A host of thoughts used to flood into my head every time someone mentioned Miami.
Playground of the rich and famous for sure, Will Smith (don’t judge me!), and South Beach to name just a few.
Admittedly, Miami is a good fit for me and my vacation preferences – a beach, sunshine, shops, city life. So it’s quite surprising that it wasn’t until last year that I made my first trip there.
It seems I took Will Smith a little too literally on that debut occasion and there was a little too much partying all night ’til the break of dawn.
Don’t get me wrong, it was great fun at the time but I did myself a huge disservice because I failed to see that Miami is SO much more than a party spot.
And so I ventured back in March for my other half’s birthday and literally had one of the best weekends of my life.
My disclaimer here is that yes, Miami is expensive and while there are different levels of expensive, it’s not somewhere I’d recommend on a budget. Feel free to challenge that but in my opinion it’s a place where you go to live it up and pay $15 for avocado on toast and eye-watering amounts for a salad in a cheesy beach bar on South Beach – then worry about what limb to sell to pay off your credit card later!
When to go totally depends on you and when flights are cheapest because Miami is warm all year round so the weather doesn’t need to be a factor in your plans.
I’m a huge fan of going off the beaten track on vacation and discovering hidden gems and local rather than touristy hotspots.
Where to stay
I’m a devout booking.com user. It’s easy, it’s succint, I get (apparently) a genius discount because I’m so loyal and I’ve never had a negative experience. The first time I went to Miami, we stayed in an Air BnB on Collins Avenue, a prime South Beach location. But it was basic and I missed the hotel luxury.
So this time we stayed at the Redbury Hotel – again on Collins Avenue – and I would definitely stay there again. What I loved most was the rooftop pool because it meant we could relax a bit more than what we’d normally do on a weekend break.
The room was a great size compared to most city hotels and the staff were great. Also guests get private access to an exclusive beach club, beach chairs and towels included!
I don’t even know where to start here. You’re literally spoiled for choice in Miami and since the city is such a melting pot, you can literally enjoy food from all over the world.
But if you’re staying on South Beach, be prepared to fork out a lot for even the simplest meals. So my advice is to wander off the beaten track and, if you like Cuban food, you’re in luck! Take a trip to Little Havana, Miami’s Cuban heart, and indulge.
I’m a huge brunch fan so I’m going to make two epic brunch suggestions.
The first is the Front Porch, located on Ocean Drive. The vibe is great, the brunch was delicious and the cocktails were to die for. The speciality cocktails cost around $12 each, pretty standard for Miami, and my tomato avo toast set me back around $15! Not cheap by any means but delicious and the relaxed cafe-style setting means you can sit back and people watch for hours.
My second brunch pick is the inimitable 27 Restaurant, part of the Freehand Hotel.
What’s even better is that this place does everything – brunch, lunch and dinner – and its award-winning cocktail bar, The Broken Shaker is the perfect night spot too!
It’s set outside in the hotel’s backyard with cute mismatched furniture, lots of plants and flowers and the most exquisite handmade cocktails.
Anyway, back to brunch.
The outdoor rustic setting and, as you can see from the above, one very happy diner shows what a top pick this place is. I had the Elad’s Shakshuka and it was honestly the nicest I’ve tasted since I was introduced to it in Israel.
The other half chose the Shawarma Fried Chicken Benedict but he struggled to settle on one choice when faced with mouth-watering options like Latke Benedict, Coffee-rubbed steak and eggs and bacon, and egg and cheese tacos.
We stayed off the Mimosas and opted for two fresh juices instead and our total bill was $55. Worth every single cent.
Things to do
So yes, we shopped. A lot. But what I failed to realize on my first visit is that Miami is so rich in culture and fun days out.
So this time we had a jam-packed schedule of things to do.
And that kicked off with a Miami Heat basketball game at the American Airlines Arena. And what a night it was.
What you don’t see on TV is the entertainment show a basketball game actually is. It was like being at a concert. I didn’t want it to end!
You can select seats based on your budget – I used ticketmaster.com – and if I go back to Miami I’ll definitely arrange my trip around the NBA schedule.
Being the pro tourist that I am, the first thing I do in every place I visit is check out the tour bus options. And to be honest, the Miami tour was one of my trip highlights.
We chose the Big Bus Miami tour (there are a few operators) basically because the ticket included the Millionaires Row boat cruise – one of the most enjoyable holiday activities I’ve ever done.
We cruised on the Sunday and I was literally drooling as we passed by the homes of the world’s rich and famous.
The premium two-day hop on/hop off pass cost $63 each and it was one of the best spends of the weekend. Bus tours are a great way to see a new place efficiently and cost-effectively and I always find they help you discover hidden gems you’d otherwise never have stumbled across.
And this particular bus trip took us on an amazing adventure to Wynwood.
It was like being in an open-air art gallery. Bright, hipster and intriguing on every corner.
Of course everyone knows the famous Wynwood Walls, but there was so much more to see and do. We found a beautiful little outdoor mojito shack and a great craft beer bar where we spent a few hours tasting the menu.
Randomly, it was St Patrick’s Day when we went to Wynwood so we ended up sipping a few green beers out of wellies at the St Patrick’s Day festival!
I have decided that everyone needs to visit Wynwood before they die. In fact, I’ll be planning my entire next Miami vacation around there.
And now for my pick of the trip….
Asian Night Brunch
This was intended as the actual birthday celebration. Night Brunch at Miami’s chic East Hotel in Brickell.
You’ll probably have guessed by now that I’m a huge brunch fan! But brunch at night was completely alien to me.
It’s a set menu enjoyed in the Hong Kong-inspired Tea Room that costs $88/person and looks like this:
Basically it’s a two-hour dining experience where you choose one dish from each category on the five-course menu.
The price includes cocktails like these:
And all of that enjoyed 40 floors above ground level!
I recommend a long fast before you go as there’s a lot of food. But it genuinely was delicious and the whole setting was very sumptuous – perfect for a special occasion.
The amazing staff even went to the trouble of doing this for Sean’s birthday:
And after you’re finished grazing, the best is yet to come as the rooftop cocktail bar, Sugar is where it’s at for the weekend. Sugar also serves Asian-inspired food if the brunch doesn’t tickle your fancy.
But make sure a cocktail at this place is on your Miami to-do list!