Miami draws visitors from around the world with its blend of urban buzz and glamorous beach scene but visiting Miami is very different from visiting other popular Florida destinations. In terms of cultural diversity, vibrant nightlife, and overall bustle, Miami can feel light years away from hotspots like Orlando, St. Pete Beach, and the Florida Keys.
Whether you’re just dining out or gearing up for Miami’s legendary club scene, you’ll want to consider pushing your plans back later than usual — or risk being the first to arrive. Leading clubs, such as Space and E11even are open around the clock, while another top choice, LIV, doesn’t open its doors until nearly midnight. You’ll also want to keep in mind that headlining DJs usually don’t take the decks until as late in the night —between 2 and 3 AM in most instances. If you’re looking for something on the earlier side, head to Lagniappe, an open-air bar that puts on live music for a more traditionally primetime crowd. You’ll also want to make note of the many seasonal parties that take up residence along Miami Beach, which can mean 24/7 beats for days at a time.
Cuban culture is incredibly prominent in Miami and enjoying a fresh mojito while watching a live salsa performance are highly recommended experiences. The strong Cuban presence stems from the fact that more than 25% of Miami-Dade County residents are Cuban-born plus the many descendants of Cuban immigrants that have arrived over the past six decades. However, this still constitutes less than half of the city’s foreign-born population. Miami is also home to significant Haitian, Bahamian, Venezuelan, and Colombian communities. Between restaurants, art galleries, and music venues, there are plenty of ways to dive deeper into these other cultures.
Miami may not have the largest collection of museums, but art permeates the city in numerous ways, from public art and cultural centers to galleries and major art fairs. The Wynwood neighborhood, located just north of Downtown Miami, is teeming with street art and murals. The movement began in 2009 with the open-air Wynwood Walls, which encompasses 18 walls of work created by international graffiti artists. Since then, street art has expanded throughout the neighborhood, with notable displays at Wynwood Brewing Company and along NW 2nd Avenue. Other street art hotspots include Calle Ocho in Little Havana and throughout Little Haiti.
This isn’t the Florida Keys or Daytona Beach, so don’t plan on sporting flip-flops and swimsuits anywhere other than the beach or hotel pool when you’re in Miami. To be fair, even the pools can feel like fashion runways at some of the city’s posh hotels. Many restaurants and bars enforce dress codes in Miami — including Miami Beach and South Beach — while clubs can be as selective, barring entry to sandal-wearing clientele. Miami is one of the United States’ most cosmopolitan cities, so dress to impress, or at least try not stand out for the wrong reasons.
Miami Beach — the famed stretch of sand that’s lined by stunning art deco buildings — is a must for a proper Miami visit. In fact, many people consider Miami Beach and South Beach to be Miami itself. However, don’t limit yourself when it comes to beaches. Many first-time visitors make the mistake of not venturing farther afield to take full advantage of the extensive network of beaches found in the Miami region. Below South Beach, Virginia Key boasts sandy shorelines without the crowds. There is an admission cost to Virginia Key Beach Park per vehicle on the weekend, but the extra space and kayaking through wetlands are worth the added cost. Heading farther out on the causeway, Crandon Park is a family-friendly beach on Key Biscayne with watersports and cabana rentals.
Miami is somewhat notorious for its traffic. However, even unperturbed and seasoned city drivers should be aware of some Miami parking peculiarities before getting behind the wheel. In Miami Beach, street parking is the costliest option, running as high as $4 per hour in South Beach. Off-street lots cost comparatively less at $2 per hour, while parking garages are the best option for lengthier stays with day rates as low as $20. On the flipside, parking costs in downtown Miami neighborhoods operate in the reverse order. Hourly rates in parking garages run as high as $7 per hour, while a full day can cost nearly $30. Avoid parking in Miami Beach’s residential zones without a valid permit during restricted hours, which include the entire weekend as well as weekday evenings.
Miami’s public transportation system is the largest in Florida, and includes buses, trolleys, Metromover, and Metrorail. Both the Miami Trolley and Metromover are free to use and aid in visiting the mainland portions of Miami, such as Little Havana, Wynwood, and Brickell City Centre. Both are limited in geographical scope and — notably — don’t connect to Miami Beach or South Beach. The Metrorail connects with the Metromover at several stations but requires a fare. It’s an affordable option for traveling to the airport and the outlying neighborhood of Coconut Grove, but little else. It also doesn’t connect with Miami Beach. The Metrobus is the most extensive public transit network in the city but is impeded by the congested traffic that is pervasive throughout Miami’s streets. For traveling shorter distances, try Freebee – a free electric car service that can be accessed via the Freebee mobile app.
Miami’s mix of Latin American and Caribbean cultures means that Spanish is the first or second language for the majority of its residents. In fact, only about a quarter of Miami-Dade County speak only English. You aren’t expected to be a Spanish master, but it can be fun to practice your Spanish while you’re in town. If you’re addressed in Spanish, certainly make a go at having a basic conversation. For Spanish newbies, using simple greetings like “cómo estás” (how are you) when appropriate will earn you some credibility. Even more skilled Spanish speakers may still find the more prevalent Cuban accent hard to decipher, so be patient and don’t hesitate to employ Spanglish in this multicultural city when necessary.
While Miami bustles throughout the year, the high season for tourism runs from December through mid-April, with notable peaks around the Art Basel festival in early December, between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and during spring break. While prices do rise with demand, you can reduce the added expense by booking flights and hotels several months in advance if you want your visit to coincide with the city’s best weather.
Miami is one of the priciest cities to visit in the United States. Given its legendary status as a mecca for parties, beaches, luxury services, amazing restaurants, art, and nightlife, the city has enough pull to make it a hotspot year-round. The winter months and early spring are high season — and thus mean paying a premium on everything from flights to hotels — there are ways to save. You’ll find slightly cheaper hotel rates if you’re willing to stay on the back side of Miami Beach, toward Biscayne Bay. From there, it’s only a 15-minute walk to the beach, and you’ll enjoy a quieter vibe. You’ll also find meals for slightly less if you dine away from hotspots like Lincoln Road, Ocean Drive, and Collins Ave. May can be a decent time of year as well, with rates that are lower than the winter and early spring months.