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Top Ten Things to Do in Miami

Miami, Florida is a vibrant resort city, commercial center and international port with a distinctly Latin American flavor. It is a favorite vacation destination for both US residents and visitors from overseas. Its primary appeal is its beautiful beaches and its mild semi-tropical climate. With its dozens of great attractions and entertainments, the biggest challenge is deciding what to do in Miami.  Here’s our top ten list.

1.Miami Beaches

Metropolitan Miami is really composed of two separate cities: Miami is the commercial, business and residential community located on the coastal mainland, while Miami Beach is the vacation resort located on a long, narrow island in the bay east of the city. They are interconnected by a series of bridges and causeways that extent from the mainland to the island.

Miami Beach is famous for its beautiful, broad sandy beach that extends for nearly ten miles along the eastern shore of the island. This white sand beach is over 100 meters wide in most places. The Atlantic Ocean waters are shallow and warm enough for swimming at least 8 months of the year. Naturally, swimming, surfing and sun bathing are the most popular activities in Miami Beach. Boating, parasailing, snorkeling, and fishing are available from nearby concessionaires.

The streets directly behind the beaches are lined with high-rising hotels, vacation apartments and condominiums catering to the many vacation visitors and seasonal residents. There are also many restaurants, bars, dance clubs and shops to occupy the spare time of the numerous visitors.

South Beach © Cristian Lazzari
Miami's white sand beaches and warm ocean water attract visitors throughout the year. Miami Beach extends nearly 10 miles along Miami's eastern shore.

2.South Beach

The southernmost 23 blocks of the island is the location of the oldest neighborhood on Miami Beach, known as South Beach. It is most famous for its large collection of restored buildings constructed during the 1930s in the Art Deco, Streamline Moderne, and Nautical Moderne style of architecture. These beautiful old buildings arrayed in pastel shades of pink, yellow, peach and lime green form the largest collection of Art Deco Streamline Moderne architecture to be found anywhere.

South Beach is one of the most vibrant and upscale neighborhoods in the Miami area. Many rich and famous people now live in these beautifully refurbished art deco homes. Some of the trendiest restaurants, bars and dance clubs are located on South Beach, where the frenetic beat of the Cuban-Latin American-Salsa rhythms, known as "the Miami Sound", can be heard late into the night.

Our Florida Beach Travel Guide has more information on the beaches of Miami.

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens © Tom Schaefer
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is an elaborate facsimile of a sixteenth century Italian estate, with decorative architecture and extensive Italian Renaissance gardens.

3. Vizcaya

On the mainland, just south of downtown Miami is Vizcaya, the winter estate of industrialist James Deering. This elaborate facsimile of a sixteenth century Italian estate was constructed with numerous artifacts collected from European architecture and incorporated in the design. It is surrounded by an expansive garden composed of Italian and French renaissance designs. Now owned by the municipality of Miami and Dade County, the facility is open to the public.

4. Coral Gables

A bit further south, lies the beautifully planned neighborhood of Coral Gables which offers one of the most beautiful public swimming pools in the world. The Venetian Pool is constructed in a quarry of native coral with waterfalls, underground grottos and caves surrounded by historic Italianate architecture and fed by natural springs of water. The neighborhood also offers one of the world's most beautiful gardens at the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden. On the nearby campus of Miami University is the exquisite collection in the Lowe Art Museum.

5. Little Havana

The neighborhood directly west of downtown Miami is often called "Little Havana" due to its preponderance of Cuban immigrants. It is centered around Southwest Eighth Street or "Calle Ocho". This is the political and cultural center of the Cuban exile community living in the USA. You can find great Cuban food and authentic Cuban music and culture throughout this neighborhood.

Miami Attractions for Children

6. Miami Seaquarium

Miami offers some wonderful activities for children of all ages. The Miami Seaquarium is smaller than Sea World in Orlando, but it does offer a Dolphin Encounter where children can swim with and interact with dolphins.

