The Biggest Mistakes Tourists Make in Miami

If you're even thinking of being in Miami, check out the rest of our DestiNATION: Miami guide. It's stacked with expert advice from locals on what to eat, where to drink, and what to do.

Even if you're from Miami, the city will strike you as a foreign place. We're the de facto capital of Latin America, have the largest proportion of foreign-born residents of any big city in the world, and we just do things the rest of America can't quite figure out.

Foreign or domestic, if you're visiting you're bound to make some missteps. To help your vacation go smoother, and help you avoid some of our famous scam artists, here are 13 mistakes to avoid when visiting Miami.

Paying double gratuity in bars and restaurants

Miami restaurants and bars regularly include an 18% gratuity on your bill. Some circle it. Some use a big red stamp that says "Tip included." Others don't even mention it and hope you skim past it like you did that Grey Goose cocktail you never ordered.

Miami bartenders are NOTORIOUS for quoting drink prices without mentioning that tip is included. So that $7 beer mysteriously graduates to $9 when the bartender drops it in front of you. Ask for a receipt every time, and look to see if tip is included. This cannot be stressed enough. Never trust a bartender when they tell you the amount of your tab, and always look at your credit card slip to see if the tip line says "Additional gratuity."

Ocean Drive Miami
Ocean Drive | Shutterstock/Jorg Hackemann

Eating on Ocean Drive

Yes, there are a handful of decent restaurants. It's also Miami's biggest tourist trap and home to the worst restaurant in Miami. Know how to do South Beach without getting played. Pop into the Clevelander for a drink to get the Ocean Drive experience, then spend your dining budget elsewhere.

Assuming that people will speak English

Well over half of Miami's residents were born outside the United States, a simply staggering proportion. So it's perfectly normal for people here not to understand more than rudimentary English. Your odds are better of winning a $500 scratch ticket than having an English-speaking Uber driver. Your waiter might not understand the phrase "Is this gluten-free?" The front-desk clerk at your hotel might give you a blank stare when you ask for more body wash. People will automatically talk to you in Spanish, even if you look like James McAvoy.

You can go all Trumpkin and say, "I thought this was MURICUH. Why don't they learn English??" but exactly none of that is going to help you find Plan B at Walgreens when not even the manager understands what you're asking for. So either learn some helpful phrases in Spanish before you come here, or just prepare to make due.

Miami Metrorail
Miami Metrorail | Shutterstock/Rudy Umans

Counting on public transportation. At all.

Do we have something here called the Metrorail? Yes. Could 95% of Miamians tell you where it goes? No. Because Miami has about as much sensible urban planning as we do annual snowfall, our big public train is pretty useless unless you're going to Hialeah Park, the airport, or Santa Clara, wherever that is. The buses run whenever they damn well feel like it. Either rent a car or use ride-shares and taxis, but don’t count on public transportation here for anything.

Expecting cars to stop at crosswalks

Is it the law? Yes. So is not using public funds at strip clubs but, hey, we take a cue from our civic leaders. Miamians have about as much regard for crosswalks and right-of-way as we do for voting regulations. So when crossing the street, even legally, don't ever assume a car will stop or even slow down. You've been warned.

Miami south beach
South Beach | Shutterstock/

Assuming all of Miami is South Beach

LeBron James did us no favors when he told the world he was "taking his talents to South Beach," since the Miami Heat play nowhere near there. TV and the movies have led the world to think all of Miami is this little island called South Beach, when in fact the city of Miami Beach is but a modest fraction of the seventh-largest metro in America.

We're more like LA than New York, which means lots of sprawl and traffic between destinations. And if you want to explore all the other great things about this city (which you absolutely should), from the street murals in Wynwood to the culture of Little Havana, understand you're looking at at least a half-hour drive from South Beach.

Using weak sunscreen

Saying, "I go all summer at Lake Winnepatonka and only burn, like, once" is the kind of logic that keeps dermatologists in business. Look at a map: We're a LOT closer to the equator here than any non-Hawaii spot in America, on about the same latitude as most of Mexico. That means the UV here, especially in the summer, will kick your ass. We can spot tourists by their ridiculous sunburns. Go ahead and pack that SPF 45 -- you'll have plenty of tan to prove you were here.


Underestimating your costs

The first time a bartender hands you a well vodka and soda and says, "21," you might think she's asking you for ID. Nope. That's the price of your drink. In dollars.

