Sensual, Glamorous And Cultured, Miami’s Best Neighborhoods Are Your Next Perfect Fall Acation / LONELY PLANET / Luxury Travel News
Wynwood Art District street scene, Miami, Florida, USA.
Each of Miami’s best neighborhoods feels distinctive and defined, while also contributing to the vibrant, neon-spangled whole that is Magic City. From districts defined by their long-standing immigrant communities like Little Havana and Little Haiti to those immediately identifiable by their world-class architecture and chic denizens hopping from yachts to clubs, there’s a lot to see and do in Miami.
If you’re wondering what corner of the city has the vibe you’re looking for, or simply want to experience each of them in turn, we’ve got the scoop on the best Miami neighborhoods to stay in this fall.
Editor’s note: During COVID-19, please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and always follow government health advice. Events may be subject to chang
Goombay Festival – Miami
Musicians participate in the Junkanoo parade at the Goombay Festival, a celebration of Coconut Grove’s Bahamian-rooted community © Joe Raedle / Getty Images
Best for exploring on foot
Coconut Grove was once a hippie colony, but these days its demographic is upper-middle-class, mall-going Miamians and college students. It’s a pleasant place to explore, with intriguing shops and cafes, and a walkable village-like vibe. It’s particularly appealing in the evenings when residents fill the outdoor tables of its bars and restaurants.
Coconut Grove backs onto the waterfront, with a pretty marina and some pleasant green spaces.
The Grove itself is compact and can be easily explored on foot. An afternoon’s stroll down along its tree-lined streets, followed by dinner and drinks, is a great way to experience the ‘hood. If more time allows, you can visit the small Barnacle Historic State Park and take in a bit of the waterfront (another good spot for a meal).
Several key sites in this neighborhood lie a fair bit beyond the boundaries of its walkable center. Located 2.5 miles north on the bayside, the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens is best reached by car or bicycle.
Go in the early morning to beat the crowds. South of the Grove, the verdant tropical gardens of the Kampong are well worth the effort of getting there (and you’ll need to call ahead to visit), though again you’ll need to get there by car or bicycle.
Here and now: Miami’s South Beach
lonelyplanet.com Deputy Editor Emma Sparks strolls the sands of Miami’s South Beach, stopping to admire art deco architecture on the way.
Best for lovers of glamor and glitz
South Beach (SoBe) is everything Miami is known for – the sparkling beach, beautiful art-deco architecture, top-end boutiques, and buzzing bars and restaurants. Still, there’s more to this district than velvet ropes and high-priced lodging (though there’s a lot of this too). You’ll find some great down-to-earth bars, good eating and cool museums,
all set against a backdrop of relentlessly attractive pastel deco architecture.
The typical South Beach experience is anything but. You’ll find plenty of early-risers who head out for runs along the beach, followed by breakfast at a favorite vegan spot, yoga at a sun-drenched studio in the afternoon, a healthy meal, perhaps an evening concert at the New World Center and an early night in.
For others, the day starts about noon, with coffee and bloody Marys at a rock-blaring spot on Ocean Dr, then a lounge on the beach, a bit of strolling and window shopping on Lincoln Rd, dinner at a new hot spot in Sunset Harbour, followed by a late night of carousing at assorted lounges, rooftop bars, and hidden dance clubs all over town.
Though you might have a fixed idea of what South Beach is all about, the stereotypes often fall short. South Beach is both chaotic and hedonistic (Ocean Dr around 9th St) and local and sedate (SoFi – or the blocks South of 5th St).
In short, this burgeoning neighborhood is very much what you make of it – whether your interests are architecture, shopping, dining, drinking, or just watching it all unfold as a dynamic jumble of peoples and cultures intersect in one very captivating tropical setting.
While many visitors base in South Beach, if you’re just stopping in to see what it’s all about, allow yourself a good three days to properly explore the place.
A typical Cuban restaurant at SW 8th Street, a focal point of the Cuban community in Miami © Kamira / Shutterstock
Best for Cuban cuisine and sensual salsa
The Cuba-ness of Little Havana is slightly exaggerated for visitors, though it’s still an atmospheric area to explore, with the crack of dominoes, the scent of wafting cigars and the sound of salsa spilling into the street. Keep an eye out for murals; older art often references the Cuban revolution, while newer pieces contain contemporary references to hip-hop and the Miami Heat.
Little Havana’s main thoroughfare, Calle Ocho (SW 8th St), is the heart of the neighborhood. In many ways, this is every immigrant enclave in the USA – full of restaurants, mom-and-pop convenience shops and phonecard kiosks – except here you get intermittent tourists posing and taking selfies.
