Hi all! I hope that everyone had a great Valentine’s Day and that you’ve been enjoying this beautiful, spring-like weather we’ve been having. Around this time of year, I always start getting excited for spring and dreaming of warmer weather. This year I’m particularly excited because in a few weeks I’m going to visit my friend in Arizona! We met in our first year of university (she grew up in Arizona but went to school at U of T) and have remained in touch over the years, so I’m looking forward to hanging out with her and soaking up some desert sunshine.
Planning this trip has got me thinking about the last warm-weather destination I visited, which was Miami last May, and I realized that I’d never shared those experiences on this blog because it didn’t exist back then! The blog has become such a fun creative outlet for me, that some days it’s hard to believe I started writing it not even a year ago. So, since I know this time of year is when many of us Ontarians start to tire of winter and plan trips to warmer destinations, I thought I’d share my Miami travel suggestions with you! Not only is it a fabulous place to visit overall, but the flight’s only three hours from Toronto, making it the perfect destination for a quick and easy getaway. We went to Florida for one week last spring, and visited both Miami and Palm Beach. This week, I’ll start by sharing my best travel recommendations for Miami, and next week I’ll move onto my top Palm Beach picks. So without further ado….here’s my guide to the best things to see and do in sunny Miami!
Vizcaya Museum & Gardens – If you were in Miami for one day and were only able to visit one tourist attraction, Vizcaya is hands-down the one I’d recommend. Located in the city’s tony Coconut Grove neighbourhood, this grand estate was the former home of American industrialist James Deering. The sprawling, Mediterranean-style estate was built between 1914 and 1922, and its architecture was inspired by historic villas of Italy. Visiting Vizcaya is like taking a step back in time to the glamorous Gilded Age! There are 32 lavishly decorated rooms to explore in the house itself, not to mention the 10 acres of formally landscaped gardens. My favourite part of Vizcaya was the Tea House: an architecturally stunning, lattice-roofed pavilion overlooking Biscayne Bay. We spent just over two hours exploring Vizcaya, and could have easily spent an entire day here had we not had other activities planned.
Wynwood Walls/Wynwood Art District – Located in Miami’s hip Wynwood neighbourhood, the Wynwood Walls is one of the largest collections of street art in the world. It consists of six warehouses, painted with larger-than-life murals by world-famous artists. The project was started in 2009 by arts visionary and community developer Tony Goldman, who wanted to transform the industrial area into an open-air art gallery to attract more pedestrian traffic. Today, the Wynwood Walls is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Miami, and it was also long renowned for being one of the best free experiences in the city. Unfortunately, as of 2021 the Wynwood Walls are no longer free, and you have to purchase a $15 ticket to enter. This change was met with a lot of opposition from locals and tourists alike, who felt that charging people to enter this formerly public space was at odds with its original vision of publicly accessible art for everyone to enjoy. Not to mention, none of the money is going to the artists, just to the private owners who have monetized the space. The good news is that the ‘Wynwood Walls’ is just one small part of the Wynwood Art District. The neighbourhood is filled with tons of creative, innovative and inspiring murals – all you have to do is take a walk around! Tania and I did not purchase tickets to the Wynwood Walls (for both budgetary and principle reasons) and we still got to see a ton of incredible art.
Flamingo Gardens – This 60-acre botanical garden and wildlife sanctuary is located about 25 miles north of Miami in Davie, and I promise you, it’s well worth the drive. The land was purchased by horticulturalists Floyd and Jane Wray in 1927. They built a weekend home, citrus grove and laboratory on the property, where they studied rare species of tropical and subtropical plants. The Wray Weekend Home – a quaint and surprisingly modest country cottage – still stands, and is open for visitors to tour. But it’s the huge and diverse variety of plants and animals that make Flamingo Gardens such a special place. The grounds are home to more than 3,000 species of plants, including 200-year-old Live Oak trees and thousands of orchids. Flamingo Garden’s wildlife sanctuary, which opened in 1990, cares for animals who are permanently injured or cannot be released back into the wild for other reasons. The animals at the sanctuary include alligators, black bears, panthers, bobcats, river otters, and lots of birds, including – you guessed it – flamingos! Some of the animals at Flamingo Gardens roam freely around the property, so don’t be surprised if you run into free-range peacocks, ibises or iguanas on your tour. I highly recommend the tram ride, which is included with admission and provides a scenic, entertaining and educational tour of the property.
