Why I went here? My return flight from Panama had a layover in Miami and since I have never been, I decided to spend a couple of days to check out this infamous party town. I was also interested in Miami’s art scene.
Best time to visit? The best time is any month outside the hurricane season. Hurricane season generally occurs from July to December.
Best way to get there? Most visitors to Miami Beach land on Miami International (MIA), but some domestic flights land on Fort Lauderdale (FLL), some 35 miles north of Miami. From the airport, you can either take a cab or take one of the door-to-door shuttle buses that are easily accessible in the arrival area. The former can get rather expensive considering the distance and traffic, but it is easily the quickest way to get to Miami Beach.
What to see/do? Miami Beach is first and foremost, about the beaches. From the buzz of South Beach to the calm of the North Shore, everyone visiting Miami Beach should at least spend a few hours beachside even just to admire it from afar. The sand gets finer as you get closer to South Beach, but the main attraction here is the blue hues of the Atlantic Ocean. There is a promenade several miles long that runs along Miami Beach where people jog and have their leisurely walks. Tired of the staring at the ocean, head towards Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue into the Art Deco district. It runs from 1st St all the way up to the late teens. Magnificent high rises and classic boutique hotels decorate the streets during the day and light up the avenues at night. Explore them on both instances to truly appreciate it.
Food and drinks: Everyone, and I mean, everyone goes to Joe’s Stone Crab when in Miami Beach. This legendary restaurant has been serving the residents and visitors of Miami alike since 1912. Stone crab is their specialty and they serve them all season long. The place also serves up one of the best mojitos and key lime pie in South Florida. Cuban cuisine is also something of a must try while in town. Tropical Beach Café on Collins serves up a decent Cuban sandwich, while Havana 1957 located in Espanola Way dishes out a more complete menu of Cuban delicacies.
Where to sleep? For anyone on a budget, I highly recommend Freehand Miami. This newly redesigned hostel used to be the boutique Indian Creek Hotel. Most of the original designs were incorporated in the same art deco building but with slightly modern twists. The rooms are dormitory style, each with their own en suite bathrooms. Rates start from $20 for a bed up to $200 for a private bungalow. For something a bit closer to the nightlife at South Beach, the boutique La Flora Hotel on Collins is a very good choice. Its location alone is right in the middle of the Art Deco district and a mere block away from the famed Ocean Drive. Rates here start at $100 during the low season.
Daytrips: If time permits, definitely consider heading south to Key West or to The Everglades. The former is a quaint resort town, a mere 90 miles from Cuba, with fine sand and warm waters. Spend an afternoon here to escape the hustle of Miami Beach and experience Caribbean atmosphere without leaving Florida. The latter is a completely different experience, albeit just as attractive. The Everglades is one of the country’s protected national parks and contains some of the rarest flora and fauna in the new world. There is history surrounding the place, as well as bits of adventure for those seeking it. Consider airboat tours and ranger tours (often with alligator shows) when visiting.
Why I would go back? I did not expect to like Miami Beach as much as I did. Nonetheless, I did and am now hooked on it. I was skeptical about the place at first because it has a reputation of being wild and pretentious, but it did not feel that way at all. It is hard to imagine this place at its low point in the 80s, when the streets where dominated by mobsters and petty criminals. The streets are now clean and there is definite calmness even just a few blocks west of Ocean Drive. Fear not, however, because the city is vibrant and invigorating. The energy here permeates the soul and convinces even the most cautious person to let loose. The beach is also a definite attraction as well as the variety of cuisines available. Lastly, I will like to pay The Everglades and Key West visits on my next visit.