Visiting Miami, Florida? An Insider’s Guide to the Best Things to Do
In the immortal words of Rose Nylund, “Miami is nice, so I’ll say it thrice,” or, better yet, “Miami, you’re cuter than an intrauterine.” Fine, I’ll admit that most of my knowledge of Miami, Florida comes from The Golden Girls. I think I visited as a young child, and I returned in 2011 for a ten-hour layover en route to Peru, but it’s a city I have yet to properly explore as an adult. That’s why I’m excited that the latest installment in my Travel Talk Interview Series is with Margie, a Miami native who knows plenty about the south Florida city.
Margie is a teacher-turned-family travel blogger at DQ Family Travel who lived in Miami most of her life before moving to the Northeast. She has traveled around the country with her family, and their goal is to visit all 50 states before the kids graduate high school. Margie tells me, “I started the blog to keep a record of our travels and to share with others how we travel so frequently on a budget and to offer any other useful family vacation tips.” Today, she shares her favorite spots around Miami and her best tips for visiting the city.
Hi Margie, thanks so much for chatting with me about Miami! What do you love about this city? What makes it special to you?
Miami is home. I grew up in Miami and lived all my life there, and recently moved to Connecticut. To me, Miami is synonymous with family and life-long friendships.
What’s your all-time favorite sight, attraction, or spot in Miami?
It would have to be Miami Beach. Surprisingly, I didn’t go that often (maybe once or twice a year) and each time I visit the beach, I wonder why I do not stay a little longer. I do not like to go to South Beach with all the tourists. I prefer staying in hotels a little more north or even day trips towards the less-touristy areas.
If a traveler only had 24 hours there, what are some places you’d tell them they absolutely can’t miss?
Definitely South Beach. However, Coral Gables and Coconut Grove are two great areas with a walkable downtown area and fantastic restaurants.
Sounds nice! What should travelers know about the local culture or people of Miami?
You should be familiar with some Spanish when visiting Miami. Hispanics are the majority here. Taking a tour of Little Havana or Downtown Miami will show you some of the Cuban culture this city is comprised of.
Are there any cool historical tidbits or important history that visitors should be aware of?
Miami did not become a city until about 1900 when Julia Tuttle convinced railroad tycoon Henry Flagler to bring his railroads down south to transport oranges. Miami also was the home to a large influx of Cubans seeking political asylum from the 60’s-90’s. Due to this immigration, the culture of Miami was then shaped.
What’s your favorite off-the-beaten-path thing to do that wouldn’t be found in a typical guidebook?
I would probably say that it would be my neighborhood in South Miami is off the beaten path. We have a small downtown area with a mall and restaurants that is always a go-to place for our family.
Nice! Other than South Miami, what’s a cool neighborhood you’d recommend to visitors looking for something a little different?
Wynwood is a hipster type area, which is not too far from Downtown Miami. The restaurant scene is fantastic! The area is lined with foodie places, breweries and cool art work everywhere.
Tell me about your favorite restaurant (or a few of them!) in Miami.
There are so many… For a great slice of pizza visit The Big Cheese, and then walk across the street for homemade ice cream at Wall’s. In Coconut Grove, there is Lokal (a delicious burger and beer joint) and Spillover (a seafood and casual comfort food with a mead bar). In Coral Gables, we love eating at Hillstone’s (an upscale American restaurant) and Frenchie’s Diner (a place with a small, French inspired, fresh menu).
Those all sound great! Is there any food, dish, or cuisine that you MUST try when you’re visiting Miami? Where’s the best place to try it?
You must try Cuban food. There are many Cuban bakeries and restaurants all over Miami. For breakfast, have a pastelito de guayaba (guava pastry), a croqueta (a ham fritter) or a pan con mantequilla (pressed cuban bread and butter) at Sergio’s or Versailles. For lunch or dinner, have a medianoche (a pressed sandwich with ham, swiss cheese, pickles and roasted pork), and some bistec empanizado con moros y tostones (breaded steak with rice/beans and fried plantains).
Where would you recommend tourists stay when visiting Miami?
Staying at Miami Beach is where most people would stay, but I would recommend Coral Gables (it has more of a vintage colonial Spanish theme) and it has delicious restaurants.
What are the most photo-worthy spots there?
Wynwood is a great area for Insta. There are tons of walls covered in local art. Coral Gables is beautiful, as it has the colonial Spanish architecture. Of course, there is Miami Beach… the water is usually pretty great!
Are there any must-see museums or monuments?
The Frost Museum and Children’s Museum are great to visit if you have kids. If you are a history lover, then History Miami has great exhibits on the city of Miami and its background. The downtown area has the Freedom Tower which was the old city hall and where so many Cuban immigrants were processed in the 60’s-70’s.
What tips do you have for travelers looking to avoid the crowds?
Stay away from South Beach! I would drive around Ocean Drive and see the scene, but it is always lined with tourists. Visiting areas like Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, South Miami and Wynwood will get you great food and local flair.
What should visitors know about transportation around Miami?
Public transportation is not great in Miami. From MIA airport, you can take the metro to downtown and some parts of the city, but I highly recommend that you rent a car to see the city or use Uber/Lyft.
Thank you, Margie, for sharing your thoughts on Miami!