Photo: Doberman Collection/Getty

From culture, clubs, and sports to beaches and playing on the water, Miami is a golden vacation destination. Here’s how to do this Florida superstar right.

Located on the southern tip of Florida and right on the Atlantic Ocean, Miami has grown from a playground destination to cosmopolitan hotspot overflowing with arts, culture, food, drink, and nightlife. But it can be overwhelming to know where to begin, or how to have the best time when on vacation. Here’s a guide where to eat, sleep, play, and stay in Miami.

When to Go to Miami

The best time to visit Miami is hard to pin down. March through May, Miami weather is at what many consider its best, with high temps in the 80s and a low risk of hurricanes. You’ll find little rain during a Miami winter too, with temperatures in the very comfortable mid 70s. That makes it prime time for Northerners to escape frigid temperatures and seek some Miami sunshine.

Be wary of summer and fall. Things heat up June through August, with temperatures in the 90s, higher humidity, rainy days, and the beginning of hurricane season. Those conditions continue right into fall, with the temperature dropping only a few degrees.

Just remember: If you’re planning your trip during the winter or during one of Miami’s many festivals and special events, you might have a harder time finding a good hotel for a reasonable price.

 Photo: Stephen Saks

Can’t-Miss Neighborhoods

When you’re craving a pure urban fix, head to Downtown Miami, where you’ll find sporting and cultural events, lively bars and clubs, and wonderful restaurants. After the sun sets, step back and gaze at the illuminated skyline from either the Rickenbacker or MacArthur Causeways.

Art and fashion lovers will want to head straight to Miami’s Design District, a neighborhood filled with luxurious shops and showrooms, art galleries, and the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami.

Wynwood is worth the cab or car-share. This hip part of town feels less touristy and has a cool mix of eclectic independent shops, art galleries, public art displays, and chic restaurants.

Right next to the city of Miami, Coral Gables (also known as “the city beautiful”) is a stunning collection of Mediterranean Revival architecture. (It’s also a great place to shop.) Architecture lovers should check out the circa-1925 Merrick House, the posh Biltmore Hotel, and the Venetian Pool, a historic public swimming pool that’s considered one of the most beautiful swimming pools in the world.

No trip to Miami is complete without time spent in Miami Beach’s South Beach (pictured above). Between the beach itself, boutiques on Washington Ave., bustling sidewalk cafes, charming Espanola Way, raucous late-night scene, famed Art Deco buildings, and weekend street markets, there’s certainly much to do, no matter what your interests are. Stay in one of these posh boutique hotels.

For a quieter version of the South Beach buzz, head to neighboring North Beach. This oceanfront stretch of South Beach is just bustling enough and family-friendly, with more moderately priced hotels, casual Latin eateries, and a concrete oceanfront “boardwalk.”

 Photo courtesy of Juvia Miami

Nightlife

Best Rooftop Bars

At Juvia (pictured above), enjoy sweeping views—and fruit-based specialty cocktails—from the top of Miami Beach’s imaginative mixed-use parking garage, 1111 Lincoln Road.

Downtown at hotel EAST, Miami, zip up to the 40th floor for Sugar’s panoramic skyline view paired with craft cocktails and Asian-inspired tapas.

Pawn Broker, perched atop the Langford Hotel in the historic 1925 Miami National Bank building, nods to the glamour of the '20s with its décor and celebrates the future of the city’s nightlife with a stage open to burgeoning musical talent, while the playful cocktails, inspired by icons ranging from Buddha to Lord Byron, are just plain fun.

Best Clubs

For a classic, posh South Beach experience, visit Nikki Beach Miami Beach. Take advantage of the luxurious day beds, the cabana bar, and an extensive international menu during the day and live DJs in the second-floor nightclub at night.

At Club Space, an enormous downtown complex with several different rooms and an outdoor terrace, visiting and resident DJs play through the night—and even into the next day—for a dancing throng.

E11even Miami’s visual performances are as legendary as its musical performers, which have included DJs like Diplo and Skrillex. Watch go-go dancers and aerialists perform, or splurge on bottle service and dance the night away in this 20,000-square-foot downtown spot.

