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miami beach, miami
Photograph: Shutterstock/Brian S

Miami travel tips every first time visitor needs to know

Our insider travel tips and city secrets to help make the most of your Miami vacation

By Ryan Pfeffer
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Miami can be a tough puzzle to figure out. But with a few key tips and tricks, you’ll sidestep many of the traps 305 rookies often find themselves falling into. The right information can help you avoid nauseating restaurants, underwhelming clubs and getting ripped off in various ways. Instead, with our help, you’ll be eating at the best restaurants in Miami, dancing at the best South Beach clubs and saving some cash at one of the many free things to do in Miami. Act like a local; have fun like a tourist.

Miami travel tips

Erick Morillo at Club Space
Photograph: Dan Vidal

1. 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.

Photograph: Dan Vidal

Cuban coffee
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. 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.

Photograph: Shutterstock

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miami beach, miami
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. 

Photograph: Shutterstock/Brian S

Calle Ocho Little Havana
Photograph: Shutterstock

4. 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 capitol of America—embrace it.

Photograph: Shutterstock

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Biking Wynwood
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Visit Florida

5. 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, Little Havana or Coral Gables—you need to come back and fix that.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Visit Florida

Wynwood Walls 2017 Art Basel Collection
Photograph: John Parra

6. Art is everywhere

And, it’s free if you know where to look. Go to the Wynwood Walls to check out some world-class murals and remember that on the second Saturday of the month Miami’s awesome Pérez Art Museum drops its admission fee to let everyone in for free.

Photograph: John Parra

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Miami traffic and asshole Miami drivers
Photograph: Shutterstock

7. 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 (particularly bad from 4pm to 7pm on major highways) is real, and it’s best to plan your commute around it.

Photograph: Shutterstock

Ocean Drive
Photograph: Shutterstock

8. 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.

Photograph: Shutterstock

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Kiss on the cheek
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Jason Hargrove

9. 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. 

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Jason Hargrove

money
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/frankieleon

10. Check before you tip

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

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/frankieleon

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Citi Bike
Photograph: Courtesy Citi Bike

11. Bike with caution

Miami is now pretty ripe 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 and accidents happen. Use the bike lanes and don’t place too much trust in motorists to make the right decision.

Photograph: Courtesy Citi Bike

Uber driver
Photograph: Shutterstock

12. 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.

Photograph: Shutterstock

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Styrofoam
Photograph: Shutterstock

13. 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.

Photograph: Shutterstock 

Julia Tuttle Causeway
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Ines Hegedus-Garcia

14. 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 or 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.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Ines Hegedus-Garcia

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Ball & Chain
Photograph: Gil Bitton

15. 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 Churchill’s Pub for grimy rock and punk. Both proudly put on live music seven days a week. Ball & Chain also never has a cover, though Churchill’s sometimes will for bigger shows and their weekly Monday jazz nights.

Photograph: Gil Bitton

Ocean Drive hotels and buildings in Miami Beach
Photograph: Shutterstock/Kamira

16. Beware of sidewalk hustlers

Along South Beach, the sidewalks are lined with street promoters and hostesses, usually handing out fliers 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.

Photograph: Shutterstock

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Miami Flea
Photograph: Jason Koerner

17. 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 less commas in the price tag) shop local. Hit up the monthly Miami Flea if the timing works out or peruse the mom-and-pop shops down on Calle Ocho.

Photograph: Jason Koerner

Beer mug
Photograph: Unsplash/Fábio Alves

18. No booze in public

Sadly, unlike other countries and some American cities, Miami doesn’t allow open containers of alcohol in public places (including on the sand!). So it’s best not to stroll around with a beer in your hand unless you want to meet a real live Miami police officer.

Photograph: Unsplash/Fábio Alves

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Art Basel Miami Beach 2015
Photograph: Wei Shi

19. Ever heard of Art Basel?

The international art show is responsible for the busiest week of Miami’s year. It generally happens during the first week of December and it’s probably the reason why you can’t seem to find a reasonable flight or hotel available during that time. 

Photograph: Wei Shi 

So when should you plan your Miami trip?

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