Updated October 10, 2019
America's southernmost major city is also the cruising capital of the U.S., with hundreds of thousands of passengers passing through each year on their way to or from Port of Miami. But, because of its sprawl and geography -- Miami comprises mainland towns, as well as those on the barrier islands and cays to its east, which are accessed by a series of highways and bridges -- the city isn't easily conquered without advance planning. So, from Cuban coffee to contemporary art, here's our guide to making the most of a day in the Magic City.
Breakfast: As espresso is to Italy, so Cuban coffee is to Miami. While you're there, take the opportunity to kick-start your day with the kind of fuel you simply won't find at your local Starbucks. On the mainland, Enriqueta's (186 NE 29th Street), a family-run diner in Midtown (about 10 minutes north of the port) is our go-to for a frothy cafe con leche or a cortadito (a shot of a strong, espresso-like java with a splash of milk, traditionally served in a tiny Styrofoam cup). Paired with their popular tortilla especial (omelet with chorizo sausage, cheese, onions and ham), it's a hearty start to your Miami morning.
Morning: Miami is really a sprawling collection of distinct neighborhoods (including South Beach, Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, Little Havana, Midtown, Wynwood, Brickell, the Design District and Key Biscayne), and it can be time consuming to get from one to the other. The best way to see the city efficiently is by taking a hop-on/hop-off bus tour, most of which depart from in front of Biscayne Boulevard's Bayside Marketplace shopping center (401 Biscayne Boulevard). The buses operate as many as three loops, which cover all 305 highlights. There's a Beach loop, which includes the entire island of Miami Beach, including South Beach, and one or two mainland Miami routes that include burgeoning Wynwood and the Design District in the north, as well as downtown Miami, Coral Gables, Coconut Grove and Little Havana to the south. If you do want to ride all routes, plan on at least a three-hour excursion (longer in traffic).
If you'd rather be on the water (you are a cruiser, after all), hop a boat tour at the marina at Bayside, and sail around Biscayne Bay and its cays and private islands, punctuated with homes of the rich and famous.
If you're staying on South Beach, greet the morning with a walk along the boardwalk (which runs south from 46th to 1st Street) and the parallel palm-lined Ocean Drive. (A note for early risers: If you make it all the way to South Pointe Park by 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday or Sunday, you can watch cruise ships pulling into port.) Tropical temps, broad beaches and sea breezes are Miami's stock in trade, but the people-watching there trumps it all. In which other major metropolitan city would locals be unfazed by a thong-clad unicyclist whizzing by? Lincoln Road Mall is SoBe's pedestrianized hub, lined with shops and restaurants. Most of the merchants are names you'll recognize from your local mall. (Sky-high rents have forced independent stores into other neighborhoods on the mainland.) If you're looking for pre-cruise warm-weather wear, this is the place to get it.
Lunch: There are countless restaurants on Lincoln Road and the avenues that intersect it, so be guided by your nose and your preference for either sitting in air-conditioned comfort or al fresco. Two of our favorites are Lenox Avenue's Yardbird (1600 Lenox Ave, Miami Beach), famous for its fried chicken and cheddar waffles, and Khong River House (1661 Meridian Ave, Miami Beach), which offers an eclectic array of Pan-Asian small plates.
In the artsy Wynwood district on the mainland, Wynwood Kitchen (2550 NW 2nd Ave.) is, as they say here, "So Miami." The crowd is cool and creative, conversation is multilingual, and the Latin-inflected tapas-style menu has something for everyone. The Kitchen's location, smack in the middle of the Wynwood Walls mural park, means you can soak up the street art as you sip.
Afternoon: The once-gritty now-gentrifying area of Wynwood is Miami's version of New York's SoHo, with exteriors of its art galleries, independent boutiques and restaurants embellished with colorful murals that have been featured in international photo and video shoots. So now that you've refueled, spend a couple of post-lunch hours exploring NW 2nd Avenue and its side streets. But don't forget to look down; the sidewalks are a canvas for graffiti and spray-painted quotations that beg to be immortalized on Instagram.
If after lunch if you've tired of the SoBe crowds or the sun has sapped your energy, duck into the climate-controlled oasis that is the Wolfsonian-FIU Museum (1001 Washington Ave, Miami Beach). There, amid Washington Avenue's tattoo parlors, bodegas and smoke shops, you'll find an eclectic multimedia trove of decorative and functional objects dating from the late 1800s to 1945. The museum is small, so it's a good choice for families with young children (or those with short attention spans).
Afternoon Drinks: On South Beach, our happy hour haven is Juvia (1111 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach), a rooftop bar and restaurant on the corner Lincoln Road and Lenox Avenue (about a 20-minute walk from the Wolfsonian) where the drinks are pricey but the sunset vantage point makes them worth it. Delicious cocktails -- passionfruit cilantro mojito, anyone? -- meet water vistas and modern art at Verde (1103 Biscayne Blvd.), the bayfront restaurant at the year-old Perez Art Museum Miami (known as PAMM) on the mainland. You'll need to get there early, as the restaurant operates only during museum hours, but the view is best appreciated by daylight anyway.
Dinner: If you're staying on South Beach during Florida stone crab season (mid-October to mid-May), run, don't walk, to Joe's Stone Crab (11 Washington Ave, Miami Beach). You can't make reservations at the venerable SoFi (south of Fifth Street) eatery, but the wait for fresh crab, served by tuxedoed waiters in the old-school elegant dining room, is worth it. (And if you're not into crab, the fried chicken is a delicious and little-known bargain at just $6.95.)
Local celebrity Chef Michael Schwartz has a handful of restaurants on South Beach and on the mainland, but we're partial to his flagship eatery, Michael's Genuine Food & Drink (130 NE 40th Street). Nestled in an arcade off 40th Street, the main thoroughfare of the hip andhaute Design District, it's a chic yet relaxed place to tuck into fresh local food. Start with the crispy pig ears -- trust us -- and wash it down with a frosty Michael's Home Brew.
Evening: Once the sun goes down, the action heats up on South Beach at the see-and-be-seen restaurants in the hotels along Collins Avenue and at nightclubs on Washington Avenue. If neither is your scene, check the schedule at the New World Center (500 17th Street, Miami Beach), a world-class music academy whose symphony performs free nighttime "wallcast" concerts in the adjacent SoundScape Park with a huge projection wall as a video backdrop. On the mainland on Saturday nights, all roads lead to NW 2nd Avenue for Wynwood Art Walk, when hundreds of people converge to tour more than 60 art galleries, graze at food trucks and shop street vendors' stalls.