A siren resounded from across the hotel pool as a thick white cloud seeped from a fog machine across the deck. Girls in knee-high gladiator sandals and bikinis emerged from the mist squealing, drunkenly launching themselves onto lounge chairs to watch as a parade of shirtless men lined the pool, piggy-backing more bikini-clad girls on their shoulders. When thumping DJ beats resumed and the siren stopped, the girls rained bottles of champagne all over anyone in and around the pool. I knew Miami was notorious for its party scene, but this was next level.
As I came to find after living there for a month, Will Smith was certainly right about a few things. Club promoters approach you on the beach. Each night of the week, nightclubs puts on themed party. And reggaeton beats echo through the streets most hours of the day and night. Being real, I’m actually not a major party person, but I do enjoy casual drinks and live music. So I was determined to discover the other side of the city, and the good news is, I found it. Here are a few of my recommendations for people not into fog machines.
Where to Eat
Under the Mango Tree: This little hole-in-the-wall is simply a must-do. Why? For some reason it’s just one of my favorite places on earth, especially if you have a hankering for some bomb acai bowls, smoothies, and coffee. On one of the best mornings I’ve ever had, I rented a beach cruiser, put on some Latin jams, then road through South Beach to reach the cafe. After sitting to enjoy a refreshing acai bowl, I topped it off with a swim at the beach.
The Salty Donut: Every major city these days has one famous craft donut place, and for Miami this is the one. Just a warning, this place is so popular you’ll be waiting in line for a while …. okay, a very long time. But the brown butter and salt donut (and maybe the baked cookies and cream one) was certainly worth it.
Suviche: I spent a lot of time in Peru, so Peruvian food is my jam. I’m in love with this place not just for the menu but also for its cute Caribbean decor. Do yourself a favor and order a Pisco sour then lull away the time in one of their chair swings outside as you wait for a table. Once you have your spot, you can do half orders of sushi and ceviche – why choose one when you can have both!
Wynwood Bar and Kitchen: the food here is just okay, but the atmosphere is a win, so it’s a great place to get the night rolling with an appetizer and a drink out on their patio. The restaurant is at entrance of the funky Wynwood Walls, and the venue itself is covered in street art.
Cibo: The Italian food at Cibo is so good, I definitely had a come-to-Jesus moment. All of their pasta is made right there in-house and the bartender is happy to invent you a winning cocktail on the fly. If you sit in the dining room where the wine cellar is, you can watch their “wine angels.” They actually train waitresses in acrobatics so they can retrieve bottles of wine from way up on high shelves.
Street Cafes of Calle Ocho: I’m a sucker for any place in the US that feels like you’re in another country. In Little Havana, Calle Ocho is the prime spot for people watching and acting as if you were in Cuba. Up and down the street, you’ll come across sidewalk cafes where you walk up to little windows and order a cortado (espresso with milk). Do yourself a favor and while you’re there, just pop into one of the markets. I also love just checking out interesting grocery stores.
One more thing, if you happen to be in Central Miami near Target, stop by Angelina’s Coffee & Juice specifically for a side order of bacon (the waitstaff there still thinks I’m crazy because I’d just order bacon) then walk down the road and get a coffee from Pasion del Cielo Coffee (their brews are much better, plus you get to choose which country you’d like your coffee beans from even if you order a latte).
Where to Listen to Some Music
Ball and Chain: Admittedly, I hate putting this place on the list because it can get touristy and “sceney,” which isn’t my thing. However, they do host some bangin’ live music most nights of the week, and I was super into that. I stuck around long enough to have a mojito and listen to a Cuban salsa band then split as soon as the DJ came on. You should definitely do the same.
El Patio: This place in Wynwood has my heart forever, if you want an authentic night out in Miami that’s not a nightclub, this is the place. Plus, the drinks are cheap during happy hour. I loved it because the open-air patio is stunning, and they invite different Latin musicians to play on the regular. Everyone dances together – it’s honestly the best time.
Where to Play Outside
In North Beach around 79th street hundreds of people gather on the sand for a full moon party once a month. As with any hippie fest, there are bonfires, hula hoopers, and drums. And as with Miami, there might be a little tropical rain, which makes the experience even sexier.
If you manage to go to bed on time and can wake up early, then hit up sunrise yoga at 3rd street, which goes down every day of the week by donation. The same group also puts on a Full Moon meditation once a month as well.
Speaking of beaches, I honestly think in Miami, a beach, is a beach, is a beach. So whereever you can find parking along the coast, you’re set. South Beach has more going on with lots of kitschy restaurants fronting the water where you can get an over-sized margarita and feel like a tourist. Beyond the sand, if you’re in the neighborhood it’s also popular to go shopping along Lincoln Road. In Mid-Beach, you’ll find a much more docile scene with fancy hotels like Fontainebleau Hotel where you can pop in for a classy drink and feel like a baller. North Beach, meanwhile, is even quieter for those days when you don’t want to talk to anyone.
Covered in street art and filled with hipster cafes and art galleries, the Wynwood District is the love of my life. Every second Saturday of the month (Second Saturdays), the art galleries open in the evenings from 6 to 10pm, so you can capitalize on free cheese and wine plus check out some inspiring creative works. During the day, it’s a fun place to stroll, especially if you head to the Wynwood Walls, a corridor of street art made for epic selfies.
Beyond the beach, Miami is also a great place to try your hand at stand-up paddle boarding. I rented a board for an hour at Miami Beach Paddle Board, then walked down to the water there. The stable seas make for an easy, breezy boarding experience, plus you can make your way down the canals and gawk at everyone’s yachts and mansions.
Other Must-Dos, If You Can:
- Get a Latin lover … or three. Your best bet is going to a salsa club and just acting like you have no idea how to dance.
- Hop over to the Caribbean. Flights to islands like Cuba and Puerto Rico are sometimes under $200, which makes for the perfect weekend escape.
- Head down to Miami’s boardwalk at sunset in your athletic gear and swimsuit. Go for a long jog with some Bossa Nova music playing in your headphones, then at the end of your run strip down and go for a swim in the ocean as the sun disappears.
- Shop for Brazilian bikinis.
- Do the whole Miami nightclub thing just once. It’s a cultural experience. Extra points if you wear heels with a bikini to a hotel pool party.
- Take an impromptu road trip down to the Florida Keys. Key West is probably the most popular spot, especially for its bar scene, meanwhile the other Keys I hear are much more tranquilo.