What do Tony Montana, Dexter and Don Johnson have in common? Well, you could say they’ve all helped put Miami on the map in one way or another! When most people think of this tropical playground, they picture the posh, star-studded hotels along Collins Ave., toned and tanned bodies glistening on the white sands of South Beach and perhaps a hint of the fast & dangerous world that inspired Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Believe me when I say that Miami is so much more than the over-the-top reputation that often precedes it.
Miami boasts the distinction of being one of the most ethnically-diverse cities in the country. With that comes a vibrant cultural landscape filled with amazing food and colorful neighborhoods. Some delightfully surprising things I discovered about Miami on my first visit back as an adult are the burgeoning independent art scene in Wynwood, the eclectic food landscape and all the great pockets of hidden gems that exist outside of touristy South Beach.
When I was little, my family and I used to visit Miami during the summers to spend time with my aunt, uncle and cousins. What I never expected during my last visit this spring was how I could fall in love with a city I’d been to so many times as a kid after rediscovering it from a totally fresh perspective.
Below are just a few of the great spots in and around Miami that I really enjoyed, and I hope you get a chance to as well!
Pérez Art Museum Miami- Their ever-evolving collection of contemporary and modern art is a true reflection of the burgeoning art community and the diverse cultural landscape of the city. Its picturesque location along Biscayne Bay makes it the perfect escape on a hot afternoon!
Wynwood Walls / Art District- Miami's warehouse district has proven to be the perfect canvas for some of the world's most talented and under-appreciated street art and graffiti artists. There are also plenty of great shops, restaurants and bars that call this vibrant neighborhood home.
Art Deco District- Lined with colorful Art Deco architecture and palm trees, this is arguably the most iconic part of Miami – the stuff Miami post cards are made of! You can explore on foot at your own leisure or take an official Art Deco District guided tour to learn more about historic Deco buildings like Carlyle, Colony Theatre and the Essex House.
South Beach- Considered by many as the “American Riviera” this Miami hot spot is a definite can’t-miss with its impressive array of world-class restaurants, hotels, shops and of course, the famous white sand beaches. People watch along Ocean Drive as it comes alive at dusk or stroll down the posh shops of Collins Ave.
Key Biscayne- Just six miles off the coast of Miami lies this tranquil island paradise that couldn't feel farther from the hustle and bustle of South Beach. Crandon Beach Park is my personal favorite with its lush backdrop of palm trees, mangroves and sea grass, and wide stretches of sand, oftentimes without a soul in sight (particularly if you visit on a weekday).
Coral Gables- This beautiful and posh community situated southwest of Downtown Miami offers great shopping and dining as well as the opportunity to take in an afternoon drive down some of their master plan communities with impressive Mediterranean-inspired architecture.
Oleta River State Park- If you're in the mood for a day of adventure, this state park offers lots of fun options, from paddle boarding (my personal fave) to kayaking to mountain biking.
Biscayne Bay Cruise- There are so many ways to take in Miami's Biscayne Bay. Several boat tour companies offer everything from Millionaire's Row cruises, sunset cruises, to relaxing sailboat trips. Either way, you can't beat a day on the water with the Miami skyline as your backdrop!
The Webster- This über-trendy boutique carries a great collection of high-end designers all in an iconic Art Deco building on Collins Ave.
Collins Ave.- Speaking of Collins Avenue...If you're looking to indulge in a little retail therapy, there are plenty of great stores to choose from: Zara, Intermix, Sephora, just to name a few.
Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink- James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz opened his flagship restaurant with one mission in mind: to serve up really fresh, really good food using the best seasonal ingredients. There’s nothing pretentious about this fine establishment, just an excellent dining experience from beginning to end. Highly recommended.
130 NE 40th St. (Design District)
El Palacio de los Jugos- This humble yet authentic food market is a great place to find some of the best Cuban comfort dishes around as well as the freshest tropical fruit juices (hence their name). My favorite is the Guanabana (soursop) juice!
5721 W. Flagler St.
Panther Coffee- This local coffee shop and small-batch coffee roaster makes some of the best cold brew coffee I've had anywhere!
2390 NW 2nd Ave. (Wynwood)
Under the Mango Tree- I admit it; I'm kind of a hippie at heart, so this bohemian juice and smoothie bar definitely appeals to that side of me. They also serve açai bowls for a healthy breakfast option.
714 6th St., Miami Beach
Versailles Cuban Cuisine- Located in the heart of Calle Ocho, this popular restaurant serves traditional Cuban favorites like ropa vieja, milanesa, and of course, the famous Cubano sandwich.
3555 SW 8th St.
Zak the Baker- This kosher bakery is my favorite in all of Miami because of their incredible breakfast sandwiches (and really impressive bread). They also serve Panther coffee which is always a plus.
405 NW 26th St. (Wynwood)
Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop- When I learned that this pie purveyor makes their own version of Momofuku Milk Bar's "crack pie", I had to try it. The verdict: I think I've found my new favorite dessert place in Miami. Oh and they also claim to have the best key lime pie in the city. Not too shabby!
2818 N. Miami Ave. (Wynwood)
Threefold Café- This adorable cafe serves up really delicious gourmet breakfast menu plus they have a full coffee bar, baristas and all! A lovely spot for brunch after an early morning beach session in Key Biscayne.
141 Giralda Ave., Coral Gables
The Local House- Although known for their seafood, this chic seaside-themed restaurant is also a great place for brunch.
400 Ocean Drive.
Gelato-Go South Beach- Serving authentic Italian gelatos and sorbets just where you would crave it most -- in hot and humid South Beach.
458 Ocean Dr.
The Seed Boca Raton- I had to add this coffee shop in even though it's not in Miami (or even in the same county). Their lovely interiors and gourmet coffee selection make it a must stop if you're in the area. They also serve their own brand of cold-pressed juices.
199 W. Palmetto Park Road, Boca Raton