View of South Beach from South Pointe Pier as taken from my iPhone
Miami is one of my favorite places to visit. It is a ton of fun. There is something for everyone: beautiful beaches, the Atlantic Ocean, warm weather all year round, great food, and an epic nightlife. I take advantage of the former four. My first two trips to Miami was for business. I went in January when it is freezing in New York. A cold snap in Miami in January is considered 60 degrees but it does occasionally dip into the 40s. Visiting Miami in the winter months is ideal because I have endured the Florida humidity in the summer before [in Orlando] and it is brutal. While I had an extra day or two on my business trips to explore Miami and South Beach, I definitely wanted a chance to just go there just on vacation and did so in 2015.
Miami is a place you only need to spend 3-5 days in. Definitely spend 3 days on Miami Beach. If you have an extra day, check out Key Biscayne. If you have two extra days, check out some of their neighborhoods like Coconut Grove. I still have not visited Little Havana but there is plenty of awesome Cuban food around Miami. Miami is also not a city that is great for just walking although it is possible because I have done it [tips below]. On the other hand, it is also a pain to park so driving is not a great option either. If you only plan on spending time on Miami Beach, walking and a few cabs will work.
Key Biscayne is an island south of Miami Beach and southeast of Downtown Miami. It is connected to Miami by the Rickenbacker Causeway [becomes Crandon Boulevard], which is 8.5 miles. The causeway cuts through Virginia Key, Crandon Park, the village of Key Biscayne, and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. There are also small beaches along the beginning of the Causeway. I walked the entire Causeway and walked around Crandon Park and Bill Baggs. However, it is a bit too much walking. If you do not want to drive, there is a bus system that runs through Key Biscayne to Bill Baggs. It takes exact change or an “Easy” card. I did not take it but you can find the information at http://www.miamidade.gov/transit/fares-and-passes.asp. If you drive, there is a toll to enter the Causeway and there are parking fees at the parks.
The views at the beginning of the Causeway are beautiful. You will see ocean and the islands. If you are walking on the right side of the road heading to Key Biscayne, the sidewalk will end shortly after the Marina before Crandon Park. You can continue walking on the bike path that runs right next to Crandon Boulevard (last picture to the right). The cars are going 40 MPH so it is not too scary. If you do not want to walk on the bike path, I would suggest crossing the street before the side walk ends when you see the Marina on your right. From that side of the boulevard, you can enter Crandon Park and walk on the trails in the park to get to the village. The sidewalks continue again in the village and get you all the way to the entrance of Bill Baggs. In the village, there are plenty of restaurants, shopping plazas, and stores. There is nowhere to buy water before you reach the village so definitely try to bring some water with you if you walk or bike down the Causeway. There are gas stations as soon as you walk into the village. If you walk further in, there is a supermarket, Winn Dixie (604 Crandon Blvd, Key Biscayne, FL 33149) to buy groceries. I bought water and snacks there.
If you want to enjoy beautiful beaches but avoid the craziness of South Beach, Key Biscayne is definitely more family friendly.
1. Crandon Park (6747 Crandon Blvd, Key Biscayne, FL 33149)
I stopped by and walked into this park on my return trip on the Rickenbacker Causeway. Next time I go to Key Biscayne, I will definitely spend more time there. Naturally, the beach is pristine. There are a lot of activities going on from sports (e.g. volleyball) to barbecuing. There is also a beautiful boardwalk along the beach with plenty of palm trees. If you enjoy running, there are scenic trails to run on. On the west side of the park, there is a golf course and the tennis center, which is home of the Miami Open.
Parking on the weekend is $7. I walked in and there is no fee to enter.
- Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park (1200 Crandon Blvd, Key Biscayne, FL 33149)
It is at the end of the Causeway and there is a fee ($8 per vehicle/ $2 per pedestrian/ bicyclists). For these reasons, it is probably why I saw less people at this park [but still a lot of people]. Like South Beach and Crandon Park, the beach and ocean are beautiful here. At the bottom of the park is a lighthouse that is worth a stop if you are in the park. There are also running paths inside the park. They are good paths to run on. However, the scenery along it is uninspiring so I would not recommend making a trip out to Bill Baggs just to run. If you are looking for a quieter beach experience than Crandon Park or want to ride a bike down the Causeway to the lighthouse, I would recommend it. Otherwise, spending a few hours at Crandon Park is sufficient in a day trip to Key Biscayne.
- Alice Wainwright Park (2845 Brickell Ave, Miami, FL 33129)
The park is to the right of [south of] the entrance to the Rickenbacker Causeway. If you go into the park and down the stairs to the back of the park, there is an excellent area to watch the sunset. You get an amazing view of the causeway and Key Biscayne while feeling the ocean breeze.