Best Bars Near the Beach

Highly acclaimed, Sweet Liberty in Miami Beach has a menu of elevated bar food (think cauliflower nachos, swordfish tacos, and tuna poke) complemented by sophisticated house cocktails. Stop by during the award-winning happy hour for oysters and five-dollar drinks, a true treat in Miami.

Tree of Life, situated in the courtyard of Miami Beach’s opulent Faena Hotel, looks out onto the iconic pool area and beyond to the ocean. While the location and view are reason enough to tuck in here, the sophisticated cocktail menu may make it a regular habit.

In Miami Beach, walk two blocks from the beach to Freehand Miami’s Broken Shaker, a backyard oasis that serves unbelievably fresh cocktails made with garden herbs and spices and fresh-pressed produce.

 Photo courtesy of Alter Miami/Gourmandj

Restaurants

In the fabulously funky Wynwood Arts District, Alter (pictured above) offers five- and seven-course tasting menus of locally sourced, seasonal dishes (that are also spectacularly pretty) by acclaimed chef Bradley Kilgore.

El Tucán, a modern-day cabaret in the Brickell neighborhood, is reminiscent of Cuba’s glamorous time in the spotlight in the 1940s, with a Latin orchestra, a prix fixe tapas menu, and a palm tree–festooned venue. The music can vary from Afro-Latin to Parisian pop, while the food is consistently phenomenal.

Reserve a table in the Matador Room’s wonderfully nostalgic sunken dining room in South Beach, where you can savor the menu of Spanish, Caribbean, Latin, and South American dishes created by world-renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

A Fish Called AVALON on South Beach’s Ocean Drive serves fresh fish, cooked or from the extensive raw bar, and delicious Mediterranean-style apps, while the mojitos are good enough to merit a visit just to sample one (or a few).

Venture inside the luxurious Faena Hotel in Miami Beach to sample the open-fire cuisine, simply prepared with local ingredients and always delicious, at Los Fuegos, an Argentinean spot adorned with Faena’s characteristic red, gold, and vibrant prints.

 Photo: Mark Lewis/Getty Images

Beaches to Visit

In a city like Miami, where there’s a new restaurant, bar, or shop to explore on every corner, luring anyone outside the city limits is a tall order. Luckily, Miami’s endless miles of sun-soaked, sandy Atlantic beaches are more than up to the task. Here are a few worth a visit:

Crandon Park Beach, on Key Biscayne, is a local favorite. Family-friendly and wheelchair-accessible, Crandon Park offers easy parking and space for beachfront picnics. The two-mile stretch of sand—just a 15-minute drive south of downtown Miami—is pristine, with calm waters perfect for SUP or kite boarding.

Haulover Beach Park, north of Miami Beach, is one of the most famous clothing-optional beaches in the U.S. It’s the perfect spot for a little sunbathing sans tan lines, and a staff of volunteers well-versed in beach etiquette keeps it family-friendly.

In a community of the same name just north of Miami Beach, Surfside Beach is a peaceful stretch of beach favored by locals. Its mile-long waterfront is undeveloped, focusing on natural scenery over commercialism and perfect for those who prefer the company of palm trees to that of high rises.

South Beach, Miami’s most famous stretch of sand, is surrounded by an eclectic neighborhood of colorful Art Deco buildings, beachfront dining, spectacular shopping, and flourishing nightlife. The beach itself is wide and sandy, with an almost constant crowd of locals and visitors alike.

 Photo: Credit: Neilson Barnard / Staff / Getty

Water Activities

Many visit Miami for its legendary deep-sea fishing. To make your own catch of blackfin tuna, grouper, or yellowtail snapper, join the crew of The Treasure Fleet at Sea Isle Marina for an afternoon on the water.

Charter a vessel with Kiskeedee Sailing Charters to spend a day cruising from Miami to Biscayne Bay, stopping for a swim and a homemade French lunch on a secluded island or sandbar along the way.

Rent a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) for a relaxing ride around Virginia Key and Key Biscayne with SoSUP. Yogis can even take a class on paddleboards.

