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.
Miami is an extensive 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 (and most affordable) way to see the city efficiently is by taking public transportation. This includes Metrorail (the 25-mile elevated rail system), Metromover (the free transit option covering three loops around Downtown Miami and Brickell), and Metrobus (the city's bus system with more than 95 routes). This means you can traverse all over Miami without wasting time hunting for parking spots or spending money on taxis.
So, from Cuban coffee and wall murals to craft breweries and live music, here's our guide to making the most of a day in Magic City.
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, the landmark Versailles (3555 SW 8th Street) is the go-to java spot in Little Havana since 1971. For people-watching, snag a table at this iconic eatery for a hearty buffet breakfast including cafe con leche, Cuban toast, croquettes and codfish fritters. In a hurry? Step up to the ventanita (little window), order your cafecito to-go paired with a delicious handheld, like guava and cheese pastelitos.
While you're in Little Havana, stroll along Calle Ocho (southwest 8th Street), the center of Miami's Cuban culture. Pop into the local shops and bakeries, walk through Maximo Gomez Park (the locals call it Domino Park) on 15th Avenue, and snap a selfie by one of the huge gallos (colorful rooster statues) dotting the area. For a taste of European splendor, visit nearby Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, a sprawling mansion surrounded by 10 acres of serene, Renaissance-inspired gardens.
Consider a stop at Bayside Marketplace (401 Biscayne Boulevard), a bustling, two-level shopping center on Biscayne Bay in the heart of downtown. Amble through more than 150 shops, catch a live daily performance by local musicians, or soak in the beautiful waterfront atmosphere.
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 that stretches for 10 blocks, lined with shops, entertainment, 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.
With countless restaurants along Lincoln Road and the avenues that intersect it, be guided by your nose and your preference for either sitting in air-conditioned comfort or al fresco. Two of our favorites include Miami Beach's Yardbird (1600 Lenox Avenue), famous for its fried chicken and cheddar waffles, and Huahua's Taqueria (1211 Lincoln Road) for chunky burritos and inspired tacos.
If you decided to stay on the mainland, head to the artsy Wynwood district where you'll find Wynwood Kitchen (2550 NW 2nd Avenue), which 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.
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 you lunched in SoBe but you're now tired of the crowds (or the sun has sapped your energy), duck into the climate-controlled oasis that is the Wolfsonian-FIU Museum (1001 Washington Avenue) in the heart of Miami's Art Deco District. 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. (For a truly kid-friendly space, head back across the causeway to the Miami Children's Museum.)
For cocktails, our SoBe happy hour haven is Juvia (1111 Lincoln Road), 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.
If you're a craft beer lover, you'll appreciate Miami's burgeoning brewery scene. In Wynwood, head to Beaker and Gray (voted "Best Happy Hour in Miami") with $5 specials on all beers or Wynwood Brewing (Miami's first craft production brewery) for an impressive collection of core and seasonal brews, such as the rice-pudding-flavored Arroz Con Leche blonde ale.
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 Avenue) in 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 $8.95.)
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 and haute Design District, it's a chic yet relaxed place to tuck into fresh local food -- and was once a featured eatery onboard Royal Caribbean. Start with the yellowfin tuna crudo from the raw bar, add on some oven-roasted brussels sprouts, and wash it all down with a refreshing En Fuego (watermelon-lime cocktail).
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), a world-class music academy in Miami Beach whose symphony performs free nighttime "wallcast" concerts in the adjacent SoundScape Park with a huge projection wall as a video backdrop.
On the mainland, all roads lead to NW 2nd Avenue for Wynwood Art Walk on the second Saturday of each month. Think of it as an art-centric block party, when hundreds of people converge to tour dozens of art galleries, graze at food trucks, and shop street vendors' stalls.
Updated October 10, 2019