1. Oasis Café (19 Harbor Dr, Key Biscayne, FL 33149)
The café is conveniently located right off Crandon Boulevard as you enter the village. You make a right on Harbor Drive and the café will be immediately on your right. It is a solid hole in the wall type place with excellent food at reasonable prices. Everything looked really good. I ordered a roast pork sandwich with onions and it was excellent. It was very tender and had good flavor.
- Doggis Venezuelan Cuisine (1246 SW 22nd St, Miami, FL 33145)
Doggis is a little bit outside of Key Biscayne and the entrance for the Rickenbacker Causeway, like the hotel I was staying at. I ordered delivery. The arepas are awesome and I definitely recommend them. They are crisp and crunchy. However, the beef inside was a little dry. I did not eat at the restaurant so it may have become dry in transit. The accompanying green sauce is very good. The empanadas are so-so and I did not like them. The yuca fries are good but not great.
3. Hotel Urbano (2500 Brickell Ave, Miami, FL 33129)
The hotel is clean, comfortable, and modern. The food is actually very good too. I was tired and did not want to go out one night and ordered the grilled chicken sandwich and parmesan fries. The chicken was very juicy and full of flavor. The fries are also very good. They also give you a big portion of fries and I did not finish them.
The best part of this hotel [and the reason I chose to stay here] is its location. It is less than 3 miles from Coconut Grove, a little more 2 miles from the downtown area, and right outside the entrance of the Rickenbacker Causeway that goes into Key Biscayne. Moreover, there is a free trolley, which runs along Brickell Avenue with a stop outside of the hotel that takes you to the downtown area and to Mercy Hospital off of South Miami Avenue (2 miles from Coconut Grove). A map of the trolley is here: http://www.miamigov.com/trolley/mapBrickellBiscayne.html
Coconut Grove is a neighborhood west of Key Biscayne and south of downtown Miami. In fact, it is the oldest neighborhood in Miami. There are plenty of shops, restaurants, and hotels in the village center of the “Grove”. The Cocowalk is in the middle of the village center. It is an outdoor shopping mall. Unfortunately, it is struggling. A lot of shops were closed and the entire top floor was closed when I visited. Although I did not go see a movie in Miami, there is also a movie theater inside the Cocowalk. Moreover, there are three good parks with water views in the neighborhood: David T Kennedy Park, Peacock Park, and Barnacle Historic State Park. There is a fee for the state park but the former two parks are free. It is a nice neighborhood to walk through and around. Like I noted above, the Brickell Trolley will take you to Mercy Hospital, which is a 2 mile walk to the village center, if you do not want to drive and coming from the downtown area. South Miami Avenue becomes South Bayshore Drive. The walk is pleasant and you pass David T Kennedy Park. In general, the Grove is a good place to stop by in Miami if you have a few hours to spare. I visited the Grove for brunch. There are plenty of chain restaurants in the Grove (e.g. Cheesecake Factory by the Cocowalk). Below are a couple of local spots I enjoyed:
- Lulu In the Grove (3105 Commodore Plaza, Miami, FL 33133)
Lulu is solid. The smoked salmon dish is good. The goat cheese croquettes are very good. However, it is not amazing. In addition, it has a great location in Commodore Plaza. It has a good atmosphere. There is outdoor seating so you can enjoy a view of the plaza.
2. Bianco gelato (3137 Commodore Plaza, Miami, FL 33133)
For once, I ate gelato that lives up to the name. As such, it is easily the best gelato I ever tried. I ordered the Nicollo (hazelnut) and a little pistachio. Both flavors are excellent but the Nicollo is definitely my favorite.
Miami Beach, specifically South Beach (cover photo), is the most well-known part of Miami. The beach and water are obviously beautiful. The food is awesome. Of course, it features a great night life, especially on the weekends. There are a couple of key streets on Miami Beach. Collins Avenue runs north and south from the top to bottom of Miami Beach. You will find a lot of hotels and nightclubs on this street. Lincoln Road is another main road and between 16th and 17th Streets that runs west to east. It is a pedestrian road with plenty of shops and restaurants that also features outdoor dining.
My favorite spot on South Beach is South Pointe. I walked down here every day that I stayed on Miami Beach. The South Pointe Pier is a great place to sit with the ocean breeze hitting you. It has great views of the ocean and you see the entire breach as you look north. You can also watch the cruise ships set sail as they enter the ocean south of the pier. West of the pier is the South Pointe Park which is another nice spot to sit and relax. As you move further west of the park, you will eventually hit the marina which is another good place to walk through. A promenade connects the pier, park, and marina.
