Ultimate Miami Beach Planning Guide

Ultimate is a strong word. Many people throw this word around when writing blog posts but let me tell you, this is the last Miami Beach planning guide you will ever need. I lived in Miami for 14 years and now visit often. Miami will always be special to me. Never boring, Miami has exotic energy unique to most cities.  The cultural melting pot with South American, Caribbean and European influences makes for a crazy fun mix.  You feel alive in Miami. Maybe it’s the Cuban coffee, the hip shaking rhythms, or the beautiful people everywhere, but Miami will definitely get your pulse racing!

Miami Beach

South Point Pier in Miami Beach

I know you’ve all seen Scarface, Cocaine Cowboys, and Miami Vice, but Miami Beach is so much more than drugs, models and “say hello to my little friend”.  It is a beautiful tropical city with endless stretches of beach along the Atlantic. It is a foodie destination, a party destination, a relaxing in the sun destination and also just a hip happening place to be. Miami Beach can be whatever kind of vacation you want and I’m here to give you all the options whether you want to set the record for the most number of hours spent without sleep, try every Cuban coffee in town or have the sun in your face and sand in your toes as much as possible.

The most popular part of Miami Beach is the southernmost section called South Beach which stretches from 1st street to roughly 30th street. North of 30th is considered Mid-Beach and from about 60th to 85th is North Beach. This is a more local and residential area. My post will largely concentrate on South Beach.

This is a big monster guide where I’m going to give you so many options based on my extensive eating and drinking experience. Feel free to use the Table of Contents above to navigate to whatever you are looking for!

 

Miami Beach can be whatever kind of vacation you want, whether you want to set the record for the most number of hours spent without sleep, try every Cuban coffee in town or simply lounge in the sun. Click To Tweet

When to Go

Really anytime is a good time in Miami. The months of June through October are technically hurricane season but August and September are the most active months for hurricanes. May to October tends to be rainy and of course very hot, however, this is the least touristy time to visit and also the cheapest. Summer is actually nice because you don’t have to stress about getting reservations and they have great specials. July is Miami spa month with deals everywhere. August and September is Miami Spice Month where you have 3-course meals at many fancy restaurants for under $40.

November to April are the prime months as far as weather. January and February in Miami can actually be cool at times, cold enough that you wouldn’t want to go to the beach.  April and May are consistently warm and are a bit cheaper than the winter months as well asa less crowded.

Always look at the Miami Beach event calendar because there are many things going on here that could affect your vacation. Art Basel is in early December and the beach will be crowded with traffic. This also means higher prices and it’s tougher to get reservations. There’s a food and wine festival in February, winter music conference in March, pride festival in April, and Memorial weekend is urban beach weekend. Just to name a few!

How to Get There and Get Around

Unless you live in the state of Florida, driving isn’t the best option since Miami is about as far as you can get away from anywhere else in the United States.

View of Miami Beach from airplane

Flying to Miami

Miami International Airport

MIA is very conveniently located in the center of the city, 15 minutes from just about anywhere within Miami. This is an American Airlines hub with many direct flights from many places in the world.

Fort Lauderdale Airport

FLL is about 25 minutes north of Miami Beach and sometimes has cheaper flights since budget carriers like Spirit, Jet Blue and Southwest fly here.

Super Shuttle

A shared ride on the shuttle from Miami Airport to Miami Beach is $21. From Fort Lauderdale airport to Miami Beach is $42.

Train to Miami

Ok, so I lied. There is no train to Miami but for those who really don’t want to fly or want to have their own car, there is an auto train to Orlando from Washington DC with a few stops in major cities in between. Orlando is a 4-hour drive from Miami. Check Amtrak schedules here. It is a long ass train ride, FYI.

Getting Around in Miami Beach

Walking is the best way to get around the beach areas and a good way to walk off all the Cuban food and people watch! Having a car on the beach is a huge headache as parking for non-locals is minimal and expensive. However, walking thankfully isn’t the only option because let’s face it, sometimes it is WAY too hot to walk!

Public transport in Miami is not the greatest except for a small area of downtown. You can reach the downtown area from the airport via Metrorail.

Uber or Lyft

From the airport to Miami Beach is around $15-$20 and takes 15 to 30 minutes depending on traffic.

Once on Miami Beach, there is little need for a car. Parking and valet rates are astronomical. It’s better (and safer) to use rideshares.

