step inside the provocative World Erotic Art Museum or visit the polar opposite Bass Museum of Art for a peek at 16th-century religious art. By then, mojitos and people-watching will carry you into the evening.
Just three miles of the coast from Miami, Fisher Island is one of the world’s most exclusive beach communities. Cut off from the mainland by the creation of a canal in 1906, it has then been owned by some of Florida’s wealthiest citizens. Today it’s an upscale oasis with private shoreline access and golf course.
Real estate here is prime, and the last census revealed that Fisher Island has the highest per capita income of any place in the United States. No roads or bridges lead to the island - it is accessible only by ferry or private invitation. Aside from the warm, turquoise waters and white sands of its shores, there are mansions, apartments, a private marina, an observatory, and one hotel located on the island. Luxurious and tropical, a visit to the private island offers a glimpse into a community that truly is home to the rich and famous.
Miami Beach’s Art Deco District is a historically important area located in the trendy South Beach neighborhood. It includes about 900 unique buildings and was designated a United States historic district in 1979. It was also the first 20th-century neighborhood to be recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, with most buildings constructed between 1923 and 1943.
Signature building elements in the district include sleek curves, liberal use of glass blocks, terrazzo floors, pastel exteriors and porthole windows and railings that are reminiscent of the ocean liners that docked in the area during that time. Ocean Drive is one of the most well-known streets in the area. Notable buildings include Casa Casaurina, a 1930s Spanish-style mansion that was once the home of Gianni Versace, and the 1937 Park Central Hotel, where Hollywood legends like Clark Cable and Rita Hayworth were noted regulars.
When visiting Miami, one should allot some time for exploring the soft sand, palm tree-littered island of Key Biscayne. This tropical paradise offers idyllic beaches, recreation-filled parks and the country’s only federally-recognized underwater archeological trail, the Maritime Heritage Trail. Only accessible by boat, you’ll see the remains of six shipwrecks as well as the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse, a popular spot for snorkeling. Interestingly, Florida as a whole has an interesting network of underwater parks where you can explore wrecks and marine life. The two main parks visitors to Key Biscayne can visit include Crandon Park and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.
The Holocaust Memorial, formally known as the Holocaust Memorial of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, is a labor of love by a small group of Holocaust survivors who came together in 1984 to develop a permanent memorial in the city. The group established a private nonprofit organization and decided on Miami as a location given the high concentration of Holocaust survivors settled in the city.
One of the most important elements of Miami’s Holocaust Memorial is the Sculpture of Love and Anguish, a giant bronze representation of an outstretched arm, rising from the earth and stretching to the heavens. The entire area is made up of vignettes of family members trying to help each other in a final act of love.
One of Miami’s most delicious and vibrant attractions is Mango’s Tropical Cafe. Offering a quintessential dose of Miami flavor, this two-story nightclub boasts some of the city’s best live entertainment, especially as their shows display Miami’s melting pot culture. The decor has an outdoor beach vibe, with palm trees and tropical artwork, while the menu consists of simple yet tasty dishes like steak, burgers, and mahi mahi. The real draw to Mango’s, however, is the loud and lively entertainment, showcasing talented men and women in vibrant costumes dancing tango, salsa, reggae, congo, mariachi and even pulling out some Michael Jackson moves. Pair the experience with a mojito, caipirinha or Caribbean rum cocktail to really get to know the culture of the dances.
Conveniently, Mango’s Tropical Cafe is located across from Miami Beach. Just like at Miami Beach, you can expect beautiful people at the nightclub and restaurant and a party that seems to never end.
The 17-acre South Pointe Park, also known locally as just South Pointe, offers expansive views of popular sights like Downtown Miami, Fisher Island and Biscayne Bay, all the way out to the Atlantic. Originally used in the early 1980s to house a police unit, horse stables and the Port of Miami’s Harbor Pilots, the area has undergone major changes since then. Now a thriving park, the site includes 20-foot wide walkways lined with Florida Limestone and an ocean-themed playground area for children. There are numerous amenities, including a restaurant and a separate dog park, and at night, the promenade is lit up by neon light towers that provide stylish functionality.
Watch for cruise ships sailing past and check out the park’s contemporary art sculptures. The beautifully maintained grounds have become a popular spot for film crews and photo shoots, so keep watch for any celebrity sightings.
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