If you enjoy walking or running, the beach is great for it. In addition, there is a beautiful boardwalk that runs from 5th Street to 46th Street. I utilized it to walk down to South Beach every day from my hotel on 41st Street.
The beach and boardwalk is also a great place to catch the sunrise since the sun rises in the east. On a clear day, you will get a spectacular view of the sun rising above the ocean. One a partly cloudy morning, you may even get to see the sun rise above the ocean then the clouds.
Below are my recommendations for food and coffee as well as details about where I stayed.
1. Las Olas Café (644 6thSt, Miami Beach, FL 33139)
This café had the best Cuban food I ate in Miami. I had the roast pork and it is amazing. It falls right off the bone and the servers used thongs to pull it off the shoulder. The yellow rice is full of flavor. The café also has the best plantains.
- Under the Mango Tree (714 6thSt, Miami Beach, FL 33139)
I had never tried an acai bowl until I went to Under the Mango Tree. I loved it so much that I had an acai bowl for breakfast every morning for the rest of my trip to Miami. Their acai bowls are incredible. The acai base is very smooth. The bowls are full of granola and fruits. The smoothies are also solid. I tried the Local and Sweet Milk. Both are good. I prefer the Local because I like strawberries more. I highly recommend this place for breakfast because it is healthy and will give you plenty of energy for the day. I also had some great acai bowls while I was in Hawaii but Under the Mango Tree is still the best I have eaten.
- La Sandwicherie (229 14thSt, Miami Beach, FL 33139)
La Sandwicherie is an incredible French sandwich spot in Miami Beach. The servers cut to the chase and will say “hi” and “bye” in the same sentence with no small talk in between. Do not confuse them for being rude. They are just French [I lovingly joke because I worked with them for years]. The fast paced, New Yorker that I am appreciates the efficiency. The sandwiches are among the best I have ever eaten anywhere. I ordered the Napoli (Prosciutto & fresh mozzarella), which includes lettuce and tomatoes. I asked them to exclude the green and hot peppers. I am glad they were not completely listening to me because they included them anyway. As you can guess, the peppers tasted amazing. The smoothies are also excellent. I ordered the Rain Forest (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries & banana). There is limited seating but you can order it to go and eat on the beach. The food is a must try but the service is not for the sensitive.
- Yardbird Southern Table & bar (1600 Lenox Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139)
This spot is great for southern comfort food. I had the Chicken N’ Watermelon N’ Waffles. The fried chicken is awesome and among the best I have tried. The waffles are solid. I did not really like the spice on the watermelon. I would have been happy with just sliced watermelon without it. I also tried the location in Las Vegas for brunch. The deviled eggs and chicken and biscuits special were awesome.
5. Havana 1957 Cuban Cuisine (819 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach, FL 33139)
There are a ton of restaurants on Lincoln Road. The outdoor seating is great. I assumed the entire road is a tourist trap. As such, I avoided eating at any of the restaurants on it during my first two trips to Miami. However, I finally gave in and tried Havana 1957 to enjoy the outdoor seating. I am glad I did. The roasted chicken special is great. The dark meat falls right off the bone. On the other hand, the white meat is dry but it is normally the case. The sauce is awesome so definitely use it on those parts of the chicken. The complimentary plantain chips are excellent and I could not stop eating them. The plantains are also good.
- Latin Café (441 W 41stSt, Miami Beach, FL 33140)
Latin Café is one of the best values on Miami Beach. However, it is on 41st street and is a trek from South Beach. My hotel was close to it so it was easy for me to walk over. The skirt steak is huge and I could not finish it. More importantly, it is tender and full of flavor. The rice and beans are also excellent. In addition, I highly recommend ordering the papaya shake. It is great. The only thing I did not like were the plantains. I had a great experience here but I would not necessarily make the trip up to the café if I were staying on South Beach because there are so many food options there.
- Puerto Sagua (700 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139)
It is a popular Cuban restaurant on South Beach. I had a decent experience but was not overwhelmed. I ordered the pork shoulder and it was good. The sauce is flavorful. However, the meat was a little dry, especially for pork shoulder which is usually juicy. The rice and beans are good. The plantains are very good. The restaurant is also more expensive than the other places I tried, which I also thought were better.
- Sofi café (500 South Pointe Dr #180, Miami Beach, FL 33139)
This café is another excellent spot for acai bowls. I ordered the Ultimate fruit. While it was great, the bowl is smaller with less toppings and is more expensive than the bowls I had at Under the Mango Tree. However, Sofi café is in a more prime location at South Pointe and its pricing is correlated with it. If you are staying near South Pointe, it is a fine option for acai bowls.
