As I write this, I’m 36,000 feet in the air and halfway between Miami and my destination of Los Angeles. I had three nights in Miami post-Necker, originally to catch up with a friend who was travelling from New York to meet me. However plans changed at the last minute as she had to be at work for the weekend.
So what was originally billed as a weekend of partying turned into a weekend of solo time – time that as it turned out was much-needed after the excitement, large group-ness and information overload of the week before; not to mention the book launching just before I left!
My little sis is Miami-bound soon for a couple of days before setting off on a Caribbean cruise (‘mazing!), so I promised her a download of my things to do while I was there – then figured that some of you might find yourself there sometime in future, so I should make a blog post out of it…
Before I get into my must-do list though, some things to share about Miami:
It’s hot, like really freaking hot
I thought I had hot climates down pat after coping pretty easily with some 40+ degree days in Sydney, however Miami heat in summer is a very heavy kind of heat. It’s humid and the sun is intense. I walked six blocks to reach the shopping epicentre and was a sweaty mess by the time I made it to the sanctuary of the stores’ aircon. Make sure you drink shedloads of water and a hat is a must-wear.
People speak Spanish
Most people I encountered spoke English as a second language – or not very much at all. There is a huge Cuban community in Miami, as well as a lot of other Hispanic communities. I haven’t experienced that in the US before, and it was a bit of a surprise.
Customer service isn’t what you’d expect
Having spent time in LA on this trip, and had a quite a few trips to the US, I was expecting the usual American OTT customer service. It’s not like that in Miami, at least from what I experienced. People in restaurants/stores/hotels are perfectly helpful, however you may notice a difference between what you’ve experienced before in other areas of the US.
Where I stayed
I stayed near the beach as it’s a novelty for me as a city resident, at Hotel Astor on the corner of Washington Ave and 10th Street. I was advised when booking my accommodation to avoid being right on the beach strip, and to stay in a place one block back (on Collins Ave) or two blocks back (like I did on Washington).
The hotel is super cute, with a cool retro feel. My room was very spacious and the loud aircon unit created the perfect white noise backdrop, so I didn’t hear a thing during the night – and apparently there were club nights on two nights of my stay! The wifi was free and fast, and there are free beach towels and bikes provided for guests.
My only issue with the place is the weird shortage of towels – I had to ask for towels for my room twice, to the point where I asked the front desk lady if guests were expected to BYO towels! I should also note that it doesn’t have a pool, which didn’t bother me.
If I was going to Miami again, I’d try staying at Coconut Grove for a change of scene – it’s an artsy community on the other side of downtown that had a beautiful park, shopping streets and restaurants (as spied from my bus tour). There were quite a few Airbnb apartments around there when I was looking for accommodation for this trip.
Ok that’s the background-type stuff covered, on to my top things to do!
I should caveat this (again) that I was most definitely after a few days of chill time, so if you’re seeking the most happenin’ clubs you’re probably best finding your travel tips elsewhere…
Breakfast at an old-style diner
The 11th Street Diner was built in 1948 and served customers in Pennsylvania for 44 years before being dismantled and moved to the Art Deco area of Miami. It’s been in its current position on the corner of Washington Ave and 11th St for 24 years now.
It’s like stepping back in time walking through the door, and the menu is your typical diner fare – complete with grits, giant burgers and shakes. I was there in the afternoon so partook in the traditional dessert of Florida – the key lime pie – and an iced coffee. Next time I’d go back to do the full American diner breakfast shebang.
Do an open-top bus tour
I haven’t done one of these tours for years, however as my time in Miami was short I wanted to get an overview of the city. I did the Big Bus Tour, which was $45 for 24 hours or else $50 for 48 hours. There are three intersecting routes for the bus, and you can jump on and off at any stop you like. I did the blue and red routes, and passed on the green one.
I sat upstairs for most of my tour for the view, however it was hooootttt with the sun. Most of the buses don’t have aircon downstairs though, so it’s a matter of choosing between the frying pan and the fire! (Hot tip: unfold your map and put it over your thighs for sun protection – my legs were the first part of me to fry, despite sunscreen)
The sights/commentary on the route aren’t exactly staggering, however the awesome thing about the tour is having a vantage point to check out Miami’s beautiful Art Deco architecture – which is well worth the $50.
