New York isn’t the only U.S. city that never sleeps. Whether you’re just dining out or gearing up for Miami’s legendary club scene, you’ll want to consider pushing your plans back later than usual — or risk being the first to arrive. Leading clubs, such as Space and E11even, are open around the clock, while another top choice, LIV, doesn’t open its doors until nearly midnight.
Perched on Florida’s southern tip, Miami draws visitors from around the world with its blend of urban buzz and glamorous beach scene. However, visiting Miami is very different from visiting other popular Florida destinations.
Why is that? Well, in terms of cultural diversity, vibrant nightlife and overall bustle, Miami can feel light years away from hotspots like Orlando, St. Pete Beach and the Florida Keys. To help first-time visitors make the most of their time (and hopefully save some cash along the way), we’ve compiled a list of key things every traveler should know before visiting Miami.
Read on for tips on everything from the best time to go to Miami and its best beaches to where you should stay on your Miami vacation.
Miami likes to party
Pack more than beachwear
This isn’t the Florida Keys or Daytona Beach, so don’t plan on sporting flip-flops and swimsuits anywhere other than the beach or hotel pool when you’re in Miami. To be fair, even the pools can feel like fashion runways at some of the city’s posh hotels.
Many restaurants and bars enforce dress codes in Miami — including Miami Beach and South Beach — while clubs can be as selective, barring entry to sandal-wearing clientele. Miami is one of the United States’ most cosmopolitan cities, so dress to impress, or at least try not to stand out for the wrong reasons.
Visit while you can
Oh, Miami — so blessed and so cursed at the same time. While the city sits firmly in the hurricane zone and has been victim to several major storms in the past, the largest current threat is fair-weather flooding due to climate change. These floods are most often associated with king tides, which are excessively high tides caused by lunar and solar cycles.
While these have been a normal occurrence since the beginning of time, rising sea levels fueled by climate change have caused the tides to become even more destructive in Miami. This is exacerbated by the porous stone that underlies much of the South Florida region, allowing water to rise from directly underneath this major urban area.
It’s a cultural melting pot
Cuban culture is incredibly prominent in Miami, and enjoying a fresh mojito while watching a live salsa performance is a highly recommended experience. The strong Cuban presence stems from the fact that more than 25% of Miami-Dade County residents are Cuban-born plus the many descendants of Cuban immigrants that have arrived over the past six decades.
However, this still constitutes less than half of the city’s foreign-born population. Miami is also home to significant Haitian, Bahamian, Venezuelan and Colombian communities — to name just a few. Between restaurants, art galleries and music venues, there are plenty of ways to dive deeper into these other cultures. For starters, head to Little Haiti for free concerts and art at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex. Be sure to stop for spicy seafood at laid-back Chef Creole.
The art scene is booming
Miami may not have the largest collection of museums, but art permeates the city in numerous ways, from public art and cultural centers to galleries and major art fairs. The Wynwood neighborhood, located just north of downtown Miami, is teeming with street art and murals. The movement began in 2009 with the open-air Wynwood Walls, which encompasses 18 walls of work created by international graffiti artists. Since then, street art has expanded throughout the neighborhood, with notable displays at Wynwood Brewing Co. and along Northwest Second Avenue.
Miami Beach isn’t the city’s only beach
Miami Beach — the famed stretch of sand that’s lined by stunning art deco buildings — is a must for a proper Miami visit. In fact, many people consider Miami Beach and South Beach to be Miami itself. That’s problematic for a ton of reasons. However, one of the biggest sins among them is limiting yourself when it comes to beaches.
Many first-time visitors make the mistake of not venturing farther afield to take full advantage of the extensive network of beaches found in the Miami region. Below South Beach, Virginia Key boasts sandy shorelines without the crowds. Heading farther out on the causeway, Crandon Park is a family-friendly beach on Key Biscayne with water-sports and cabana rentals. Just above Miami Beach, Haulover Beach is divided between nude sunbathing in the north and a dog-friendly portion in the south.
Public transportation requires some know-how
Miami’s public transportation system is the largest in Florida and includes buses, trolleys, Metromover and Metrorail. Both the Miami Trolley and Metromover are free to use and aid in visiting the mainland portions of Miami, such as Little Havana, Wynwood and Brickell City Centre. That being said, both are limited in geographical scope and — notably — don’t connect to Miami Beach or South Beach.
Parking can be complicated
Miami is somewhat notorious for its traffic, but even unperturbed and seasoned city drivers should be aware of some Miami parking peculiarities before getting behind the wheel. In Miami Beach, street parking is the costliest option, running as high as $4 per hour in South Beach. Off-street lots cost comparatively less at $2 per hour, while parking garages are the best option for lengthier stays with day rates as low as $20.
On the flipside, parking costs in downtown Miami neighborhoods operate in the reverse order. Hourly rates in parking garages run as high as $7 per hour, while a full day can cost nearly $30. These rules are strictly enforced, and the authorities will not hesitate to tow your car.
Book ahead if visiting from December through April
While Miami bustles throughout the year, the high season for tourism runs from December through mid-April, with notable peaks around the Art Basel festival in early December, between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and during spring break. While prices do rise with demand, you can reduce the added expense by booking flights and hotels several months in advance if you want your visit to coincide with the city’s best weather.
The gay scene is out and proud
When it comes to gay life in Florida, Miami and Fort Lauderdale (up the coast) take the cake. Miami serves as a major party destination for LGBTQ travelers and has a handful of legendary gay clubs. Twist and Palace are the most famous of these venues, and each draws world-famous DJs and hosts excellent drag shows. You’ll find plenty of smaller venues throughout town, as well, some of which cater to a mixed gay-straight crowd.
Hotels in Miami are almost all universally welcoming of LGBTQ travelers, and you’ll see couples of all stripes holding hands in public. The city hosts several major gay events throughout the year, as well, including the White Party and Miami Pride events.
There are ways to save
There’s no way around it: Miami is one of the priciest cities to visit in the United States. Given its legendary status as a mecca for parties, beaches, luxury services, amazing restaurants, art and nightlife, the city has enough pull to make it a hotspot year round. While the winter months and early spring are high season — and thus mean paying a premium on everything from flights to hotels — there are ways to save.
You’ll find slightly cheaper hotel rates if you’re willing to stay on the backside of Miami Beach, toward Biscayne Bay. From there, it’s only a 15-minute walk to the beach, and you’ll enjoy a quieter vibe. You’ll also find meals for slightly less if you dine away from hotspots like Lincoln Road, Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue. Food and drink on the mainland are generally less expensive, as well, and you’ll likely get more for your money when it comes to hotels, too.
However, you’ll be paying to commute to the beach and nightlife of South Beach. If you’re willing to visit when the weather is humid and hot, May can be a decent time of year, as well, with rates that are lower than the winter and early spring months.
You can brush up on your Spanish
Miami’s mix of Latin American and Caribbean cultures means that Spanish is the first or second language for the majority of its residents. In fact, only about a quarter of Miami-Dade County speak only English. That being said, you aren’t expected to be a Spanish master here. However, it can be fun to practice your Spanish while you’re in town. If you’re addressed in Spanish, certainly make a go at having a basic conversation.
For Spanish newbies, using simple greetings like “como estas” (how are you) when appropriate will earn you some credibility. Even more skilled Spanish speakers may still find the more prevalent Cuban accent hard to decipher, so be patient, and don’t hesitate to employ Spanglish in this multicultural city when necessary. It’s also worth building up your knowledge of food-related lingo to help navigate menus at hole-in-the-wall establishments and restaurants alike.