The Ultimate Miami Travel Guide
Within an hour of landing at the airport in Miami, you’re going to see something supremely fucked up. Maybe it’s a teenager walking past baggage claim with a python. Maybe it’s a bright orange dude with arms the size of watermelons, walking hand-in-hand with his girlfriend whose chest matches his biceps. Maybe it’s a rented Lambo screeching past you on the MacArthur Causeway only to get cut off by a two-tone ‘91 Corolla that didn’t signal while going 30mph. No matter what you see during your time in sunny South Florida, you’ll find yourself repeating a mantra that follows life here like a bad-idea spring break tattoo: “Only in Miami.”
Miami is the end of the road. It’s a city caught in a vice grip of weird, where all the people who don’t really fit in the rest of America escape to reinvent themselves, and where people from Latin America arrive to start over in a different way. Here everyone has a hustle. Your server owns a line of custom T-shirts. A stripper can sell you a condo. No one is ever exactly who they say, and everyone is out to have more fun than anybody else, costs be damned. With that comes an unparalleled variety of food, drinks, and parties. And, yeah, there’s a pretty nice beach too. So whether you find yourself at a cockfight in Hialeah or a shady mansion on Hibiscus Island, whatever you get yourself into in Miami will be the stuff of tall tales when you get back home. Except here? It’s all true.
Every month this year, Thrillist will be rolling out in-depth, comprehensive guides to America’s best cities, curated and crafted by salty locals who know what visitors like you are looking for. After showcasing the best of New Orleans and San Diego, it’s Miami’s turn in the sun. We’ll tell you all the bars and restaurants to hit. We’ll give you a heads-up on some common mistakes to avoid, tell you the best places to visit, and show you some of the other great things to see around South Florida. And you wouldn’t see Miami right if you didn’t learn about our thriving gay culture, the best of the Cuban world, and, of course, our clothing-optional kinky side. So bienvenidos, aficionados del Thrillist! This is your guide on how to make your Miami trip one to retell.
Miami was rated recently as the number one city for “foodies.” Which might seem odd, given our reputation as a city of people who look like they survive on a steady diet of soda water and white powder. Perhaps this is why we have more gyms than Portland has breweries, and run ads for liposuction during PAW Patrol.
But that rising culinary reputation isn’t inaccurate. If you want to experience our vaunted food scene, some neighborhoods have better options than others. Wynwood has Alter, R House, Kyu, and Coyo Taco, all of which have opened in the past few years and are foodie favorites. Coconut Grove has transformed itself from a collection of late-night bad decision bars to the city’s best new culinary destination with hits like the 33 Kitchen, Glass & Vine, and Spillover leading the way. And don’t sleep on the MiMo District on Biscayne Blvd, where you can get all your friends giggling by posting pics from Phuc Yea! Or dine al fresco at Mina’s Mediterraneo.
Of course, the real reason Miami is awash in boutique gyms isn’t vanity, it’s Cuban food. The gut-busting guilty pleasure of this city is stuff like ropa vieja, vaca frita, arroz imperial, and medianoches -- greasy, pork-based delicacies with lots of onions and cheese. The general rule with Cuban food: The divier the restaurant, the better it’ll be. Pastelitos and croquetas are best purchased from large Cuban women in semi-soiled white shirts, working a cafeteria window on Calle Ocho that smells alternately of coffee and frying lard. Or, for the full effect, head to Versailles -- the Little Havana landmark you’ll recognize as the standard backdrop for person-on-the-street interviews any time Cuban-related news breaks.
Beyond Cuban food, we have a city full of people from different countries who are eager to showcase their home cuisines. In Hialeah, they’ll literally walk up to you at stoplights and offer you a sample. On the Palmetto Expressway, you can buy it off the truck next to you. And that’s why food, much like every other experience you‘ll have in Miami, is unlike anything else in America.
The Hottest Restaurants in Miami Right Now
By MATT MELTZER
Miami’s rep as a foodie destination is steady on the rise, with buzzy new hotspots cropping up to tempt even the most fitness-obsessed locals. These restaurants are the best of the best, the proven establishments that have pushed this city’s culinary scene to new heights. Click here for full article...
