Miami is absurd.
Drive just 3 hours south of Orlando and it’ll feel like you’ve arrived in a different country. Step foot on South Beach and it’s like you’ve transported back a couple decades.
Miami is a dysfunctional, absurd yet exhilarating concoction of people from all different backgrounds coexisting in tropical paradise. Why I never took the time to truly explore this city being born and raised in Orlando, I’ll never know.
Growing up in Orlando with a large Hispanic population, I heard Spanish on a daily basis. In Miami though, the Spanish was… different. It belonged there. It flowed from the mouths of residents like it was a part of Miami’s identity, not just a minority language in a predominantly Caucasian population, like the rest of Florida.
Driving through neighborhoods such as Little Haiti you’ll think you’ve accidentally traversed the Caribbean. Head towards South Beach in all its faded art déco glory and you’ll see Hasidic Jews walking across the street to their synagogue perched beside a line of palm trees. Drive back over Biscayne Bay to Little Havana and you’ll find yourself in a verbal dance with the Cuban waiter trying to order a sandwich.
Much like the Porches and Mercedes zipping through the steets, our 3 nights in Miami went by in blur.
WHERE TO STAY: Airbnb in South Beach
PRICE POINT: $$$
FOOD TO TRY: Media Noche
TIPPING: 18 – 20%
GETTING AROUND: RENT A CAR
Although Miami drivers will attempt to pass you in a car wash, having your own wheels is the easiest way to get around. Whether your coming down from Orlando or flying into Miami International Airport, a car allows you to go as you please since public transportation is a pain here. However, if the reputation of Miami drivers is too much to handle, no fear, Uber is everywhere. Be forewarned though, just like everything else in Miami, it can get pretty pricey.
Full Disclosure: I did almost get into a wreck here. Like I’m talking paper thin close. Moral of the story, driving around Miami sucks but the convenience outweighs the negatives. Also don’t eat chips and drive.
SOUTH BEACH: “WHERE NEON GOES TO DIE”
Although far prettier beaches exist in Miami, South Beach is an iconic legend. As you drive down Collins Ave adjacent to the coastline, you’ll feel time passing back to Miami’s 80’s heyday through art déco pastel architecture. Although South Beach is saturated by tourists, we wanted to be close to the action and found a stellar one-bedroom apartment, private balcony included, right across the beach on Collins Ave for $125.00/night.
Grab a Pub sub (Publix sub for all you out-of-staters) and hit the beach. If you don’t feel like driving to Publix Super Market and to possibly one of the best things Florida has yet to produce (because let’s face it, there isn’t much else), there are multiple food kiosks dotting the beach. Although expensive, I can personally recommend the quesadilla and ceviche.
Feeling adventurous? Rent a longboard and skate up and down the South Beach boardwalk. Be sure to bring some cash along for the ride, you’ll inevitably want a spiked rum coconut from one of the “vendors” along the boardwalk. And by vendor I mean boardshort clad local with home grown coconuts and a handle of Malibu rum.
Edit: This wasn’t my first time at South Beach. After flying home into Miami International from Puerto Rico for a college spring break I wanted to check out the hype. The result? Getting adopted by a cougar lady at the Fontainebleau and thus invited to a Chilean soccer team party. This was after randomly selecting a hotel on my GPS. Little did I know that the Fountainebleau is one of the most expensive and notorious hotels on South Beach. A Miami afternoon in a nutshell.
A SHIMMER OF CUBA IN LITTLE HAVANA
Craving a cigar with a side of Cuban flare? Drive to Calle Ocho in Little Havana to fill yourself with nostalgic sights of old men playing dominoes in the park, citrus stands, Cuban restaurants, and of course cigar shops. Although it’s now legal to bring Cuban cigars back to the United States, it’s still unfortunately illegal to sell them. However with master rollers on deck, the homemade cigars found in Little Havana are almost just as good as the real deal. After chatting up the owner of Guantanamera Cigars & Cafe about his selection of cigars, we were offered free Cuban coffee and a chat on how “Cubans like our women thick, you American ladies be too skinny.” Thank you kind sir.
