Things To Do In Miami Besides The Beach: Museums, Parks, Culture, And Cuisine
Published February 5, 2022
Let’s be honest: when people visit Miami, they usually go for the beach. Needless to say, the South Florida coastline is truly stunning and reason enough to go! But if you’re reading this post, you’re probably curious about this tropical metropolis beyond its beaches. And if that’s the case, you’re in for a treat! Miami is a treasure trove of cultural, non-beach activities for travelers who want more than just sand and sun.
My first visit to the Miami metro area was a long weekend in 2018. It was actually one of the first trips I blogged about! Two friends and I had a lot of fun exploring South Beach, but that short getaway was more about relaxing and taking it easy.
For this 2022 solo trip, I had a couple of goals in mind. For one, I wanted to focus on museums, parks, and cultural attractions. Secondly, I wanted to spend more time in the City of Miami (i.e. not only on Miami Beach). In 2018, we only spent a few hours on the mainland to check out the Wynwood Walls.
Did I succeed with my mission this time? I feel like I did! I saw a lot of things I missed the first time, and I’m glad I decided to spend two nights in Miami Beach followed by two nights in Miami. To skip down to any of the sections of this post, click or tap the relevant link!
- Things to Do in (The City of) Miami
- Things to Do in Miami Beach
- Miami’s Culinary Scene
- Travel Tips
Things to Do in Miami
As mentioned above, one of my main goals on this trip was to get a better sense of Miami proper! And I’m so glad I did, because there are tons of interesting things to explore there! Read on to learn about some museums, neighborhoods, parks, and more!
Vizcaya Museum & Gardens
This historic mansion was undoubtedly the highlight of my time in Miami! It was built in a Mediterranean style in the 1910s and 1920s by aristocrat James Deering, who had ties to New York, Chicago, and Paris. Every inch of the house is incredibly ornate, and each room has its own unique style with extravagant decorations and furniture from all over the world.
After you wander through the rooms and halls of the Vizcaya mansion, head outside to discover the massive botanical garden on the estate. This might be the most impressive garden I’ve seen in the United States so far! There are so many little hidden corners to explore, and the entire space feels very regal.
Finally, the Vizcaya Museum looks out onto Biscayne Bay, and this waterfront patio is just as stunning as the interior. Check out the gazebo and dock, then admire the massive stone sculpture of a ship sitting out in the water. Unfortunately, there’s no way for museum guests to get over there, but it’s close enough that you can see how detailed this life-size piece of art is.
Vizcaya Village Farmers Market
If you happen to visit the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens on a Sunday, consider grabbing lunch at the Vizcaya Village Farmers Market across the street from the main entrance. The museum has a cafe and restaurant, but the food there seemed pretty expensive. For less than ten dollars, I got three tacos from one booth at the market. Other vendors were selling pizza, coffee, desserts, and more.
Explore Brickell and Brickell Key on Foot
Miami’s towering financial district is known as Brickell. If you want to see the heart of the city, this is where you want to go. Of particular interest is Brickell City Centre, an architecturally distinctive outdoor mall.
Although walking around Brickell is nice, you’re not actually going to see a panoramic view of the city skyline there since you’re in the middle of it. To get a better view of the city, head over to Brickell Key, a small, triangular island connected by a short bridge to the mainland.
A public pedestrian pathway goes all the way around Brickell Key, which offers unobstructed views of both Brickell to the west and Downtown Miami to the north.
The Barnacle Historic State Park & Coconut Grove
Address: 3485 Main Hwy, Miami, FL 33133
Ticket price (Jan. 2022): $2 park entrance fee, $3 house tour fee
History buffs won’t want to miss The Barnacle Historic State Park! This long and narrow strip of wooded land is home to the oldest home in Miami-Dade County still standing in its original location, built in 1891.
I recommend the house tour, where you’ll learn about the life of Ralph Middleton Munroe, who built and owned the house. He was a ship designer and photographer, and models of his ships and photos he took are displayed around the house.
The state park is also home to a small yellow boathouse built by Munroe on a short stretch of waterfront. The fact that the home and the boathouse have survived well over a century of hurricanes despite being so close to the water is testament to Munroe’s building skills!
After touring The Barnacle, you might want to check out the heart of Coconut Grove, the neighborhood where the state park is located. It seems like a lively little village with lots of interesting restaurants, street markets, and green space along its shorefront.
