Endless sunshine, miles of sandy beaches, and warm waters draw legions of visitors to Miami every year. Perched on the southern tip of Florida and flanked by the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay, this tropical metropolis is also home to unique urban neighborhoods, a diverse population, and uncommon attractions. Strut your stuff along the palm-lined, pastel-perfect streets of South Beach or practice your Spanish in Little Havana. Stop to smell the flowers in a landscaped slice of paradise, see a flock of pink flamingos up close and personal, and keep your cool in a funky public pool. In this post We explore Top Things To Do in South Beach Miami.
South Beach Scene
To many visitors, South Beach is Miami. This trendy and energetic hotspot occupying a 23-block area on the southern tip of Miami Beach is jam-packed with art-deco architecture, nightclubs, restaurants, and people, people, people. A festive atmosphere prevails around the clock as a steady stream of celebrities, fashionistas, hipsters, and sightseers stroll, strut, preen, and otherwise work their way down the see-and-be-seen streets of South Beach.
Thanks to a heroic preservation effort, hundreds of buildings from the 1930s and 1940s escaped the wrecking ball in the late 1970s, resulting in a neighborhood renaissance that gave rise to Miami’s most popular tourist attraction, the Art Deco District. More than 800 neon-trimmed hotels, apartment buildings, and condominiums decked out in a rainbow of sherbet shades have earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, ensuring that the whimsical architecture will delight residents and visitors for years to come. Even the fast-food franchises joined the design frenzy–check out the deco-detailed Denny’s and McDonald’s.
For maximum viewing pleasure, head for the three streets closest to the beach where most of the exuberant structures (and plenty of colorful characters) reside: Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue, and Washington Avenue, from 6th to 23rd Streets. Don’t miss the Versace mansion (left), the Miami Beach Post Office, and the Albion, Delano, and National hotels. The South Beach sands also boast a helping of “art deco-dance,” with six brightly-painted, oddball lifeguard stands watching over the water. The Art Deco Welcome Center (1001 Ocean Drive) provides free maps for self-guided tours and sponsors 90-minute walking tours of the area on Saturday mornings and Thursday evenings. Modest tour fees and proceeds from the sale of deco-inspired souvenirs benefit the Miami Design Preservation League.
Shoppers hungry for the ka-ching of the cash register should head to Lincoln Road Mall, a recently renovated pedestrian mall lined with boutiques, art galleries, antique stores, and cafés. Feel free to browse until the wee hours–most shops stay open late to accommodate the night-owl crowds. Lincoln Road also serves as the headquarters for several prestigious cultural institutions, including The New World Symphony, Miami City Ballet, and the South Florida Art Center.
La Vida Latino in Little Havana
In 1959, thousands of Cubans fled their homeland and recreated a community west of Brickell Avenue in downtown Miami. Many of the neighborhood’s original immigrant residents have moved on to ritzier locales, but Little Havana’s streets still buzz with new arrivals from Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico.
The heart of the city’s most distinctive ethnic enclave lies on Southwest Eighth Street, more commonly referred to by its Spanish name, Calle Ocho. This is the place to buy an authentic embroidered guayabera shirt or a hand-rolled cigar. For inexpensive and authentic Cuban fare, try the black beans and rice or ropa vieja (shredded beef stew) at Versailles, a neighborhood institution. And don’t leave without jolting your veins with a café Cubano, a thimbleful of thick, rich espresso loaded with sugar.
Miami lies just a few degrees north of the Tropic of Cancer and it has the flamboyant flowers, lush leaves, and funky fruit to prove it. Rain of Gold, Bird of Paradise, Lady of the Night…something is always in bloom at Fairchild Tropical Garden. Here you’ll find the largest botanic garden in the United States, featuring 83 acres of winding paths, lakes, and lily ponds. Wander through a two-acre rainforest, marvel at orchids and bromeliads in the multi-level conservatory, and see over 700 species of flowering trees in the arboretum. The newest exhibit, “Keys Coastal Habitat,” features native South Florida plants that frequently attract migrating birds. Visitors lucky enough to visit in July can participate in the annual International Mango Festival: shop for mango chutney, buy a mango tree for the backyard, and sample mangoes from around the world at this three-day extravaganza. Don’t forget to enter your favorite fruit in the Mango Beauty Contest or test your culinary prowess in the Mango Cook-Off. Admission to the Garden includes a 30-minute, narrated tram tour. Plan to visit in the morning or late afternoon for the coolest temperatures and most dramatic light.
