The first thing I did when I landed in steamy Miami and arrived at the colorful boutique hotel Circa 39 was cross the street and stroll along the Miami Beach Boardwalk with silky white sand on one side and sea grape trees and swaying palms on the other. Buff shirtless runners and happy go lucky bike riders passed me by. As I listened in on the conversations swirling around me in the early morning, not one was the language I knew. For my first hour in Miami, I felt like a foreigner in my own country. I was quickly reminded of the international richness of America’s eighth largest metropolitan area, Miami. Due to Miami’s proximity, influences from Cuba, South America, and the Caribbean are prevalent, from neighborhoods to Uber rides, to cuisine.
Miami is a diverse cultural hub filled with casual and upscale restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Fast, showy cars zoom by on Ocean Drive while sizzling after-hours establishments stay open late. Even 13 years later, after numerous winter jaunts spent at this adult playground, the city’s electric buzz continues to reign supreme in new ways. Art Basel has transformed Miami by putting the city’s art world in the spotlight while expanding the art scene all year long. Now in its 15th year, Art Basel brings cutting-edge artists, performers, collectors, fashion designers, models, and art lovers every year for a week in December to experience artworks from around the globe.
Although many people think Miami and Miami Beach are one, they are really two different cities linked by a number of causeways. Expect warm weather all year round while the best temperatures occur between March and May. Explore this captivating, rapidly growing “Magic City.”
Art Deco Walking Tour
The Miami Design Preservation League conducts daily morning 90-minute walking tours for $25. Show up 15 minutes ahead or book in advance and gain a new appreciation for the development and history of the Miami Beach Architectural Historic District with over 1,300 Art Deco buildings. Revel in the pastel boutique hotels and commercial structures, vintage theaters and restaurants, interior paintings and soaring curves, Egyptian motives, and trompe l’oeil, along with art terms like Nautical Deco, Mediterranean Revival, Tropical Deco, and Miami Modern (MiMo), all architectural design influences resulting from what was going on at the time.
Bike on Citi Bikes down Miami Beach Boardwalk
For around $6 you can rent a Citibike for an hour and drop it off at another location. You can start your ride at Indian Beach Park at 48th Street and continue down to 23rd Street where it becomes a paved surface that runs through the Ocean Drive Promenade to 5th Street. Then from South Pointe Park (tip of island and pier), an ever-expanding Baywalk runs up the west side of the island. Apparently, every ten blocks equals one mile. Hop on and off for a bite or a drink. We recommend casual Lolo’s Surf Cantina where we found ourselves gorging on tacos, ceviche, and Mayan dip made with pumpkin seeds.
Wynwood Walls for Street Art Inspiration
Considered one of America’s hippest neighborhoods, no visit to Miami is complete without visiting this art fueled area called Wynwood filled with galleries and large-scale walls splashed with bold art and ideas from some of the most renowned international street artists. Since 2009 the Wynwood Walls continues to expand its breadth, introducing well known and emerging artists and bringing world-class art to the community. The Wynwood Walls program has seen over 50 artists representing 16 countries and covers over 80,000 square feet of walls. The open-air space is free to the public and a perfect place for your Instagram-worthy shots. Art Basel occurs each December. In 2017 the bold new installations showcased around the theme of “humanKIND.”
The Fillmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater
Inside this art deco building and former home to 1960’s TV shows and Broadway plays, book a night out at The Fillmore, a historic theater offering concerts, comedy, and more. Wear comfortable shoes because most of the auditorium is standing room only and enjoy your cocktails after the show somewhere else since they are expensive. Also, leave your camera at home unless you want it to be seized and held until you leave. We jammed out to Thievery Corps with an all-ages eclectic crowd.
For $5, you can enjoy a unique 15-minute passionate show inside one of many 160 square foot shipping containers with a transformed interior. Most plays are Spanish speaking. Face to face with the actors, enjoy $2 beer and cheap tacos in this fun, creative environment.
Join this donation based class at 3rd Street and Ocean Drive all year long in the morning or evening on the beach. Feel invigorated with the ocean waves, and at peace with a sunrise or sunset finding your Om.
Stand Up Paddle Board in the Marina
Stand up paddle board around the marina with Miami Beach Paddle Board. Exercise while paddling through extraordinary modern homes. Try a sunset neon tour where your board is aglow with LED lights 5 feet under water and 15 feet around the board
Perez Art Museum
This sleek waterfront museum features modern and contemporary international artwork from the 20th and 21st century. Every month the museum boasts incredible programming for people of all ages.