8 Foods and Drinks You Absolutely Have to Try When Visiting Miami
By LAINE DOSS
Nowhere is Miami’s rich jumble of South American and Caribbean influences more evident than the food and drink. In a city where even the burgers and coffee will surprise you, seek out these cultural mash-ups of American favorites and must-try dishes you won’t find anywhere else. Click here for full article...
The Hottest Bars in Miami Right Now
By MATT MELTZER
You came to party, because drinking in Miami is basically a tourist attraction in its own right. Whether you’re looking for low-key local institutions, waterfront happy hours, craft cocktails, or an outdoor oasis, these are the absolute best bars to hit. Click here for full article...
The Essential Miami Bars Every Visitor Should Check Out
By MATT MELTZER
Wander into any ol’ watering hole off Ocean Dr and you’ll likely get smacked with a stupefying $21 tab for one mediocre Skol-and-soda. Barhop like a local and still get your money’s worth -- hit these quintessential Miami joints instead. Click here for full article...
You may not leave Miami without trying the spicy frita, a Cuban culinary staple and one that inspires fierce debate in the 305. But one thing Miamians can agree upon: The frita made by “El Mago” is the city’s absolute finest. Click here for full article...
Fresh guacamole, hand-ground blue masa tortillas, and fried... grasshoppers. Get past the idea that you’re dining on bugs, and you’re in for one unforgettable taco. Click here for full article...
Your first lesson in figuring out where to sleep tonight: Miami and Miami Beach are two completely different cities, separated by a big body of water. Figure out which city you want to spend more time in, then book there. Most locals avoid crawling across the causeways like we avoid getting real jobs. Checking out both cities is great, spending your vacation in traffic is not.
In the south, you’ve got your European models tanning topless on the sand. Up north, you’ve got your retirees born during the Harding Administration tanning nude. Everything in between is an eclectic mix along that spectrum. Always look closely at that hotel advertising itself as “minutes” from South Beach -- “minutes” could mean five, or it could mean 1,138, and your hotel is actually in Downtown Newark. You can also look for an Airbnb if you know what area you want as home base.
You haven’t been bragging to everyone at work saying, “I’m going to Miami,” have you? No. Even if your hotel is four blocks from the airport, you’re telling everyone “I’m going to South Beach!” Because, let’s be honest, Lil Wayne isn’t filming any videos in Sweetwater.
Staying north of Fifth St means lots of noise. Ground Zero for the party is the Clevelander, with a relaxed pool, rooftop bar, and decent rooms. To save a little, don’t overlook the Courtyard by Marriott on Washington Ave. Meanwhile, the Catalina, Chelsea, and Tradewinds hotels generally charge much less than other modern properties, and staying at any one of them gets you access to an open bar at the Catalina from 7-8pm every night, which sometimes turns into a much bigger party.
If you want a little quiet away from all the rented Corvettes and Champagne spraying, head south of Fifth, where you’ll find boutique gems like the Lord Balfour (done up in a tattoo theme) across from the moderately priced waterfront Savoy. The Hilton Bentley and Stanton are the big players in this ‘hood, both with fantastic new restaurants in Georgios and Lolo’s Cantina, respectively. If you want to go budget, the Jazz Hostel on Washington Ave has one of the best bars in the beach, a well-kept secret full of Euro travelers looking to let loose.
Mid-Beach is the hot new address, running from 24th St up to the Fontainebleau on 44th. Staying at that venerable landmark puts you smack upstairs from super club LIV and all the beautiful folks who line up desperately trying to get in. The Faena is the art world’s favorite new Miami hotel -- its weekend show, C’est Rouge, would put nearly any Vegas cabaret to shame. The Confidante has two great restaurants in Talde and Bird & Bone, and the 1 Hotel has a rooftop pool with views of the skyline and the ocean. To save a little, look at the Freehand Hostel, home to the world’s greatest hostel bar, Broken Shaker.
By day, Brickell is Miami’s financial center, with suited-up professionals from every bank in Latin America crowding the streets. At night, those same people hit the bars, packing Mary Brickell Village alongside long-haired beautiful people and newly transplanted real estate types. If you want to stay in the middle of it all, and money's no object, the Conrad has a sky bar with spectacular views. A couple blocks south, the Four Seasons has one of Miami’s best steakhouses at EDGE. The Hampton Inn has the best sports bar in Miami, and is literally less than a block from Mary Brickell Village and all its nightlife.
