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I recently traveled to Miami, Florida and discovered some very helpful info along the way. Here are some of my top Miami travel tips that first-time visitors should know.
Is Miami safe to visit?
Generally speaking, Miami is safe for travelers. However, there are certain areas that tourists should avoid such as the outskirts of Little Havana and the Wynwood Arts District. The main areas of these places are fine, but I would not suggest venturing too far away from the busier parts.
As far as Miami Beach, we felt safe. That being said, you should still exercise caution, especially if you plan to party in the area. Avoid leaving your drink unattended or taking drugs from strangers, don't walk alone late at night, etc.
Where to Stay
Miami and Miami Beach are two separate areas, though still close. Miami Beach is a stretch of island off of mainland Miami. While Miami is more of a city vibe, Miami Beach has the beachy, tourist appeal. Even though there are some great parts of Miami to check out, such as Little Havana and the Bayside Market, I would recommend booking your hotel in Miami Beach. This is also where South Beach is located.
The famous street in South Beach is Ocean Drive, which is where much of the action is. There are also plenty of hotels in this area too. Unless you are a 21-year old who loves to party, though, I advise staying further up Miami Beach to avoid late night noise. Our hotel was at 30th and Collins, and it was super easy to get down to Ocean Drive.
One thing to know about Miami is that the tips are included in the bill.
One of the great things about staying near South Beach Miami is access to free trolley rides. They operate 7 days a week, have different routes, and run from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Of course, you can use ride shares or your own car to get around too.
Where to Eat
If you’re heading to Miami, you should definitely get some Cuban cuisine. There are plenty of great spots in Little Havana. I enjoyed Sala’s, especially since they also had live Latin music while we dined. Another great place to eat is Havana 1957 in South Beach. They’ve got an incredible menu and even include a piece of sugar cane with your mojito if you order one. Nice touch.
Florida weather can be unpredictable, especially if you don’t go during the busy season, A.K.A. Spring Break. We knew we were taking a chance by going in September. However, don’t let the weather deter you if you can’t go during the Spring. We were there for 4 days and 3 of them were perfectly sunny. Our last day was the only time it rained, but it was just during the morning so it wasn’t bad at all.
How long should I stay?
If you’re short on vacation time, you can definitely experience Miami in four days. The city is perfect for a long-weekend trip.
With the state of international travel still uncertain, I am continuing to explore parts of the U.S. that I've always wanted to see. One of the locations on my list was Miami. In general, a lot of the places on my U.S. travel bucket list are ones that have their own unique personality or famous landmarks. To me, Miami has always seemed like this incredible slice of Latin and Caribbean culture in the United States. Plus, the crystal blue water and beaches don’t hurt either. So, naturally, I was thrilled when my friend Kirsys agreed to meet me in Miami for a much-needed girls getaway.
By heading there in September, we avoided the busy spring break season, and hotel prices were cheaper. We booked a stay at the Red Hotel South Beach. The hotel is in a fantastic location in Miami Beach at Collins Ave and 30th. We were close enough to walk or take a short Lyft ride into South Beach without constantly being around the noise of South Beach. The hotel had a pool and bar/restaurant, plus they provide free beach towels, so we didn’t need to pack our own. It was also right across the street from a gorgeous beach area.
Overall, I thought this hotel was a pretty good deal. They don't provide free guest parking, but they do have a deal with the nearby Ace Hotel to provide parking for an extra $35 per day. The biggest downsides were that the hotel sometimes smelled strongly of marijuana. To each their own, but if you're like me and have a sensitive noise, this could be bothersome. Also, the shower in our room smelled really awful and more often than not, the person who was supposed to be working the front desk wasn’t actually there. That being said, I still think this is a great budget hotel choice for Miami and would recommend it.
For our first night in Miami, we had dinner at Havana 1957, a Cuban-themed restaurant in South Beach. Fun fact: Miami Beach provides a free trolley service, and we took the trolley to this restaurant on the corner of Washington and Española Way. If you’re looking for some great Cuban ambiance in South Beach, I’d recommend this restaurant.
Nearly everything on the menu sounded delicious, but if you want to save a little money, I’d say opt for an appetizer and mojito – because obviously you have to enjoy a mojito there too! I ordered the stuffed green plantains. You get four different cup-shaped pieces, each filled with a different item: shrimp, chicken, ropa vieja, and ground beef.
After dinner we took a walk on Ocean Drive, the main beachside street in South Beach. It was a Saturday night, so the crowds were out and about.
