While we might use them interchangeably, Miami Beach isn’t the same as South Beach. The buzzy neighborhood (not to be confused with the larger, waterfront city) that stretches from South Pointe north to 23rd street is the mecca of Miami nightlife, one of Miami’s hottest gay neighborhoods and the epicenter of Art Deco Miami. The tiny enclave has a lot going on, but you already knew that from its well-attended street festivals and crowded Ocean Drive. If you’re looking for fun things to do in South Beach, you might be surprised to find more than just touristy activities to keep you busy.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to South Beach, Miami
Best things to do in South Beach
Don’t discount the bitty museum for its size—The Bass is a renowned contemporary art institution that packs incredible collections and traveling exhibitions into its diminutive edifice. Inside, it houses moving works by international artists such as Cameroon’s Pascale Marthine Tayou and France’s Laure Prouvost. Though patrons should keep an eye out for the colorful public art that constantly moves through the museum lawn.
One of the country’s first pedestrian malls, Lincoln Road is continuously overrun with tourists in search of the quintessential South Beach shopping experience. To wit, it makes for fantastic people-watching if you’re a local. The strip brims with sidewalk cafes and brand stores—from Apple and Nespresso to Zara and Gap—and holds weekly farmers’ markets on Sundays.
You know you’re in for a spellbinding performance when you visit the New World Center, home to America’s only full-time orchestral academy. Fellows from around the world regularly put on classical concerts or collaborate on contemporary showcases with local organizations, some of which are free to attend. Looking to keep it casual? Adjacent SoundScape park hosts free WALLCAST concerts throughout the season.
Whether it’s browsing modern-age artifacts or perusing midcentury propaganda, visitors exploring Wolfsonian-FIU’s permanent and traveling exhibitions learn about the myriad ways art and design have helped shape the contemporary world. The Art-Deco–era building also houses youth programs and offers free guided tours every Friday.
File a stop at WEAM under an “only in South Beach experience.” The nearly 20-year-old museum explores thousands of years of sex through classical art, ancient artifacts and a trove of sex toys. In addition to housing a huge collection of erotic art, WEAM features a sizeable collection of antique penises.
For a little culture, duck into the Jewish Museum of Florida, which tells the story of Miami’s large Hebrew community. You can breeze through this small cultural center in less than 30 minutes but do take notice of its core exhibit, “MOSAIC: Jewish Life in Florida,” featuring more than 600 photographs and artifacts that capture the group’s settlement across the peninsula.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Keith A.
There’s a lot of history to soak up in South Beach, specifically in the city’s Art Deco district. Start your day in the colorful neighborhood with a stop here and make the most of your visit. The center will send you off armed with maps and suggestions for DIY walking tours. For a formal introduction to the iconic architecture, book a guided excursion and let one of the Miami Design Preservation League’s certified historians lead the way.
Bear with us here: Ocean Drive is fun. The touristy strip gets a bad wrap for its overpriced drinks (hello, $65 margarita) and mediocre food but there are plenty of great restaurants–if you know where to look. For a sidewalk cafe experience and whimsical cocktails, head to Sugar Factory, where you’re also likely to spot a celeb or two. If it’s something intimate and upscale you’re seeking, try Gianni’s at the Villa, located within the former Versace mansion.
This isn’t a hotel as much as it is a hangout for South Beach scenesters—monthly memberships hover in the hundreds of dollars and a day pass will set you back $125 on the weekends but neither one keeps the locals from filling its loungers or sipping rosé poolside. Weekend cookouts and drag bingo nights are the reason you’ll want to spend more time here than at home—no matter how close it is.
Part beach club, part nightclub and part lounge, Nikki Beach ticks off all the boxes of what you want in a South Beach spot. Start your weekend with a buffet brunch, then move mere feet from the restaurant to a cabana on the sand—it’s up to you what happens next but we recommend stocking up on rosé and seeing where the night takes you.
We never tire of this charming pedestrian boulevard, partly because there’s just so much to do. Aside from drinking and dining at its sidewalk cafes, Española Way offers yoga on Saturday mornings and salsa classes on Thursday nights, both free, plus outdoor flamenco shows on Friday nights and a weekly farmers’ market every Sunday.
Art Basel Miami Beach
It happens but once a year, though once it’s over you’ll feel like a thousand years of partying happened to you. The hangover is worth it to experience Art Basel Miami Beach and the surrounding fairs that are known collectively as Miami Art Week. From collectors and artists to professional partygoers, seemingly every creative person in the world descends on the Magic City to partake in the weeklong festival—and you should, too.
Photograph: Wei Shi