Last updated: 30th October 2021
In this post we’ll share our Miami itinerary for 3 days – things to do, places to eat plus fun and interesting tours for learning the history and culture of Miami. Click here to jump straight to the 3 day itinerary or keep on reading.
Table of Contents
Driving to Miami
Sun soaked Miami was the third stop on our Florida road trip. We drove 32 miles from Fort Lauderdale to Miami which was pretty easy as everyone in the USA religiously sticks to the speed limit. As we came into Miami Beach hundreds of towering condo buildings hug the beach, just like the skyscrapers we saw in Dubai. We both didn’t know much about Miami, just what we remembered from watching Miami Vice and The Golden Girls on tv as kids. It was exciting to have 3 days in Miami to explore this world famous city.
Miami & Miami Beach
What we didn’t realise about Miami is that it’s split into two separate cities – Miami and Miami Beach. The postcard imagery of beaches and iconic Art Deco hotels are located on Miami Beach. It’s a separate island city connected by bridges to mainland Miami. Miami Beach has large Jewish and LGBT communities and is where most visitors will want to stay with its dreamy white sand beaches and turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Miami Beach is about 9 miles long and 1 mile wide split into 3 areas – North Beach, Mid-Beach and South Beach. We checked out the bright and colourful life guard stations designed and painted by local artists. The beaches are very clean and even provide free sunscreen.
History of Miami Beach
First a little bit of Miami history. The city gets its name from the Mayaimi tribe – the Native American people who lived here in the 16th century. Miami Beach used to be an old mangrove swamp until the 1920s when it was filled in and turned into man-made land for construction. Miami Beach was booming with property development in the 1920’s attracting ‘snowbirds’ – Americans looking to escape the cold winter weather of the Northern states. By the 1950’s Miami Beach had become the playground of the rich and famous, even the pavements were made red to draw on the glamour of Hollywood’s red carpets. Things changed considerably by the 1980s when crime took over, it was a no-go area. Today Miami Beach is chic, bursting with Art Deco heritage and Miami can lay claim to being the cruise ship capital of the world, with the largest and busiest cruise port on the planet.
Art Deco Miami Beach & Ocean Drive
Miami Beach is all about fabulous Art Deco architecture. The most famous stretch of Art Deco hotels are on Ocean Drive in the South Beach area, sometimes called ‘SoBe’. This palm-lined strip is also where people come to party. It’s lively and has a real buzz with loads of restaurants, bars and open air cafes to enjoy both day and night. Ocean Beach’s most famous resident was Gianni Versace who was murdered in 1997. His former mansion is now a posh hotel Villa Casa Casuarina, check out the potted palm trees outside grown in V shapes. If you want to see inside book a table at the restaurant, we tried but you probably need to book well ahead.
As first timers we couldn’t resist staying in one of Miami’s classic Art Deco hotels. We opted for the Avalon, it has a gorgeous exterior complete with a vintage car to add to that retro feel and a simple styled interior. Despite reading warnings about the noise from the street on Tripadvisor, we went armed with our earplugs – however we didn’t need them and we slept just fine.
Avalon’s award winning restaurant – A Fish Called Avalon was super too! we ate here every night because of the fresh seafood. Garth lived on lobster tails which are delicious served with asparagus and drizzled in hot butter, Phil loved the seafood risotto. The live music with latin vibes created a fabulous atmosphere.
We also chose Avalon because of the location for taking photos. We wanted to take some long exposure night photos and early morning shots. With such easy access to the beach Avalon was perfect for nipping out with our tripod whenever we fancied.
There was a rumour going around the hotel one the evening, that there would be filming on the street the next day, ooh how exciting! We woke up early to find out it was true, and yes it was! Ocean Drive was closed off for shooting a scene for Bad Boys For Life. We saw the film crew whizz past on long trailers but sadly we didn’t see Will Smith or anyone else famous 😔 boo.
Ocean Drive By Day
Ocean Drive is really popular for ‘Spring Break’, where students come from March to April to party hard. We visited at the end of April, so just caught the end of the season, all we can say is some of the sights are very entertaining! We saw groups of girls dressed outrageously wearing hardly anything, in fabulous bright fluorescent colours. Anything goes as this is the place to be and be seen! Whilst the boys pose cruising Ocean Drive in really flash cars showing off. Some of the girls are perched on the back end of the cars taking selfies, only to be told off by the police to sit down and buckle up. People watching is here is absolutely fabulous! it was one of our favourite things to do in Miami.
