Miami: one of my favourite places in the world. We’ve been on two separate occasions and loved both equally. The first was on the back of a trip to New York with Joelle’s family for her 30th celebrations, and the other was the commencement of our South American adventure last year. Our second visit to Miami was also the visit during which we got engaged, so it holds even more sentiment for us now than ever before.
On both occasions, we stayed in Miami Beach and would recommend for anyone to do the same. It’s close to the action, but most importantly (and as the name suggests) it’s closest to the beach. There are a several options for places to stay, from budget(ish) to extremely high-end. We’ve stayed in an Airbnb overlooking the Venetian Islands, the COMO Metropolitan and at Hotel Gaythering. All three were close to bars and restaurants, transport links and beaches.
Miami and Miami Beach are relatively easy to navigate. Cabs and Ubers are in abundance, and the bus network is simple and cheap. To get your bearings in Miami however, I’d recommend hopping on a bike. Citibikes are aplenty across the island and give you the opportunity to see the city at your own pace. We cycled all the way down to South Pointe, and then across the 195 to Wynwood. There are stations from which you can pick up a bike, use it for as long as you wish, and then pay for the time you’ve used the bike when you dock it back into whichever station is most convenient. It’s easy to use, cheap and a good way to enjoy some of that Miami heat. But please, take a bottle of water. Miami gets HUMID.
Pro tip: Take a break at KUSH in Wynwood for a beer and a snack – their food is incredibly tasty and a little easier on the purse strings compared to most eateries in Miami Beach.
After a short break, cycle over to Wynwood to explore its incredible street art. Wynwood Walls is an outdoor museum showcasing large-scale works by some of the world’s best-known street artists and is incredible. There are a many craft breweries surrounding the area, so a refreshing drink is never too far away either.
After navigating the city, it’s time to discover its food and drink scene. Call me stupid, but I didn’t expect the cuisine in Miami to be this good. On your first evening, I recommend heading over to Little Havana for some Cuban inspiration. Timeout recommends Sanguich de Miami for the best Cuban sandwich, though I’d argue that most places in Little Havana will provide the Cubano goodness. Our evening in Little Havana ended with us perched at a table with a guy and his abuela (who spoke no English), sipping on Cuba Libre’s and playing dominoes.
In my opinion, a trip to Miami would be incomplete without visiting the Everglades. Although not in Miami itself, there are several tour operators available originating in Miami. Many will pick you up at your hotel or a central pick-up spot and drive you to the Everglades National Park. We booked our tour through Viator for approximately £35 (~$45). This included transfers to and from Miami, and a 45-minute boat tour through the everglades with a guide. The whole experience was surreal – I’m not sure how many more times in my life I’ll be within touching distance of an alligator! The guide was hugely informative and made the experience extra special with his stories, and the Everglades are naturally fascinating.
A trip here takes most of the day, so enjoy the surroundings and peace and quiet away from the busy city before returning.
The world-famous Ocean Drive. Consistently full of life, it’s easy to see why this is such a focal point for visitors to Miami. Expect to pay the premium here, but don’t miss out on the huge number of bars and restaurants offering the true Miami Beach experience. On both occasions we visited Miami, there were huge worldwide football tournaments taking place, so we spent a considerable amount on time in Finnegan’s Way – an Irish bar with huge screens and reasonable drinks (given that it’s on Ocean Drive). Don’t be afraid to head back a few blocks to both Collins Avenue and Washington Avenue – many of the bars here are less busy and a little cheaper. One of the best nights out we had was on the West-side of the island at a speakeasy called Foxhole. Open til 5am, it gets lively in here. Highly recommend.
You can’t visit Miami and not spend a day on its famous beaches. There are a huge number of beaches to choose from, though most notably is probably Lummus Park Beach. This is the beach you will have seen in the movies. With its famous lifeguarding huts, it took everything in me to not try and recreate the Baywatch opening scene (badly). The huts make for a great photo opportunity if you’re not feeling so brave/stupid. South Pointe Park Pier is a beautiful 17-acre park on the very tip of Miami Beach which has great views of the coastline. If you don’t mind going a little further, Surfside is a beautiful residential beach with a small beach town vibe. There’s even a picnic area here, so you can save some cash by bringing your own food!
If the beach isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other things to do in Miami and Miami Beach. Head to Lincoln Road to shop and people watch, take a leisurely stroll down the Hollywood Beach boardwalk, or take a tour with the Miami Tour Company for a witty and informative afternoon.
There are two restaurants which are stand-out experiences for me in Miami. One is in Wynwood (Alter) and one is on South Beach (Byblos). Dependant on where you’d like to spend your final evening, either of these restaurants should be on your list. Both will need to be booked in advance, and both are well worth the minor splurge.
The first is Alter. Alter is based in an unassuming, warehouse-esque property in the centre of Miami’s Wynwood neighbourhood. When we visited, it was Joelle’s 30th and therefore a special occasion, so we didn’t hold back. Alter offer a 5, 7 and ‘full chef’s experience’ menu. We opted for the 7 courses with wine pairing, and it was absolutely out-of-this-world incredible. From the food and flavours to the service and the pacing of each course, it was quite literally faultless. There is a bar menu and chef’s counter menu available, but if you have a little left to splurge; go for the full experience.
Byblos was the location for our pre-engagement meal. I’d picked it especially close to the beach, as this is where I wanted to propose, but it turned out to be perfect in terms of food choice, too. Serving Eastern Mediterranean cuisine, Byblos is located centrally on Collins Avenue. We chose to share several plates from the dinner menu, including artichoke and kibbeh to black truffle pide and Atlantic salmon. Nothing was too much bother for the staff, and the wine we had to accompany the food was incredible. It’s a little more reasonable here than the tasting menu at Alter, though it still felt like a special occasion with impeccable service and surroundings.
Miami is somewhere we eventually had to leave, whether it be for the sake of the purse strings or our waistbands. It is also one of the few places on this earth I wish to return to time and time again. I thought I’d hate it. I thought it would scream tacky. But I was genuinely surprised at the deep culture and passion pulsing through its veins. Its strong LGBT+ community is something else to note – this is a place proud of its people, and it shows. Miami, you’ll forever have a place in my heart.