2. Brazilian Steakhouses
Miami Beach has both of my favorite Brazilian steakhouses: Fogo de Chao (836 1st St, Miami Beach, FL 33139) and Texas de Brazil (300 Alton Road, Suite 200, Miami Beach, FL 33139). If you have never been to one, it serves unlimited amounts of quality meats, mostly red meats. It has a red and green card system. Green signals the server to come over to your table to cut you a piece of meat right off the skewer. Red means stop because you are full or need a break.
I usually give Fogo de Chao an edge over Texas de Brazil. They are both excellent. The Fogo de Chao in Miami Beach is the high quality you expect from Fogo de Chao. However, I give the Texas de Brazil in Miami Beach the nod. Their brunch on Sunday is great. You get a variety of breakfast foods (eggs, muffins, etc.) and most of the meats served for dinner. In addition, the dining area is on the second floor of the building with an excellent view of the marina.
3. Panther Coffee (1875 Purdy Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139)
Panther Coffee has multiple locations in Miami. I tried the location on Miami Beach. The coffee is very good. I actually tried other coffee shops in other cities that brew Panther Coffee and they tasted better. Nevertheless, this location is solid.
4. Westover Arms (4100 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33140)
If you do not care for the craziness of the South Beach nightlife, Westover Arms is a great hotel to stay at. The suites have plenty of space, are modern, and include a kitchen and refrigerator. It is also conveniently located two blocks from the boardwalk and beach. I walked 2.5 miles on the boardwalk to South Beach every day. The boardwalk is beautiful so it is a great walk. The hotel also gives you vouchers to rent a beach chair and towel. There will also be a lot less people on the beach and in the water since you are well north of South Beach. In addition, it costs a lot less because you are not in the heart of South Beach. I definitely recommend staying here unless you really want to be in South Beach all day and night.
Downtown Miami is a beautiful place to work. I have been there twice on business. However, there is no real reason to walk around unless you are there for work or going to see a Miami Heat game. I would also stay on or close to the main roads of Brickell Avenue and Biscayne Boulevard. There are plenty of restaurants and hotels on them so they are very lighted. I ran at night and felt safe. However, the side streets a few blocks west of those two roads have a dark alley feel to it. Bayfront Park is also a good spot to walk around. It is also the ending point of the Miami Marathon. Again, there are plenty of hotels for you to pick. I stayed at the Intercontinental. It is a very nice hotel and the rooms are spacious. It is also a 5-10 minute walk from the American Airlines Arena if you want to see a Miami Heat game.
South Beach is about a 5 mile walk from downtown Miami so it is not practical to walk. However, I have done the round trip twice. You walk up Biscayne Boulevard then turn right on to the Venetian Causeway. Once you get off the Causeway, you make a right on Alton Road and will be close to Lincoln Road afterwards. Biscayne Boulevard becomes more remote as you move past the American Airlines Arena. The Venetian Causeway is a beautiful walk. There are a lot of houses on the water with docks for their boats in their backyard. However, the Causeway was closed for a project the last time I was in Miami. As a result, I would just take cab to South Beach from downtown Miami.
There are also plenty of excellent food options downtown. Below are a couple of great choices.
- Fratelli Milano (213 SE 1st St, Miami, FL 33131)
Fratelli Milano is an awesome Italian restaurant. I enjoyed it so much that I went back again the next day after my first experience. Their homemade pasta and risotto are outstanding. I highly recommend the Pappardelle Milano (homemade pasta, filet mignon, porcini mushrooms, and sun dried tomatoes) and Risotto ai Funghi Porcini (mushroom risotto).
- CVI.CHE 105 (105 NE 3rd Ave, Miami, FL 33132)
CVI.CHE 105 is a Peruvian restaurant, similar to Pio Pio in New York City but probably better. The restaurant is beautiful and the food is excellent. I had the arroz pollo pecho (chicken with rice. Of course, the green sauce is a must. Pour it on the dish.
Final Advice if you do not want to drive
If you do not want to rent a car, you can use a combination of walking, mass transit, and cabs. I visited all the areas above and mostly walked because I love to walk. I stayed at Hotel Urbano which is right next to the Rickenbacker Causeway that goes into Key Biscayne. It is also reasonably close to Coconut Grove and the downtown area. I took a cab from the airport to the hotel. After I was done visiting Key Biscayne, the Grove, and downtown for two days, I took a cab to Miami Beach. Once I was at Miami Beach, it was easy for me to walk up and down the beach on the Boardwalk.