Miami's best neighborhoods
When the world hears the word Miami, they close their eyes and see South Beach. They see beaches and sloshing mojitos and miles of bright neon. They also see dollar signs—and a lot of them. They’re not entirely wrong. Miami’s biggest tourism hub still offers popped-collar nightlife and sandal-friendly sidewalk cafés. But the last decade has seen South Beach diversify in delightful ways. Locals no longer avoid it and tourists aren’t the only people wiggling toes in the sand. Nightlife options have grown plentiful and veered from the velvet rope elitism of the early 2000s. Now, each pocket of the neighborhood holds something new, and you're as likely to find five-star dining, world-renowned cocktail dens and breathtaking art as you are a bartender wielding a water gun full of tequila. Welcome to the new South Beach.
The culinary scene in South Beach has grown into itself over the last few years. At the Bazaar by José Andrés, you can find all the innovative and mind-bogglingly delicious plates foodies have come to expect from the master chef. The bill won’t be cheap, but dishes like the foie gras PB&J and the playful Bagels and Lox make it worth splurging.
Chef José Mendín has built something truly special at Pubbelly Noodle Bar. Get your sugar rush during brunch with the Cinnabao, a cinnamon roll meets bao bun that is so fluffy it just might float up to the ceiling when you’re not looking. For dinner, grab some dim sum, ramen and prepare your taste buds for the chef’s signature mofongo with porkbelly and shoju broth.
The winner of the 2017 Time Out Miami Bar Award for Bar of the Year, Sweet Liberty is both a place to start and end your night—stop in early for $0.75 oysters and $5 drinks during happy hour or stumble in late for live music and plenty of dancing. Every cocktail on the menu is a home run, especially what’s usually an overpriced no-no around these parts, the piña colada. Sweet Liberty makes its own blend of spiced rums and coconut cream and finishes it with a special sherry floater.
To feel like a kid again, head to Ricky’s, a bar that’s sort of like an arcade-meets-carnival-meets-house-party. Ricky’s also has what’s perhaps the ultimate drunk food in South Beach: its very own in-house Artichoke Pizza (New Yorkers know why this is big news).
For a touch of culture, go to the Wolfsonian-FIU. Its myriad exhibits span across multiple floors and highlight global art and artifacts from the Industrial Revolution through WWII. On Fridays, the place is crawling with creative types stopping in for music, live art and free programming from 6pm to 9pm.
The outdoor retail and dining establishment is probably the quintessential tourist destination of South Beach. Even if you’re not into the shopping that usually attracts folks to the half-mile pedestrian strip, we’d recommend it strictly for the people-watching and architectural eye-candy on display in the surrounding Art Deco district.
You could go big with a hotel but with so many boutique properties to choose from, the Washington Park is our pick in South Beach. There’s something about the conviviality of a good boutique that blends so well with the Art Deco vibes of SoBe. No 20-story elevator rides or doormen—just a few quick steps through a stylish lobby and you’re out in the salty air where you belong. Its kidney bean pool is an oasis among the Washington Avenue bustle. Plus, the Washington Park Hotel is home to one of our favorite South Beach drinking establishments, Employees Only.
If you do just one thing…
Stay out until 5am. Nightlife is what made South Beach what it is today, so it’s only right that you go see it for yourself. You might as well go to a club if you’re planning on pulling an all-nighter since most don’t get going until 3am anyway. Try Ora, a new ultra-sexy European style club with its very own cocktail speakeasy, the Anti-Social Room, or Story for a packed roster of famous DJs year-round.
You can thank the party animals for Downtown Miami. Before they moved into the neighborhood, Club Space being the first to do so in 2000, the area was really quite depleted—a bunch of empty warehouses and not much else. But the momentum built on the backs of Downtown’s nightlife has snowballed into so much more. These days, much like its neighbor to the south, Brickell, Downtown is experiencing a boom marked by a number of coming condos, restaurants and more. An arena, outdoor amphitheater and two huge museums also make it the home of many of Miami’s hottest events, concerts and music festivals. An added bonus: the Metromover and trolley system (both free) make the area perhaps the easiest to get around in the whole city. Downtown Miami is still on its way up, sure, but each month is bringing something new and exciting for you to taste, watch and experience.
At All Day, you’ll find Miami’s best coffee and a menu of breakfast dishes that’ll make you want to get up early on a Saturday. Feeling adventurous? Order the cold brew/rosemary limeade blend. Feeling hungry? Scarf down the Runny & Everything: a fried egg, bacon, sharp cheddar, lettuce, tomato and garlic aioli on an everything brioche bun. (Honestly, we could eat three and still beg for more.)
Downtown Miami’s drinking culture runs deep, whether it’s the 5pm post-work crowd or the 5am post-club crowd. You’ll find both at the Corner, a dim cocktail bar right on the edge of all the nightlife action. Though space is small, sidewalk seating helps ease the crowding and you can order drinks from a little cafecito window outside. The beer is good, hot dogs are available for cheap during happy hour and the cocktails are much better than one might assume when taking in the bar from across the street.
