Miami & South Beach Vacations
Miami is known as the Magic City and whichever way you cut it, imagination and innovation are big here, manifesting themselves in art, architecture and festivals; in the extravagance of Lincoln Rd to the ephemeral neon beauty of Ocean Drive and the cloud-kissing skyline of downtown Miami.
Greater Miami is a melting pot that would make America's founders swell with pride. Over half the population is Latino, giving the city an international outlook that feels rare in the USA. For the casual visitor this means a city spiced with Latin American food, language, music, politics and spirit.
Featured Miami & South Beach Hotel
What To Do
Miami, though renowned more for the dance-all-night, blade-all-day types of exertion, offers lots of options for the more serious sports freak. Kayakers, part-time pilots and divers of both sky and sea will find plenty of options just a little way out of town.
What To See
Seamy streetlife, dreamy beaches and photogenic houses.
Miami's steamy hedonism, stay-forever beaches and propensity for neon tack can blind the casual visitor to its more subtle charms. If you dig a little, you'll turn up some truly impressive art, and architecture aficionados and amateurs alike will be knocked out by some of its streetscapes.
The Monkey Jungle brochures have a tag line: 'Where humans are caged and monkeys run free.' And, indeed, you'll be walking through screened-in trails, with primates swinging freely, screeching and chattering all around you. It's incredibly fun, and just a bit odorous, especially on warm days (well, most days). In 1933, animal behaviorist Joseph du Mond released six monkeys into the wild. Today, their descendants live here with orangutans, chimpanzees and lowland gorilla. The big show of the day takes place at feeding time, when crab-eating monkeys and Southeast Asian macaques dive into the pool for fruit and other treats. There's also a lovely aviary for clouds of beautiful rescued parrots.
Few American parks can claim to front such a lovely stretch of turquoise (Biscayne Bay), but Miamians are lucky like that. Notable park features are two performance venues: the Klipsch Amphitheater, which boasts excellent views over Biscayne Bay, is a good spot for live-music shows, while the smaller 200-seat (lawn seating can accommodate 800 more) Tina Hills Pavilion hosts free springtime performances.
Noted artist and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi redesigned much of Bayfront Park in the 1980s and dotted the grounds with three sculptures. In the southwest corner is the Challenger Memorial, a monument designed for the astronauts killed in the 1986 space-shuttle explosion. The Light Tower is a 40ft, somewhat abstract allusion to Japanese lanterns and moonlight over Miami. Our favorite is the Mantra Slide, a twisting spiral of marble that doubles as a playground piece for the kids.
Fairchild Tropical Garden
If you need to escape Miami's madness, consider a green day in the country's largest tropical botanical garden. A butterfly grove, jungle biospheres, and gentle vistas of marsh and keys habitats, plus frequent art installations from folks like Roy Lichtenstein, are all stunning.
The Colony is the oldest deco hotel in Miami Beach. It was the first hotel in Miami, and perhaps America, to incorporate its sign (a zigzaggy neon wonder) as part of its overall design. Inside the lobby are excellent examples of space-age interiors, including Saturn-shaped lamps and Flash Gordon elevators.
Art Deco Historic District
South Beach's heart is its Art Deco Historic District, from 18th St and south along Ocean Dr and Collins Ave. It's ironic that in a city built on speculative real estate, the main engine of urban renewal was the preservation of a unique architectural heritage. See, all those beautiful hotels, with their tropical-Americana facades, scream 'Miami.' They screamed it so loud when they were preserved they gave this city a brand, and this neighborhood a new lease on life.
Your first stop here should be the Art Deco Welcome Center, located in the old beach-patrol headquarters, one of the best deco buildings out there.
Miami-Dade Public Library
The main branch of the Miami-Dade library system is a lovely escape from Downtown's bustle. To learn more about Florida (especially South Florida), take a browse through the extensive Florida Department, or ask to see the Romer Collection, an archive of some 17,500 photos and prints that chronicle the history of the city from its early years to the 1950s.
Just imagine: it's 1923, tons of rock have been quarried for one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Miami, but now an ugly gash sits in the middle of the village. What to do? How about pump the irregular hole full of water, mosaic and tile up the whole affair, and make it look like a Roman emperor's aquatic playground? Result: one of the few pools listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a wonderland of coral rock caves, cascading waterfalls, a palm-fringed island and Venetian-style moorings. Take a swim and follow in the footsteps (finsteps?) of stars like Esther Williams and Johnny 'Tarzan' Weissmuller. Opening hours vary depending on the season, so check the website for details.
