Did you know that I lived and worked in Miami for four months? It’s true – right on South Beach! This Canadian with her ice heart flew south for a work term during my university days. It was in the summer no less! Little did I know just how hot it was going to be as I made Miami home from May to August. I braved the heat as I explored as much as I could outside my 9-5 job. When Hotels.com asked me to share some of my favourite hidden gems in Miami, I couldn’t say no! These things to do in Miami are what I miss most about living here and would be my must-dos of the city.
Must-Visit Hidden Gems in Miami
Miami may be known as a party people kind of place but it has much more to offer than just top-notch nightlife. Pristine beaches, amazing food and more await! So what all do you need to see in Miami? Let’s dive in!
Indulge in an Adult Slushie at Wet Willie’s
You’re on vacation, right? Sit back, relax and put your feet up with some of the most delicious yet dangerous drinks you’ll enjoy in South Beach. Wet Willie’s is the best way to start the afternoon. Grab one of their Supermans or the cliché Sex on the Beach (it is incredibly delicious) and head up to the second floor. Pull up a chair and just watch the characters of Ocean Drive while soaking up the sun.
Sunbathe Between 3rd and 10th Street Along Miami Beach
It took me a month of living in South Beach to realize that each street had its own vibe along the beach. The further south you go the better, though my favourite was right around 7th street. I never had a problem finding a spot to set up for a few hours of fun in the sun, even on busy weekends! However, you’ll want to avoid 16th Street aka Lincoln Road Mall at all costs. It’s way too busy with too many people and not a pleasant experience. Walk the few blocks and you’ll be rewarded.
Treat Yourself to French Cuisine at Otentic
There are more amazing places to eat at in Miami than you can shake a stick at, but Otentic is seriously next level. This cozy French bistro has an intimate vibe (a rare find here in my opinion) and their focus on fresh food is evident. Everything on the menu is caught, baked and prepared daily. You’d never guess that this pink checkerboard cafe with its intimate dining room was once Miami Beach’s very first bus terminal! I’d strongly recommend a reservation (especially if you want a seat on their outdoor patio) and while you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, I recommend the Otentic pasta. My mouth is watering just remembering it!
Catch the Sunset at South Pointe Park
You never forget your first Miami sunset and South Pointe Park has a special place in my heart for that reason. Enjoy the gorgeous trails and let the kids play in the splash pad as you await those beautiful colours. Take a stroll out to the pier and say goodbye to yet another beautiful day in Miami as the sky lights up with oranges and reds.
Eat Ceviche by the Spoonful at Jaguar
Ceviche is abundant in Miami but good ceviche is a little harder to find. In order to find what I’d argue is some of the best ceviche in town, you have to head to Miami’s original neighbourhood – Coconut Grove. In the middle of this laid-back neighbourhood you’ll find Jaguar. Here you can enjoy ceviche by the spoonful as you enjoy iconic tropical flavours. It’s also a great place to go with a group as they have plenty of non-seafood items to choose from along with vegan and gluten-free options. Be sure to save a little room for dessert as you can get them by the spoonful too. Their dulce de leche is honestly life-changing.
Hit the Dance Floor in Brickell
Ocean Drive isn’t the only place for a dance party. Unless you’re with your girls and get an invite to an open bar (it does happen!), you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg to drink and dance. Luckily Brickell’s got your back! It may be South Florida’s main financial district but as 5:00pm hits… it’s party time.
Just south of downtown Miami, you’ll find a number of fantastic restaurants and bars waiting for you. Some of my favourites include Barú, Blue Martini and the ever amazing Blackbird Ordinary. At Blackbird, I highly recommend ordering their ‘blue motorcycle’ – it’s a little pricey but there’s so much booze in it that I promise you’ll only need one. Though I am heartbroken to hear my old haunt Fado has permanently closed! Let’s just say that when the DJ played your song as soon as you entered the door, you know you went too often. True story.