We enjoyed spending an afternoon just taking our time walking down Ocean Drive and beyond. Stopping off at different bars ordering gigantic oversized cocktails and watching life go by. Don’t be surprised to smell weed, it’s in the air pretty much everywhere you walk.
We were told Ocean Drive would be really brash, but we didn’t think that, it’s more bling bling, a bit like Marbella in Spain with flashiest of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, stretched limos and Maseratis passing by. The traffic moves slowly because everyone, even the drivers are filming everything on their iPhones.
Ocean Drive By Night
In the evenings the hotels’ pretty pastel colours are transformed into vibrant bright colours by lots of neons signs. Even though the colours clash, the feeling wandering down Ocean Drive is one of old time glamour and less Las Vegas. The most photographed hotel at night is The Colony, it’s not the prettiest but the simplicity of the electric blue colour does look great.
Miami Art Deco Walking Tour
To learn about Miami’s art deco heritage we paid for the Art Deco Walking Tour run by the Miami Design Preservation League. It lasts 90 minutes leaving from the Art Deco Welcome Center. Our volunteer guide Martin was really passionate about Art Deco, really knowledgeable and taught us loads.
South Beach has the world’s largest collection of Art Deco architecture – 900 buildings! These elegant pastel coloured buildings were built in the 1930s and early 40s after a hurricane devastated the area in 1926. Originally they were all painted white, but later in the 1980s painted in colours to make them appear more desirable. Today the buildings have preservation orders to prevent them being knocked down or modified because they were built before 1960. Amazing when you think how people in the UK are always modernising their 1930s built homes!
Miami’s Art Deco Periods
- 1910s -1920s Mediterranean Revival – Romantic style of design, deliberately made to look like European mansions.
- 1920s -1940s Streamline Moderne – Miami’s take on Art Deco inspired by cruise ships and Miami’s tropical location.
- 1940s -1960s Miami Modern – Designs included open balconies and catwalks, steel louvers and mosaic walls.
The earliest design style was ‘Mediterranean Revival’ and is best seen on Española Way. This European style is all about arches, wrought iron balconies and tiled roofs. Just like luxurious Mediterranean villas.
Miami’s 1930’s Art Deco design is called ‘Streamline Moderne’ which was inspired by aerodynamic design. It’s all about curved corners, horizontal lines and nautical elements like porthole windows. Perfect symmetry and the ‘Rule Of Three’ is key to this style of Art Deco. The Rule Of Three is simple – 2 side panels must be the same with a central element much bigger usually rising up between. Streamline Moderne also included ‘eyebrows’ these can be seen above windows designed to create some shade in the days before air conditioning. Also look closely for nautical motifs painted on some of South Beach’s buildings – they are flags copied from docking ocean liners in the 1930s.
We went inside the Essex House to learn more about Art Deco interior design. There’s a rare mural of the Florida Everglades by Earl La Pan above the original fireplace painted in 1939, look for the alligator hidden in the top left.
Another signature of Miami’s Art Deco design are Terrazzo floors. A floor style that you can see in lots of hotel lobbies. Designs include clean straight lines with curved edges at corners, geometric shapes and hotel logos. What’s really cool is some of the designs contain hidden messages. When you see diamonds or arrows these were used to guide people to gambling rooms. Gambling was illegal in Miami, so these secret messages meant gamblers didn’t need to go to the front desks to ask for directions, how clever!
MiMo – Miami Modern
The 1950s brought a new Art Deco style called ‘Miami Modern’ (MiMo). Buildings now had much bigger windows and balconies to create a connection with the outdoors. Apartment blocks were built with open hallways usually around a garden. Cheese hole cutouts, mosaic tiles, breeze blocks and futuristic looking steel pipes were also used in MiMo design.
Art Deco Signs From The Past
Garth being a graphic designer was in his element loving all the classic typography of the old Art Deco signs. These concrete and neon signs are built into the fabric of the buildings. A glimpse back in time to the glamour of the 1930s and 40s.
