The hippest part of Miami is South Beach, an area built on reclaimed land and islands sandwiched between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. From the well-preserved Art Deco architecture to the clubs, restaurants, and boutiques, South Beach is the go-to destination for culture-savvy sun-seekers. Surrounded by natural beauty, it's a fun and inspiring place to visit, day or night, any time of the year.
A touristy strip that is popular for good reason, Ocean Drive makes for a fun night of bar-hopping and people-watching. Check out the notorious Versace Mansion (now a 5-star hotel) or stake out space at one of the numerous sidewalk cafés and watch the world go by. If you're into clubbing, some of South Beach's most legendary bars and clubs are nearby, including LIV, Story, Nikki Beach, and Palace.
Named after the capital city of Cuba, Little Havana is the most vibrant part of Miami for Latin food, music, and street life. Calle Ocho hosts an annual street festival each March that's said to be the largest in the world. Domino Park is a leafy oasis filled with older Cubans playing dominoes, and the Tower Theater is a lovingly restored art deco cinema that plays Spanish language films. Little Havana is filled with many things to do and see that have nothing to do with a beach.
In recent years, Miami and South Beach have become synonymous with contemporary art. To coincide with the international trade show Art Basel Miami in 2009, local developer Tony Goldman decided to open an open-air art gallery dedicated to street art, murals, and installations. Since then, the permanent but ever-changing Wynwood Walls has attracted thousands for monthly art walks and photo opportunities against brightly painted and graffiti backdrops.
It may not be the most sporty of beaches, but South Beach's iconic white sandy shores and art deco lifeguard stations are worth a visit. If you're not at a hotel with beach service, there are still plenty of independent vendors with lounge chairs and umbrellas to rent. At the southern tip of the beach, check out South Pointe Park for groomed green space and more of a family vibe.
Thursday nights in South Beach aren't complete without a trip to the best karaoke bar in town for the regular Kill Your Idol event. Hosted by legendary drag queen Shelly Novack, this long-running dive bar is also noted for its discount drink specials. It's all a nice antidote to the pretension and social media madness of the blingier parts of South Beach.
Housed in a restored art deco former synagogue, this museum charts the history of the close Jewish connections to Miami—South Beach in particular—since the 1700s. Especially moving are the many images and artifacts from Miami's heyday as a popular winter vacation spot for New York's Jewish population. Also located in South Beach, the stirring Holocaust Memorial is worth a trip for its poignant sculptures and serene meditation garden.
Geek out with the family over interactive exhibits about almost every aspect of science, including astronomy, technology, and physics. Named after its principal benefactors, the Phillip and Patricia also features a massive aquarium with thousands of sea life specimens. Programming is extensive, so watch for special events such as eclipse viewings and educational activities and workshops.
For an adults-only experience, WEAM includes viewing thousands of years of art depicting the body and erotic encounters. This popular South Beach museum is built around the private collection of the late art patron Naomi Wilzig. It includes folk art, classical sculpture, paintings by masters like Picasso and Klimt, as well as illustrations from the Kinsey Institute.
The restored facades of dozens of Art Deco-era buildings make South Beach an international draw for design and architecture buffs. Start at the Welcome Center run by the Miami Design Preservation League on Ocean Drive for orientation, walking tour maps and guided walks morning and evening. Then drink in the pristine pastel-colored hotels and private homes that make up this unique stretch of Florida history.
Palm trees and Spanish colonial architecture dating from the twenties make this tiny car-free neighborhood in South Beach a great place for relaxed hanging out, or casual strolling day or night. Filled with coffee shops and patios, it's a quieter area for enjoying the balmy air and Mediterranean vibe under the gentle morning sun or after dark twinkling fairy lights.