Two of Downtown’s newest and most popular attractions are right next to each other: the Pérez Art Museum Miami (better known as PAMM) and the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science (better known as Frost Science). Over at PAMM, you can stroll through a stunning collection of modern and contemporary art, then chill out on the steps outback—which provides one of Miami’s best Biscayne Bay views.
Next door to PAMM is Frost Science, a family-friendly museum with enough to keep adults entertained as well. Pet a stingray, learn about space or catch a laser light show in the planetarium.
Back in 1925, it was the Miami National Bank Building. Today, it’s the 126-room Langford. And though the front desk is still designed to look like a bank teller window, everything else in the hotel is new—down to the gold bathroom fixtures, mid-century-style furniture and converted trunks—but certainly designed with nostalgia in mind.
If you do just one thing…
If there’s a play, musician or comedian in town performing at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, grab a ticket. The performing arts center, home to the Florida Grand Opera and Miami City Ballet, is one of Miami’s grandest architectural landmarks and proves to be just as beautiful inside as it is on the outside.
For quite some time, folks didn’t see much reason for going north of Lincoln Road on Miami Beach. There was South Beach and then that was it, right? Today, not so much. Miami Beach, and Mid-Beach specifically, holds some of Miami’s most celebrated hotels and boasts a growing roster of killer restaurants. Locals love it too, and they know that during some of Miami’s biggest events (like the glitzy Art Basel), it’s Mid-Beach—not South Beach—where you’ll find the city’s hottest parties. And with the development of the new Faena District wrapping up, that’s sure to be true for years to come.
Some folks might refer to 27 as the Freehand (the name of the adjacent hostel) or the Broken Shaker (the name of the adjacent bar), but the addresses are all the same and someone will be happy to point you in the right direction once you arrive. 27 has the dining room of your dreams, a cozy space that truly feels more like a house than a restaurant. Its menu uses local flavors and shifts accordingly based on what’s fresh and available. Expect straightforward simplicity, like the variety of baked and roasted vegetables on the menu (the cauliflower is a must) and novel surprises, like the kimchi fried rice and make-your-own arepas.
Part of the Freehand trinity, the Shaker is behind the city’s newfound love of craft cocktails. The bartenders put themselves on the map with creative concoctions and shareable punch bowls (which change seasonally) that taste even better when enjoyed in the bar’s lush backyard on a bright Miami afternoon, perhaps poolside if you’re lucky enough to snag a seat. These days, there are many imitators, but to get a taste of authentic Miami cocktail culture, the Broken Shaker remains your best bet.
The Miami Beach nightclub is an experience everyone should undergo at least once in their life. LIV is for the velvet rope stargazer. On any given night, celebs pack the recently renovated club and dance under the hundreds of moving LED panels that line the ceiling. Each night brings something different at LIV, though its most popular evening remains Sunday’s popping hip-hop party during which anything is possible.
Two worlds collide at the Fontainebleau. Of course, you have the hotel’s old Miami charm and wonderful history. It’s where Frank Sinatra and his crew used to hang while in town. But it’s also on the cutting edge, home to Miami’s most powerful nightclub, LIV, and some truly stunning restaurants: the Chinese powerhouse Hakkasan, the Italian eatery Scarpetta and two Michael Mina concepts in Pizza & Burger and Stripsteak. And don’t even get us started on the pools (there are 11 of them).
The Faena Hotel Miami Beach is the new kid on the block and the centerpiece of Alan Faena’s new Faena District, a three-block strip of hotels, restaurants and performance venues. The gilded woolly-mammoth remains housed in the Faena’s courtyard should tell you everything you need to know about the hotel’s unapologetic elegance—crimson, velvet and animal prints are everywhere.
If you do just one thing…
Go to the beach. Really—did you think we were going to forget about the one thing that has been driving people across Biscayne Bay for decades? The sands of Miami Beach—and Mid-Beach specifically—are wide, gorgeous and open for business 365 days a year (for free, of course). The pedestrian boardwalk runs from 23rd Street to 46th Street. Hope on, walk until you find a patch of sand that looks perfect and chill the eff out.
We'd be doing a poor job indeed if we failed to mention Miami's Cuban connections. Little Havana is probably the best known Cuban American neighborhood in the country, boasting all that is vibrant and wonderful (and tasty) about the culture. This Latin area formed in the 1960s with the arrival of Cuban refugees escaping Castro's regime, some of whom set up businesses that are still there today. Plus, thanks to campaigning by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, much of Little Havana's original architecture – historic bungalows, Mission Revival blocks and oolitic limestone facades – is being preserved. Marvel at the colourful buildings while you're there and look out for street parties, sweet cafecitos and crispy tostones.