Little Havana is one of the areas I was most interested in seeing on this trip, and I have to tell you the truth: it was sort of a let-down. Centered around Calle Ocho, the area just felt like a tourist trap to me.
I do want to emphasize that this is just my opinion after spending an afternoon there. I would probably even be willing to give Little Havana another chance next time I’m in town. Perhaps a walking tour might be a better, more structured way to learn more about and experience the area.
I didn’t actually visit Wynwood on this trip, but if I had an extra day, I would’ve spent it there. I did check out Wynwood briefly on my first trip to Miami, and the famous Wynwood Walls are reason enough to spend some time in this neighborhood.
In addition to the urban art, Wynwood is known for its restaurants and bars. Next time I’m in Miami, I’d definitely like to explore Wynwood in more depth.
Things to Do in Miami Beach
Miami Beach, despite its name, is much more than just a picturesque waterfront. Going to the beach is pretty self-explanatory, so here are some other things to see and do in this beautiful island city!
Art Deco Museum & Ocean Drive
All the art deco architecture on Ocean Drive was my favorite attraction in Miami Beach! Now, to be honest, the Art Deco Museum itself is pretty small and doesn’t have any breathtaking collections. But you should still check it out before walking along Ocean Drive. That’s because the museum has lots of information to help you recognize the most iconic elements of the art deco style.
After visiting the Art Deco Museum, I appreciated the architectural details and motifs throughout Ocean Drive a lot more. In fact, last time I was in South Beach, the art deco scene totally went over my head! Here’s a sampling of the kinds of buildings on this oceanfront strip.
Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU
This museum south of Fifth Street is stunning both inside and out! Come visit to learn all about Florida’s fascinating Jewish history, and see if you can spot some art deco elements in this synagogue that was converted into a museum.
The guided tour of the Jewish Museum of Florida was really enjoyable, so be sure to join one if you can. It’s a great way to learn about the history of this building and the community that built it. At one point, the synagogue was in disrepair and at risk of being demolished. Luckily, it’s been beautifully restored and is currently home to some stunning Jewish artifacts.
The Bass Art Museum & Collins Park
Even if you don’t typically visit art museums while you travel, consider giving The Bass a chance! That’s because lots of the exhibits are interactive! It’s not just a collection of old paintings.
My favorite part of the museum is the main room on the first floor. It’s got an entire wall of flashing welcome signs in hundreds of different languages!
After visiting The Bass, spend a few minutes in Collins Park, where the museum can be found. This large oceanfront park also has a couple of pieces of outdoor art.
Miami Beach Botanical Garden & Holocaust Memorial
Botanical Garden address: 2000 Convention Center Dr, Miami Beach, FL 33139
Holocaust Memorial address: 1933-1945 Meridian Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139
Botanical Garden website: https://www.mbgarden.org/
Holocaust Memorial website: https://holocaustmemorialmiamibeach.org/
Ticket price (Jan. 2022): Free
This small botanical garden and Holocaust Memorial can both be found at the corner of Meridian Avenue and Dade Boulevard. The botanical garden is small. Although it has some pretty orchids and a cozy little Japanese section, it really only took me about ten or fifteen minutes to walk through.
Miami Beach’s Holocaust Memorial, located next to the botanical garden, is an incredibly moving and emotional dedication to victims of the Holocaust. According to their website, South Florida had between 20,000 and 25,000 Holocaust survivors living in the region at that time, and a group of them commissioned this memorial in the mid-1980s.
The website also states that the commissioners faced opposition at the time of its proposal for bringing “gloom” to a cheerful vacation hotspot. Fortunately, the supporters of the memorial were ultimately successful. With so many Holocaust survivors and their families living in greater Miami, it’s important for visitors to know that this atrocity is an inextricable part of this community’s history.
The memorial is centered around a massive bronze hand reaching towards the sky with intricately sculpted people clinging desperately to it. Walk all the way around the monument to find the tunnel to the center, where you’ll be able to see artist Kenneth Treister’s work up close.
The memorial is emotionally raw and provocative, and it was impeccably designed. The solemnness of this space sets it apart from the rest of Miami Beach, but don’t let that stop you from visiting. The Holocaust Memorial really should not be missed.
Miami's Culinary Scene
As a large, sprawling metropolis and a cultural melting pot, Miami’s food scene is vibrant and complex. When I’m in South Florida, I always sample a variety of cuisines from the Caribbean and Latin America. I try to seek out specialty dishes that aren’t as easy to find at home in Chicago. Here are some of the places I explored this time!
