Miami Travel Guide: There’s More to Miami Than the Beach

miami travel guide - what to pack and how to plan

Miami, Florida is a traveler’s paradise, with warm weather year-round. You might think of Miami Vice or South Beach first, but the area is also home to Caribbean cultures like in Little Havana and Little Haiti.

The city is home to celebrities, athletes, and artists. Wynwood has become a popular neighborhood for visitors thanks to its brightly painted murals and yearly Art Basel festival. But downtown has plenty to offer visitors as well, including top-notch museums.

You’re sure to find something to entertain you in Miami!

If we’ve left anything out or you’d like to join the conversation, please leave comments below!

Miami Travel Expenses Tips

It’s easy to spend plenty of money in Miami, between the luxury hotels and nightclubs. But you don’t have to break the bank to have a good time.

Don’t stay on the beach.
Be prepared to pay at least twice the standard rate if your hotel is located on or right next to the beach. You’ll find much more affordable places to stay Mid-Beach as well as a few blocks away. This way, you’ll be close to both the beach and downtown attractions.

Take advantage of free attractions.
Many attractions in Miami offer free days every month, like the Wolfsonian Museum, or offer completely free activities like beach yoga and movies in the park. And going to the beach doesn’t cost you a thing, nor does seeing the murals in Wynwood. Attractions is where you can really save money in your budget and splurge elsewhere.

Miami travel and packing guide
Caroline exploring Miami street art by bike

Leave the car behind.
I discovered firsthand how terrible driving and parking in Miami is a few years ago while road tripping through Florida. If at all possible, don’t bring a car. Most hotels don’t have their own decks and you’ll have to keep feeding the meter on the street or find a private lot. When in Miami, get around using a combination of walking, public transportation, Uber, and CitiBikes. But if you absolutely have to drive, borrow a car just for the day, whether by renting or using Zipcar.

Make lunch your most expensive meal.
If you want to check out Miami’s dining scene, visit the top-rated restaurants for lunch. You’ll get a similar experience without paying as much. For dinner, check out one of the ethnic eateries like the heaping portions at Islas Canarias or Versailles.

Essential Gear to Pack for Miami

Miami is temperate year round, so be prepared with warm weather clothes. I’ve gone to the beach there in October! Nightclubs and restaurants may require you to dress up more, so pack a few casual outfits and a few nice ones.

Swimsuits– You’ll need at least two, one to wash and one to wear.

Nice outfits to go out– Skirts and tops as well as flowy dresses are ideal with comfortable wedges.

Reading material for the beach– Whether you prefer your e-reader or paper books, bring a good beach read like the ones mentioned below.

Sun protectionSunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses are key. Even if it doesn’t seem that warm, the sun is still burning you!

Tote bag– Skip the overflowing purse or “bum bag” in favor of a good tote. You can throw in your beach materials or bring it to a museum.

Miami travel and packing guide
Check out the quirky side of Miami in the Wynwood Arts District.

Books to Read Before Visiting Miami

Miami is the backdrop for many interesting reads, whether it’s the early days of settlement or the crime-ridden past, or the present-day.

Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet– The daughter of Cuban immigrants is accepted into an elite university, much to the dismay of her parents. They soon divorce and while she is at university, she meets another Cuban refugee. Grab a copy on Amazon.

Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber– A young girl runs away from home because of her guilt regarding her actions, but finds her family again years later as she has lived a life of drugs and poverty on the streets of Miami. Grab a copy on Amazon.

Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel– A woman moves to a settlement in Biscayne Bay, where she experiences life, including marriage, infidelity, hurricanes, drug wars, and everything in between. Grab a copy on Amazon.

Tourist Season, by Carl Hiassen– A Shriner’s fez washes up on Miami Beach, followed by a body with a toy alligator lodged in his throat. Investigator Brian Keyes must get to the bottom of this bizarre string of murders. Grab a copy on Amazon.

Miami, by Joan Didion– The author details the history of the city through the lens of Cuban immigrants during the Bay of Pigs. Grab a copy on Amazon.

Miami travel and packing guide
Almost any time of the year is beach weather in Miami.

Movies to Watch Before Visiting Miami

Film and television have been set in Miami for decades, starting in the 1930s, so it’s hard to narrow this list down to just a few.