Built in 1916 as a winter retreat for the wealthy industrialist James Deering, the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is prized as much for its grand architecture and opulent interiors as for its 10 acres of formal gardens overlooking a serene swath of Biscayne Bay. The Italian Renaissance-style villa features 34 rooms filled with tapestries, antiques, art, and decorative furnishings from the 15th through the 19th centuries. Tour the mansion and stroll along the shady garden paths lined with Florida jasmine, live oaks, sculptures, and fountains. Indulge in a private moment in the secluded Secret Garden or wind your way through a topiary maze. As a special treat, moonlight garden tours are offered three or four times a year.
Over 1,000 parrots, cockatoos, macaws, peacocks, and flamingos fly free in the Parrot Jungle and Gardens, a lush bird sanctuary, wildlife habitat, and botanical garden. Don’t miss your chance to see a roller-skating cockatoo or a parrot on a bicycle–the Trained Bird Show puts the talents of the avian residents on display several times a day. Exhibits aren’t limited to our feathered friends; other features include a butterfly glade, petting zoo, alligator and crocodile pools, and primate viewing area.
Marvel at the acrobatic antics and athletic abilities of Lolita the Killer Whale, Salty the Sea Lion, and dozens of dolphins at the Miami Seaquarium, a 38-acre marine life and entertainment park. Four daily shows highlight the talents of these agile marine mammals. Watch graceful Atlantic bottlenose dolphins as they jump, spin, flip, and tail-walk to music and narration, or assist the trainers while they feed the boisterous sea lions. The Tropical Reef Aquarium is loaded with water (750,000 gallons), colorful tropical fish, loggerhead turtles, and moray eels. Conquer your fears in the Shark Exhibit; see the endangered manatee, Florida’s state marine mammal; and feast your eyes on poisonous arrow frogs, toucans, and exotic tropical reptiles in the Faces of the Rainforest exhibit. The Dolphin Interaction Program, the Seaquarium’s newest attraction, allows visitors to slip into a wetsuit and join the animal trainers for a one-on-one session with the slippery sea creatures.
Beach-Bumming and Cool Pooling
Miami boasts 35 miles of delicious beachfront and no shortage of places to ride the waves, soak up the sun, or build a sandcastle. Swimmers and sun worshippers can choose between two principal areas: busy Miami Beach and quieter Key Biscayne. From South Beach to Sunny Isles, Miami Beach offers 12 miles of wide, well-maintained beaches with soft white sands and turquoise waters. The entire stretch of Miami Beach is open to the public and lifeguards patrol the shore at designated points. Tanned and toned hipsters and fashion photographers and their muses frequent Lummus Park Beach, which runs along Ocean Drive from 6th to 14th Streets in South Beach. Haulover Beach Park, just north of Bal Harbour, features a clothing-optional section, kayak rentals, and optimum winds for kite flying. Key Biscayne’s Crandon Park is a popular option for families and picnickers.
For a freshwater swimming option, hold the sand, make your way to residential Coral Gables, otherwise known as City Beautiful, and glide past the stucco walls and wrought-iron gates guarding the Venetian Pool. Carved from a former limestone quarry, this funky outdoor pool was the brainchild of Coral Gables’ founding father, George Merrick, and has remained a local favorite since opening to the public in 1924. Vine-covered loggias, cascading waterfalls, and coral-rock caves contribute to an otherworldly bathing experience. An underground spring supplies the 820,000 gallons of water needed to fill the free-form lagoon, which is drained nightly in the summer months to guarantee a clean, clear, and refreshing dip. Swimming lessons for children (ages three and older) and adults are available for a reasonable fee during the summer.
Even if you can’t afford to splurge at The Biltmore Hotel, stop by for a peek at America’s largest hotel pool. This legendary swimming spot measures 21,000 square feet and holds over 600,000 gallons of water. Back in the day, aqua-celebrities Esther Williams and Johnny “Tarzan” Weissmuller, who also doubled as a hotel swimming instructor, regularly splashed down in the Biltmore’s waters.•