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Miami: The Playground of South Beach, Arts & Culture, and World-Class Dining

South Beach, Miami Beach, Florida (Photo: Mia2you/Shutterstock)
South Beach, Miami Beach, Florida (Photo: Mia2you/Shutterstock)

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If you're embarking on a cruise out of PortMiami, you've hit the jackpot. One of America's most dynamic cities, it's a great place to create a vacation within your cruise vacation by organizing a pre- or post-cruise holiday here. The possibilities for discovery are endless.

The lures of Miami are many and varied, for just about any traveler's interests. You'll find a thriving contemporary art scene, a melting pot of Latin American cultures, beautiful beaches and unparalleled nightlife. Read on for our special guide to Miami, tailored to culture vultures, outdoor enthusiasts, foodies and nightlife seekers, and families.

Updated October 10, 2019

Cultural Adventure

Miami is positively brimming with destinations for culture vultures to explore, from landmark museums to contemporary art galleries and the world-renowned Wynwood Arts District.

See: Designed by Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning architects Herzog & deMeuron, the Pérez Art Museum Miami overlooking Biscayne Bay was inspired by the iconic Stiltsville homes built offshore in the 1930s. Inside, the museum's thought-provoking contemporary collection focuses on international art of the 20th and 21st centuries from the perspective of the Americas.

Eat: Swoon at bayfront views over lunch on the monumental patio of the museum's chic onsite restaurant Verde. You can't go wrong with its seasonal salads, pizza and pasta, like the butternut squash and fig pizza or chicory and pear salad.

Miami's Wynwood Arts District (via Shutterstock)
Discover: Once a desolate warehouse district, Wynwood has evolved into a mural-splashed destination of hipster bars, local restaurants and boutiques with more than 70 art galleries. The epicenter is Wynwood Walls, an outdoor museum park with works by world-renowned street artists like Shepard Fairey, Retna, Kenny Scharf and The London Police. The sprawling complex includes a garden, indoor gallery and Wynwood Kitchen & Bar where you can fuel up on pan-Latin tapas and cocktails inspired by the museum's artists.

Explore & Shop: Flanked by luxury flagship boutiques from Cartier to Dior and an impressive collection of public art (including works by Sol LeWitt, Buckminster Fuller and Zaha Hadid), the Design District is Miami's newest "it" neighborhood and home to its newest museum, Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. Dedicated to continuous experimentation, the museum focuses on local, emerging and under-recognized artists for a truly cutting-edge curatorial lens. Best of all, admission is always free.

Where to Stay: Positioned in the heart of downtown and at the center of Miami's cultural offerings, DoubleTree by Hilton Grand Hotel Biscayne Bay is the perfect embarkation point to discover Miami's artistic side.

Outdoor Enthusiasts

Surrounded by Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, Miami is as much about offshore attractions as onshore, making it an ideal destination for outdoors enthusiasts, especially when it comes to water sports.

See: It's hard to think of Miami without visions of South Beach, its legendary stretch of sand. South Beach runs from the southern tip of the island of Miami Beach to 23rd Street though the raucous heart is pretty much contained between 5th and 15th streets. Don't miss pretty Lummus Park with its great view of South Beach's famous Art Deco skyline.

Eat: After a morning lounging on the beach, head to the classic La Sandwicherie lunch counter for made-to-order sandwiches on a freshly baked baguette or croissant and topped with fresh lettuce, tomato, green peppers, black olives, onions, cucumbers and cornichons, for a picnic to go. If you're in town during stone crab season (mid-October to mid-May), dining at Joe's Stone Crab, the most historic restaurant in South Beach, is an iconic experience. The stone crabs, served with hash browns, creamed spinach and the must-try Key lime pie for dessert, are delicious. Prefer a picnic? You can also order "to go" from Joe's takeaway counter.

Discover: Head to the family-run South Beach Kayak in trendy Sunset Harbour and rent kayaks or standup paddle-boards to explore the calm, tranquil waters of Biscayne Bay. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, manatees and wading birds. Paddle past Belle Isle underneath the Venetian Causeway Bridge toward uninhabited Flagler Monument Island to explore and go for a swim.

Everglades via Shutterstock

Day Trip: Spanning 1.5 million acres of subtropical wetlands, Everglades National Park is one of the world's unique ecosystems and you can access it in about an hour's drive from South Beach. Airboat rides with Gator Park are one of the most popular and exciting ways to experience the Everglades firsthand as you glide across the "River of Grass," composed of sawgrass prairies, hardwood hammocks and saltwater marshes. This is where you'll be on the lookout for the Florida alligator and other wildlife. You can also explore the park on land from the Shark Valley Visitor Center aboard a naturalist-led tram tour or a bike ride around a 15-mile loop with an observation tower along the way. If you're feeling peckish on the drive, swing by Everglades Gator Grill. It's a casual counter with outdoor picnic table seating beneath a tropical thatched palapa where you'll find a nice variety of hearty comfort food, including their famous grilled gator sandwich. Be adventurous and give it a try -- it tastes like chicken!

