Located at the tip of Florida, Miami is an amazing winter holiday destination and a retirement paradise for North Americans. Warm weather, spacious condos, art deco architecture, and the South Beach – apart from the occasional hurricanes, the city is filled with a relaxing vibe.
There are so many things to see and do that visitors could easily spend a week in Miami. I recommend staying in an apartment with a balcony. No matter if you have a sea view or a city view, it is just great to sit on a sunbathing chair, with a drink in your hands, and enjoy the warm breeze and sun with some calm music. Here, I have a 4-day itinerary that covers some of the Miami highlights; and if you have more time, you may fill in some day-offs when you may simply take a stroll in Miami downtown, swim on the Miami beach, have a fine-dining experience in a fine restaurant, or hop on a tour bus to explore what the city has to offer.
Day 1: Wynwood and Downtown
If you visit Miami a decade ago, you would probably have changed to your swimsuits and headed to the Miami beach the moment you got off the plane. But now, take some time and enjoy a little bit of the city’s art scene.
Since the first Art Basel Miami beach in 2002, and the establishment of Design Miami, the city has rapidly become an artistic city. The once warehouse-packed Wynwood district has undergone a wonderful transformation with lots of boutiques, designer stores, cafes, and hip restaurants. Many of the warehouses are renovated with colorful and original graffitis, making the area a 24/7 art show.
The renovation of Wynwood was set off by developer Tony Goldman, who commissioned artists to paint the Wynwood Wall that was completed in 2009. For the past 10 years, over 50 artists from 16 countries worked on this over 80,000 sq. feet wall with diverse styles from American Pop Art, life-like portraits, Japanese Ukiyo-e, commercial typography to Futura’s graffiti.
Surrounded by the walls, the inner space is painted by Peter Tunney’s Tempus Fugit interspersed with cafes and shops. In the center of the warehouse is two giant chandeliers, showcasing Tunney’s collection of photographs, notes, and records in the past 50 years.
Now, the area is still a work in progress, and only more wall paintings and shops will come.
For lunch, go to MIAM Cafe – a European bistro for local organic. The bistro is painted with black and white patterns which stood out among the colorful buildings nearby and is one of the most popular in Wynwood. My recommendation? Avocado & poached egg tartine, Pullman french toast, and a smoothie.
If you go further to the north, Miami’s Design District is a high-end shopping district with a lot of Instagram-worthy spots.
Pérez Art Museum Miami
Pérez is a contemporary art museum founded in 1984 but relocated to the Museum Park in Downtown Miami in 2013. It is one of the most prestigious art museums in the area that showcases over 1,800 works in its permanent collection, mainly artworks from American, Western European, and African artists between the 20th and 21st centuries.
Since the opening of the new building, the museum has seen a record attendance level with over 150,000 visitors in the first four months. To me, I was very much impressed by the space and exhibits as I didn’t expect the museum to house so many artworks from artists like Purvis Young, Joseph Cornell, Kehinde Wiley, James Rosenquist, and Frank Stella, and Kiki Smith.
Pérez’s temporary exhibitions made my trip even more enjoyable. Since the new museum has so much space and therefore they were not afraid to make full use of the showrooms with large art installations and displays. Most of the works were presented in the 2010s; check out their website for more details about their latest exhibitions!
Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science
The Museum was a new addition next to the Perez Art Museum Miami in 2017. It is a science museum, planetarium, and aquarium combined. The new museum bridges the gap between art and science, making it a great location for all family visitors. On the other side of the road, there are the Knight Concert Hall and Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami. On the south side, is the FTX Arena.
Day 2: Miami Beach and South Beach (SOBE)
The second day is all about SOBE – travel through Biscayne Bay and head to the barrier islands. There are a few ways to go to the beach from Downtown Miami. You could Uber, or hop on one of the Hop-On Hop-Off Big Buses with a Go Miami Card. If the traffic gets bad on the MacArthur Causeway, it might be a good idea to travel to the beach in a water taxi.
The water taxi sails around Star Island, a private and secured artificial island that visitors are not allowed to enter, from the boat you could get a glimpse of the multi-million mansion of A-list celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Gloria Estafan, Ricky Martin, and Cher.
South Beach (or people in the know would call it “SoBe”) embraces the spirits and essences of Miami – sun, beach, and art deco buildings. The area is packed with attractions, recreation facilities, restaurants, shops, spas, and hotels. Rent a bike and go down Ocean Drive and explore the Art Deco Historic District. Admire the beautiful Art Deco buildings, search for the historic landmarks, have tea in Loews Maimi Beach Hotel, shop in one of the crowded Farmer’s Market, go shopping and dining along Washington Avenue, take a stroll in the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, or Miami Beach Boardwalk, take pictures of the Holocaust Memorial, view the erotic art paintings and figurines in the World Erotic Art Museum, visit the Jewish Museum of Florida… Here You are free to arrange your own itinerary and schedule, you could just sit on the beach and enjoy the sun. After all, this is what a vacation is all about. After a day on the beach, grab an outdoor table in one of the many restaurants along Ocean Drive, before heading back to Miami.