Scarface– Cuban refugee Tony Montana soon becomes embroiled in a life of crime when arriving in Miami that includes drug deals and murder for hire. He soon has not only other criminals after him, but also the government. Grab a copy on Amazon.

Bad Boys– Two Miami narcotics detectives investigate the theft of $100 million worth of Mafia-seized heroin from a police vault. They suspect that it is an inside job and hire two women to pose as escorts to track down information. Grab a copy on Amazon.

Pain & Gain– Loosely based on a true story, a group of bodybuilders kidnaps another gym owner in an extortion scheme. They then make a plan to kill him and take over his assets, but he survives. This begins a crime spree. Grab a copy on Amazon.

There’s Something About Mary– A man remains in love with his high school crush over a decade later. He has her tracked down by a private investigator, but he soon falls for her as well. Grab a copy on Amazon.

The Birdcage– Two gay men own a nightclub but when one discovers he has a son who is bringing his girlfriend home to meet them, they cover as a straight couple when her conservative parents arrive. Grab a copy on Amazon.

Miami travel and packing guide
Explore nature around the Miami area

Top Things to Do in Miami

There’s no shortage of things to keep you entertained in Miami, but the main focuses are the beaches, sports, and the arts. Take advantage of free events, mentioned earlier, and free days at the museums.

Book a City Tour of Miami via Viator, a one stop tour booking shop.

Villa Vizcaya– Formerly the home of magnate James Deering, the lavish estate is now a museum recreated to look like when he lived here. Give yourself time to wander the elaborate gardens, a popular spot for photo shoots.

Art Museums– There are many art museums in town, each focusing on a different style. The Wolfsonian has a mostly modern pieces, while the Bass Museum has contemporary art. Perez Museum has 20th and 21st century art from around the world, as does the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami.

Wynwood Arts District– Formerly warehouses, the neighborhood has been transformed to include galleries, shops, and restaurants covered in murals. Come for Art Basel or take a tour of the area from one of the artists.

Sports– Between all the sports, you’re bound to find a game happening in Miami on any given night. This includes Miami Heat basketball, Miami Marlins baseball, Miami Dolphins football, and even Miami Tridents rugby.

Day trips– Within a short drive, you can see much of South Florida. Fort Lauderdale is only 30 minutes away, while offbeat Coral Castle is 45 minutes south in Homestead. Drive further and you can visit Everglades National Park and the Florida Keys. Travel independently or book one of the many tours that leave from the city.

Where to Stay in Miami

There’s an accommodation for every budget in Miami and, best of all, you won’t have to sacrifice style. There are plenty of hostels around the city, but they are hit or miss.

  • The Freehand is by far the best, offering a pool, restaurant, and the hottest cocktail bar in town.
  • Circa 39 is a stylish mid-range option that has access to the beach and chairs.
  • The newly opened outpost of The Edition is home to The Basement, a nightclub with a bowling alley and ice skating rink.
  • The Vagabond and Vintro are two more hip options for a weekend in the city.

Miami travel and packing guide

Food and Drink in Miami

Make reservations if you want to dine at one of the top restaurants. But you can find some delicious dishes outside of the Zagat guide. Here are just a few of the many dishes worth sampling in Miami.

Cuban coffee– You better like it strong because that’s how the Cubans drink it. You can get it all over town, but it’s especially authentic in Little Havana.

Stone crab– This sweet, local seafood is made famous by Joe’s Stone Crab. Be sure to wear a bib!

Frita– Similar to a standard hamburger, this Cuban delight is topped with fried potatoes and secret sauce on Cuban bread.

Croquetas– What’s better than fried stuff with cheese?

Pastelitas– These pastries that come as sweet or savory options are sold everywhere from gas stations to bakeries. Fillings include guava or meats with a flaky crust.

Arepas– The addictive Venezuelan corn cake sandwiches are stuffed with deliciousness like cheese, beans, eggs, and more.

Cuban sandwich– Originally made by Cuban immigrants, the pork and swiss sandwich is grilled flat and served hot.

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Miami travel guide by HPL

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Gear We Use

Organization

Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Accommodation

Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Maria says

    Awesome guide! I’m planning a roadtrip from New York to Miami and I definitely wouldn’t have thought of the car problem in Miami. Can’t wait to go!

  2. Emma says

    I agree with everything, especially ditching the car! Miami is probably the most ‘uber friendly’ city I’ve been too, it was by far the best, cheapest and quickest way to get around.

    Emma x

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