It’s interesting how Miami has changed in the last 20 years from being a sleepy retirement town and Latino hub city, to the glamorous sun-drenched mecca for the young, wealthy and beautiful.
This evolution has brought with it tourist crowds from all over the world, who unfortunately have turned Miami into a very touristy city where experiences are now targeted towards high-end visitors instead of locals. But, there are still many options for tourists and locals alike to experience the city, as it really should be – like a local. Here are a few choices to consider.
1. Skip the Crowded Beaches
Most tourists head to South Beach to enjoy the famous Miami beaches. It is understandable. They are very accessible, close to incredible restaurants, theaters, hotels and Lincoln Road. But at the same time, they are always packed with tourists and are expensive to visit if you’re driving, as good parking spots can go for $20. Instead, why not go to Key Biscayne Beach? This is an easily accessible small island in Biscayne Bay – via a bridge – located at the southern end of Brickell District. Beaches there are more family friendly and mostly visited by locals. For a picturesque setting, head to the Bill Baggs Cape Park to enjoy the view of the lighthouse while lying on the beach.
Two more great beach options that remain virtually untouched are state parks too. The first is Cape Florida, located at the south end of Key Biscayne, and the other is John U. Lloyd, about ten miles north of North Miami Beach.
2. Go Shopping at the Outlets
Lincoln Road and Coconut Grove are famous for shopping, but they can be quite expensive too. Why not go where the locals shop to save money? Two words: Outlet Mall. While there are several malls in Miami, some even with shuttles from the city and airport, the one you will enjoy the most is Sawgrass Mills Outlet Mall. This is the seventh largest mall in the United States with more than 300 stores. Even though it is an hour drive away from the city, the trip is worth it for the savings. And, hey, you’re discovering a new place outside the city!
3. Wynwood Art Walk
Miami is currently developing its art scene to turn the city into a more cultural experience. Places like the Adrienne Arsht Center, the Art Basel, and the Perez Art Museum have given locals more options to enjoy their days and nights in a different environment. Among those options, there’s also the Wynwood District in Midtown. If you’re in Miami on the second Saturday of the month, head to Wynwood for Art Walk. This once-dilapidated warehouse zone is now full of art galleries, restaurants, lounge bars, and gastro pubs – all open that one Saturday of the month. It is also common for galleries to host live bands and offer free cocktails to draw in crowds.
Going back to the Perez Art Museum; don’t miss checking out their state of the art facility, designed by renowned architects Herzog and Meuron. Also, grab lunch at Verde, where executive chef Kaytlin Brakefield uses the current exhibit of 20th and 21st-century contemporary art to create a unique menu.
4. Riverside Dining
I bet you know about the beaches in Miami, but did you know about Miami River? This river area was forgotten for a long time, but with the revival of its commercial zones and the construction boom, award-winning restaurants and bars have been popping up to bring life to the area and give locals a place they can enjoy without the tourist crowds. Among the famous dining places are Garcia’s on the River, Sea Salt and Pepper, and Zuma Restaurant.
5. Head to Shark Valley
It might be named Shark Valley, but you won’t see a single shark in this popular area within Everglades National Park. You will, however, ride bikes alongside alligators on 15 miles of paved road and witness some breathtaking views of nature and its wildlife from the observation tower. Kayaking is also a recommended activity there.
6. Cool off with Some Cuban Ice Cream
Located on the historic Calle Ocho, the artisanal and inventive Cuban ice cream parlor known as Azucar Ice Cream Company is the place to go to taste ice cream flavors that scream Miami. Among the favorites are sweet plantain, Key lime pie, cuatro leches, and their most famous Abuela Maria – a blend of Maria cookies with cream cheese and guava.
7. Explore Crandon Park
On the way to Cape Florida (mentioned above) you pass through Crandon Park - the original site of the Miami Zoo. Even though the beach is the highlight of this former coconut plantation, there is much more to do here. There are nature walks, kayaking, boating, tram rides, golf and tennis, among other activities.
8. Enjoy Cuban Jazz at Ball & Chain
Last but not least, I recommend heading to Ball & Chain for some Cuban jazz accompanied by a pastelito-infused daiquiri. This saloon first opened its doors in 1935 and today it is considered a living piece of Miami’s history. Famous figures like Billie Holiday and Count Basie used to be regulars before the place closed in 1957. But, Ball & Chain is back in business and still delivering some great Cuban Jazz.
What other local places would you recommend?
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