While most tourists flock directly to showy South Beach for things to do in Miami Florida, locals know the real action is on the mainland.
Over the last few years, Miami has quickly matured into a nucleus of world-class art, high-end fashion, chef-driven restaurants, and luxury hotels.
Here’s a local’s guide to experiencing the sunny city by neighborhood — plus, why February is the best time to be there. (Hint: it involves brunch with Southern darling Trisha Yearwood.)
Things to Do in Miami Florida: WYNWOOD ARTS DISTRICT
An aerial view of Wynwood Walls Garden as guests wander through the murals. (Photo credit: Will Graham)
While the premier art show Art Basel only takes place once a year in Miami, Wynwood is bursting with mind-blowing art all year round.
This neighborhood has some of the best food spots in the city and enough breweries for a day-long craft beer crawl. Or, several stops during vacation.
You can spend hours wandering these 50-city blocks snapping Instagram-worthy photos. They’re packed with vivid street art and sky-high murals by renowned and emerging artists from around the world. Start your tour at the neighborhood’s backbone, Wynwood Walls, a maze of eclectic walls that are always evolving. Then, peruse art galleries and locally-owned shops! We loved lifestyle boutique Frangipani and funky clothing shop Nomad Tribe.
You can also join the massive crowds for Art Walk, a huge block party that happens every second Saturday.
Fuel your morning with a cold brew at neighborhood institution Panther Coffee. You can sit outside on their shaded patio for endless people watching.
Frozen desserts at Cielito Artisan Pops can be dipped in chocolate and adorned with endless toppings from torched marshmallows to sprinkles.
Craft beer lovers can bounce between four different breweries like J. Wakefield Brewing. Or ,for creative cocktails and a bird’s-eye view of the artsy ‘hood, find the private entrance to Wynwood’s first and only rooftop lounge, No. 3 Social.
Things to Do in Miami Florida: MIAMI DESIGN DISTRICT
The Miami Design District is an 18-block creative hub of art, design, architecture, high fashion, and fine dining. You won’t find anything else like it in the world.
Amongst all the things to do in Miami Florida, this is every fashionista’s favorite. Fashionistas will set their credit cards on fire at more than 60 luxury fashion boutiques. You’ll be happy to see familiar names such as Gucci, Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, Christian Louboutin, Prada, and perfume house Creed. All of these fashion houses have unique facades to match the cutting-edge neighborhood. (Don’t miss taking a “selfie” in front of the vivid orange walls of Fendi.)
The District has attracted the world’s most desirable artists and architects. So, the neighborhood is dotted with can’t-miss public installations. Check out some of these landmark worthy installations:
“Fly’s Eye Dome,” a larger-than-life dome by architect Buckminster Fuller
“Fly’s Eye Dome” by architect Buckminster Fuller is a must-see public installation in the center of Palm Court.
A bronze sculpture of a skeleton at a “Bus Stop” fashioned by Urs Fischer
“Nuage,” a steel cloud-like canopy designed by French brothers Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec. The brothers were recently commissioned to modernize the fountains on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
Even the parking garages are extraordinary. Real cars dangle off one wall, and another wall has a black Japanese manga.
Other walls have a French Baroque and Renaissance-inspired façade. The new Museum Garage will make you stop and stare.
To further immerse yourself in grand art, check out the shiny new location of Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) . You can roam their exhibition galleries and sculpture garden for free.
Fill your belly with handmade croquetas and lechón-topped flatbreads at Gloria and Emilio Estefan’s new upscale Cuban restaurant Estefan Kitchen. You’ll be “on your feet” thanks to nightly live music and waiters who belt out tunes.
For a romantic dinner, reserve a table at Mandolin Aegean Bistro. You’ll love the intimate 1940’s bungalow and their Turkish and Greek Isles-inspired cuisine.
Enjoy dining in the twinkling outdoor courtyard. It’s easy to relax as you dine on plates of kabobs, lamb chops, and grilled octopus while sipping rose-water sangria.
Still to come:
The food game intensifies in the District later in 2018, with the opening of three concepts by French chef and restaurateur Joël Robuchon.
He’s known for his Parisian stand-out L’Atelier; an outpost of New York-favorite ABC Kitchen by Jean-Georges Vongerichten; and a massive food hall concept from New Orleans’ iconic St. Roch Market.
Things to Do in Miami Florida: BRICKELL / DOWNTOWN MALL
In case the endless number of cranes that dot the downtown horizon doesn’t give it away, the list of things to do in Miami Florida is growing at lightning speed, and there’s so much “new” for the entire family.
Grab the kids — one of the latest downtown attractions is the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science. If your kids are into astronomy, check out the 3-D planetarium. If they’re more interested in fish, check out the aquarium. The aquarium has touch-tanks, and an impressive 31-footwide oculus lens that offers a view of sharks circling overhead.
If shopping and pampering is your vacation style, spend a few hours at the new Brickell City Centre. There, you’ll find a mecca of luxury shops (many that are new to the U.S), restaurants, and a dine-in movie theater. Perfect for those days you’re looking for things to do in Miami Florida while escaping the Miami heat. For ultimate spoiling, check in for a spa day at the five-star Mandarin Oriental Miami on secluded Brickell Key for a taste of Asian-inspired serenity.
