Travel

Actually Cool Things You Can (Still) Do in Miami Right Now

Even locals love this stuff.

Let’s be honest: Being the envy of America was getting a little old. Sure, posting pictures of beach days in January and eating at some of the best restaurants in the world was fun. But maybe we needed a little stretch where people weren’t so big on coming to Miami, so we could enjoy our city without thousands of visitors. Silver linings, right?

Of course, many of the things we loved to do are on hold for the time being, so perhaps we can look at this as an opportunity to get out and discover some new ways to have fun. We’ve still got the beaches, and you can eat at many of your favorite restaurants...albeit under a thick blanket of humidity. But we’ve also got oodles of undiscovered outdoor spaces, and maybe even some creative ways of seeing Miami in a new light. So read on and find some actually cool things to do in Miami and South Florida while staying COVID-friendly and (relatively) safe.

Miami Dade AeroJet Rocket Facility
Miami Dade AeroJet Rocket Facility | Robert Thomson/Flickr

Visit a trippy abandoned missile silo

Free
Just before you get to the entrance to Everglades National Park, you’ll see a little parking lot off to the side of the road with a small sign for the Southern Glades Wildlife and Environmental Area. This is the entrance to Aerojet Road, which is only accessible by foot or bicycle and leads to an eerie abandoned missile testing site a couple of miles down. Once known as the Aerojet Dade Rocket Facility, the abandoned buildings have been covered in colorful graffiti and murals, and one even has a rocket still inside.

Work out outside

Free
Even though it may be prohibitively hot most of the day, if 2020 has taught us one thing it’s that Miami offers countless ways to flex your muscles outside. You can run the boardwalk along Miami Beach or across the Rickenbacker Causeway to Key Biscayne. If you’d rather distance even further, swim in the warm, calm waters of Biscayne Bay or do calisthenics in one of our many parks complete with ocean views.

No longer take the beach for granted

Free
Despite the fact that most Miamians couldn’t tell you the last time we went to the beach, the fact that we couldn’t go for a couple months gave us all a lesson in taking things for granted. Now we have the chance to enjoy our relatively tourist-free beaches this summer, the odd time you’ll be able to lay out without hearing someone complain about how much better it is in New York. Crandon Park and Bill Baggs beaches are typically less crowded since they’re on Biscayne Bay. Along Miami Beach, head north of 22nd street for some more socially distant beaching.

Hike in the Everglades

Free-$
Though summer isn’t always the most inviting time to strap on your mud boots and explore America’s most beautiful swamp, if you pack enough bug spray and water you can still have a pretty solid afternoon. Everglades National Park has plenty of easy trails at both Shark Valley and Flamingo. Or, if you don’t want to go into the park, cruise down US-41 to Loop Road and hike through the water on the 4.7-mile Gator Hook Trail.

Stroll the Hollywood Beach boardwalk

Free - $$
It’s as close to a Northeastern beach town as we get in South Florida, as our lone stretch of funky boardwalk is filled with beachside bars, soft serve ice cream, and people who look like they just stepped out of a Florida Man story. It’s also chock-full of social distancing-friendly outdoor dining with the real hidden gem here being The Taco Spot, one of the best Mexican places in South Florida you’ve probably never heard of.

Photograph the Wynwood Walls

Free
Miami has one of the most impressive collections of ever-changing street art in the world, with blocks upon blocks of colorful, provocative murals that are never the same twice.  Even beyond the official park (which is currently closed due to COVID-19) the al fresco murals act as a free outdoor museum and you'll find plenty of fodder for your Instagram around every corner. Plus, with fewer things open and no tour buses, you might actually be able to park!
 

Ride through the Everglades

Free-$$$
Rolling down US-41 under Big Cypress canopies while blue herons fly overhead and gators sun themselves on the highway is one of the most Florida experiences one can have without dating their teacher. It’s free to drive through, but taking an airboat ride at Jungle Erv’s or any of the many other roadside spots is worth it once you’re out there.