The cool thing about Ocean Drive is that you get to see lots of the Art Deco style and bright colors that define Miami Beach. We had tried to go to a well-known venue called Mango’s, which is known for live Latin dance shows, but unfortunately the cover was $30 so we passed on that one.
We started our second day with a trip to the beach. Before the trip I kept seeing weather forecasts of rain, thunderstorms, and clouds, but we actually lucked out with the weather; it was a gorgeous sunny day.
The beach area we went to was across the street from our hotel, and it was a fantastic spot. The water was clear, which is excellent for snorkeling. Plus, it wasn’t super busy, so you can really enjoy the space and relax. I couldn’t believe how warm the ocean water is too; it was the perfect temperature for swimming!
After a few hours at the beach we went to Little Havana in Miami proper. The primary part of Little Havana you want to explore is Calle Ocho. This street features plenty of great Cuban restaurants, music, and fun energy. We had an early dinner at Sala’s restaurant in Little Havana, which had some live Latin music provided by several musicians/singers. I ordered the Camarones (shrimp) al Ajillo with rice and vegetables.
From Little Havana, we went to the Wynwood Arts District to check out the Womanish exhibit, which was currently in town. The exhibit featured art installations centered around the female experience. I really enjoyed getting to see this, so if you learn that Womanish is coming to your city, definitely get yourself a ticket. Shout out to Kirsys for finding out about this exhibit!
On our third day, we went back to our beach spot, where we met one of Miami’s coolest residents, Christina, a 67-year old Brazilian woman who was every bit as fun and spicy as I could only dream of being.
Later on, we made our way to the Lincoln Road Mall, an outdoor shopping area in South Beach. We stopped for a drink and snack at a restaurant there before eventually making our way back to the hotel.
For dinner, we went back to Washington and Española Way – this time for sushi at Moshi Moshi. Then, we returned to Ocean Drive for a drink to celebrate our last night of vacation. Ocean Drive was considerably less busy this night, but considering it was a Monday and not the busy season, it wasn’t too surprising.
Our last day was really the only time we hit bad weather, but truth be told, it wasn’t terrible though – mostly just some little drizzle and clouds. We started by making our way to the Design District, which was recommended to us at the Womanish exhibit. It’s basically Miami’s version of Rodeo Drive. However, if you’re not a millionaire who regularly shops at stores like Prada or Gucci, this may feel rather boring. As someone whose wardrobe primarily consists of Target and Old Navy, I was curious to see what these stores are like. So, we decided to wander into Dior. Let me tell you, the security in that place protects those products as though it's the Smithsonian. A security guard followed us around the entire time, and the whole experience did not sit right with me. No sir, I’m not going to steal his ridiculously overpriced sweater – that’s not even cute!
After the Design District we moved to a far less hostile area, the Bayside Market at Miami’s harbor. This is definitely a prime tourist spot. We stopped for a final drink and snack at Mambo Café right on the water. I ordered a piña colada, and since I was in Florida and feeling adventurous, decided to try alligator bites. Yes, that’s actually a thing there. Go figure.
Let me tell you though, those alligator bites were surprisingly good! They looked like popcorn shrimp and tasted like a middle ground between fish and chicken.
Once we were done it was time for me to head to the airport. I had booked a later flight but arrived at the airport extra early. Therefore, I tried to see if American Airlines could get me on an earlier flight instead. Not only did I make it onto an earlier flight, but I was bumped up to business class. That was a nice surprise! However, my excitement quickly dissipated once I realized the man in my row two seats down was going to blatantly leave his mask below his mouth the entire flight - even though he wasn’t eating or drinking.
Eventually I had to say to say something to a flight attendant, who was super cool and asked the guy to put his mask up. I know American Airlines has had some recent backlash, but I was exceptionally impressed by them during this trip, so way to go American.
I’ll plan to share another blog post with specific Miami travel tips as well, so stay tuned for that. Lastly, I want to thank my good friend Kirsys for an incredible girls trip!
About the author
Jill Zwarensteyn is a writer and comedian who has been featured on Amazon, truTV, The New York Times, Matador Network, BUST Magazine, Sleep Advisor, Tiplr, ARTRPRNR Magazine, YourTango, Thought Catalog, GoMad Nomad, Mashable, The Daily Mail UK, the Cannes Film Festival, LaughFest, Women's Lifestyle Magazine, and the Funny Women Festival LA. For more info visit: http://www.jillzwarensteyn.weebly.com