Eat at Joe’s Stone Crab
Joes’s Stone Crab is a Miami institution. It’s been here since 1913 and regarded as one Miami Beach’s best restaurants. Joe’s is still family run, it doesn’t accept reservations so there’s usually a long queue, however we didn’t have to wait too long. We were dressed quite casual and felt a little out of place, as everyone else was quite smart 😬 oops!
Our waiter was brilliant, he recognised we weren’t local and basically told us what to order and how to eat everything! We actually quite liked that as the choice on the menu was huge. We put on our silly bibs (which are essential) and tucked in. Aswell as the stone crabs we had Joe’s signature hash browns and onion rings. The crabs are served cold with a mustard sauce, Garth thought the crabs were just ok, but Phil really enjoyed them. We had no room left for their key lime pie, but we did manage to finish off a couple of Rum Runner cocktails.
Hundreds of towering glass skyscrapers dominate the skyline of Downtown Miami, impressive even from a distance. We took the Big Bus tour for a spot of sightseeing passing loads of cruise ships on the way. Travelling through the Brickell district is the heart of the skyscrapers. Standing out is The Freedom Tower built in 1925 and modelled after the Giralda Tower in Seville, Spain. This is where Cuban immigrants were processed in the 1960s.
We spent some time at Bayside Marketplace, a nice marina with bars and shops. This is where you can catch a sightseeing cruise to pass homes of the rich and famous on Fisher Island (which has the most expensive postcode in Florida), Star Island and Palm Island.
Urban Art at Wynwood – Graffiti Mecca Of The World
Not far from Downtown Miami is Wynwood – Miami’s street art district. This was Garth’s favourite place. You can see and read more about the golf buggy tour we took to see Wynwood in our separate post. Art transformed this once neglected industrial district into a vibrant and colourful neighbourhood. It was the idea of Tony Goldman an American property developer who saw the potential of using white walls as canvases and started the project in 2009.
Little Havana Walking & Food Tour
West of Downtown Miami is Little Havana. An historic neighbourhood where thousands of wealthy Cubans settled in 1959. They fled Cuba when Fidel Castro came to power during Cuban Revolution.
We decided to take a 3 hour walking and food tour run by Art Deco Tours. We started at the Bay of Pigs Monument and made our way down the Cuban Memorial Boulevard to learn about the Cubans massive influence on Miami. One of the monuments is quite stinky – the statue of Mary is under a sacred Ceiba tree where people leave offerings of food in plastic bags on the tree’s roots, eww! There were a quite a few roosters wandering around freely on the road. We saw many references to roosters throughout Little Havana – they are an icon to represent the fighting spirit of Cuba. After the brief history lesson we made our way down Calle Ocho (8th Street) this is the main street of Little Havana where we sampled some delicious Cuban food and drink.
We started at Los Pinarenos Fruteria fruit and veg market to try some fresh sugar cane juice. We love looking around markets to find tropical fruits we’re not used to seeing in the UK. We didn’t recognise the mamey fruits (from Cuba & Central America).
Next up was the Yisell Bakery to try the sweet pastries, yum! and some sweet Cuban coffee which has a serious caffeine punch! From there we walked to a clothes shop to learn about guayabera shirts and Panama hats (we didn’t buy any). Followed by a visit to the Guantanamera Cafe & cigar shop to witness some hand rolled cigars. The smell of tobacco in the air reminded us of the time we spent in Havana.
Finally it was time for our first mojito at the historic Ball And Chain bar built in 1935. This place is great, we enjoyed sipping our mojitos listening to some live Latin music. There’s a great ice cream shop next door Azucar where we cooled down and sampled some unusual flavours like café con leche, sweet plantain and caramel flan.
With ice cream in hand we walked to Maximo Gomez Park also called Domino Park. We watched the local guys playing dominoes, the rules state you have to be over 55 to play! Finally it was time for the main event, a traditional Cuban hot lunch at El Cristo Restaurant. We had various platters passed around the table including Cuban sandwiches of ham, cheese and mustard, kinda like a panini. Apparently the best ones are served at the nearby and famous Versailles restaurant.
The tour was ok, not the best tour we’ve taken, maybe down to our guide and the portions were a bit stingy. You can easily do it yourself – just follow where we went.
Other Miami Attractions and Things To Do
- The Lincoln Mall – Shopping centre short walk from Ocean Drive.