Thrill-seekers will love kiteboarding, the ultimate combo of windsurfing, snowboarding, and waterskiing. Book a private lesson with TKS Miami in North Beach for an introduction to this exhilarating watersport, or join a kite safari if you’re ready for an hours-long journey.

For little ones (or big ones who aren’t so athletically inclined), water tubing is a great way to enjoy a thrill ride on the water—check out Florida Watersports’s hour-and-a-half trip.

 Photo: Credit: Neilson Barnard / Staff / Getty

Events + Festivals

Plan your visit around one of Miami’s many events and festivals to get a true taste of this world-renowned cultural center.

Each December, the VIPs of the art world—and their passionate fans and patrons—flock to South Florida for Art Basel Miami Beach, where more than 250 of the world’s leading galleries showcase works of Modern and contemporary art, from paintings and sculptures to films and large-scale outdoor installations.

Celebrate Latin culture with Carnaval Miami, a series of community events in February and March that include a Miss Carnaval pageant, a food and wine tasting, and a cooking competition. The month-long festivities end with the Calle Ocho Festival (pictured above), a block party in Little Havana that celebrates all Hispanic ethnicities with concerts, street performances, and international cuisines.

Filmmakers, other industry workers, and fans from around the world attend the annual Miami International Film Festival each March to screen new movies from emerging artists, bridge cultural understanding, and encourage artistic development.

There’s no shortage of sporting events in Miami. Depending on the season, the Dolphins, Heat, Panthers, Marlins, or Hurricanes might be playing in the area. College sports fans can see the University of Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, or FAU Owls in action.

 Photo: Rauluminate / Getty

Major Attractions

Jungle Island, on Watson Island, allows visitors to get close to—and even hold—a variety of exotic animals, including lemurs, two-toed sloths, and parrots. Bigger creatures like lions and orangutans also call this menagerie formerly known as Parrot Jungle home. (Stay tuned for this classic destination’s major facelift over the next two years.)

Also on Watson Island, Miami Children’s Museum helps its young visitors play, learn, and create. Interactive exhibits such as a giant piano that is played with the feet and a life-sized supermarket provide educational, play-filled experiences.

Stroll winding paths bordered by lush palm trees, colorful orchids, and pomegranate trees at the 2.6-acre Miami Beach Botanical Garden.

Wander the mile-long promenade of Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road Mall (pictured above) for some of the best people-watching in Miami. Grab an outdoor table at the many restaurants and bars to enjoy the Florida sunshine, or venture into one of the flagship retail stores (Gap or Zara, among others) for some retail therapy.

Miami Movie Tours will guide you past the filming sites of a remarkable variety of movies, including Scarface, There’s Something About Mary, The Birdcage, and 2 Fast 2 Furious. Movie trivia—with the chance to win prizes, not to mention bragging rights—will keep you on your toes throughout the trip.

 Photo: felixmizioznikov / Getty

Free Things To Do

A trip to Miami doesn’t have to cost a fortune—here are activities that won’t cost you a thing.

Browse Wynwood’s incomparable Wynwood Walls, where 80,000 square feet of warehouse walls have been covered with graffiti and street art by more than 50 artists from 16 different countries.

Take a self-guided walking tour of Miami Beach’s Art Deco District. Explore this recognized historical area of more than 800 structures, most built between 1923 and 1943, that stretches from 6th Street to 17th Street along storied Ocean Drive. Keep an eye out for the characteristic pastels, portholes, and neons.

Visit the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (ICA), where admission is always free. In 2017, the ICA moves to its new, permanent home: a 20,000-square-foot building in the Design District, which has more space for the Institute’s collection and a 15,000-square-foot sculpture garden.

Join a free yoga class at downtown Bayfront Park. The park holds several free classes a week, plus some that ask for donations. This waterfront green space also hosts festivals and concerts throughout the year.

Ride Metromover—absolutely free. This 4.4-mile electric train travels to some of Miami’s most popular attractions: AmericanAirlines Arena, the Brickell neighborhood, and Bayfront Park, to name a few.

Are you ready to plan your Miami getaway now? Of course you are.