South Beach Free Trolley  

This is an awesome service. A free local bus which runs several different loops around Miami Beach. It is free and has many stops.

Bike Rentals

 Deco Bikes are everywhere and the best way to get around. No traffic, no paying for parking.

Sunset over the water in Miami Beach

Things to Do

Eat and drink everything! There is SO much good food here and fun places to imbibe, but I have detailed those in other sections. So the rest of this section is “Non-eating and drinking” things to do.

Hit the Beach (duh…you came to Miami Beach for a reason, right?)

Crystal Blue Water on Miami Beach

OMG but there are so many beaches. How to choose? 

All Beaches along Collins Ave and Ocean Drive are PUBLIC! You can go anywhere you want and throw down a towel or a chair and claim your territory. However, for the sake of this post, I am splitting the beach descriptions into Hotel beaches and Public beaches.

Hotel Beaches

If you are staying at a beachfront hotel that’s a good first start. This is where you will get a cozy lounge with a towel and umbrella and other amenities. Some of them have drink service TO YOUR LOUNGE CHAIR. Is there anything better than that? Some pass out tequila soaked watermelon or mist you with cold spray. Some of these fancy hotels even let people who are not hotel guests rent a chair. It never hurts to ask right?

Private Beach at Miami Beach Hotel

Public Beaches

From around 14th street all the way down to 1st street is where you can find the public beaches. The most popular one is around 3rd street,  known as the “Brazilian Beach”. Not sure why it’s called this…maybe all the thongs and topless women?  In certain areas, you can rent a lounge chair and umbrella. You can also just go to the nearest Walgreens or CVS (which are on almost every block it seems) and get a cheap beach chair, beach towel and umbrella if you don’t have your own.

11th to 13th street areas are the unofficial “the gay beach”. Ladies, if you want to look at most in-shape and best looking men in Miami but not have to worry about anyone looking at you, this is where to go.

Looking for a quieter scene? Head northward to the beaches starting around 23rd street. Beware, this is where retirees from New York sunbathe nude.

I sometimes choose where I go to the beach based on where I found parking or where the place I want to get drinks is closest. Legit reasons.

View of Miami Beach from the dunes

Ocean Drive

As the name suggests, the street right next to the ocean is called…Ocean Drive. This is a strip of hotels and restaurants, much of it in the pastel art deco style. I can’t lie, most of these restaurants are not known for their cuisine, but they have happy hour specials starting around 11 am. And the people watching CANNOT be beaten. Warning…many tourists get ripped off with the drink specials so be very careful. If you are not paying attention, you may end up with a $55 dollar monstrosity of a margarita that probably drained a small country of its liquor supply.

Colorful art deco buildings on Ocean Drive South Beach

***Don’t miss seeing the Versace Mansion, Villa Casa Casaurina!

Art Deco Tour

You can do an official tour or do it on your own. The Miami Design Preservation league offers tours of the Art Deco Historic District as well as many other great tours that benefit their non-profit.

South Point Park and Pier

This is a local’s fave. Again, the name says it all. It is a park in the southernmost tip of South Beach. It has a scenic walkway that takes you from the west side (bayside) to the ocean side with government cut in between. This is where all the cruise ships depart Miami and on weekends around 4-5 pm, you can watch them depart, one by one and wave at all the excited passengers.

Palm trees along a path at South Point Park, Miami, Beach.

Cruise Ships at Port in Miami Beach

Lincoln Road

This is an outdoor pedestrian mall with shops, outdoor cafes, and restaurants galore.  It is approximately 1 mile long from east to west and is between 16th and 17th streets. It also happens to have good people watching! People in Miami dress like nowhere else in the world. I can honestly say that my Miami wardrobe doesn’t translate well to anywhere else.

Outdoor Pedestrian Mall Miami Beach

The New World Symphony

In the mood for something different, another thing isn’t a typical tourist activity? In the winter season you can go to the symphony hall and see a show FOR FREE!  Yes!  They have a state of the art sound system with outdoor speakers and a huge outdoor screen where you can watch the symphony going on inside, but you are outside sprawled on a blanket with a picnic and a bottle of wine. These wallcasts usually happen on Saturdays and on Wednesdays they show a movie. Get the Wallcast Schedule here.