Miami Culinary Tours – Explore Little Havana
Taste authentic Cuban cuisine while learning about Little Havana’s culture and heritage. Listen to the stories behind the food, and visit a cigar factory, Domino Park, and The Cuba Ocho Art Museum. Visit 5 restaurant spots in this vibrant neighborhood. Other tours include the South Beach Food Tour, Wynwood Food and Art Tour, and Design District Tapas Tour.
Taste and Tour Concrete Beach Brewery
“Drink Art, Make Beer” is a fitting slogan when you are just steps away from the Wynwood Walls. Start with a free tour to learn about their extensive brewing process, or bring along one of their artist palettes of beers that can be carried around with labels to help you remember which scrumptious beer you chose. Expect beers with hints of lemongrass, plantain, caramel, coconut, vanilla, chocolate, and more. Marvel at the brew options and you might just find yourself in one of their cute photo ops after a Tangerine IPA, Imperial Chocolate Hibiscus, or American Wheat Ale brewed with Lemon.
The Wynwood Yard is a great way to explore a variety of foods from trucks, some with Cuban and Caribbean influences. Try healthy food bowls, jerk chicken, shaved ice cream, poke type bowls with chicken, curry coconut tofu tacos, lobster mac and cheese, and iced matcha tea blended with vanilla chocolate and coconut milk. Live music and a beer bar in the center provide a festive atmosphere.
For a healthy breakfast spot, Dr. Smood is your one-stop shop for health. Smart Food for a Good Mood is their tagline. Choose your mood, and that will determine your ordering based on color-coded options for power sandwiches, energy boosts, cold-pressed juices, tea, and coffee. The opposite diet of Dr. Smood is The Salty Donut in the Wynwood Arcade filled with rich, artfully made, seasonal donuts like chocolate chip cookie, vanilla bean cake with chocolate chips, fig and honey, and cranberry orange. In the same complex, the only rooftop bar and lounge in Wynwood recently opened called No. 3 Social complete with craft cocktail and street eats from around the world. Adjacent to No. 3 Social is the Three Restaurant by Chef Norman Van Aken, where you can sit at the food counter and watch the culinary magic happen. Three, four, and seven-course prix-fixe menus are available.
For a super romantic experience in a Zen Shangri-La, book an evening date at the one-year-old Cafe Roval located on the upper east side in a stunning historical coral building. Start at the bar with a saki cocktail and sample their Silk Road bar menu before moving to their garden pool sanctuary out back for a memorable Mediterranean meal. In downtown Miami, Fooq’s Miami provides feel-good European meets Middle Eastern food. Global travels inspire the eclectic farm-to-table menu with a Persian French flair. Don’t miss the honey glazed Brussel sprouts, meatballs, braised lamb, bucatini amatriciana, and the kebob salad.
Circa 39 Miami Beach
This affordable boutique hotel donned in oranges and bold hues with inspirational globetrotting decor sits in an amazing location, one block from the beach. Cross the street to find your own hotel lounge chair waiting. Take a dip in the pool post beach or relax in one of the cozy seating areas. Grab a bite at the hotel’s front porch restaurant or escape for more chill time in the back courtyard garden’s lush landscape. The WunderBar is an adorable lobby bar with a grand selection of rum, including rum flights! My cozy, hip room with blaring AC kept me cool after steamy days and nights. Experience Miami like a local with the hotel’s curated Beyond Circa 39 Mobile Neighborhood Guides with suggestions for each area. Little Havana or Little Haiti may pique your interest.
Another hotel with a great location is The Confidante, which is part of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt. The playful oceanfront oasis in Miami’s mid-beach neighborhood offers two heated swimming pools (one for adults only), private colorful cabanas and bungalows, a pretty full-service beach set-up, and lush tropical serene gardens. Also, enjoy direct beach access, an open-air rooftop spa, and a fully equipped fitness center. The art deco rooms with pops of color and 1950’s flair provide views of Miami’s skyline and the Atlantic Ocean. Pro-tip: Book an oceanfront room with a balcony. The Confidant, just like its name, is welcoming and unpretentious, similar to a friend’s beach house.
Named after Miami’s heralded founder, Julia Tuttle, the adults-only 29 room boutique hotel in South Beach recently opened in August providing guests with a plethora of complimentary amenities, such as French-inspired continental breakfast, beach chairs reserved on the shores of South Beach, custom beach totes for guest use, Wi-Fi, and daily wine and cheese happy hour. Right on Collins Avenue between 3rd and 4th Street on a quiet street, the hotel showcases a charming lobby with stylish mismatched decor, outdoor patio seating, and a Starbucks coffee machine.
All photos courtesy of Melissa Curtin.