Consult any travel guide, online list or hungry local about where to grab some Cuban food down in Little Havana and one name will always pop up: Versailles. It’s not hype. The food at Versailles is done with tradition in mind, and the result is classics such as croquetas, Cuban sandwiches and cafecito that have even the most hard-to-please viejos nodding in agreement.
Little Havana has some culinary surprises waiting, like this cozy Thai joint that serves small Thai bites, noodle and rice dishes until 1am on the weekends. Sign your name on a list by the door and prepare for an unconventional delicious dining experience.
Ella’s Oyster Bar offers a compromise somewhere in between classic and modern. Opened in 2016, the bright seafood concept takes on Latin favorites with dishes like crab croquettes while not shying away from southern fried seafood staples like the hearty oyster po’ boy.
Day, night, weekday or weekend—you’re going to Ball & Chain. Originally opened in 1935, the bar and music venue was renovated and restored in 2014 with its rich musical history in mind (Billie Holiday, Count Basie and Chet Baker have performed there). Equally as impressive as the live music programming is the drink menu, which features a pitch-perfect mojito and a Calle Ocho old fashioned made with rum and garnished with a tobacco leaf.
If you’re a beer person, Union Beer Store provides a tasty dive into South Florida’s rich brewing culture. The small bar has world class beer on tap and a couple free arcade games to help pass the time.
If neither beer nor cocktails do much for you, hopefully, the over 300-strong wine list of Lekoke Wines & Bites will satisfy. The homey atmosphere is perfect for cracking open a bottle and ordering a few Latin tapas.
Don’t leave Little Havana without catching some live Cuban music. There’s no better place to do just that than at Hoy Como Ayer, a historic venue that showcases, among many other things, live salsa in an intimate setting. Dancing is encouraged. Rum is essential.
Because Little Havana has so recently become an honest-to-goodness tourism destination, your choice of hotels is limited. Very limited. Specifically: there’s only one now, the 33-room boutique called the Jefferson Hotel. Originally built in 1920, this historic property has a rooftop bar and rooms start from $108 a night.
If you do just one thing…
Book your stay during Viernes Culturales, which takes place on the last Friday of the month. This monthly block party has grown in popularity along with the neighborhood. All night long, local vendors and live musicians fill the area while hundreds of people flow up and down Calle Ocho. There are food and dancing as far as the eye can see.
Turn around for five minutes and there’s another skyscraper standing tall in Brickell— construction cranes dot the skyline and there’s always a jackhammer echoing through the wind. On certain blocks, it feels more Manhattan than Miami. Such is life in Brickell, the city’s financial district and one of the Miami’s fastest growing areas. Just about everything in the neighborhood is brand-spanking-new, which makes it a great place to take the pulse of Miami’s vibrant future. And it’s not just towering condos and office buildings going up either; restaurants, hotels, bars and retail meccas are all pouring into Brickell with remarkable speed, making it an essential destination for anyone visiting the city.
Anyone in Miami with a decent set of taste buds knows Michael Schwartz, the chef behind Design District gem Michael’s Genuine and the gourmet pizza of Harry’s Pizzeria. Fi'lia, his latest concept, doles out innovative Italian comfort food such as prawn-topped pizza, a made-from-scratch Caesar salad tossed tableside and braised short rib pasta. The Italian selection and variety of aperitifs make this a solid choice for both after-work drinks as well as dinner.
The River Seafood Oyster Bar has been around since 2003, which is practically a lifetime in the ever-changing neighborhood. Order a pot of mussels and be very sweet to your server because you’ll be asking for a ton of extra bread to sop up the delicious stew of coconut milk, lemongrass and lime that’s left behind once the mussels are all gone. And if its name didn’t tip you off, the River is where you’ll find the freshest oysters in Miami. Stop by during happy hour (daily 4-7pm) and get them half-price.
This elegant (if a bit pricey) lounge 40 floors up on the scalp of East, Miami combines the neighborhood’s penchant for elaborate cocktails and seductive views. Lines form quick on the weekend, so an early happy hour might be your best bet here.
Down on the ground you’ll find Better Days, where you can hang with the young professionals of Brickell opting for a more accessible drinking option. Play some pool, sit and sip in a booth or challenge someone to a board game or Jenga in the kitschy, basement-like space.
One of Miami’s only (and most popular) Latin cabarets, El Tucán channels old Havana through a variety show of live music, dance and other sultry numbers. You can snag a reservation and watch the show through a three-course meal or head to the second floor for a more laid-back balcony viewing (arrive early for the latter, as the good spots are taken quick).
The first Miami hotel from Hong Kong’s Swire Properties, East is a faithful reflection of the small urban neighborhood: state-of-the-art and shiny with breathtaking views at every bend, plus food and drink options aplenty.
If you do just one thing…
You must walk through the Brickell City Centre, even if only to window shop. The one-year-old megamall/entertainment complex holds five million square feet of stores and a $30 million roof designed to manipulate Miami’s brutal heat. Simply put, the City Centre is really neat.