Revel in Home Cooked Cuban Cuisine at Las Olas Cafe
On the corner of 6th and Euclid, you’ll find some of the best home cooking on South Beach. If more food than you can eat that doesn’t break the bank sounds right up your alley, you need to visit Las Olas Cafe. This cafeteria-style restaurant has rotating options daily along with classics like empanadas, pastelitos and more. Need a caffeine boost to get you through the day? Head up to their window right on the corner and order a café con leche. I went to Las Olas at least once a week while living in South Beach. It’s also the perfect hangover cure after a wild night and that’s necessary for any list of hidden gems in Miami!
Stroll Along the Miami Beach Boardwalk
Leave the party people behind in South Beach and head north to enjoy the tranquillity of the ocean along the Miami Beach Boardwalk. A favourite of cyclists and runners alike, it’s the perfect place for a breath of fresh air. There are a number of beach accesses as well if you want to dip your toes in the warm Florida waters. If you really want peace and quiet, head here on a Sunday morning.
Take Advantage of Lincoln Road Mall’s Happy Hours
If there’s anywhere that’s the king of happy hour, I’d say it’s Lincoln Road Mall. Seriously, they’re incredible and plentiful. I’m pretty sure I scoured every single happy hour available during my four months. The things I do for you. Anyway, these are my Miami restaurant faves: Doraku (delicious sushi and Japanese cuisine), Segafredo (Italian food and amazing drink specials) and D’Vine Lounge (solely for their beergaritas). Be sure to scope out the deals earlier in the day while perusing Lincoln Road. It’s a cheap way to kick off your night and enjoy some pricier establishments while making your wallet happy!
Enjoy Some of the Best Views of Miami Beach from Juvia
Head to Lenox Avenue along Lincoln Road and take the private elevator up to Juvia. Here you’ll be treated to a mix of French, Japanese and Peruvian cuisine at this rooftop restaurant. With a living wall and some of the best views of Miami Beach waiting for you, it’s guaranteed to be a memorable experience! I’ll tell you straight up that Juvia is a little on the fancy side (and has a higher price tag that comes with that) so if you’re on a tight budget just head up for a cocktail to enjoy the views and continue on your way. If you do plan to eat, I highly recommend making a reservation in advance to avoid disappointment!
Partake in the Sassiest Brunch Ever at the Palace Bar
For over three decades, the Palace Bar has been an iconic staple along Ocean Drive. While they feature a drag show every night at 7:00pm, you can’t miss their drag brunch Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. These incredible queens show off dance moves that will make your jaw drop! I wish I could dance half as well as them – in 4 inch heels no less! Pair their sassy flair with unlimited mimosas and you’ve got the recipe for the perfect start to your day on South Beach.
Hop on a Jet Ski & Check Out Flagler Memorial Island
Looking for a little adrenaline to spice up your Miami trip? Grab a jet ski and hit the water! Zip your way around and take a peek at the mansions found along the Venetian Islands. If you have a dry bag on hand, pack a picnic to enjoy along the shores of Flagler Memorial Island. Only accessible by boat, it makes a great getaway and one of the lesser-populated beaches… a true hidden gem in Miami. If you don’t make friends with a local that has a jet ski, you can rent one from Miami Watersports. Just be aware that certain waterways like those near the cruise ships are to be avoided for your safety.
Enjoy the Live Band at Bayside & Check Out Bayfront Park
So I had no idea until I started researching this post that Bayside Marketplace was a top attraction in Miami. Every time I would go after work, this two-storey open air mall never felt overly busy. Whether you choose to go shopping is up to you, but there are two things I love about it. The first is the gorgeous sunsets over Biscayne Bay and the second is the live music that runs from noon until 1:00am every day. I also really miss the sugar cane juice there as it saved my butt from dehydration more than once!
If it does get a little too busy for your liking, head next door to Bayfront Park. Here you’ll find a number of benches and even some Muskoka chairs where you can put your feet up and relax.