7. Miami Jungle Island

Jungle Island, a rather pricey 19-acre amusement facility, has a petting zoo, aviaries, jungle trails and several theaters with animal acts. Miami Metrozoo is located a 45-minute drive away from downtown. The facility is spread over 290 acres, so it requires a bit of walking between exhibits. Monkey Jungle is nearly an hour drive south of Miami, but is unique in that the hundreds of primates roam free while the visitors walk through protective cages.

8. Miami Science Museum and Miami Children’s Museum

The Miami Science Museum in Coconut Grove has a lot of interactive exhibits that fascinate children. The Miami Children's Museum likewise provides a lot of interactivity for children. The Scott Rakow Youth Center offers an ice skating rink, bowling alley, basketball court and gymnasium for older children.

Travel Tip:  You can save time and money on the best Miami Attractions with the Go Miami Card  which includes discounts to 35 attractions.

9. Shopping in Miami

Naturally, there are many shops, boutiques and stores all along the Miami Beach waterfront with many exclusive high-end establishments in the South Beach area. However, if you are into serious shopping, you should visit one of the local shopping malls or discount outlets. The Dolphin Mall, located near Miami International Airport, features over 200 stores and restaurants. The Aventura Mall in nearby Aventura features over 300 stores. Coconut Grove, just south of downtown, has its Coco Walk, a small open air shopping center plus a good selection of restaurants, bars and dance clubs. For the ultimate in bargain hunting, go to the Sawgrass Mills Mall, about 30 minutes north in nearby Fort Lauderdale. It has over 350 stores including many factory outlets and discount stores. Read our Florida Shopping Guide to find the best bargains.

10. Miami Nightlife

Downtown Miami, Miami Beach and Coconut Grove are the places to find the best nightlife in Miami. South Beach has a great selection of trendy bars and exclusive dance clubs, but the action does not heat up until after 11 PM, and it may be difficult to gain entry into the most popular clubs at any time. Live music is available in some of the bars, but disco is king at most nightclubs and dance clubs. If you want to sample the salsa beat of the "Miami Sound", try the clubs or bars at the major hotels on Miami Beach or some of the nightspots in Coconut Grove. They tend to be a bit more accessible than the ones at South Beach.

Sports and Recreation

Miami has a professional football team, a basketball team, a baseball team and a hockey team. Depending on the season, you can usually buy tickets and see a game. It has two thoroughbred horse race tracks and over 20 golf courses. It also offers boating, scuba diving, snorkeling, and fishing charters. Since the weather in Miami is usually pleasant enough for most outdoor activities in nearly every month of the year, you can always find some fun outdoor activity.

Local Area Attractions

The Florida Everglades, the great swampland that covers the entire southern tip of Florida, lies due west of Miami. You can follow the Tamiami Parkway, Route 41, from Miami across the Everglades all the way to Naples on the West Coast. Shark Valley Nature Reserve, on the Tamiami Parkway, is less than one hour from downtown Miami and it provides the opportunity to view alligators and other wildlife in their native habitat. Along this route through the Mikasuki Indian Reservation there are several concessions that offer airboat and swamp buggy tours through the surrounding swamps.

The other major roadway across the Everglades is Route 75, known as “Alligator Alley”, from Fort Lauderdale to Naples. Near the midpoint exit, you can visit “Billie Swamp Safari” on the Seminole Indian Reservation for airboat rides, swamp buggy rides and entertaining shows about the Everglades.

Route One, south of Miami, turns into the “Oversea Highway” as it crosses hundreds of bridges and causeways between islands. It passes though numerous quaint and picturesque fishing villages as it wends its way nearly 100 miles south of the mainland to Key West. You can drive to Key West from Miami in less than half a day.

Written by: Mike Leco and Cathy Maxwell
Top Photo Credit: Paul
Photo Description: South Beach has a great selection of trendy bars and exclusive dance clubs.