Party in the city where the heat is on, all night on the beach ‘til the break of dawn… okay, all Will Smith lyrics aside, Miami, FL is simply one of the coolest US cities around.
Circa this time last year, Riley and I were itching to get out of the Midwest and switch things up a bit. It also happened to be my birthday weekend and flights were cheap.
The short list of criteria? Warm, exotic-ish, Zika-less (well that one was pretty much impossible, but a low Zika threat was the goal), easy to get to…
Bienvenidos a Miami.
Just 330 air miles from Cuba and 1,772 miles from the equator, Miami was the perfect destination for us. A short flight, gain an hour coming back but overall nowhere too crazy, the city fit the bill for everything we were looking for – culture, beach time and good food.
The TLDR for All Mah Reddit Frands
This is a Miami city guide and we only stayed on Miami Beach. We stuffed our faces with a LOT of tacos, rented bikes, found a night club with a bowling alley AND an ice skating rink and also found out you should avoid the water in March if you don’t want to get stung by jellyfish. Now, on to the full Monty.
Just to manage expectations, we pretty much never left Miami Beach, so everything in this guide focuses on the Art Deco capital of the USA (and according to Wikipedia actually is home to the largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the world). I am hoping to make it back sometime soon to hit up Wynwood and Little Havana (still mourning that we couldn’t make it) but we were only there for a long weekend and hey, we need a reason to go back, right?
Home Base – Where to Stay
In terms of digs, we couldn’t have asked for a better location than the AC Hotel Miami Beach. We knew to beware of the spring break crowd and thus wanted to stay more north than the infamous South Beach.
The AC is located on Mid-Beach and is a quick walk over the main thoroughfare of Collins Ave to the ocean which keeps costs lower than beachfront properties, but it is still pretty much “on the beach”. It has a gorgeous rooftop pool with lounging cabanas and our room had a terrace, so we were left wanting nothing.
We were also a short walk from a liquor store with other sundries, as well as a 25-minute walk from the bustling “center” of the island, and close to a TON of shops, nightlife spots and restaurants. Most notably, Tropical Beach Café (the best Cuban breakfast joint on the island, supposedly), the original Freehand Hotel Miami, and BASEMENT night club.
OMG THE FOOD. There was so much good food I couldn’t even cover all the spots that we went to in this post. However, there were a few gems that absolutely stood out that I’ve listed below:
Taquiza was so nice, we ate there thrice (yep, not even just twice). And if you ask Riley, getting me to go anywhere more than once is like seeing the Loch Ness Monster and a unicorn playing Texas Hold ‘Em both get struck by lightning twice. It just doesn’t happen, unless I am uber obsessed with it.
But holy guacamole, this teeny taco stand was amazing. Go for the tacos and freak out about the totopos – hand torn blue corn masa chips that are fried and puff up into little delectable pillows of yum that you dip into guacamole. We were so obsessed with these that we actually went on a scavenger hunt across Chicago for many months to find blue corn flour before we finally gave up and just vowed to go back to Miami. Trust me, you will be sorry if you don’t go.
Bonus Tip: try to avoid the M-F lunchtime crowd window because things can turn into a clusterf@$!. They’re open every day from 8 AM – 12 AM midnight and until 2 AM on Saturday/Sunday.
If two of my most favorite things in the world, speakeasies and street tacos, had a baby, Bodega Taqueria would be that beautiful baby. Again, Miami’s taco game is on FLEEK. The restaurant is a bit out of the way if you are staying on the eastern side of the island (it’s basically due west, toward the mainland) but you HAVE to get out here.
If you hit up this joint during the daytime for lunch, you will be spoiled with some dang good street tacos. My personal favorites were the chimichurri steak tacos and the al pastor. Riley’s a huge seafood fan and loved the mahi ceviche tacos. The guac is also really good.
If you hit up this joint during the nighttime you will also be spoiled with some dang good street tacos, but you will also have the distinct pleasure of imbibing in the back room speakeasy. We sadly did not make it back for any evening revelry, but are definitely planning to next time. And that weird port-o-potty is more like a port-o-portal to another dimension if you catch my drift.
Since we were so close to the Freehand and had heard such good things about dinner, we figured this was a no-brainer. And the street tacos? Dang good!
PSYCH! Okay so yes, we ate a lot ‘o tacos while in Miami but we also actually did eat some other things too. One of my favorite dishes at 27 Restaurant was Gabe’s Arepa Platter. I hadn’t ever had an arepa before but they were amazing – kind of like corn pita pockets that you stuff with delicious ropa vieja and other goodies.