Outdoor Symphony Wallcast at the New World Symphony Miami Beach

 

The Venetian Causeway

Take a stroll or a bike ride along the beautiful Venetian Causeway. It sort of a low bridge connecting South Beach with mainland Miami and has a neighborhood of its own.  17th street or Dade Blvd on South Beach both turn into Venetian way when headed west. Walk or rent a DecoBike and enjoy the beautiful scenery. You can even stop for bite to eat or a drink at the Standard Hotel after your work out.

View from Venetian Causeway Miami Beach

Walk on the Boardwalk

The Miami Beach boardwalk starts at 23rd Street and ends at 46th street.  No bikes or rollerblades allowed so it’s a nice peaceful place to walk or jog. You also get to see the “backyards” of many fancy hotels on one side and the beach on the other side.

Espanola Way

This adorable Spanish style street is easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. It is a hidden gem, flanked north and south by between 14th and 15th streets and Meridien and Washington streets east to west. It has a few little shops an lots of nice restaurants. One of my faves is the little French bistro, A La Folie. The kitschy Italian place with flirty waiters is always a good time too.

Spanish Style Street in MIami Beach

 

But How Do I Get on a Boat???

I get asked this frequently. Not gonna lie…having friends with boats is pretty sweet and I was lucky to have some. However, you don’t need to go on Tinder and meet people with boats before your trip. If there are enough of you, it can actually be affordable to charter a yacht or sailboat for the day. Whether you want to fish or just look cool on a boat and make your friends in cold climates jealous.  You could even jetski for a couple hours.

Just Go Rental

Miami Yachting Company

Miami Sailing

Watersports Miami

The least expensive yacht charter I’ve seen that includes a captain and fits 6 people is around $500. This isn’t that bad if you have a group. For smaller boats that fit up to 5 people, a 2-hour rental is under $200!

If you get really desperate you could always hang out at Monty’s South Beach where there is a boat dock and hope to meet some lonely captain looking for passengers!

yacht in beautiful water off coast of miami beach

***Check Groupon for Jetski, Boat charter and Paddleboarding deals for Miami!

Paddleboarding or Kayaking

You can do this in the calm waters of Biscayne Bay, which is ideal for a beginner. If you want more of a challenge you can do it in the ocean. Paddleboarding usually costs around $30 for one hour and $50 for two hours.

Here are a few companies I know of.

South Beach Kayak

Miami Beach Paddleboard

Hirooka Surf and Sport

Sobe Surf

I typically do it in the bay and I like this because you can paddle or kayak to the little islands, take yourself on a celebrity home tour of Star Island or stop at the Standard Hotel for refreshments.

Woman with two small dogs on a stand up paddleboard at sunset in Miami Beach

Scuba Dive or Snorkel?

Want to Work Out?

Ok, are you one of THOSE people who insist on exercising on vacation? Wasn’t the bike ride on the Venetian Causeway enough. I get it, you may eat too much Cuban food and it’s totally understandable. If you must know, here are a few things you do. Other than running on the beach, which is free!

Lummus Park Muscle Beach

On 9th street and Ocean you will find a free outdoor workout area that recently got a much-needed facelift. Try not to be distracted by the orange men with massive arms or yellow rented Lamborghinis rolling by.

Yoga

There are tons of places to get your Namaste on and you definitely will need to detox your mind and body at some point!

  • Green Monkey
  • Synergy
  • Third Street Beach Yoga
  • Exhale South Beach

Boxing and Kick Boxing

  • South Beach Boxing
  • SoBe Kick

Cycling

  • Flywheel Sports
  • Soul Cycle

Tennis

Flamingo Park (Need to reserve a court ahead of time)

What to Eat and Drink in Miami Beach

Compared to some other cities in the United States, Miami is not famous as a foodie destination, but I’m here to tell you that it IS! It’s hard to believe all the amazing food available considering most locals look like they live on a diet of air and raw fish. Not to mention that drinking in Miami Beach is an activity all its own.

Read More:  How to Eat and Drink Your Way Around Miami Beach

 

Where to Stay

Miami Beach in the high season (winter) is NOT CHEAP!  The new trendy hotels are typically expensive. The old charming art deco buildings are really old and not all of them are renovated but these are the more affordable places. Just know that you will barely be in your room except to sleep!

Keep in mind that the prices change depending on when you book, where you book and the time of year in Miami. I tried to use high season prices here to show you the “worst”.  Miami Beach always has events.