To learn more about the Art Deco architectural style and the best Art Deco Buildings in SOBE: A SOBE Travel Guide in Miami for the Best Art Deco Buildings
Day 3: Key West
The Florida Keys is an archipelago that stretches 180 kilometers at the tip of Florida and it takes more than 4 hours to drive from Miami to the southernmost point of continental America – Key West. But I am telling you, it’s worth the drive because, for a tiny island of 13.6 sq. km, Key West has rich historic and cultural impacts.
First of all, Key West, as mentioned, is the southernmost point of the Continental United States. The Florida Keys is passed through by the elevated highway US 1. A total of 42 bridges are there connecting the islands and the most famous of all these bridges is the Seven Mile Bridge, a 10.8km bridge connecting Knight’s Key to Little Duck Key.
You will find a lot of “the southernmost” Key West – the “southernmost restaurant”, the “southernmost cafe”, the “southernmost hotel” and much more. Walk along Duval Street, you will find a lot of interesting shops and art deco buildings; you will also find chickens roaming freely on the sidewalk, as part of the history of the island’s law against killing birds in Key West due to various voodoo practices that took place on the island.
How could you come all the way to Key West without a taste of the Key Lime pie? Go to Key Lime Pie Co and try an authentic Key Lime Pie that is supposed to be white!
Key West is also the southern destination of the 3,800km long US Route 1, a major north-south U.S. east coast highway that connects Maine to Key West. The road sign marks the beginning of the scenic highway and it’s called “Marker 0”. While if you only have a day in Key West, head to Mallory Square and enjoy a glorious sunset before heading back to Miami; again, if you have more time and planning on staying a day or two on the island, venture out at night and experience the islands vibrant nightlife, and go for scuba diving the next day, the neighboring beach has an abundance of Coral reefs and sea life.
Day 4: Everglades Safari Park and Vizcaya Museum & Gardens
Everglades Safari Park
The Everglades, also known as “The River of Grass”, is a beautiful but strong ecosystem that acts as one of the lungs for all living things. It’s one of the slowest moving rivers in the world and flows from the freshwater of Lake Okeechobee to the saltwater of the Atlantic Ocean. The Everglades is a haven for birds and wildlife of the world including the American Crocodile, and the American Alligator, and don’t forget humanity. The national park protects an unparalleled landscape in the country and we explore it on an airboat.
It was the first time that I was on an airboat and I had no idea that the boat could go so fast! The airboat adventure took us to the swamp in the wilderness, seeking crocodiles and alligators in their natural habitat. Everyone was looking in different directions in a cautious state of mind and notified each other once they saw something.
American Alligators or Alligator mississippiensis is one of the best-known crocodilians. The American alligator has a large, slightly rounded body, with thick limbs, a broad head, and a very powerful tail. Adult Alligators generally have dark gray or nearly black color. They may at times appear to be lighter based on detritus or algae in the water covering their skin. Juvenile alligators have a striped pattern for camouflage that they lose as they mature. It is widespread in a variety of wetland habitats in the southeastern United States of America, and under enlightened management programs, has made a remarkable comeback from the days of uncontrolled hunting.
Apart from the American Alligators and Crocodiles (and don’t ask me how to tell the difference between the two, as I have read a couple of times but I would never be able to remember, but the rule of thumb is the shape of their snouts, supplemented by the shape of their upper and lower teeth, and ISOs on the cheek), there are other species on display, and this is where you can learn more about these fascinating, scary and dangerous animals.
So what’s for lunch? Enjoy a dish of meatballs at the Picnic Time restaurant at the Everglades. Their menu has some very unique servings like frog legs, alligator bites, catfish nuggets, and steak fries.
Vizcaya Museum & Gardens
Lastly, before moving on to another destination of your trip, or back to the beach, head to the Villa Vizcaya (and now a museum), one of the most beautiful historic attractions in Miami. It is the former villa and estate of businessman James Deering, completed in 1923, the mansion was constructed in Veneto and Tuscan Italian Renaissance model and designed in the Mediterranean Revival architecture style, with Baroque elements. Therefore, the mansion is truly one of a kind – not only to Miami but to the world. The mansion includes an extensive Italian renaissance garden, native woodland landscape, and historic village outbuildings compound; one of the most eye-catching pieces in the museum is the Stone Barge Mermaid statue, sitting on the edge right outside the villa, overlooking the Biscayne Bay with all its glory. The statue is a bold piece shaped like a sailing boat; It is a giant aquatic sculpture, with not much practical value, and basically not accessible to the audience. Photo-taking in most parts of the villa is forbidden, so appreciate the beauty of the site with your eyes and heart. There are quite a lot of interesting rooms, sections, and a staircase in the house for you to explore.