Bal Harbour Shops
Miami's most elegant mall.
For looking your best on the beach and by the pool, peruse these fine racks for bikinis and swimsuits, in all sizes and shapes, plus swim trunks, flip-flops and sun hats.
This mall boasts Saks Fifth Ave, Marshall's Megastore, Mikasa, BCBG and Burlington Coat Factory, plus a 28-screen cinema, huge food court, rollercoaster and a bowling alley.
Come here to drink sangria and watch old-school crooners get melodramatic on a vintage stage. Sure it's cheesy, but that's the point (look at the name of the place).
This improvisational comedy troupe was formed at Florida International University in 1997. You can catch their shows on weekends at the Roxy, west of Coral Gables in Sweetwater.
Transit exists in some perfect-bar conceptual space, possessing the everyone-knows-your-name camaraderie of a dive, cool-daddio ambience of a good jazz club, the street cred of some of Miami’s hottest live acts and a welcoming but ruggedly sexy venue.
Off the Beaten Path
World Erotic Art Museum
In a neighborhood where no behavior is too shocking, the World Erotic Art Museum screams, 'Hey! We have a giant golden penis!' We'll sound like nerds if we analyze the historical merits of an old lady's smut collection (the museum was founded by 70-year-old Naomi Wilzig, who turned her 5000-piece private erotica collection into a South Beach attraction in 2005), but here goes. WEAM's exhibits are a lot more seriously minded than its marketing material, which definitely tries to rope in anyone interested in the smutty. The collection is actually full of fascinating erotica through the ages, from ancient sex manuals to Victorian peep-show photos, to centuries of sex toys to, yes, a big golden phallus by the exit.
There are special events all the time in Miami, a city known for its partying, though during the summer months the pickings are slim. The biggest event of them all is Carnaval Miami, a nine-day festival at the beginning of March. The Calle Ocho Festival is the culmination of Carnaval Miami and a great time to be in Little Havana, since there are lots of concerts, giveaways and Cuban food.
At the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in late February, expect star-studded brunches, dinners and barbecues. The Miami International Film Festival (dubbed 'the Cannes of the Americas') is a showcase of the best new cinematic talent in Spain and Latin America; it's held in early March. Come to town for Winter Party Week, in mid-March, to experience this gay-circuit party bonanza.
The International Hispanic Theater Festival, held the first two weeks of June, is one of the largest Hispanic theatre events in the US, featuring US, Latin American, Caribbean and European theater companies.
Literary types might want to make it to the Miami Book Fair, held during the second week of November. This international book fair is among the most well attended in the US, with hundreds of nationally known writers joining similar numbers of publishers and hundreds of thousands of visitors.
Food and Drink
11th Street Diner
You've seen the art-deco landmarks. Now eat in one: a Pullman-car diner trucked down from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, as sure a slice of Americana as a Leave It to Beaver marathon. If there's a diner where you can replicate Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, it's here.
The only brew-pub in South Beach is on the untouristed end of South Beach (near Alton Rd). It's friendly and packed with folks listening to the Grateful Dead and slinging back some excellent homebrew: give Father Theo's stout or the Immaculate IPA a shot.
In a perfect world, the waitstaff here would wear stripy shirts, berets and have twirly moustaches. Alas, non, but there’s quiche, tartines (filled with marinated artichokes or peppers in pesto sauce), crepes and wrought-iron sidewalk tables. ‘Pass zee gauloise, Pierre.’
A massive, upscale, traditional Spanish tavern that’s a bit out of the fray, this is the place to go for a special occasion or pull-out-all-the-stops evening. Join the festive mover-and-shaker crowd for updated takes on standards, including pan-seared salmon in creamy saffron-almond sauce, baby lamb chops and filet mignon stuffed with goat cheese and peppers.
Front Porch Café
A blue-and-white escape from the madness of the cruising scene, the Porch has been serving excellent salads, sandwiches and the like since 1990 (eons by South Beach standards). Weekend brunch is justifiably mobbed; the big omelets are delicious, as are the fat pancakes and strong coffees.