The Grove is the best place in the city to stroll through a lush subtropical forest and dine in the shadows of banyan trees while University of Miami students stroll to their college bars. Among Grove hotels, the jewel is Mayfair, done up in a Polynesian motif with in-room hot tubs. The Sonesta and Mutiny both have spectacular views of the water and sit right on Bayshore Dr. The Courtyard by Marriott and Residence Inn are the only cheaper options, but you can always try your luck with Airbnb here as well. Just make sure you’re within a few blocks of the water. The West Grove can get real suspect, real fast.
Make no mistake, while Miami may technically be in the United States, it is fundamentally a Latin American city. The language, the culture, the food, and the rules are different. Spanish is spoken here like French is in Québec. It’s the language coming over the PA in the airport; it’s the table next to you at dinner ordering “pan con bistec, sin queso.”
That doesn’t mean you’re going to be lost here if you don’t speak Spanish — you just can’t expect Miami to function like your hometown, plus palm trees. Time is respected about as much as traffic laws; a 7pm dinner reservation means get in the shower at 7:30. Your Uber driver may well have arrived in Miami after you did. And the warm-weather spirit of the hustle runs deep, so never believe anything until you see it. Especially if it involves the word “VIP.”
There are upsides to being our own little country-within-a-country, of course. It’s the only city in America where you can spend an afternoon inhaling cigar smoke and Old Spice with the abuelitos in Domino Park, then stuff your face with conch in creole sauce to the tropical beats of Kreyol music at Big Night in Little Haiti. It’s where artists, chefs, and other artisans from all over the world set up outposts on nearly every corner. So despite being a veritable swamp of babel, we’ve got some truly fascinating stuff to see.
The Biggest Mistakes Tourists Make in the 305
By MATT MELTZER
No matter where you hail from, this city will strike you as a foreign place -- the language, culture, and rules are different here. Here’s how to avoid getting hustled. Click here for full article...
How to Get to Know the Real Miami You Don't See on TV
By Robert Andrew Powell
The version of Miami you imagine first requires a big wristwatch, bottles to pop and fashion models dancing atop a table, and probably, somewhere in the club, the presence of Justin Bieber. But most of us here have been cast in some other version of the city. Click here for full article...
The Best Places to Experience Cuban Life in Miami
BY Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld
A century of Cuban influences has helped make Miami the capital of Latin America -- and hands-down the greatest place outside of the island nation itself to experience Cuban culture and food. Click here for full article...
DIRECTOR BILLY CORBEN'S NO-BULLSHIT TIPS ON HOW TO DO HIS HOMETOWN
By MATT MELTZER
“You can still go to great places and have a great time without feeling like an asshole because some bouncer looked at your shoes and said, ‘Not in here with those, you're not.’” Click here for full article...
Once upon a time, going to Miami was kinda like going to a fancy resort in a developing country. You hopped in a cab at the airport, marveled at the decrepit city as you breezed through, then plopped down on the beach and never left. Now Miami is far more than just a pretty beach, and to get the full experience you’ll need to know how to get around.
Simply put, it’s not gonna happen on public transportation. We do have a train that hits the airport, but other than Brickell and the University of Miami, it doesn’t really go anywhere of interest. The buses run whenever the hell they feel like it.
If you’re staying in Miami Beach and want to explore Miami, your best bet is to take Uber or Lyft across the bay for around $15 each way. Taxis might be a little easier to catch, but they’re typically quadruple the price. If you want to go explore the Keys, Ft. Lauderdale, or the magic that is Boca Raton, plenty of car rental agencies operate in the Beach. Parking on the beach averages $20 a day in city garages, and our tow truck drivers have the scruples of Darth Vader.
Miami’s arteries are toll roads, many of which don’t bother telling you they’re toll roads until you get a bill for $2.50 in the mail because you drove through something called “The Dolphin Extension.” Rental car companies will try and rent you an automatic transponder for like $7 a day plus tolls, but opt for your own SunPass for $5 at the first Publix you find, and load it with money.
On the subject of driving, understand that one or two drivers in South Florida may not have the utmost respect for traffic laws. Be prepared for some jagoff in a 3-series to cut across four lanes of traffic going 80mph at any time, without signaling or as much as a courtesy wave -- the classic South Florida Slide. If you’re a pedestrian, never, ever count on a car stopping for you -- not even at a red light. Do we have right-of-way laws? Of course we do. We also have laws against public officials biting strippers, but that never seems to deter anyone.