The atmosphere of 27 Restaurant was also something noteworthy and made for a really unique experience – kind of like we were hanging out in someone’s house in the 70s and their parents decided to have us stay for dinner and then stick around longer for a rowdy game night. We made fast friends with a few people we were sharing a community table with and ended up playing life size truth or dare jenga. It was definitely somewhere we’d visit again!
Again, there is so much good food in Miami that I could dedicate an entire post to it. However your warranty status on your computer is a mystery to me and I wouldn’t want to be the cause of water/drool damage. Honorable mentions go to:
- Naked Taco – we just had drinks here, but the menu looked impressive. Also the margaritas were amazing. Can’t remember what I ordered but it was probably mezcal.
- Zen Sai – really good sushi if you’re tired of the whole street taco party.
- Tropical Beach Café – it may be in a strip mall, but the food is to die for. Get the scrambled eggs with chorizo!
- Market at the EDITION – if you’re feeling fancay, go for the oysters.
- Cheeseburger Baby – late-night fast food and amazing burgers worth waiting in line for.
- Havana 1957 – situated on Espanola Way, this is a great place for Cuban food and fried plantains are a MUST.
Life Pro Tip: service charges are often already included in your bill (kind of like Europe) so keep an eye out when you get the check!
To See and Do
So, similarly to all my other city guides (Florence and Barcelona, especially), it is very apparent we spend a good chunk of our vacations stuffing our faces. Amazingly, though, we DID do some other things during the day/night, too. Here’s a quick roundup of some of our favorites!
Rent Bikes & Cruise the Boardwalk
Miami has a gorgeous, slightly-elevated boardwalk that runs along the beaches which makes it perfect for moseying, yogging and soul skating. I think we were struck with the inspiration to rent bikes mid-way through a walk toward South Beach.
While Miami has TONS of transportation rental options (longer-term bikes, hogs/chopper bikes (aka motorcycles) and even mopeds!) they also have the popular bike share program Citi Bike Miami, which allows you to rent bikes for a very low fee for a specific duration of time (usually about 30 minutes or so).
You can also pay a little more to rent them for hours, during which you can ride them to and from various checkpoints. Since we were only in Miami for a short weekend (and it was humid as all get-out) we opted for a few hours. It’s a great way to see a lot of the island in a short amount of time!
I Want To Get You Ready For These Jellies
So, since we were in Miami Beach, we obviously made sure to have a designated beach day. Prior to that, we had done a lot of walking, and saw a bunch of these weird blue things all over the sand. Later, I saw what looked like a blue and purple balloon, but never really put two and two together. I started recalling my grade school days and all the time I’d spent watching animal planet, and remembered that yes, March was peak time for jellyfish.
I did also really want to swim and tons of other people swimming, so I figured it would be okay. After a few minutes, though, I started to get really nervous and headed back to shore.
All of a sudden my wrist felt like it was on fire. Yep, I had breaststroked my arm straight into the tentacles of a Portuguese Man-o-War (which, nerdy side note, is actually an animal known as a “siphonophore” and not a jellyfish).
Before you freak out about me freaking out, though, I should tell you that I caught a glimpse of the offending body out of the corner of my eye and it was yay the size of a dime. But it could’ve been much worse! Since I’m a little bit of a hypochondriac I spent the next day wondering if I was having abnormal heart palpitations or if I was just really excited about tacos, but I turned out to be absolutely fine.
Moral of the story: I personally would recommend steering clear of the water during March/jelly season if you don’t want to chance it. We hung out poolside in the cabanas on our rooftop deck for the rest of the trip and had a fabulous time keeping our respectable distance from nature.
A BASEMENT You’d Be Fine Living In (Even If It Was Your Parents’)
During our stay, we did plan to go out a few nights to experience the epic nightlife Miami is known for. However, we didn’t have to venture far to find our favorite spot of the whole trip – Basement in the Miami EDITION hotel. If you plan to do it up big one night, this is a spot you definitely NEED to check out.
Situated in the sleek museum-esque Miami EDITION Hotel, BASEMENT is your little brother’s dream, with a side of quirky fun and bumpin’ tunes. What I mean by that is that BASEMENT is a nightclub that also features multiple bars, a bowling alley, DJ booth, dance floors, ice skating rink and arcade games. We didn’t opt to bowl or skate, but we did stay for the dance party and had a great time.
To sum it up, Miami is an amazing destination that’s perfect for either an entire week away or just a quick weekend jaunt. It’s got enough culture to feel like you’re traveling outside the country without the hassle of a passport… and you gain an hour coming back if you’re in the Midwest!