It’s wise to approach a visit to Miami with a sense of compromise: There’s so much to see, do and taste in this city of nearly 500,000 on mainland Florida’s southernmost tip, you can’t possibly include it all in one visit. There’s the busy tourist stretch between 1st and 192nd streets in Miami Beach, with more than 12 miles of golden sands for walking or lounging. West of the beaches, Miami’s vibrant downtown neighborhoods (Wynwood, Little Havana and Brickell among them) offer other pleasures — many of them free or inexpensive.
Read on for fun and affordable ways to enjoy the Magic City.
What to Do
Enjoy the water: A fun way to ditch your car and explore the city is by riding the Water Taxi Miami (all-day passes from $30 per person), a catamaran with plenty of shade and hop-on, hop-off service between six locations in downtown Miami, Brickell City Centre and Miami Beach. Along the way, you’ll pass mansions of the rich and famous on Star Island and Fisher Island. Once you arrive at the Miami Beach Marina, catch the free trolley to Ocean Drive to explore all the art deco highlights there.
For more of a sightseeing cruise of the area with entertaining commentary, Island Queen Cruises and Tours ($28 per person) runs cruises — on Biscayne Bay and through Millionaire’s Row — aboard an air-conditioned yacht with a breezy upper deck. Guides share the city’s history and point out mansions of Miami icons such as Gloria Estefan and Julio Iglesias.
Miami’s busiest beach is the stretch of South Beach along Ocean Drive. The section roughly between 5th Street and 14th Street is home to some of the best preserved art deco hotel facades from the 1930s and ’40s, including the Colony, the Carlyle and the Breakwater (expensive to stay at, free to admire). Overpriced tourist restaurants with gaudy cocktails dominate this part of town. An exception is News Cafe, on the corner of 8th Street, which is open 24/7 and never disappoints for strong coffee and great people-watching with your morning newspaper (of which there’s a worldly selection).
When you’re ready for a swim, ditch the South Beach crowds and head to nearby Key Biscayne and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, where parking ($8 per vehicle for the day) is a fraction of what it will run you in South Beach. The park has shaded picnic pavilions, beach wheelchairs and a spectacular undeveloped stretch of sand with shallow waters for bathing. If you’re up for some exercise, climb the more than 100 steps to the top of the historic 1825 Cape Florida Lighthouse for spectacular views of the coast.
Museums and street art: Every winter, the Art Basel fair in Miami is the city’s biggest cultural calling card and a prestigious international event. But from gritty street murals to high-brow contemporary art, Miami explodes with art every day of the year. Just north of downtown, in the stylish neighborhood of Wynwood — home to designer boutiques, galleries and chic cafés — Wynwood Walls is a free outdoor exhibition space of painted warehouses and shops where new works by the world’s graffiti artist greats are constantly cropping up. A fun Art Walk is held on the second Saturday of each month, with food trucks and live music.