Art Deco Historic District – If you’re an architecture and design aficionado, you’re likely already familiar with Miami’s art deco heritage. The Art Deco Historic District is home to over 800 buildings built between 1923 and 1943, and has America’s largest concentration of this style of architecture. Even if you’re not an architecture buff, it’s so worth a tour! The plethora of sleek retro buildings in a rainbow of candy-coloured pastels is a view that’s so quintessentially Miami, I don’t think one can truly experience the city without seeing it. The Art Deco Historic District is located in South Beach between 5th Street and 23rd Street, along Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and Washington Avenue. You can embark on a free self-guided walking tour, or if you’d like something a little more structured, you can book a guided walking tour through the Miami Design Preservation League. However you choose to experience it, be sure to stop into the Official Art Deco Gift Shop on Ocean Drive. If you’re looking for chic Miami mementoes (i.e. not what you’d get in a typical souvenir store) you’ll find them here: from vintage-style postcards on thick cardstock, to elegant posters, architectural prints and coffee table books.
The Everglades – If you’re a nature lover, then a tour of the Everglades is probably on your bucket list. It was on mine, and I’m so glad I got the chance to check it off! There are lots of companies offering airboat tours of the Everglades, so you’ll have several options to choose from. We went with Everglades Safari Park, which we found on Groupon. We chose this company because the ticket prices were a great deal at $25 per person, and also because it was only a 40-minute drive from downtown Miami, not far at all compared to some of the other tour companies that operate further down within Everglades National Park. Our tickets included a 40-minute airboat tour through the Everglades, a wildlife nature show after the ride, and access to the park’s hiking trails and observation platforms. Of course, everyone goes on an Everglades tour hoping to see alligators! We saw two, and even though I’d hoped to spot a few more, simply getting to see these majestic animals up close in their natural habitat was nothing short of incredible. We also saw many beautiful birds, including a great blue heron. Wildlife aside, the boat ride through the wetlands was an amazing experience on its own. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen in my life! A couple of tips if you’re planning your own Everglades excursion: if you’re hoping to see alligators, take your boat ride earlier in the morning (our tour guide explained that when it gets hot in the afternoon, gators seek refuge under the water.) Research your tour company ahead of time to ensure they’re an ethical operation – read the reviews and stay away from any companies that talk about feeding the alligators or letting visitors take photos holding alligators. And finally, wear long sleeves and pants (choose fabrics in light colours to stay cool) and bring LOTS of bug spray; you’ll need it!
Miami Beach – I couldn’t write a post about Miami Beach without mentioning the beach itself! With its stretches of white sand, clear blue waters and bustling Beachwalk, there’s a reason it’s one of the world’s most famous beaches. The beach runs the entire length of the city but consists of four distinct beaches: South Pointe Beach, South Beach, Mid Beach and North Beach. We visited South Beach, which stretches between 5th and 23rd Streets and is arguably Miami’s most popular beach. It’s also notable for being home to some architecturally significant lifeguard towers. These towers have an interesting history: when Hurricane Andrew destroyed the original lifeguard towers in the 1990s, architect William Lane designed and built several brightly coloured towers to replace them, in an attempt to bring some joy back to the beach and pay homage to the city’s art deco heritage. Other designers followed suit, and now there are 36 candy-coloured lifeguard towers dotting the beach from South Pointe Park up to 87th Street.