Snorkel in the Keys

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Showing your guests the natural wonders of the Florida Keys doesn’t mean enduring the two-lane torture all the way to Key West. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is only about an hour from Miami, and offers some of the best snorkeling in the world. After Hurricane Irma, the beach and water are both cleaner than they’ve been in years, and just swimming off the shore here you won’t need a boat, a guide, or any reservations. Want even more to do in the Keys? We've got that guide right here.

Locate (and promptly devour) a Cuban sandwich

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It's the quintessential must-try food for anyone visiting Miami. The sandwich, at its most basic, is a mixture of ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard all placed betwixt Cuban bread and served warm. Your best bets will be La Carreta, Versailles, and Sergio's -- all of which serve them para llevar if you’re still not up for eating at restaurants.

Drink milkshakes and wait in line for the best cinnamon rolls you'll ever have

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Miamians are pretty averse to waiting in line for anything -- except for the cinnamon rolls at Knaus Berry Farm in Homestead, which even midweek will have you waiting minimum half an hour. Though closed for the season now, the shop is nearby Robert Is Here for some fresh fruit, a milkshake made with said fruit, and the baddest petting zoo animals you’ll ever meet.

Relax with a drink on the water, obviously

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Even in the steaming heat of summer, having a drink on the water is the ultimate way to relax in the Magic City. Hit either Monty’s Sunset in South Beach or Monty’s Raw Bar in Coconut Grove for the classic experience. Smith and Wollensky in South Beach is the move for a higher-end vibe, or hit LOL on the Bay in Brickell for a cheap, hidden gem located between two apartment building pools. That’s far from the extent of our outdoor options, though, so here’s a comprehensive guide to South Florida’s best drinking patios and rooftop bars.

Play the ponies at Gulfstream Park

Free-$$$$
Okay, so maybe you won’t be able to enjoy the fine cultural experience that is talking with guys who spend their entire life at the track. Or learning how to yell at slow-moving horses in six different languages. But the sport of kings never stopped during covid, and now that The Village at Gulfstream Park is back open, you can saddle up to a table at one of its many restaurants, open up the TVG app on your phone, and bet trifectas to your heart’s content.

Taste wine made from…avocados?

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Sometimes you need to abandon your ideas of what wine is “supposed” to taste like, and savor a light white made from mangoes. Schnebly Winery in Redlands has some creative blends made from tropical fruit that might not taste like what you’d get in Napa, but still can be delicious if you have the right mindset.

Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park | Sandra Foyt/Shutterstock

Snorkel and swim in the waters of Biscayne National Park

Free-$$
Miami-Dade County is the only county in America with two national parks within its boundaries. While most know of Everglades, few have ventured into the waters of Biscayne National Park, where 95% of the park is on the water. You can take a guided paddling or snorkeling trip through the Biscayne National Park Institute, where you’ll have the unusual opportunity to snorkel through mangroves as well as over thriving coral reefs. It’s also home to the Maritime Heritage Trail, where half a dozen shipwrecks sit right below the surface.

Enjoy Ocean Drive, sans traffic

Free-$$$
For years, most Miamians have avoided Ocean Drive like the plague. Though given how the last couple of months have gone, we actually probably avoided it more than the plague. And though we’d still strongly suggest plague avoidance, with no traffic, fewer tourists and blocks of outdoor tables, Ocean Drive now seems almost European in its outdoor dining vibe...if Europe served 3-for-1 margaritas the size of your torso.

Lay on the secluded beach at Matheson Hammock

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Take the scenic drive down Old Cutler Road to this park on the east side of the street, where banyan trees, mangroves, and palm trees give a reminder of what the land here was like before dredging and air conditioning. It also has one of the most secluded, serene beaches in the city, which is worth the $5 admission alone.

Picnic in South Pointe Park

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The view from the grassy knoll at this park on the southern tip of Miami Beach is without question the best in the city. Grab an order of fried chicken to go from Joe’s Take Away, add a bottle of wine from Publix (and maybe a PubSub if you've never had one), and you’re watching the sunset over the Miami skyline with the ocean at your back for under $20.