Escape the City at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden
When you’re inside surrounded by beautiful tropical plant life, you’ll completely forget that you’re in the heart of South Beach. This is one of the most tranquil hidden gems in Miami! Stop and smell the roses… err, Ylang Ylang trees, as you explore the 2.6 acres. Be sure not to miss the tranquil Japanese garden as you watch butterflies and dragonflies flutter from plant to plant. Just thinking about it sounds so relaxing! I didn’t spend nearly enough time here in this little slice of paradise.
Go Parasailing & Admire the Miami Skyline
What better way to enjoy the Miami skyline than with a parasailing adventure! Throw on your bathing suit and an outfit you’re okay with getting wet and take to the skies. Never parasailed before? No problem, I hadn’t either! It requires no skill and no experience. Just listen to your guides and you’re in for a fabulous and calming ride! Even this gal with vertigo survived and had an awesome time. Booking a parasailing tour is a must-do for any Miami itinerary!
Hit Up a Wynwood Art Walk Block Party
Okay so this isn’t much of a ‘hidden’ gem but it’s seriously so much fun. On the second Saturday of every month, Wynwood puts its party pants on as they break out all the stops. You’ve got live music, delicious food, incredible cocktails, a fantastic local market and more! Enjoy all of this while being surrounded by some of the coolest street art you’ll ever feast your eyes on. Oh and if you RSVP in advance you get a free drink!
Dance the Night Away at Club Space
I mean this literally. When a club doesn’t open until 10:00pm, you know you’re going to be there until the sun rises. This world-renown night club has four rooms spinning beats from a number of genres including techno, house, hip hop, EDM (my personal favourite) and more. It’s not uncommon to hear some big names coming through like Diplo, Nora en Pure, Eric Prydz and more. What is guaranteed is plenty of shenanigans, a messed-up sleep schedule and one seriously good night.
Take a Tour of the Everglades with Buffalo Tiger
Okay so this technically is outside of town but this is a must for any South Florida trip. Head west inland and take a tour of the Everglades with Buffalo Tiger. There are a number of companies that offer tours but hands down Buffalo Tiger is the best for a number of reasons. Founded by William “Buffalo” Tiger, the last traditional chief for the Miccosukee people, he had a vision to educate others about the Miccosukee People. They have called the Florida Everglades home for millennia, long before settlers laid foot on this land.
By touring with Buffalo Tiger, you’ll not only learn about their history and traditions but also about a special area within the Everglades which only Miccosukee People can access. You’ll be blown away by the amazing views while getting up close and personal with alligators. It’s guaranteed to be a wild ride! Buffalo Tiger offers tours from 45 minutes to 6 hours as well as sunset tours but you must call ahead. For their general tours, no reservation is required. Show up and they’ll get you on a tour in no time! You can combine your tour of the Everglades with a seaplane tour for an even more memorable experience.
Additional Things to Do in Miami
Even though I lived in the city for four months, I didn’t get to do everything I wanted to in Miami. This city truly is massive with new things being added all the time. Plus I wasn’t nearly the traveller then like I am today! Here are my additional things to do in Miami that I’ll be looking to check off my list next visit.
This probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Miami. What you may not realize is that Miami Beach is actually a barrier island! It’s made of limestone coral rock… and therefore makes a fantastic dive destination. Now that I’m a PADI certified open water diver, I’d love to return and explore the underwater world!
Wander the Streets of Little Havana
Despite living on Miami Beach for 4 months, I never made it to Little Havana. Shame on me! I wasn’t nearly as experienced back then as I am now, otherwise I would have checked out a foodie walking tour. I think that’s a fantastic way to get to know any area! Next time I visit, I’ll be sure to explore Calle Ocho and some of the locally-owned shops and eateries.
Hang Out With the Manatees
I’m kicking myself that I didn’t check this out during my time in Florida. Hop on a kayak (or paddleboard) tour with the Virginia Key Outdoor Centre and say hello to the manatees! If you’re lucky, you might even see babies as manatees make Florida their home in the winter months. While they are adorable, remember that these animals are protected and it’s illegal to harass them, even if it’s just for a hug.
