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The best things to do in Miami and South Beach
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Navigate the city like a local with these essential Miami travel tips

Hydrate, brush up on your Spanglish and other fool-proof Miami travel tips to nail your next visit

Falyn Wood
Written by
Falyn Wood
Ryan Pfeffer

Miami can be a tough coconut to crack. From over-hyped clubs to overcrowded beaches and overpriced Miami restaurants, it’s not hard to fall prey to this city’s ocean of underwhelming and frankly unwelcome trappings. Even the most seasoned local isn’t immune from accidentally parking in a tow-away zone, double-tipping on the bill or suffering through a truly terrible tasting menu. Still, every visitor should know a few key bits of information before a trip to Miami. Follow our tips and in no time you’ll be sipping cocktails at the best bars in Miami, dancing at the best South Beach clubs and posting selfies with all the cool art you saw at Miami’s best museums. Act like a local; have fun like a tourist.

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Essential Miami travel tips

Our little coffees pack a big punch
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Our little coffees pack a big punch

Down in Little Havana—and everywhere in Miami, really—you’ll find Cuban coffee. But proceed with caution. Despite its adorable size, the cafecito packs a serious caffeine punch. One (or even half of one if you’re not a coffee drinker) will do the trick.

We’re a late-night city
Photograph: Dan Vidal

2. We’re a late-night city

Planning on going clubbing? Be warned: if you show up at one of Miami’s major nightclubs at 11pm, it might just be you and the bartenders. Many Miami clubs don’t get going till well after midnight. And in the 24-hour district, at clubs such as Space, headlining DJs often won’t go on until 3am.

Sunscreen, baby
Photograph: Shutterstock/Brian S

3. Sunscreen, baby

Wear it! Love it! Never leave the house without it—especially if you happen to be from one of those climates with an actual winter. The Florida sun is no joke and getting scorched on your very first beach day is a good way to ruin the rest of your trip and look like a lobster in all your vacation pics.

On that note, hydrate
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4. On that note, hydrate

Drinking tons of water is not just your favorite celeb’s secret skincare hack. Combined with Miami’s intense heat and humidity, partying and even just a day full of Miami sightseeing is a recipe for dehydration. Avoid a dangerous situation by drinking plenty of H2O and other fluids gradually throughout the day.

Embrace Spanglish
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5. Embrace Spanglish

Occasionally, you’ll walk into a business or climb into an Uber where English is not an option. Relax. In Miami, people are used to using gestures and Spanglish to communicate when language won’t cut it. Don’t get flustered. We’re the Latin capital of America—embrace it.

It’s not all about the beach
Photograph: Luis Gomez

6. It’s not all about the beach

While South Beach remains the hottest tourist spot in Miami, there’s plenty to see over the bridge. If you came to Miami and didn’t see Wynwood, Brickell, Design District, Little Havana or Coconut Grove—you need to come back and fix that.

Art is everywhere
Photograph: Felix Mizioznikov /

7. Art is everywhere

And, it’s free if you know where to look. Walk or bike around Wynwood to check out some world-class murals and remember that admission to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Design District is always free. On the first full weekend of the month, Bank of American cardholders get in free to the Bass, Pérez Art Museum, HistoryMiami and others.

Public transit is lacking
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8. Public transit is lacking

Unlike so many of the world’s top cities, it’s not so easy to get around with a metro pass in Miami. The public transit system is small and disjointed, especially considering the sprawl of the city, so you’ll most likely want to rideshare or rent a car most places. Brickell’s Metromover is an adorable if silly mode of transportation that loops through Downtown with some pretty neat views if you’re in the area.

Book reservations when you can
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9. Book reservations when you can

Even in the slower summer months, it’s harder than ever to get into Miami’s most popular restaurants and clubs. Especially now that we’ve finally been included in the famed Michelin Guide, you’ll want to reserve in advance whenever you can. Of course, you don’t need reservations to score a delicious Cubano from a ventanita, and some spots, like Joe’s and Mandolin, will always be tough to book ahead.