Drink cocktails on the go

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While much of America is reveling in its newfound ability to walk down the street, to Miamians it comes as naturally as disaster shopping. What doesn’t come naturally, however, is not having the option to sit inside a nice, air-conditioned bar in the summer. No matter, plenty of places around the city are still selling cocktails to go. And as long as you don’t try and drink them in your car, they can make for a fun, relaxing outdoor bar crawl.

Bike over the Rickenbacker Causeway

Free
Saying Miami isn’t a bike-friendly city would be like saying North Korea is a little closed-off. But the one continuous bike lane we do have might be the most scenic in America. And if you’ve got a two-wheeled machine, taking it across the glimmering water and into the tropical paradise of Key Biscayne is pure Miami magic. Just make sure not to get distracted by the stunning views of the water or the city skyline: Those guys drag racing 3 Series at 85 miles an hour probably don’t see you.

See the entire city from the top of Sugar

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The next best (and much more expensive) view of the city is from the rooftop bar at Brickell’s East Hotel. This Asian garden in the sky serves up some of the best cocktails in Miami, with a heaping side of views all the way up to Hard Rock Stadium, out to South Beach, and west to the airport and the Everglades. Get the Dhalia with Avion silver tequila, elderflower, Thai chili, cucumber, and lemon.

Paddleboard the calm waters off Key Biscayne

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Getting out on the water is a must any time you’re in Miami, and if renting a boat is out of the budget head to Crandon Park to rent a stand-up paddleboard or kayak, then get out and explore Biscayne Bay. Hell, you might even encounter some dolphins or manatee.

Kayak through mangroves at Oleta River

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There’s a bit of a surreal feeling of paddling through what feels like a deserted mangrove swamp, turning a corner, and coming face to face with a wall of high-rise condos. But such is the magic of Oleta River State Park, where Old Florida meets new, and you can kayak out to empty islands and beaches only reachable by boat.

 Talavera Cocina Mexicana
Talavera Cocina Mexicana | Visit Miami

Get Miami Spice to go

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It seems a cruel twist of irony that Miami’s restaurants were allowed to open for outdoor seating only, during the one time of year exactly nobody wants to sit outside. Still, they need our support and while sweating through a three-course, $39.95 prix-fixe menu might not sound terribly appealing right now, this year a number of restaurants are offering their special Miami Spice menus to go. So you can peruse this list, locate the best deal, and still enjoy Spice in ice cold AC at home.

Do a beer and food crawl through Wynwood

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Though the taprooms are a no-go for right now, you can still get growler fills and cans to go from some of the city’s best breweries at J. Wakefield, Wynwood Brewing, and Concrete Beach. Take those cans on a walking art tour as you sample the best quick food in the neighborhood by grabbing some Asian cuisine at 1-800 Lucky, a slice at Pizza Tropical, and a couple of tacos at Coyo.

Ride go-karts and roller skate at Xtreme Action Park

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The quickest way to feel like a kid again is hitting this mega-play place in north Broward, where you’ll drive go-karts, jump on trampolines, run a ropes course, blast bazookas in a glow-in-the-dark house, and pretty much everything else you enjoyed when you were ten that you still love now. But now there’s beer.

Go skydiving

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There may be no better way to see Miami than from 14,000 feet, climbing up slowly in an airplane that feels like it was constructed with model glue, then mercifully jumping out. Skydive Miami in Homestead gives you that spectacular view, followed by an all-out adrenaline rush of over a minute of free-fall while you look out on literally all of South Florida, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Everglades, before dropping in a field and immediately trying to figure out how to do it again.

Skydive... inside!

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If jumping out of a rickety plane in Homestead isn't the kind of thrill your Miami visitors had in mind, head up to iFLY in Davie where you’ll jump into their indoor skydiving chamber and get the sensation of free-falling without the death-defying plane ride. You’ll even get a video to take home and show your friends or immediately post to a flurry of likes.

And if you're looking for more dope things to do in Miami, our comprehensive Miami Travel Guide has you covered with the best places to eat, drink, stay, and see. It's must read when you're jaunting around the 305.

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Curt Hollingsworth is a Miami writer for Thrillist.