In Orlando we’re privy to some fantastic Cuban food joints. However my years of ordering cubanos y croquet’s did not prepare my taste buds for El Pub and the most savory media noche (cubano on sweet bread) I’ve ever bit into. If you’re feeling quite famished I recommend starting with their empanadas. Be warned though, English is not the first language in this neighborhood and my high school/college Spanish classes finally showed their worth here.
LIVE MUSIC IN MAGIC CITY
However what I didn’t expect showing up to a rap concert in the middle of Miami was the influx of 20-something white boys and the most polite mosh pit I’ve ever attempted to be a part of. “Oh hi there, sorry for bumping into you. Here let me block you from the pit.” *Insert intense eye rolling here.*
GET ARTSY FARTSY IN WYNWOOD ART DISTRICT
On the corner of SoFla meets hipster you’ll find Wynwood Art District, hands down my absolute favorite place we stopped during our 3 nights in Miami. My artsy senses started tingling the moment we parked the car next to colorful murals splattered on virtually every wall in the neighborhood.
Wynwood deserves an entire day and night devoted to exploring the area. Start your day with a pit stop at Panther Coffee – think locally owned Starbucks with a mustache and striped pocket tee.
Next stop: Wynwood Walls.
Have you ever seen that mural constantly plastered on Instagram with the haphazard pastel stripes (pictured below)? Look no further than Wynwood Walls to follow the million other selfies. Too bad muralist Mya Haynuk doesn’t get commission for the amount of times her wall graces the endless scroll of Instagram.
Free to enter, the area showcases some serious talent as well as inside galleries and cafes. If you’re lucky enough to be there during Miami’s renowned Art Basel, be prepared for an influx of visitors but also some of the best contemporary art showcases in the world.
Now that you’ve gotten your dose of art, hit up the bars in Wynwood. Here’s a few we visited ourselves and others we didn’t have time for but had raving reviews from local friends:
- Wood Tavern – free tacos from 6-9pm on Tuesday y’all!
- Gramps – by the far taking the title of Most Hipster
- Electric Pickle – deep house after dark
- Brickhouse – doubles as a brewery for all you beer lovers
PARTY IN THE 305: MIAMI NIGHTLIFE
After spending hours outside soaking up the Florida sun, we ended up being a bit lame and didn’t hit the infamous club scene too hard that Miami enshrines. Miami could easily be considered the nightlife capital of the South. Save for New York, possibly for the entire East Coast. The biggest thing to keep in mind though, Miami is hella expensive. Like I’m talking $15+ a drink expensive.
While my favorite nights ended up being spent in Wynwood and the concert, here’s a list of go-to nightlife spots from Miami locals who know it best:
- Espanola Way
- LIV – Probably the most notorious club of them all inside the equally notorious Fontainebleau Hotel
- Broken Shaker – We went here! It’s a cozy outdoor watering hole offering an assortment of specialty cocktails.
- Craft Club Social
- Club 50 – Mad expensive but this bar is worth one drink for the views of Miami from the 50th floor of the Viceroy Hotel. Tip: Dress to impress at this upscale bar.
- Blackbird Ordinary
BONUS: COCONUT GROVE
Although we didn’t quite make it here, Coconut Grove came highly recommended by friends for its old canopy trees and historic Miami storefronts. It’s a little bougie but if you have some cash to burn, this is the place for it.
DAILY ITINERARY: 3 Nights in Miami
Day 1: South Beach
Morning: Breakfast at Pink Panther
Afternoon: Rent a skateboard or bicycle and head down the South Beach boardwalk
Night: Broken Shaker
Day 2: Wynwood
Morning: Panther Coffee
Afternoon: Wynwood Walls
Night: Head back out to Wynood for the night
Day 3: Little Havana and Miami Nightlife
Morning: Hit up the beach and food kiosks
Afternoon: Lunch, cigars, and Cuban coffee in Little Havana
Night: Tacos and drinks at Bodega, Club 50 later that evening