Where to Stay: Located at the southern tip of South Beach, Hilton Bentley Miami/South Beach is an ideal oceanfront hotel for outdoor enthusiasts. Take a stroll along the beach to South Pointe Park for sweeping views of the channel where cruise ships glide in and out of PortMiami.

Culinary Exploration & Miami Nightlife

In recent years, Miami has also developed into a destination with a serious local food scene with laidback hipster bars.

See: Miami is world-famous for its unparalleled nightlife where you can party the wee hours to the beat of world class DJs on packed dance floors. You'll also find a nice variety of laid-back hipster bars and classy cocktail dens in neighborhoods from South Beach to downtown.
Miami's food scene has heated up in recent years with a serious local movement balancing out the glitzier restaurants on South Beach. From authentic Cuban cuisine to creative modern concepts in hip neighborhoods like Wynwood, there's never been more to sink your teeth in.

Eat: It would be a sin to visit Miami without getting a taste of the Cuban culture that's so much a part of the city's fabric. Head to Little Havana to tour Calle Ocho and grab a bite at the classic Versailles Restaurant, where you can sample the Cuban sandwich made with roasted pork, honey ham, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard and pickles pressed between crusty Cuban bread or try the ropa vieja shredded beef stew served with sweet plantains, rice and black beans.

You should also head to KYU in Wynwood where you'll delight in pan-Asian, wood-fired cuisine inside a sleek, minimalist warehouse space. A James Beard Award nominee for Best New Restaurant, creative and flavorful dishes include cauliflower drenched in shishito-herb vinaigrette and goat cheese, hamachi with white ponzu and green chili, Thai fried rice stone pot, Korean fried chicken, red snapper with brown butter, and wagyu beef brisket. We pretty much took care of your order right there. You're welcome!

Craft cocktails Miami (via Shutterstock)

Discover: Downtown is heating up as a hip nightlife destination thanks to a groundswell of new bars and restaurants created by locals for locals. Two new hot spots opened around the corner from one another and the crowds are flocking. Lost Boy is a sprawling den for tippling located inside the historic, gilded duPont Building, which dates back to the 1920s. It feels like an eclectic ski lodge, complete with a pool table, dartboards and plenty of cozy tufted leather sofas to lounge, while Mama Tried provides retro glam vibes around a central gilded bar and energy that amps late night thanks to a DJ.

Broken Shaker introduced a whole new wave of craft cocktails to Miami with a menu that changes constantly and features fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs and homemade syrups, infusions and bitters. Take the Surfer Blood, for instance, made with Ron Zacapa rum, grapefruit and chocolate bitters. Set in a laid-back outdoor lounge in a palm tree-lined courtyard with string lighting overhead, the tropical atmosphere matches the drinks.

When it comes to partying in South Beach, there's still no place like LIV. This legendary mega-club is a favorite amongst celebrities and socialites with headlining DJs like David Guetta, Steve Angello and Tiesto on the decks regularly. Get your groove on beneath confetti showers, laser lights and glow sticks. To guarantee entrance, it's a good idea to purchase your tickets in advance.

Where to Stay: The stylish boutique hotel Gale South Beach, part of Hilton's Curio Collection, is situated in the heart of South Beach's nightlife and restaurant scene and is home to a pair of trendy destinations in its own right. Enjoy fine Italian fare at Dolce and masterfully mixed libations at Regent Cocktail Club, one of the finest cocktail bars in South Beach.

Family Fun

When it comes to family vacations before or after your cruise, there are plenty of things to discover in Miami, from a state-of-the-art science museum to a brand-new shopping and entertainment center.

See: Bring the family to Frost Science and explore the ocean's depths in the 500,000-gallon, open tank aquarium where you'll spy hammerhead sharks, stingrays and mahi-mahi. In addition to other hands on exhibits, Frost is also home to a planetarium show for a 360-degree virtual experience tumbling through space, exploring the world's rainforests, stargazing or dissecting a human cell.

Eat: For a bite to eat, head to the three-story La Centrale Italian food hall that anchors Brickell City Centre where your family can choose from a casual cafe or pizzeria on the first floor and more formal dining options on the second floor. Don't forget to stop by their Venchi gelateria for a scoop of gelato doused in chocolate sauce from a fountain before you go.

Explore & Shop: Take a shopping break with the family at Brickell City Centre where you'll find everything from the Apple Store to Zara in a beautiful, modern al fresco development in the heart of downtown. It's also home to a CMX luxury movie theater where you can watch the latest blockbuster in plush reclining chairs with a gourmet food menu to enjoy during the show.

Where to Stay: Located north of the hustle and bustle of South Beach and near the family-friendly town of Surfside, Hilton Cabana Miami Beach is an ideal destination for a family vacation in Miami with spacious, modern guest rooms and an oceanfront pool.

Shayne Benowitz is a travel writer whose work has appeared in AFAR, Nat Geo Traveler, American Way and The Miami Herald where she worked as the hotels editor. She's also the Miami destination expert for the UK's The Telegraph. A beach girl at heart, Shayne called South Beach home for nearly a decade. Her ideal getaway involves sailboats and islands.

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