Getting a buzz in Miami can run you into triple digits. An entire night of drinking will be more than a car payment. And the concept of a $25 plate of spaghetti is not lost on us either, so if you want to eat in even mid-priced restaurants, budget about $60-$75 per person for dinner.

Assuming that hot foreign girl at the club is actually into you

She's not. She's into your Rolex, or whatever expensive thing you've been flashing around all night to get her attention, because she will be stealing it from you by the end of the night. This happens alarminglyoften to dimwittedmales in Miami. Even if those B-girls aren't criminals, they're trying to scam you. Clubs actually employ women to mingle as club patrons, flirt with guys at tables, and get them to buy expensive bottles of Champagne. If you hear the phrase, "I really LOVE Veuve," you know you're being played. Good barometer: If sexy women with foreign accents don't hit on you at home, they're not doing it here.

Bottle service LIV Miami
LIV Miami | LIV Miami

Trying to go to the "it" clubs

South Beach is a shallow, terrible place. Now that we've established that, here are some warnings about going to those big sexy clubs you see on TV.

If you're a group of guys, your chances of getting into a club without buying a bottle are a blip. Unless you're prepared to drop literally thousands of dollars on bottle service, getting in is going to be tough, and even then there's no guarantee. A very wealthy friend of mine was planning a bachelor party here and called LIV to try and reserve a table for 12 guys. They hung up on him before even quoting a price. Have attractive girls with your group, or don't even try.

If you're a group of girls your odds are better, but if you're not a certain definition of hot, you're never getting in. Or, worse, a doorman will point to three of you and say, "You three can come in. The rest… hell no!" This actually happens. Nightly.

Either plan ahead through a promoter, or be prepared to wait outside for a very, very long time. Getting there early (like before midnight) helps too, but if you don't look the part or have the money, you might wait out there all night.

Flying into Fort Lauderdale (FLL)

Miamians love nothing more than that friend who says, "Hey, can you pick me up at the airport Friday morning?" and then ever-so-conveniently texts, as they're boarding the plane, "You know I'm flying into FLL right?"

You might get all giddy because you saved $75 by flying into Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami. Easy there Turbo, it's still gonna cost you. A cab from FLL to South Beach will run $100 each way, while Uber or Lyft is about $50-$60. If you arrive during rush hour (7-10am on weekdays) that can triple, and you'll spend the first two hours of your vacation in traffic. Even without traffic, that drive is 45 minutes.

"Oh, but I see there's a train!" you say. Technically, yes, the Tri-Rail has a stop called  "Ft. Lauderdale Airport." It's about a 15-minute shuttle ride away, followed by a 45-minute train ride to MIA and another 40-minute bus ride to South Beach. Point is, if you value your time (and in some cases your money), save yourself the hassle and fly directly into Miami. Your local friends will thank you.

Wall Mural
Mural in Calle Ocho | Zeinab Kristen/Thrillist

Repping Che Guevara because, hey, he's Cuban

In Miami a county commissioner could embezzle the entire roads budget, blow it all on strippers and cocaine, post it on Instagram, and still get re-elected. But say anything even remotely neutral about Fidel Castro? Go ahead and start looking for real estate in Naples.

Many Cuban-Americans in Miami are rightfully still a little bitter over that whole "government taking our property and throwing our friends in jail" thing. So Che, an icon of rebellion and badassness in so much of America, is a despised tyrant here. Along those lines, don't ask a Cuban if they think it's great we're opening up travel, or ending embargoes, or limiting immigration. Some do, many don't, and it's a sore subject. Stick to rum, sandwiches, and cigars. 

Getting impatient with servers

At some point you're going to encounter a certain kind of Miami server. He won't be a professional. He won't even be an aspiring actor trying to pay an exorbitant rent. Instead he came to Miami to party and needed some kind of job to support a life of raging till 4 and sleeping till noon.

This means there's a better-than-average chance your waiter didn't sleep before coming to work, is painfully hungover, and is probably taking a nap in the back when you're trying to get a refill on your Diet Coke. They are doing you a favor by walking by your table, and you may well find yourself sitting there for 15 minutes before they give you the pleasure. This is what happens when a standard 18% gratuity is added to every bill. If you don't like it, there's a lovely Burger King on 5th St you're welcome to try. Though no promises there either.

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Matt Meltzer is a contributing writer for Thrillist who is not picking you up in Lauderdale. Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.