South Florida is, for many, a dream. It makes complete sense that snowbirds would want to flap their proverbial wings and settle in Miami-Dade County for sizable chunks of the year—the region is hot in every sense of the word (just ask Paris Hilton), and art and culture jostle with nature for attention. The fiery spirit of Latin America is everywhere in Greater Miami, so your rusty Spanish will get a polish too. Vamos, amigos!
South Beach is what Tom, Dick, and Sabina picture when they think of Miami. We assure you that high-rise buildings, long stretches of water the color of Jared Leto's eyes, even longer nights, Art Deco architecture, banging beats, and gym-honed bodies are, in fact, the SoBe starter pack. It's a sensual overload with party people and wallflowers alike, so however you choose to party, you won't be alone.
HistoryMiami in the Miami-Dade Cultural Center tells the story of South Florida. Native Americans, pirates, smugglers, treasure seekers, land grabbers, and drug peddlers all make an appearance. There are activities for kids, so if you've got young ones with you, they shouldn't get bored while you peruse the info. Downtown Miami has a plethora of edifying museums and galleries, but this one is a collage of the region and a fascinating step back in time.
Cuban Americans account for more than half of Miami's population, so if you want to understand what makes this great city unique, Little Havana is a must on your itinerary. Pick your poison—café Cubano, a cigar, or a mojito, and buzz your way from the Calle Ocho walk of fame to El Palacio de los Jugos, where celebs get their juices. Eat a guava pastelito en route to playing dominoes and chess at Maximo Gómez Park or dancing the salsa.
Miami is known for Art Basel, and boy, is that a high-brow event. But throughout the year, vibrant, unpretentious creativity comes to the fore here in Wynwood, where the walls are painted with intricate graffiti. This is the layman's section of the Design District, and it's all the more powerful for it. Expect the rainbow, a profusion of fresh ideas, and other folks who think this place makes the perfect background for an Instagram photo.
Need a break from Miami's frenetic energy? Switch up the scenery from neon cityscape to colorful floral paradise with a visit to this botanical garden near Coral Gables. Art installations ensure you get a dose of arts and culture mixed in with beautiful nature. The Rare Plant House will offer you a glimpse of, for example, thin-on-the-ground philodendrons, orchids, and begonias. There's a rainforest section, a butterfly exhibition, the Sibley Victoria Pool with colossal water lilies, and the Palm Glade Pool with sacred lotuses.
This hotel is a National Historic Landmark that epitomizes luxury. The likes of Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor have laid their famous heads on the pillows here. With grand architecture inspired by the cathedral of Seville, the Biltmore was once the tallest building in the state and still has the biggest hotel swimming pool in the country. Many movies and TV shows have shot scenes here, including Bad Boys and CSI: Miami.
Don't have the time to go to the Florida Keys? No worries. Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne will give you a feel for its sights and sounds. The mangrove trees are a notable feature, and you can climb the 19th-century Cape Florida Lighthouse. See if you can spot Stiltsville, an assortment of "houses" that are close to a century old and have many tales of debauchery to tell. Cycling in Bill Baggs is lovely, and you can boat in for the night and park at No Name Harbor.
What do wealthy men do when they hit the big time? They buy real estate. And when their fortunes rival Smaug's, they build the property not just of their own dreams but of everyone's wildest fantasies. This is what Vizcaya, built in 1916, is—industrialist James Deering's passion project and where he breathed his last breath. You can appreciate the finer details on a tour of the opulent interiors, complete with high-value Renaissance art and equally palatial gardens.
For those who have some money to blast, the Hialeah Park Casino is a great place to try your luck. Or, you know, you could pay off your debts, invest in your retirement, and stick to secondhand excitement when someone hits a purple patch. This casino resides in a gorgeous former horse race course and is an Audubon Bird Sanctuary to boot.
Gambling may not be your cup of tea, but Aventura Mall has so many stores (over 300, to be precise) you're pretty much guaranteed to find something you'll like. Florida's biggest mall also happens to be the third largest mall in the United States, so stretch out those fingers, loosen up those lower limbs, and get ready to go on a retail adventure. After shopping, drop into a chair at one of the 50 eateries serving up nosh.
The Tequesta tribe was navigating the Oleta River back in 500 BCE, so you can form another link between the past and present by paddling a boat in this park in Sunny Isles. Eagles soar above as mountain bikers tackle the terrain and anglers tether fish. Here, the beaches welcome all, and you don't have to be overly concerned about how ripped you look. If you're keen on going truly au naturel, a nude beach in nearby Haulover Park attracts an eye-boggling 1.3 million visitors annually. You can stay at the 5-star Ritz Carlton Bal Harbor if you want to feel classy.
Do you know what a condor looks like? How about a Komodo dragon? The Miami-Dade Zoological Park and Gardens is the only tropical zoo in the continental U.S., which is why it bags a spot on this list. The park is huge, with dozens of themed exhibits and thousands of animals, so avail yourself of the monorail or splash out on a golf cart. There's a water park too—don't forget bathing suits, or there might be a tantrum in the near future.
Take it from The Little Mermaid's Sebastian—under the sea, you'll have no troubles, and life is the bubbles. Biscayne National Park is a sure bet for a satisfying snorkeling sesh. Hang out with dolphins, float with sea turtles, and let the ocean fill your cup. Book a boat tour of the marine sanctuary and do some of the short hikes here, like the Elliott Key trail.
Folks around the globe who know nothing about the NBA know that LeBron James moved to Miami Heat once upon a time; hence, it must be an epic team. The Heat have enjoyed significant success over the years, particularly during the reign of the Big Three—James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosch. You can catch the current team in action as they aim to further the team's legacy.
Remember John Deering? Well, this man of moola had a brother Charles who built the diet version of Vizcaya in Cutler. You can spot manatees by the water, watch incredible sunsets, and tour the house right down to the ginormous safe. Fans of fossils and ghost stories have much to be intrigued by too, but you'll have to visit to confirm the supernatural speculation around the Burial Mound.
It's time to head back south in Miami-Dade County, and where better to go than the Everglades National Park, where the horizon comprises sawgrass marshes and cypress domes. Panthers still roam here, and Florida's mascot, the alligator, is a common sight. You can go backcountry camping and birdwatching, or if you're not afraid to get dirty, slough slogging in the mud.
You'll find fresh and unusual exotic fruits at Robert is Here Fruit Stand in Homestead. There are animals to pet and a splash park to cool off in between mouthfuls of guanabana and jackfruit and cups of fresh smoothies. Try the key lime passionfruit milkshake—it's as yummy as it sounds.
Check out these two pick-your-own spots in Redland and Homestead: The Berry Farm and Knaus Berry Farm. They'll make you want to sing Strawberry Fields Forever. The Berry Farm is awash with sunflowers and can fix you a bbq or take the fam for a hayride. Knaus Berry Farm makes cinnamon rolls that are the stuff of legend, as well as a variety of strawberry-adjacent treats. The South Florida countryside awaits.
NASCAR drivers take over every November, but when the dust settles on the formal races, this track comes alive with amateurs. Homestead Miami Speedway is no stranger to legal drag races, and anyone of age with a license and insurance can participate. If you think you've got what it takes, sign up for Fast Lane Fridays.
This is a winery with a difference. The wines aren't derived from grapes but from tropical fruits like coconuts, mangos, and lychees. There's live music on the weekends, and the waterfall and koi pond add to the sense that you're in Hawaii or somewhere far-flung.