Stay off major roads during rush hour
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10. Stay off major roads during rush hour

This is an obvious one for locals, but it’s easy to forget when you’re on vacation. Rush hour during the Miami work week (from around 4pm to 7pm on major highways, bridges and roads like Biscayne Boulevard and North Miami Avenue) is real, and it’s best to plan your commute around it.

The thing about Ocean Drive
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11. The thing about Ocean Drive

Ocean Drive is great for its sights, people watching and beaches—but it’s probably best to eat and drink elsewhere. The popular strip’s dining establishments (especially in the South Beach area) tend to be high on price and low on quality. Except for at Palace, where the rowdy weekend drag brunch is not to be missed.

Miami greetings are up close and personal
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Jason Hargrove

12. Miami greetings are up close and personal

Many folks in the 305 will greet you with a kiss on the cheek—not a handshake. It’s a Latin thing and can sometimes catch a gringo with personal space issues off guard. Just follow the other person’s lead and you’ll be fine.

Check before you tip
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/frankieleon

13. Check before you tip

It is not rare for places in Miami—especially on Miami Beach and even Wynwood—to include a 15 or 18 percent tip on your tab. Most ethical establishments will warn you as they hand you your check. But the shadier spots will leave it up to you to double-check that you’re not leaving a 40 percent tip.

Bike with caution
Photograph: Courtesy Citi Bike

14. Bike with caution

Miami is now pretty rife with Citi Bike stations and other rentable wheels. It can be a great way to cruise around on a nice day (check out Key Biscayne or Lummus Park for some prime riding) but take note: We are not the most bike-friendly city. Cars are pushy, infrastructure is lacking and accidents happen. Use the bike lanes (where they exist) and don’t place too much trust in motorists to make the right decision.

A word on parking
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15. A word on parking

Parking is expensive, especially in high-traffic areas like South Beach, Wynwood and Brickell. In Miami Beach, street parking is $4/hour, so we advise finding the nearest lot where parking will run you anywhere from $1/hour to a $20 flat fee for the day. In Brickell and Downtown, it works the other way around with metered parking costing less than a parking garage. Be warned: some private lots will boot your car if you exceed your limit.

Leave the Styrofoam at home
Photograph: Shutterstock

16. Leave the Styrofoam at home

The material was officially banned from Miami-Dade public parks (including our beaches) in the summer of 2017. In Miami Beach, it’s technically illegal for restaurants to even use Styrofoam when serving customers. So remember when packing that picnic. If you get caught breaking the ban, you could get fined.

Drive with caution
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Ines Hegedus-Garcia

17. Drive with caution

We know how tempting it is to get behind the wheel of a convertible and cruise the streets of Miami. But while you’re joyriding, people next to you are most likely rushing to work or going about their regular lives in the city. Distracted drivers are bound to get honked at, cut off, flicked off, or worst, into accidents. Mind the road and especially keep an eye out for red-light cameras. They will get you.

Catch some live music
Photograph: Gil Bitton

18. Catch some live music

It’d be a shame if you came to Miami and didn’t catch some live music. The reliable choices are Ball & Chain for Latin and Las Rosas for grimy rock. Both proudly put on live music throughout the week and never charge a cover. For jazz, try Lagniappe in Midtown or the Corner in Downtown on Tuesday nights.

Beware of sidewalk hustlers
Photograph: Shutterstock/Kamira

19. Beware of sidewalk hustlers

Along South Beach, the sidewalks are lined with street promoters and hostesses, usually handing out flyers for bars and clubs, promising two-for-one cocktails or free cover. Keep walking. If a place in Miami needs to employ such tactics, it’s not worth visiting.

Shop local
Photograph: Jason Koerner

20. Shop local

It’s easy to wear down your credit card in any of the Lincoln Road or Design District shops. But if you’re looking to buy something with a little more personality (and fewer commas in the price tag) shop local. Check out the pop-up Magic City Flea if the timing works out or peruse the mom-and-pop shops down on Calle Ocho.

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