Explore the Coral Castle
No, this isn’t a level from Super Mario. For 28 years, Edward Leedskalnin built hundreds of sculptures from 1923 to 1951. While many mistake it for coral, he actually used oolitic limestone, a sedimentary rock that has a resemblance to coral. It is said Leedskalnin crafted it to deal with the rejection of his fiancée just one day before they were set to marry. Coral Castle may sound foreign but it actually just might be familiar! It’s been referenced a number of times in pop culture including the 1966 film Jimmy, the Boy Wonder and Billy Idol’s 1986 classic Sweet Sixteen. I had no idea Coral Castle even existed but I won’t be missing “Florida’s Stonehenge” next time I visit!
Where to Stay in Miami
Unfortunately, I’m no expert in this field as I had my own place since I was in Miami for four months. Luckily Hotels.com has some great suggestions for hotels! When I plan my next adventure, here are a few of the hidden gem places to stay that I’ll be looking at:
Beacon Hotel South Beach – They had me hooked with their brightly coloured Muskoka chairs and beautifully decorated patios. The Beacon Hotel South Beach is right on Ocean Drive with the idyllic Miami beach just steps away. Amenities include breakfast, valet parking and a fitness room… not that you’ll need it with the ocean right there!
The Clevelander Hotel – While I’ve never stayed at this property, if it’s anything like their rooftop bar (which I’m sure it is) then you’re in for a treat! This adults-only hotel features bright and beautiful rooms, an on-site restaurant and a continental breakfast included with your stay. Lounge all day on their rooftop terrace and then rip up the dance floor until the wee hours of the morning.
Delfino Suites South Beach – Planning on a longer stay? Delfino Suites has full apartments available with all the creature comforts of home. Not only is it very affordable by South Beach standards (I’ve seen it as cheap as $170/night on sale!) but you’ll have a fridge, microwave, oven – the whole shebang. If you’re someone who’s looking to keep costs low by cooking instead of eating out all the time, this is a fantastic option. It’s also on the western side of Miami Beach so you won’t have the Ocean Drive insanity to contend with.
Blanc Kara – Minimalist chic with pops of tropical colours will make you fall in love with these apartment suites. This is another fantastic longer-stay option but this time located towards the southern point of South Beach. I was surprised to see how affordable it was as well for the location! However, I have to say sorry families – this one’s adults-only too.
As you can imagine, there is no shortage of choices for accommodation in Miami. Your biggest problem will be trying to decide which hotel to choose!
Ready to Explore These Hidden Gems in Miami?
Miami is truly a destination for explorers, beach bums and party people alike. To recap, these are the hidden gems in Miami you don’t want to skip out on:
- Indulge in an adult slushie
- Catch some rays between 3rd and 10th in Miami Beach
- Treat yourself to amazing French cuisine
- Watch the sunset at South Pointe Park
- Hit the dance floor in Brickell
- Eat ceviche by the spoonful
- Reven in home-cooked Cuban cuisine
- Stroll along the Miami Beach Boardwalk
- Take advantage of Lincoln Road Mall’s happy hours
- Enjoy the incredible views from Juvia
- Partake in the sassiest brunch ever at the Palace Bar
- Hop on a jetski to Flagler Memorial Island
- Enjoy the live music at Bayside
- Escape the city at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden
- Go parasailing and enjoy the Miami skyline
- Hit up a Wynwood Art Walk Block Party
- Dance the night away at Club Space… literally
- Take a tour of the Florida Everglades with Buffalo Tiger
- Go scuba diving
- Wander the streets of Little Havana and Calle Ocho
- Hang out with the manatees
- Explore Coral Castle
Whether you’re a solo adventurer like myself or heading down with a group of friends, don’t miss out on all the hidden gems that Miami has to offer!