Bienvenido a Miami. Let go of any tacky preconceptions – Florida’s Magic City is not just palm trees, bikini babes and beaches. Words by Megan Arkinstall, illustrations by Lauren Merrick.
Welcome to the Little Cuba
Miami has two main airports: Miami International (MIA), 10 kilometres to the west of the city and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood (FLL), 24 kilometres to the north.
- From MIA:
The best and most affordable option to get into the city or to the beach is to take the Miami Beach Airport Flyer bus, which runs every 30 minutes from 6am to 11:40pm every day for just $3.50 each way and takes around 35 minutes to South Beach.
A taxi will cost around $28–42 to Downtown/South Beach and takes around 20 minutes.
A Super Shuttle costs $15–20 ($10 per additional person in your party) – the duration depends on the number of passengers needing to be dropped off.
- From FLL:
Take a Go Airport Shuttle bus for $27; it takes around 45 minutes.
A cab can cost up to $90 and, despite being cheap, public transport options (like the metro and local bus) are incredibly slow.
Getting out and about
- By car:
Miami is not a walker’s city because everything is so spread out, so hiring a car is a must to go exploring.
There are 16 car rental desks at MIA airport, with prices starting from as little as $150 for a week, but consider parking rates at your hotel, too.
(If you’re planning to stay in the South Beach area, a bike is a better alternative.)
- By metrorail/metrobus:
The metrorail has 23 stations from Dadeland South to Palmetto, with limited stops in between including South Miami, Coconut Grove and the Civic Centre.
The metrobus on the other hand is extremely extensive, but is known to be pretty unreliable.
- By taxi:
Taxis are metered and aren’t the most affordable option, but they’re convenient for occasional trips.
For example, to get from South Beach to Coconut Grove will cost you around $38 while Downtown to the Convention Centre is around $20.
We all know about the fabulous Art Deco district, but you may not have heard of…
- The Wynwood Walls:
In this hip little neighbourhood just off the city’s Midtown area, more than 7,400 square metres of wall displays street art and graffiti by more than 50 artists from around the globe.
The block of run-down warehouses was revitalised by legendary placemaker Tony Goldman (the man behind New York’s SoHo and Miami’s South Beach) in 2009 and has become one of the city’s most vibrant areas.
Originally only displayed on the interior walls, the colourful murals have crept to the doors and the warehouses’ exteriors.
- The Venetian Pool:
You’d never go swimming in the canals of Venice, but this is close enough. (Sort of.)
Bathe in the Venetian Pool, which was built in 1924 as part of the Venetian Casino in Coral Gables.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s the largest freshwater pool in the US and is fed with spring water from an underground aquifer that’s drained and refilled daily in the warmer months.
Head here to swim among waterfalls, grottos, under a replica Venetian bridge and relax on its small sandy beach away from the crowds.
Entry is $15 per adult, $9 per child; coralgables.com
- Domino Park:
If you want a real taste of Little Havana head to Domino Park for some fascinating people-watching.
Here you’ll find locals playing (and mastering) dominos, the national game of Cuba, as they roll and smoke cigars.
Grab a cortaditos (Cuban coffee) and simply soak up the Hispanic culture that has permeated this multicultural American city.
You’ll be exhausted just planning your credit card assault on this city with the number of malls in existence.
Here’s two to get you started. For all the luxe brands – Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Harry Winston – head to Bal Harbour Shops (balharbourshops.com) and be sure to keep your eyes peeled for celebs!
Or at the other end of the scale, Dolphin Mall is home to a wider range of affordable outlet stores including Michael Kors, Victoria’s Secret and Kipling (shopdolphinmall.com).
- Tropicana Flea Market:
This market is popular among set designers and stylists for its great furniture and homeware pieces from the ’60s and ’70s. But you’ll also find everything from vintage clothing to cosmetics. Open Friday–Sunday, 7am–7pm.
- Design District:
Stores devoted to the very latest trends in design and architecture occupy warehouse-like buildings in this über cool district. There’s a host of antique stores, furniture and homewares stores, art galleries and luxury fashion. Once you’ve had your retail therapy fix, you can get your coffee (or wine) fix at one of 20 eateries/bars.
Eat & drink
- Versailles Bakery:
When in Miami, you must try Cuban food!
And your best bet for an authentic feed is Versailles in Little Havana, which has been serving up Cuban specialties like vaca frita (crispy beef) and cubanitos (mini Cuban sandwiches) for 40 years.
It’s not a fancy place by any means, but it’s a hit with the locals.
Feel like a bit of good ol’ Southern fare? Head to Yardbird in South Beach, which has a menu of classic comfort food (fried chicken sandwich, shrimp ‘n’ grits, fried green tomato BLT…) made with farm-fresh ingredients. runchickenrun.com
- The Eating House:
After winning the US TV cooking series Chopped in 2012, chef Giorgio Rapicavoli used his prize money to open up this small, ultra-hip restaurant in Coral Gables.
With an ever-changing, creative menu (such as sea scallops with local carrot, maple-miso and tuscan kale) and a hipster/speakeasy vibe, Eating House is hot property.
- Nikki Beach:
Drinking cocktails in a poolside cabana is almost a rite of passage in Miami, and while most hotels have their own poolside lounging, if you’re in Miami to party (and we mean par-tay) make Nikki Beach your stomping ground.
The oceanfront beach club is a vision in white (that’s white umbrellas, white pool chairs, white cabanas and white sand) with a very colourful social calendar.
Where to stay
If you’re after sun, sand and surf, colourful Art Deco architecture, boutique shopping, an endless list of restaurants and bars, and a buzzy atmosphere, look no further than South Beach, baby!
Here are our fave accommodation options in the area.
- The Freehand:
Housed in one of the city’s classic 1930s Art Deco buildings just a block from the beach, The Freehand is more boutique hotel than hostel. If you don’t fancy sharing with eight other people (which you can most certainly do if you’re on a budget) there are also private rooms available, ranging from standard king to private penthouse.
These all have a simple, modern design by New York-based designers Roman and Williams, no less.
But it’s the fun and cool vibe at The Broken Shaker bar that’ll tickle your fancy the most. And maybe the price tag, too.
From $192 a night for a private room; thefreehand.com
- The Delano:
Designed by none other than Phillipe Starck, the Delano is crisp, clean and modern.
With white-on-white interiors, elegant Carerra marble and splashes of apple green, the rooms in this barefoot luxe beachside hotel are bright, spacious and very chic.
There are two restaurants – modern Italian or sushi and sake – and two bars, but the Beach Club is the place to be seen with oversized sunglasses with a margarita in hand.
From $360 a night; morganshotelgroup.com/delano
- W Hotel:
Glamour, glamour, glamour. In the heart of South Beach, the oceanfront W Hotel is a destination in itself. Dine at The Dutch or Mr Chow, enjoy cocktails in the sun in the leafy Grove bar or while you’re lounging poolside at WET Bar & Grille in a cabana (so Miami).
All rooms are fresh and funky and come with signature plush W Beds, kitchenettes, nine-foot ceilings and ocean views.
From $684 a night; wsouthbeach.com
- The Setai:
The Setai has an luxurious east-meets-west ambience and a killer location right on South Beach.
There are two buildings – the Art Deco wing and the Ocean Suites – which offer every accommodation type from city view studios to four-bedroom ocean view suites.
But we like the penthouse with the private swimming pool – no big deal. There’s an elegant day spa, and all your appetite cravings are covered with the Spanish restaurant, western/Asian fusion grill, and two elegant bars.
But at the heart of the hotel sit three sexy infinity pools where you’ll surely spend most of your Miami days.
From $714 a night; thesetaihotel.com