Miami, gateway to the Americas, is known for it’s sunny skies, beautiful beaches, posh museums, rowdy nightlife and an emphasis on Cuban culture. Embrace your wilder side and take a visit to see the dolphins splash at the Miami Seaquarium, raging tigers at the Miami MetroZoo, or fluttering tropical birds at Parrot Jungle Island. Scuba dive off Jupiter Beach or watch manatees on Coconut Grove. Save by getting an all-inclusive attraction pass from Smart Destinations that gives you free admission to 35 Miami attractions for a reasonable price. Miami is about a 50 minute drive from the Everglades (30 miles), 40 minutes outside of Fort Lauderdale (30 miles), 3½ hours from Key West (150 miles), 1½ hours from West Palm Beach (75 miles) and a 4 hour drive from Orlando (240 miles).
Top 10 Attractions
1. South Beach – Whether you’re coming to people-watch, enjoy the beautiful weather, shop till you drop, take in the water sports, or let the kiddos build sandcastles while you get your glow on, South Beach truly does have something for everyone. That’s why so many celebrities frequent these scenic shores. Come year round to get it on the fun, but it is especially charming to visit one of their countless annual festivals. The Art Deco District, featuring Tropical Deco, consists of some 800 beautifully preserved buildings, which embody classic Miami architecture. The beach comes alive at nighttime, as the city lights up as the areas go-to entertainment destination. Also known as SoBe, as it modeled after Manhattan’s SoHo and remains every bit as fashionable and hip as its NYC counterpart.
Take a ride on the carousel or even a camel! Slide down the huge inflatable slide. Their newest exhibit is Florida: Mission Everglades (2014), features the Florida panther, the bald eagle, black bear, alligators, and all five of Florida’s native venomous snakes. Admission rates are $15.95 for adults and $11.95 for children.
2. Miami Seaquarium – is a 38 acre aquarium located near downtown Miami. Get in for less than half the price of SeaWorld in nearby Orlando and get the same quality attractions (without rides). View all of your favorite species including sharks, manatees, dolphins and Lolita the killer whale (orca). Don’t miss the 8 different marine animal shows and presentations as well as top notch exhibits including: Top Deck Dolphin Show, Golden Dome Sea Lion Show, Flipper Dolphin Show, Killer Whale and Dolphin Show, Shark Channel Presentation, Tropical Reef Presentation, Manatee Presentation, Seal and Sea Lion Feeder Pool, Topical Wings, Stingray Exhibit, Caribbean Fish Aquariums, and Crocodile Flats. Prices are a little high, but look at what all you can see and do. Be sure to buy your tickets online to save to save $2! General admission is $38.95 and $28.95 for children (plus $8 for parking).
3. The Everglades – Come face to face with a gator and explore 1.5 million acres of swamps at this one of a kind attraction. Go on a airboat tour, stop by the Everglades Alligator Farm and Everglades Safari Park. The Shark Valley Tram Tours takes you on a 15 mile loop in an extended go-cart. The Everglades are made up of 10,000 different islands. Most of the marsh in the everglades is covered with saw grass. The everglades lay about six inches under sea level. Learn about hammocks, island like masses of vegetation, view palms, pine and mangrove forests, and black muck. The Everglades receives an annual average rainfall of more than 60 in. If you’re really lucky you might even see the Florida panther or a manatee.
4. Vizcaya Museum & Gardens – is the picture perfect, former winter estate of agricultural industrialist James Deering (1859-1925). With lush and meticulously maintained grounds, be sure to put this 80 acre, North Italian sixteenth-century style mansion on the top of your must-see list. It’s located near downtown Miami in Biscayne Bay. It was actually intended to look centuries-old at the time of its completion in 1916, taking over a thousand artisans over five years to complete its ornate designs. In 1994 it was designated a National Historic Landmark. It features a main house, ten acres of formal gardens, a rockland hammock (native forest), and a restored historic village is coming soon. On the eve of the full moon each month, they have moonlight garden tours with live music and refreshments. Adult admission is $15, child admission is $6 and senior admission (62+) is $10.
5. Venetian Pool – (1924) is an 820,000 gallon pool that is located on 4 acres in Coral Gables, a city near Miami. This beautiful, historic pool is themed to a Venetian lagoon. It’s the largest freshwater pool in the United States and it’s even listed in the National Register of Historic Places! It is open year-round and it contains spring water from an underground aquifer. But there’s no need to worry about cleanliness because the pool is actually filled and drained daily. Depths range from four feet to over eight feet near the grand waterfall, yet also includes a two foot kiddy pool. But please be aware that children under the age of three are not permitted in this facility (you must provide proof that your child is older than age three). Visit the island in the center of the pool, the grotto, the sandy sunning area and the café area. The most recent major renovation took eight months to complete, from September 8, 2008 to April 30, 2009. Admission rates vary based on the time of year but range from $4.15 for children to $11.50 for adults.
6. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden – This 83 acre escape from the hustle and bustle of Miami features a wide range of tropical plants and a 16,000-squre-foot conservatory with the rarest of specimens. Also enjoy their arboretum, rainforest and small museum, as well as a a free tram tour that runs on the hour. With changing exhibits from big name artists like Dale Chihuly to special events including moonlight tours and movie nights, there’s never a dull moment at this tropical paradise. We consider it to be one of the 12 Best Botanical Gardens In The USA. Admission is $12 for children and $25 for adults.
7. Holocaust Memorial – Get a chilling yet uplifting experience from this intensely moving museum, which often hosts speeches from Holocaust survivors. Learn all about what really happened and relive this dark time in American history. Pay your respects at a memorial with a black granite arbor that opens up to “The Sculpture of Love and Anguish.” It also encompasses a reflecting pool and walls inscribed with the names of thousands of victims. Admission is free.
8. Bass Museum of Art – Spend the rainy days indoors at this incredible museum, housing European paintings from the 15th century through the early 20th centuries, with special emphasis on northern European art of the Renaissance and baroque periods, including Dutch and Flemish masters. Artists include: Jacob Jordaens, Peter Paul Rubens, Gerard Seghers, Ferdinand Bol, and Giovanni Barbagelata. Past exhibitions have included the works of Picasso, Frida Kahlo, and Francois-Marie Banier. Admission is $8 for adults and $6 seniors and students with I.D.
9. Jungle Island – See 18 acres of over 1,000 macaws, parrots and other winged residents, along with big cats including the liger (watch out it’s the largest cat in the world!), and a variety of other giant reptiles and exotic primates. Also admire over 500 species of plants and flowers and see a parrot show, along with Winged Wondors, Reptile Giants and Wild Encounters (with apes, tiger & a liger). The folks at Jungle Island sure do know how to put on a show. Just don’t get this place confused with the former Parrot Jungle Island, which is now known as Pinecrest Gardens (it is also a lot of fun, they have a mini water park, petting zoo and banyan caves). Admission is $30 for adults, $28 for seniors and $24 for children.
10. Coral Castle is likely to be unlike anywhere you’ve ever visited before. In 1923 a 26-year-old Latvian was left behind at the alter, thanks to his 16-year-old-lover. He spent the next 25 years constructing this place, carving huge boulders into this roofless castle. It is located about 35 miles from Miami but worth the trip if you’re looking for something strange. Adult admission is $15 , $12 for senior, and $7 for children (7 and under are free).
Tropical Chinese – We recently reached out to Raul de Molina from The Food network’s ‘Iron Chef America’ to find out which restaurant was his favorite restaurant in America. He said Tropical Chinese, stating “I just celebrated the Chinese New Year there, and have been doing so for over 20 years. Located in a strip mall in South West Miami, it has a beautiful open kitchen and a great wine and beer menu. The daily dim sum for lunch is excellent and the lobster lettuce wrap with pine nuts are my favorite…you can even find Penfolds Grange on the menu.”
Hard Rock Cafe – Located in Biscayne Bay in the bustling Bayside Marketplace – in the southern most part of Bayside Mall by the Marina. Come inside, sit back, relax and enjoy their excellent food and Miami-Heat-quenching drinks! Or maybe drinking in the views of massive rock memorabilia displays is more your cup of tea. This is definitely your kind of place, too. Whoever, whatever. Whether Madonna or Ricky Martin-spotting, they’re one of the hottest places around.
B.E.D. (which stands for Beverage, Entertainment, Dining) – I one of those hip places that I haven’t quite found anything else remotely like! The reason it is called BED is because you actually get to eat in a bed. This is one of the wildest nightclubs in all of Miami – or a least it was. According to their website they plan on reopening on South Beach but don’t state when.
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. – Owned by the people who own Rainforest Cafe. Since 1996, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. has been entertaining guests with a charming down-home style that’s a hit with eaters around the globe. Their menu offers a number of items for the shrimp lover in all of us. Boasting creative seafood dishes inspired straight from the movie Forrest Gump and a fun family atmosphere, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. will have you running to the nearest location you can find! Although that movie came out around 20 years ago, this popular restaurant never fails to delight.
Among the areas finest shopping destinations includes Aventura Mall, the third largest shopping center in the USA (as featured on our list of America’s Largest Malls), which is home to over 300 retailers including Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, J.C. Penney’s and Macy’s, as well as 18 fast food joints and a variety of restaurants. Another area favorite is Sawgrass Mills, which is the seventh largest mall in the country and the largest single story mall in the USA, featuring more discount oriented stores, including Neiman Marcus Last Call, Bloomingdale’s Outlet Store, Off 5th Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom Rack, Ron Jon Surf Shop, JCPenney Outlet, Burlington Coat Factory, Regal Cinemas, and Marshall’s.