Little Havana makes a fine destination for a leisurely morning or afternoon’s wander. The district is most vibrant during the day (and preferably on a weekend) when you can see wise-cracking old timers chattering away over fast-moving games of dominoes in Máximo Gómez Park and get an eyeful of modern art at the galleries around town.
You can cap the day with a bit of souvenir and cigar shopping in the stores dotting 8th St, stopping for strong coffee and/or mojitos along the way. While you can see everything in a few hours on an easygoing stroll, it’s worth coming back at night. You can book in for dinner (there’s great Cuban fare, but much more besides) then catch some live bands at one of two key music venues in Little Havana.
Mango’s Tropical Cafe on Ocean Drive in the historical Art Deco District of Miami © byvalet / Shutterstock
Wynwood and the Design District
Best for art and design fan
Wynwood is Miami’s hippest neighborhood and it knows it. This is an adult playground of graffiti, murals, restaurants, bars, shops and galleries. Whatever is cool and on trend in the world is emulated, if not started, on these streets, in the shadow of some excellent public art. The Design District is a high-end shopping area, where the line between neighborhood and mall is tough to draw.
Wynwood has become quite the celebrity in recent years. First came the Wynwood Walls – a collection of vibrant building-sized murals painted by top international street artists.
Then came the trickle of galleries, bars and restaurants, which was shortly thereafter followed by explosive growth. Today, Wynwood has some of the city’s best cafes, bakeries, taco stalls, and fusion eateries, as well as creative boutiques, microbreweries and cocktail dens.
That said, you could spend a few days just exploring the neighborhood. Come in the daytime for gallery-hopping, window shopping and snacking, but return at night, when the neighborhood is at its liveliest. That’s when the creative set mingles in its candlelit brewpubs and backyard music joints.
Just north of Wynwood, the Design District has a more refined (ie expensive) feel. Its main shopping strip is filled with lovely if stratospherically priced objects: Italian-designed chairs, Russian Romanov-era cabinets, Dale Chihuly–esque chandeliers, that sort of thing. Shopping aside, several excellent galleries are here, as well as public sculptures, and some creative eating and drinking spots orbiting on the perimeter.
Given the Design District’s compact size, you could easily explore the neighborhood in one day – hitting the shops and galleries during the day, then sticking around (or returning) for dining and nightlife in the evening.
Located between Wynwood and the Design District is Midtown, essentially one giant upscale outdoor mall sprinkled with boutiques, restaurants and bars catering to new condo residents. It feels decidedly less bohemian than Wynwood, but worth a look when visiting these two ‘hoods.
Little Haiti Main Street
Little Haiti Main Street © Montes-Bradley / Getty Images
Little Haiti and the Upper East Side
Best for vibrant Kreyol nightlife
These two neighborhoods are at the northern edge of mainland Miami gentrification with restaurants, hotels and galleries increasingly setting up shop every year.
Little Haiti is the largest Haitian community in North America, and while it feels as Caribbean as the rest of Miami, it is also undeniably distinct: the Kreyol language dominates, as do Haitian businesses and community institutions. Further east, the Upper East Side is best known for its striking modernist buildings lining Biscayne Blvd.
Traditional sights are fairly thin on the ground here. Most locals tend to time their visit when a special exhibition or event is underway at one of the galleries and cultural spaces in the area. Architecture fans on the other hand won’t want to miss the so-called MiMo on Bibo, which stands for Miami Modern on Biscayne Blvd – encompassing a spread of photogenic buildings running from 50th St to 77th St. The whole strip is now part of a historic district, and its buildings are slowly being transformed into boutique hotels, restaurants and galleries.
By day, the options for neighborhood explorations feel limited, but by night, the district springs to life. You’ll find some vibrant nightlife in the Upper East Side (poolside drinks, indie rock bands), and crafty experimentation on the dining scene – all of which remains little known to the Miami Beach gang. For neighborhood exploring off the beaten path, this is a great place to start.
Spanish style house in Florida
The village-like neighborhood of Coral Gables in Miami © Yoela Chaveco-Cabrera / Getty Images
Best for a village-like relaxed break
The lovely city of Coral Gables, filled with a pastel rainbow of Mediterranean-style buildings, feels a world removed from the rest of Miami. Here you’ll find pretty banyan-lined streets and a walkable village-like center, dotted with shops, cafes and restaurants. The big draws are the striking Biltmore Hotel, a lush tropical garden and one of America’s loveliest swimming pools.
Coral Gables has a unique design and feel, more reminiscent of an old Mediterranean village-town than a city planted in greater Miami. As such, you could easily spend a few days here taking in the sights, checking out its restaurants, shops and cultural attractions (cinema, theater). However, if time is limited, the main sights can be visited on a daylong outing.