- Vizcaya Museum & Gardens – Formal gardens and waterfront mansion.
- Coconut Grove – Upscale leafy neighbourhood home to Vizcaya Museum & Gardens
- Miami Design District – Interior design stores and art galleries.
- Bayside Marketplace – Take a boat cruise of the bay from here.
- Miami Auto Museum – For the James Bond collection of cars.
Miami Itinerary – 3 Day Summary
- Morning: Arrive Miami and take the Big Bus Tour to get an overview of Miami and Miami Beach.
- Afternoon: Spend the day exploring Ocean Drive stopping off at bars for huge cocktails.
- Evening: Have dinner at A Fish Called Avalon.
- Morning: Take the Art Deco Walking Tour.
- Afternoon: Have lunch in one of Wynwood’s trendy bars, then view all the street art.
- Evening: Eat at Joe’s Stone Crab.
- Morning: Take the Little Havana Food Tour.
- Afternoon: Take a boat cruise from Bayside Marketplace or spend the afternoon on the beach.
- Evening: Have a Spanish dinner on Española Way.
Miami Practical Information & Useful Advice
Phil and Garth’s Top 5 Miami Tips
- Tip #1: The best light for photography on Ocean Drive is 8am-12 noon before the sun goes behind buildings.
- Tip #2: Stay an extra night and take a day trip to The Everglades National Park to spot alligators on an airboat ride.
- Tip #3: Drinking alcohol is illegal in public places – streets and on the beach, so don’t walk around with a bottle.
- Tip #4: Watch out for the resort fee charge, on top of your room rate, it’s usually around $25 a night.
- Tip #5: Fancy the Bahamas? You can get a day return ferry to the island of Bimini from Miami (it’s 52 miles away).
Google Map of Miami Attractions
- What is Miami’s airport code? MIA – Miami International Airport.
- What time zone is Miami? Eastern Time Zone. GMT -4 hours.
- What currency does Miami use? American Dollar (symbol: $)
- What language is spoken in Miami? English and Spanish (spoken by over 60%)
- What is the population of Miami? 6,167,000.
- What number should I call in an emergency? – Call 911.
- What plug type is used in Miami? Plug types A & B. Voltage is 120V / 60Hz.
- When is the best time to visit Miami? Mid-February through May. High season is November to April.
- When is the worst time to visit Miami? During Spring break. Hurricane season is June to November.
- What is Miami famous for? Art Deco, beaches, bronzed bodies, spring-break, nightlife.
- What’s the history of Miami? In 1896, Miami officially became a city. It was founded by a local businesswoman called Julia Tuttle.
- What are Miami’s 5 must see sights? Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, Little Havana, Downtown Miami and Wynwood.
- What food is Miami famous for? Local dishes include: Stone Crabs, Empanadas and Cuban sandwiches.
- What is the best way to get around Miami? Easiest way to get around Miami is to use Uber or a sightseeing bus.
- What’s a fun fact about Miami? Suntan lotion was invented here in 1944 by pharmacist Benjamin Green.
- TV and movies filmed in Miami? Miami Vice, The Golden Girls, Bay Boys 3 (2020), 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), Scarface (1983).
- Where is the best photo spot in Miami? From the South Beach baseball courts looking towards the neon of Ocean Drive.
- Where is a hidden gem in Miami? Giralda Plaza, Coral Gables. A relaxing plaza with shops and live entertainment.
- What is the best souvenir to buy in Miami? An Art Deco poster from the Art Deco Welcome Center art shop.
- What is the official Miami tourism website? Greater Miami Conventions & Visitor Bureau click here for their website.
How we did it
- We stayed at the Avalon hotel for 4 nights. (Accommodation everywhere in Miami is expensive).
- Our Art Deco Walking Tour was run by the Miami Design and Preservation League and cost us $30 each.
- The Little Havana Cultural Walking and Food Tour by Art Deco Tours cost us $55 each.
- We paid $39 each for the Wynwood Graffiti Golf Cart Buggy Tour run by Wynwood Art Walk Miami.
- We used Uber to get around, about $12 from Miami Beach to Downtown Miami. Another day we used the Big Bus Tour sightseeing bus at $50 each. On South beach you can also use the free South Beach Trolley.
- We visited Miami at the end of April, the weather was perfect.