The hottest reservation in Brickell is Komodo, a mammoth three-story eatery and lounge where the wellheeled crowd congregates for Southeast Asian cuisine with a Miami twist. Start with the popular lobster dynamite and melt-in-yourmouth Wagyu beef dumplings (or unique salt cod dumplings if you’re daring), and move on to share the Peking duck and garlic king crab lo mein.
For a true “only-in-Miami” experience, make a reservation at El Tucán Nightclub and Cabaret for an energetic dinner-and-a-show with a mix of sexy Burlesque, over-the-top vocal performances, a live Latin band that will transport you to Cuba, and even a contortionist. (Like we said, only in Miami.)
End the night with cocktails at Sugar, the rooftop bar and garden perched on the 40th floor of chic EAST Miami, where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic city views and an energetic scene.
Things to Do in Miami Florida: SOUTH BEACH
While South Beach always delivers on an epic night out, there’s so many more things to do in Miami Florida outside of Ocean Drive and partying at the mega-clubs — you just need to know where the locals go.
Spend a day in South Pointe Park, one of the most scenic, family-friendly spots on Miami Beach. Bake in the sun on the beach (with hundreds of other locals), stroll the South Pointe Pier to watch the cruise ships head in and out of the Port, cruise down winding paths on a bike, or watch the kids roll down the park’s grassy hills and splash around in the interactive water fountains.
For picturesque views of Biscayne Bay and glorious sunsets, head to the waterfront neighborhood, Sunset Harbour. This local’s hotspot is saturated with everything from yoga and cycling spots to juice bars, global restaurants, and trendy boutiques. It’s also a great jumping-off point to enjoy Miami’s turquoise water on a kayak or paddleboard with South Beach Kayak.
Depending on when you visit, enjoy a magical evening on the spacious lawn of the New World Symphony for a free “WALLCAST” concert, where the musicians are grandly projected on the huge outdoor wall and attendees go all-out with elaborate picnics.
An aerial view of the New World Center Campus where the New World Symphony performs.
Things to Do in Miami Florida: FOUR SEASONS HOTEL AT SURF CLUB
Relive the glitz of Miami’s heyday by traveling back in time at the present-day Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club.
It’s rare to walk into a hotel and actually “feel” its fabled past, but at Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club, it’s easy to recall a glamorous bygone era when dashing crooners like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, movie star Elizabeth Taylor, and even Winston Churchill roamed free — and when over-the-top bashes included circus nights with elephants performing in the ballroom and a Ferris wheel rotating in the courtyard.
The moment you enter the luxury oceanfront hotel, just 20-minutes from the action of South Beach, you’ll stroll down a palm-lined loggia known as “Peacock Alley,” appropriately named for the entrance where a glittering roster of celebs and socialites strutted their stuff after tire mogul Harvey Firestone opened The Surf Club, an exclusive private club, on New Year’s Eve 1930.
The swanky club shuttered in 2013, but last year, the idyllic refuge was grandly resurrected by a Miami-based developer partnering with Four Seasons. (It’s one of only three Four Seasons’ properties in the world with a historical component — the others are in Paris and London.)
History doesn’t mean old and stuffy here. Pritzker-prize winning architect Richard Meier designed three, gleaming 12-story towers with a 77-room hotel and private residences around the original Mediterranean Revival-style clubhouse. The result is a marriage of modern and times gone by — with many of the club’s original ceilings, archways, and chandeliers still there.
Things to Do in Miami Florida: A STAY FOR ALL SEASONS
Guests spend sun-kissed days bouncing between three pools or draped on beach chairs where eager attendants offer to clean your sunglasses and even wash the sand from your feet. If you’re seeking the ultimate pampering, retreat to the spa where attendants will gift olive oil soap to exfoliate and moisturize your body in the co-ed hammam.
While a stress-reducing rubdown is always a vacation staple, facials are a step-above here with customized treatments.
Guests often enjoy splurging on the French line Biologique Recherche (known for their cult favorite exfoliating toner, Lotion P50) and a remodeling machine that promises an instant, albeit temporary, facelift.
Start your day with sunrise yoga, or end it with sunset meditation; hop on a complimentary bike to cruise around Surfside, stopping by the area’s “restaurant row” or nearby swanky Bal Harbour shops.
Things to Do in Miami Florida: TOAST OF THE TOWN
The heart of the hotel is Le Sirenuse Miami Restaurant and Champagne Bar — where many of those epic parties of the club’s gilded past took place. Plates are described as “elegant” portions, meaning they will be small, but each dish is packed with so much thought and flavor. “When you have simple dishes, ingredients have to standout,” says Mermolia. Menu standouts include freezing salads served in a bowl made of ice and topped with sorbet, little purses of pasta stuffed with a beef ragu mozzarella reduction and black truffle, tender New Zealand lamb chops in a raspberry au jus, and gelato made of Italian pistachios.
The best spot in the house is the stunning Champagne Bar which is fringed with lush, tropical plants and anchored by a wavy green bar.
You’ll feel like royalty as you sip a Duke & Duchess of Windsor cocktail (who visited the old club) or another Italian-inspired drink, and the bar offers the largest selection of Champagne in Miami.
Later this year, Thomas Keller, the celebrated chef of Per Se and French Laundry, will open a restaurant in the former courtyard where the Ferris wheel used to turn during circus nights. Can’t you just picture it?