Argentinian-Style Pizza at Banchero Miami
I was immediately drawn to Banchero because the pizzas they had on display in their window reminded me of the kind of pizza I had when I lived in São Paulo. The anchovy personal pan I got was pretty salty, but also really good!
Tacos in South Beach
Address: 413 Washington Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139
I ordered tacos and a margarita from Matilda’s Taco Bar on Washington Ave. The variety of flavors was great, but the meal felt expensive for what it was. While dining out in Miami is always going to be pricey, it’s easier to find better deals if you explore beyond South Beach.
Fried Fish at Sazón Cuban Cuisine
Cuban food is a must in Miami! There are countless places to get it, but I was told to try Sazón in North Beach and really enjoyed the fried fish with rice and beans I had there. Be sure to get a mojito as well!
Pupusas & Salvadoran Steak at El Atlacatl
Have you ever had pupusas? They’re a delicious flatbread delicacy from El Salvador, and they were a major highlight of my trip there in 2019! That’s why I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have some at El Atlacatl in Little Havana. They make a great appetizer, so I also ordered a bistec salvadoreño, which ended up being a massive amount of steak, rice and beans, and grilled veggies for less than twenty dollars.
A Venezuelan Breakfast at Doggi's Arepa Bar
Venezuelan food is one of my top recommendations for international cuisine whether you’re in Miami or not! It is so full of flavor and every bite is such a treat! I went to Doggi’s Arepa Bar expecting that I might just grab a quick arepa to go, but I ended up getting an entire breakfast combo with not only arepas but also black beans, shredded beef, eggs, and avocado.
A Burger & Truffle Fries at Bocas Grill Brickell
American classics are also easy to find in Miami. For my last meal there, I couldn’t resist a burger and truffle fries from Bocas Grill. The fried breaded cheese on the burger was definitely the highlight of this plate!
Are you ready to head off to Greater Miami to see some of the amazing attractions listed above? If so, here are some additional tips to make sure your trip goes smoothly!
Anyone who’s been to South Florida knows that the cities are spread out. With that said, your options are to rent a car for your trip, use ridesharing platforms, or utilize public transportation.
Since rental car and Uber prices have gone up recently, I opted to figure out public transportation while I was in Miami. And I have to say, it wasn’t as bad as Google Maps was making it look. That’s because Miami has an above-ground Metrorail system, and free trolley routes exist in both Miami and Miami Beach. Unfortunately, neither of these systems is fully integrated into Google Maps. You might have to do some research on your own to take full advantage of them!
The Metrorail was a great way to get from where I was staying in Coral Way up to Brickell, and I even took it all the way to Miami International Airport for my departing flight. The trains are clean and modern, and the wait time is generally only about ten minutes.
However, the Metrorail only has one-and-a-half lines plus some smaller loops near downtown (called the Metromover system). As such, you can’t really use it to get out into the suburbs. It doesn’t go over the bridges to Miami Beach either.
I rode the Metrorail a lot on this trip, but it wouldn’t have been as useful if I had stayed further inland in Miami. As a visitor, you can purchase an unlimited day pass for $5.65 (as of January 2022), which I believe works for city buses as well.
Miami-Dade County trolleys are free to ride and don’t require the transit pass mentioned above. You just get on and get off, and you don’t need to swipe anything. The trolley is a great alternative to Uber that you should try at least once!
Taking the Bus
I actually never ended up taking the bus during this trip because the Metrorail and the trolleys got me to the places I wanted to go. If you’re headed further inland from Brickell or looking to head out to someplace like Key Biscayne, the bus will probably be your best option.
Where to Stay
Miami and Miami Beach are bigger than they look on the map, so I recommend staying as close as possible to the attractions you want to see. If you plan to spend four nights or more in the area, dividing your time between Miami and Miami Beach is a great idea; I’m really glad I did that this trip!
Miami - More Than Just the Beach!
Don’t get me wrong: I love the beach just as much as any other travel enthusiast! But I also really love exploring the cultural attractions in seaside cities and towns. As one of America’s most dynamic cities, Miami certainly has no shortage of them!
Have you been to any of the places mentioned in this blog post? Are there any I missed that I should go see next time? Leave a comment and let me know!
This post was published on Feb 5, 2022