Miami, Florida—rightfully so—has the notoriety of being a party town. It doesn’t take too many replays of Will Smith’s song “Miami” to get the taste for what Miami is traditionally thought of as: sun, sand, and the nightlife. With a Cuban-influenced flavor, Miami—and especially South Beach—definitely delivers on this promise. However, if your cup of tea isn’t late nights, or tropical drinks, fear not; Miami is still a world-class city to consider visiting. Here are highlights for those seeking a slower-paced visit to The Magic City.
Little Havana: Calle Ocho
Calle Ocho is known world-wide for good reason. Here is the closest thing Americans could get, until recently, to a visit to Cuba. The taste of Calle Ocho includes these things: the best flan in the 50 states, excellent coffee at a reasonable price, hand-rolled cigars, and a neighborhood that truly represents the spirit of Cuban American people. Calle Ocho is not a long street, but one can easily spend anywhere from half-day to an entire day meandering through the shops, eating in restaurants like El Exquisito Restaurant (try the pulled pork sandwich with yucca or plantain!), and taking a stroll through the famous Maximo Gomez Park, or Domino Park, where you can see old men playing dominos and cards all day, every day. Murals paint the walls in vibrant colors that offers a perfect opportunity to snap pictures. You may find yourself wanting to return multiple times in a visit, especially for the café con leche.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
In the North Coconut Grove neighborhood, you’ll find Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, a splendor of a mansion built in the early 1900s. Chicago snowbird, James Deering, built his estate on Biscayne Bay in the style of a Northern Italian villa, complete with 50 acres of European-influenced gardens. Deering spared no expense, and taking a walk through the home and gardens is inspiring and transportative, to say the least. It’s hard not to indulge in a little make-believe while under Vizcaya’s elegant spell. Vizcaya is open daily (apart from Thanksgiving and Christmas) and is 18 USD for an adult ticket. Tickets for children 6-12 years old are 6 USD and admission is free for childen under 6 years of age.
If you are able to make the time for a day trip, Coral Castle in Homestead, Florida, about thirty minutes from Miami, is worth it. An on-going mystery even featured on History Channel’s Ancient Aliens, Coral Castle touts an unusual accomplishment by 45 kilogram (99 lbs)-Latvian, Edward Leedskalnin. Under the cool of the Florida night, he single-handedly built this limestone creation in tribute to a lost love. But did he really do it all alone or with some celestial help? That’s the question that lingers at the quirky and fascinating Coral Castle. Be advised that the castle is without much shade, and is best visited in the morning or late day, always with a sun umbrella in hand!
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and lunch in Key Largo
Continuing on a day away from Miami is one of the Florida Key’s gems; John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, a natural wonder for exploring the coral reef. About an hour south from Miami, John Pennekamp will make you forget all about the glitz and glamor of the city. Here you can go for a swim, or even better, sign up for park-led snorkeling off the coral reef. With various seagrasses, aquatic life, as well as Spanish ruins, the snorkeling tour is worth every cent of the 29.95 USD you’ll pay. In addition, masks and fins can be rented at a mere 2 USD per item, to make the trip a thrifty success. Snorkeling tours last about 2 ½ hours, and there are multiple departure times throughout the day. When you return, don’t forget to load up on local seafood from one of the many fresh seafood restaurants in Key Largo, such as Key Largo Conch House or Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen. And save room for a slice of Key lime pie!
Millionaire’s Row by boat
Last but not least, turn your toes back towards the city skyline to see Millionaire’s Row, the homes of the rich and famous including past and present: Gloria and Emilio Estefan, David Beckham, Julio Iglesias, Celia Cruz, Shakira, Shaquille O’Neal, and Liz Taylor. The list goes on. Seeing Miami by way of water is a must while visiting, and this 90-minute tour offered by Island Queen Cruises, is a leisurely way to take it all in. Snacks and drinks can be purchased on the boat to add to enjoyment, and highlights such as Fisher’s Island (where Oprah has one of her many homes), Miami Beach, and the Port of Miami can all be seen.
Finding time for it all
These five suggestions are at the top of the list for a mellower visit to Miami. However, many additional activities such as a visit to the Wynwood Arts District, a trip to one of many local farmers’ markets, or a drive to the Venetian Pool just outside Miami in Coral Gables, are all reasons to return to Miami. Miami truly is one-of-a-kind in the United States, and should not be missed.
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