***Airbnb is technically illegal in South Beach so you won’t have much luck there.

Gorgeous hotel buildings in miami beach
Loews Miami

The * indicates my favorites.

$$$$$ (over $400 per night) 

These are all iconic, fabulous and ready to demolish the wallet for your massive special occasion splurge.

  • The Delano     A Miami Beach classic. White wispy curtains, Philippe Starck design, fabulous pool and restaurants, but really small rooms.
  • 1 Hotel South Beach     One of the shiniest newest hotels in the hood. Super fancy rooftop pool with ocean views.
  • W South Beach     I love the beautiful pool area, plus there’s a hot night club and Bliss spa
  • The Edition   Famous for its ice skating rink and bowling alley, the night club and restaurant here are go-to spots in South Beach.
  • SLS  This hotel has 2 fab restaurants, Katsuya and Bazaar as well as Bar Centrol and Hyde Beach, all full of Miami glitterati

$$$$ ($300 to 400 per night)

  • Fontainebleau Hotel    This huge beast of a hotel boasts a cool lobby bar as well as one of the best clubs in the country, LIV.  Also houses several super good restaurants. The only downside is its slightly too far north location.
  • * Loews Miami Beach Hotel     This has been around a long time and is still fabulous with one of the best pool areas. Also right on the beach with a prime location in South Beach.
  • * The Palms    This place oozes old Florida charm, One of the more unique hotels on the beach.
  • Pelican Hotel
  • Kimpton’s Angler Hotel
  • Blue Moon Hotel Autograph Collection

$$$  ($200 to 300 per night)

  • * The Standard Hotel     My absolute favorite hotel for so many reasons. The vibe here is relaxed and feels like a getaway from some of the South Beach mayhem. Also famously dog-friendly. It’s just off of south beach on the Venetian Causeway and still close to everything.
  • Dream South Beach  This has a great location, just steps from the beach with great ocean views from its rooftop pool
  • Holiday Inn Miami Beach
  • The Hotel of South Beach
Pool looking out onto Biscayne Bay at the Standard Hotel, Miami Beach
The Standard Hotel

$$    ($100 to 200)

  • Red South Beach Hotel
  • Riviera Hotel and Suites
  • L Hotel
  • Chesterfield
  • Urbanica the Meridian

$      (under $100)

  • Freehand  This place, which is both a hostel and hotel has made it onto my where to say, where to eat AND where to drink lists. Triple threat!
  • Bikini Hostel  This place is in a central location near Flamingo Park, just a few blocks from the beach and from Lincoln Road. It also has a cafe and a beer garden.
  • Rock Hostel  Also well located just blocks from the beach on 13th street, this place has larger than usual rooms and free breakfast.

As always book your perfect Miami Hotel or hostel here:


Booking.com

Want to head across the causeway and see more of Miami?

Read More:  Local’s Guide to Miami

I hope you found all you need in this Miami Beach planning guide but if you didn’t don’t hesitate to contact me!

Save this for when you need it by Pinning!

 

About The Author

Cherene Saradar

Cherene is a travel expert with 30 years of experience in over 100 countries and 7 continents. She has traveled solo to over 50 countries. She is also a nurse anesthesiologist with over 20 years of healthcare experience. Her passions include wildlife travel and visiting wine regions of the world.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Seano Ben | 31st Aug 22

    Really a helpful guide which I will surely consider when I have trip to Miami.

    • csaradar | 3rd Sep 22

      I’m so glad to hear it! Hope you have a great time.

  2. Local's Guide to Miami - Wandering Redhead | 12th Nov 19

    […] you want some South Beach tips I’ve got ’em. Also if you’re looking specifically for places to eat and drink in […]

  3. Linnea | 19th Jan 19

    This is a great guide!! I love Miami in the winter months! You’re hotel Recs are spot on, and I’ll need to checkout your food guide! It’s on my list to do an Art Deco tour on my next trip.

    • csaradar | 22nd Jan 19

      Glad you liked it! I definitely have all the good food places you could want. It’s an extensive guide (because I ate a lot!!! LOL)

  4. How to Eat and Drink Your Way Around Miami Beach - WanderingRedHead | 18th Jan 19

    […] Read More: Ultimate Miami Beach Planning Guide […]

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.