The center of town is walkable, with a string of boutiques, cafes and upscale eateries scattered along (and just off of) the so-called Miracle Mile – a pretty boulevard that runs through the heart of town. The big attractions though are outside of the center, namely the soaring architectural masterpiece of the Biltmore Hotel, the pretty Venetian pool and the lush Fairchild Tropical Garden. It’s best to have a car to visit these sights, as well as some of the more intriguing restaurants in the area.
Colored lights on the street at South Beach light up Ocean Drive © Jon Davison / Lonely Planet
Best for sunbathing and outdoor adventures
If you’re after fewer people along a gorgeous strip of sand that more than matches South Beach, then North Beach is for you. Instead of art deco, you’ll find the so-called MiMo (Miami Modern) style of grand buildings constructed in the post-
WWII boom days. There’s good quality eating and drinking, peppered amid immigrant communities from across Latin America and Europe.
For many folks who come to North Miami Beach, the draw is the shoreline plain and simple. Of course, given the undulating coastline and diverse layout of the land, coming to the shore can mean many different things. It can mean holing up in one of the area’s new five-star hotels, or it can mean taking a long stroll along a pretty boardwalk overlooking one stretch of oceanfront.
It can also mean exploring one of the many protected reserves further north – kayaking and mountain biking in the Oleta River State Park or simply frolicking in the waves of photogenic Haulover Beach Park. You could easily spend a few days exploring the area.
Beaches aside, there’s a first-rate assortment of dining and nightlife here, which if anything feels a little classier than (and just as pricey as) options down on South Beach.
Streets and buildings of Downtown Miami at night © pisaphotography / Shutterstock
Best for museums and car-free exploring
Downtown Miami, the city’s international financial and banking center, is split between tatty indoor shopping arcades, and new condos and high-rise luxury hotels in the area known as Brickell – said high rises stretch all the way down Brickell Ave. At night, the towers are illuminated in hot pinks and cool blues, and the entire effect is unmistakably magical.
Even though construction is a near constant in this area, there are still pockets of small-scale, creative, authentic spaces, and the city’s best museum.
Once a fairly barren area as far as sights go, Downtown has gone through a remarkable renaissance in recent years, with new projects planned on the horizon. While the neighborhood spreads across a lot of ground, this is one part of Miami where you don’t need a car. Free public transport can whisk you from place to place, and parts of Downtown are quite walkable and well worth exploring on foot (such as Bayfront Park and the riverside).
You could easily spend a few days taking in Downtown attractions, visiting the excellent museums here, taking in pretty views and catching a show at one of its fine performing arts venues. Downtown is very much a local hangout, with rooftop bars, plush nightclubs and creative eateries catering to both city workers and well-heeled condo dwellers who’ve been lured into the neighborhood in the last few years.
A couple strolling in the shadow of pines, Key Biscayne, Miami, Florida, USA
Key Biscayne has beautiful nature trails with the impressive Miami skyline as a backdrop © Image Professionals GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Best for scenic hikes
Key Biscayne and neighboring Virginia Key are a quick and easy getaway from Downtown Miami. Once you pass those scenic causeways you’ll feel like you’ve left Miami for a floating suburb with magnificent beaches, lush nature trails in state parks and aquatic adventures aplenty. The stunning skyline views of Miami alone are worth the trip out.
Start early in the day for the drive or bike ride out to these picturesque keys, roughly 5 miles southeast of Downtown Miami (a 10-minute drive). Heading out along the Rickenbacker Causeway leads first to small Virginia Key, which has a few worthwhile sites – tiny beaches, a small mountain-bike park and pretty spots for kayaking.
The road continues to Key Biscayne, an island that’s just 7 miles long with unrivaled views of the Miami skyline. As you pass over the causeway, note the small public beaches, picnic areas and fishing spots arranged on its margins. The road turns into Crandon Blvd, the key’s only real main road, eventually passing the most popular feature on the island – the lovely Crandon Park Beach.
Keep heading all the way to the south to reach the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, a wonderful spot for a day’s outing with beaches, nature trails, a photogenic lighthouse and outdoor gear (including kayaks) available for hire. You can see it all in one day if you get an early start, but it’s worth picking a few spots and taking your time.
One of the best reasons to come to the Keys is to get out on the water, whether on a kayak, a stand-up paddleboard or a sailboat. With special guided excursions out here, it pays to plan ahead. Be sure to check if Virginia Key Outdoor Center has any trips planned while you’re in the area.
The Keys get busy on weekends. To escape the crowds, come on a weekday.
Originally published in March 2021 and updated in September 2021
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