And finally... traffic. Going anywhere west of I-95 after 3pm will ruin your vacation, and going north of Downtown after 3pm will require extensive therapy. If you must, take the Express Lanes, despite the sometimes-$11 price tag. And if the Express Lanes say “closed,” it’s a lie, unless the police are blocking them off. General rule of thumb: Do all your traveling between 10am-3pm, and don’t even think about going back out again until after 7pm.
14 Things to Do in Miami Besides Party
By JENNIFER AGRESS
Limiting your time here to just the beach and the bar would be an all-too-common mistake. This non-stop party scene has real cultural flair: artsy hangouts, cabaret shows, drag racing, disco bowling, mansion hunting -- and, of course, jai alai. Click here for full article...
The Best Quick Day Trips Around South Florida
By DEIRDRA FUNCHEON
Break away from the strip joints, strip malls, and grandma's condominium -- and go explore. We promise you’ll be back to hit the club before midnight. Click here for full article...
Miami runs on sex. This is the only way to justify an otherwise-sane person saying “$800 for a bottle of vodka sounds reasonable.” Because having a bottle of Grey Goose the size of a car muffler in front of you (with sparklers!) might maybe, possibly, get you even a fraction of a chance of going home with a 6ft Brazilian model. Why rent a Bentley to sit in traffic with the top down on a 96-degree day? Sex. It’s the whole reason this city exists.
And while it might be a little easier to get laid in a place where bars are open ‘til five and long pants are considered prudish, it’s not quite as easy as walking down the street and doing your best imitation of Dikembe Mutombo in a Denver bar circa 1993. You’ve gotta get out there and make it happen! Miami hasn’t blessed itself with 24-hour liquor licenses and loosely interpreted open-container laws all so you can sit on your hotel couch and stream Narcos. We have them so you can go out and LIVE Narcos! Kidding, don’t do that. But DO go out and make the most of a city where careless, casual sex is pretty much the norm. Let the locals worry about how bad that makes the dating scene.
No matter what you’re into here, there’s a party for you. Yeah, the big clubs like LIV and Story are what you see on TV. But if you’re into dive bars that leave your hair smelling like smoke for a week, gay bars, swingers clubs, or sweaty underground salsa clubs, you can do it until you regret it in Miami.
Why Miami Is the Greatest Gay Destination in America
By BRANDON THORP
South Florida is one of the great gay havens in America. Hell, it's one of the great gay havens of the world. But it's easy to miss the good stuff. Click here for full article...
How to Do South Beach and Not Get Played for a Tourist
By MATT MELTZER
Locals say South Beach isn’t the real Miami, but who said you came to do anything "real"? Here’s how to imbibe in all the poolside drinking and all-night partying you want -- without getting sucked into tourists traps. Click here for full article...
Stripping, Swinging & Sex Stuff: How to Get Kinky in Miami
By Matt Meltzer
Whether it’s swinging, sunbathing nude, or just getting a ball gag stuffed in your mouth and called a dirty little boy, there’s someone in South Florida ready to welcome you. Click here for full article...
Throughout this year, Thrillist will be rolling out massive, comprehensive travel guides to great American cities, having tackled New Orleans, San Diego, Miami, Austin, Vegas, and now New York. Keep a lookout for a new travel guide coming soon.
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Writers: Matt Meltzer, Laine Doss, Brandon Thorp, Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld, Jennifer Agress, Robert Andrew Powell, Deirdra Funcheon
Art direction: Drew Swantak
Photographer: Zeinab Kristen
Production: Pete Dombrosky, Tanner Saunders, Lisa Elbert, Billy Frierson, Tom Vellner
Video: Chas Truslow, Josh Dodd, Christian Murdocco, Nezihe Soyalan, Nick Lilly, Thomas McKenna, and Zach Lapierre
Special thanks: Bison Messink, Julie Cerick, Liz Childers, Jason Hoffman, Evan Lockhart, Rachel Freeman, James Chrisman, Alex Robinson, Elaheh Nozari, Laura Reilly, Ben Maljevec, Alex Garofalo, Lainie Frost, Julie Piñero, Ben Robinson, Billy Corben
No thanks: Rick. Like, get your act together man.