Design District – This fashionable neighbourhood is home to stunning sculptures, immersive art installations, and some of Miami’s most luxurious furniture showrooms and clothing stores. While I can’t afford to shop at many of the stores there, we had a blast window-shopping! One store I did insist on popping into is Jonathan Adler: he’s an interior designer and ceramicist who’s well-known for his quirky, humorous and retro-inspired home goods. (I also happened to meet him in person at the 2020 Toronto Interior Design Show – he was so sweet and I was totally star-struck!) Another store I recommend is Aerin, a lifestyle boutique owned by Aerin Lauder (Estee Lauder’s granddaughter). In addition to her eponymous beauty line (her Lilac Path fragrance is my favourite perfume; I wear it every day!) she designs, curates and sells the loveliest collection of homewares. While in the Design District, we tried to get a table at the popular Dior Café, only to realize that there was a 2-hour-plus waitlist in the middle of the afternoon, so needless to say that didn’t happen (but if you’re interested in going, consider this your word of warning to show up early and get your name on that list!) And while it’s fun to window-shop all the fancy boutiques, luckily, you don’t need to have deep pockets to have fun in the Design District. There’s no shortage of incredible art for the public to enjoy free of charge, from permanent installations like Buckminster Fuller’s Fly’s Eye Dome to temporary exhibits like Alex Proba’s Tomorrow Land, which was on display during our trip. Check out the Design District’s website for an up-to-date list of current exhibits!
Espanola Way – Located between 14th and 15th Streets, this pedestrian thoroughfare is notable for its Mediterranean-style buildings in a rainbow of pretty pastel colours. It was originally created in 1925 by developers who envisioned a “historic Spanish village” in the middle of South Beach. In 2017, it underwent a $2.5 million revitalization. Today, it’s a popular spot for tourists to shop, dine, peruse an art gallery, grab a drink on a patio, or just go for a stroll and marvel at the beautiful architecture. Espanola Way hosts several events, from arts and crafts markets to free salsa classes and opera performances – check out their website for updates!
Little Havana – With Cuban Americans comprising more than half of its population, Miami is a city rich in Cuban culture and heritage. And what better way to experience that heritage than by spending a day in Little Havana? This vibrant neighbourhood is Miami’s epicentre of Cuban culture, food and music. Calle Ocho (“8th Street” in Spanish) is the area’s main thoroughfare and is filled with public art, restaurants, bars, Cuban coffee shops, cigar stores and live music venues. As an art lover, I really enjoyed seeing all of the public art on display in this area. The vibrantly painted Calle Ocho Roosters are sprinkled throughout the sidewalks, and each one has its own distinct theme and personality. I also love vintage postcard design, so I enjoyed seeing the Little Havana postcard mural, which is located next to the Chase Bank at Calle Ocho and 26th Avenue. Between 12th and 17th Avenues you’ll find the Calle Ocho Walk Of Fame, which pays tribute to famous Latin artists, from Julio Iglesias to Gloria Estefan. If it’s music you’re looking for, there’s no shortage of options: many bars host performances by live bands, so simply stroll down the street, see what catches your ear and pop in for a drink! I highly recommend Ball & Chain, a legendary and historic music venue (originally opened in 1935) that offers free salsa dance lessons. And if you’re hungry, pop into Churro Mania or grab a table at the famous Versailles Restaurant for Cuban sandwiches and tres leches cake (more info about Versailles to come in my next post!)
The Bass – Housed in a historic art deco building, The Bass is a renowned art museum that’s home to one of Miami’s most inspired and diverse contemporary art collections. Sadly, we didn’t get a chance to tour the museum itself while we were there, but we did pass through its surrounding green space – Collins Park – one morning, where we saw its famous Miami Mountain sculpture. Created by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone in 2016 for Art Basel, this sculpture of brightly coloured boulders was inspired by the rock formations of the North American Badlands and is one of Miami’s most famous pieces of public art.
Well, that’s all, folks! I hope you enjoyed this post about my favourite things to see and do in Miami. In a few days I’ll be posting a follow-up guide with – you guessed it – my favourite places to eat in the Magic City.
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