Get a taste for Cuba over lunch
Little Havana is where Cuban immigrants traditionally settled, and it’s a stop on the bus tour. There are a few big restaurants that draw the tourists in with super-loud Cuban music, however our bus guide recommended a lower-profile neighbourhood restaurant that he himself loved – as a local, I trusted his opinion.
El Exquisito looks like not very much at all from outside, however inside you’ll find the place packed with Cubans and an extensive menu of Cuban dishes – as well as a list of daily specials. It’s also incredibly cheap – my red bean stew, side of veg and freshly-squeezed orange juice came to just $14. I was expecting there to be more around this area – some cute little side streets with cafes and shops to discover maybe, but there wasn’t much around that central touristy strip from what I could see.
Hit the beach
You’ll need to cool down after your bus tour. A lot of the hotels have pools and I saw a lot of people sweating their butts off around them. The beach however was the coolest place I found in Miami, with a perfect ocean breeze. I feel like a traitor for saying this, but I preferred them to those of Sydney.
The sand is the same soft white, however the water is a lot warmer and the waves smaller – which as a non-Sydney native I prefer. You can hire sun-loungers, umbrellas and even daybeds there, however I was happy with my beach towel on the sand.
Have a street-side dinner
Miami makes for great people-watching – it’s a very eclectic community; and a colourful, noisy and confident one at that. My personal favourite was the teeny-tiny swimwear (containing both men and women) that is proudly paraded up and down the streets at all times of the day.
There are lots of restaurants around the Miami Beach strip where I stayed – surprisingly my favourite dinner was at a very low-key Mexican place called Peppers Burrito Grill on Washington Ave. A margarita as big as my face, delicious guac and tasty-as tacos while watching the world walk by was pure perfection.
Get on your bike
Despite the heat, Miami is a great place to cycle. The streets are perfectly flat and easy to navigate due to the grid system, there are bike racks everywhere and you don’t need to wear a helmet. Miami drivers are also very understanding of Irish-Australian women on turquoise bikes who haven’t got to grips with the rules of the road just yet…
I borrowed a bike from my hotel (which was pretty much identical to my bike at home!), however there are lots of bike rental places and public bike rentals like you find in Manhattan.
Take advantage of the cooler morning hours to cruise along the beachfront and find yourself a great spot for brunch.
Well, doh, you say.
I am a big lover of the American mall experience and my nearest mall in Miami Beach was the pedestrianised outdoor mall of Lincoln Road. Most of the big high street names are here: Gap, American Eagle, Aldo, Macy’s, BCBG Max Azaria, American Outfitters, etc. The stores line either side of the pedestrianised mall, with a great assortment of restaurants down the middle.
If I was to shop in Miami again, I’d head to an indoor mall instead. It was touching 100 degrees (38 degrees Celsius) on the thermostat on the day I was there, and there isn’t much shade on the mall.
Factor in a couple of heavy shopping bags and my usual shopping stamina deserted me after a couple of hours. I had to break for lunch an hour in (ceviche at The Café at Books Books was incredible) and even a vat of frozen yoghurt an hour after that didn’t revive me… You can check out some other malls here.
Watch the sunset
The sun sets over downtown, so the beach doesn’t have top ranking for sunset watching. I accidentally found the perfect nook to watch it from…
I stocked up on takeaway dinner deliciousness at Whole Foods (corner of Alton Rd and 10th St) and wheeled my bike half a block towards the water, where there’s a little jetty that gives front row seats to the stunning sunset behind the highrises of downtown Miami. Just you and some fishermen for company!
There you have it – my suggested 48 hours in Miami.
If I had more time I would have checked out some of Miami’s art galleries and also the Art Deco Welcome Centre, which contains a number of Art Deco artefacts and also shares more about the Art Deco design movement. You can also do day trips to the Everglades and to Key West from Miami if you have even more time.
I loved my quick visit there, and it’s a city that you can be as party-minded or chill-minded as you like. Staying out near the beach meant it didn’t feel very city-like at all, and resulted in a very relaxed beach break – a breather I was very grateful for before starting the 28-hour trek back to Australia.
Wish me luck!