Also enjoy designer boutiques at Bal Harbour or find more mainstream chains at Bayside marketplace. Those looking for a Cuban souvenir will want to pick up a hand-stitched guayabera shirt from Little Havana.
3 Star- Fortune House Hotel (Avg. price $93-$204) A 15-minute drive from Miami International Airport brings you to this apartment-style hotel, where full kitchens come with every suite. You will find 80-rooms in this affordable high rise that won’t break the budget.
3 Star- The Penguin Hotel – You may have seen it on my favorite Travel Channel show, Hotel Impossible. This place has made an amazing turn around and it is quickly becoming one of the hottest hotels around.
3.5 Star- Hotel Urbano (Avg. price $119-$229) Scoring excellent reviews on TripAdvisor, you can’t go wrong with a stay at this hip, yet comfy retreat. Conveniently located near Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, classy, contemporary rooms make this place even more inviting. Take advantage of amenities including a fitness center, outdoor pool, and a fitness facility. A hip, new renovation was completed in early 2010, making these 65 guest rooms a home run for all!
4 Star- Delano South Beach Hotel – Described by Vogue as “America’s coolest hotel” and known as one of the trendiest hotels in the U.S., this is more of a giant party house than a hotel. It is famous for its scenic outdoor pool, which is lined by meticulously manicured palm trees and beautiful people nibbling on the finest of foods. At night, it becomes the craziest nightspot in Miami, as the hotel bar and cocktail lounge turn up the fun! Celebrity spottings include Will Smith, Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, P. Diddy, and Chris Rock.
4 Star- The Shore Club (Avg. price $245-$650) is home to Miami’s Skybar, which is replete with all of the hottest women in Miami. This hotel also houses Nobu, a sushi joint co-owned by Robert De Niro. If you don’t spot a celebrity dining or lounging by the pool, then you’re sure to spot one in the art deco lobby. Just to name a few, here are some of the celebrities who frequent this urban oasis: Jennifer Lopez, Tara Reid, and Naomi Campbell. Actually, it wouldn’t surprise me if you happened to run into one of The Real Housewives of Miami!
4 Star- Biltmore (From $209 a night) Not to be confused with America’s largest home, which is located in Asheville, NC. But who says that this Biltmore doesn’t hold an American record of it’s own? This Miami hotel actually has the largest pool in America (see this video that the Travel channel took there). It was featured on US City Traveler’s list of America’s Ten Best Hotel Pools. The TripAdvisor community actually ranks it at 4.5 stars (despite an official 4 star ranking), making it the number one hotel in the Miami suburb of Coral Gables (it is a 23 minute drive from South Beach). One of its best features is how they have retained much of their pre-Depression glamor; the Roosevelts, Judy Garland, Al Capone and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor have all swam in these waters. This luxurious escape was recently featured on the Bravo network’s Real Housewives of Miami in celebration of Adriana De Moura’s wedding here. This hotel has its very own culinary school, three outstanding restaurants, a full-service spa and a world renowned 18-hole championship golf course. It is also rumored to be haunted from it’s days as a WWII hospital, so you may just happen to run into a few ghouls roaming the hallways. Even if you don’t care to stay here, come to get a bite to eat and take advantage of a free 55-minute Sunday walking tour.
4.5 Star- EPIC Hotel (Prices starting around $349) – This 52-story resort offers prime waterfront views and truly lives up to it’s name. If this place isn’t epic, then I don’t know what is. And if you don’t trust me, just see the how the TripAdvisor community ranks it as the 3rd best hotel in all of Miami! CNN calls it one of the 10 highest tech hotels in all of America. Outside each guestroom door is an illuminated LED do-not-disturb indicator for those who need some privacy. All 411 rooms have desktop PCs with high-speed Internet, Microsoft Office and a connection to the printer in the lobby. There’s also an Apple gadget docking station to charge your iDevice. In the 29th-floor Club Lounge, a touch-screen Surface Station map (similar to a huge smartphone) lets you surf the ‘Net, listen to music, watch videos and scout local hotspots.
5 Star- Four Seasons Hotel Miami (Avg. price $212-$481) This 70-story skyscraper displays opulence in the finest of ways. Since its opening in 2003, it has been the tallest building in not only Miami, but the entire state of Florida. Office space and a few residential condominiums are also in this building. Large rooms, a fantastic gym, a pretty pool and superior service make this hotel to die for. Splurge to stay at the Four Seasons – the best hotel in Miami!