In a city where taco stands are neon-lit, cocktail rooftops look over dive backyard bars and Art Deco boutiques rub shoulders with grey skyscrapers, it can be tough to find your way.
To save you from Ocean Drive’s tourist traps, awkward social situations and even a caffeine-induced heart attack, we’ve put together some street-savvy tips to help you navigate Miami like a local. Here are all the things you should know before visiting this vibrant, diverse city.
Coming to Miami and passing on the beach is like going to Paris and forgetting to see the Eiffel Tower – it just doesn’t happen. But before you head to one of Miami’s many beaches, there’s something you should know: when it comes to sand time, Miamians have some non-negotiable rules they expect everyone to follow.
First, don’t strip off any part of your bathing suit unless it’s a nudist beach (there are spots, like popular Haulover Beach, designated specifically for that). Second, respect people’s sunbathing space. Miami’s beaches are long and wide, leaving plenty of space for you to find your own spot. Third, it’s illegal to drink in public spaces in Miami. This includes the beach, so, even if it’s just one beer, don’t do it. Finally, the following goes without saying: leaving rubbish behind is not cool, and won’t go unnoticed by Miami’s beach-loving residents.
Some 52% of Miami’s population is of Cuban heritage. This means that dancing to live salsa, drinking ice-cold mojitos and devouring a juicy, pork-loaded Cuban sandwich or a crispy medianoche croqueta is not only easy, but a compulsory part of the Miami experience. Cuba’s biggest gift to Miami, though, is the famed cafecito. It may look and sound harmless, but what this tiny Cuban espresso – served black and with a little sugar – lacks in size, it certainly makes up for in caffeine punch. It’s most commonly served in ventanitas in Little Havana, but these days you’ll find it almost anywhere in the city, so be sure to limit your intake and approach with care.
Strong Latin influences in Miami mean that a handshake introduction is pretty rare around these parts. Instead, Miamians will often greet (not just their friends, but also complete strangers) with a kiss on the cheek (sometimes two). This intimate greeting originates from Europe (in Spain, Italy and Eastern Europe, a kiss-on-the-cheek welcome has been customary for centuries), and is thought to have been brought over to Latin America during the colonial conquest in the 16th century. If you’re not accustomed to this back home, just follow when prompted and try not to jab anyone in the stomach with a misplaced handshake gesture.
By day, less is more: you’ll fit in just fine in a skimpy (preferably neon) bikini and some flip-flops (or heels) in South Beach, while a cute playsuit and sandals is usually the outfit of choice in Downtown or Wynwood. Once the sun sets, though, it’s a different story. If you plan on going out, be aware that most clubs won’t allow either men or women to enter if they’re wearing jeans or trainers (shorts and vests are usually frowned upon, too). Fake eyelashes, six-inch heels and glittery backless dresses are always welcome, but feel free to express your personal style within the confines of Miami nightlife’s semi-strict dress codes.
Miami is a late-night city. Whether it’s because Miamians need three hours to get ready or because they’re still playing volleyball at the beach until sunset, most won’t sit down for dinner until 9pm, at the earliest. This means that the party will never kick off before midnight (in fact, 1am is probably a safer bet if you want a full club on arrival). If you arrive before this, don’t be surprised if it’s just you and the DJ hanging out one-on-one. Clubs will keep pumping out Hot 100 and Latin tunes until sunrise, so if you dare to close out a bar or club, we recommend a slow and steady pace. Be sure to start your evening enjoying some sunset drinks on a rooftop bar; indulge in a leisurely three-hour dinner; even take a nap between courses, if you so choose… Either way, know this: the night is always young in Miami.
When it comes to iconic sights, powdery beaches and people watching, Ocean Drive is the place to be. But when it’s time to dine or drink out, it’s the place to avoid. Not only are Ocean Drive restaurants overpriced, but the choice and quality of the food and drink (mainly fast-food options like pizza and burgers and watered-down alcoholic drinks) aren’t anything to rave about. Though you’ll find a multitude of options up and down the utopian Miami Beach street, the eateries here are mainly targeted at luring in unassuming tourists without actually providing a taste of Miami’s vast cultural cuisine. Instead, take in the atmosphere, and then swiftly make your way to food hotspots like Wynwood, Little Havana, Brickell and Downtown instead.
Miami boasts the largest transit system in Florida, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean it’s easy (or convenient) to use. Buses, while they are clean and air-conditioned, chug along very busy routes and often run behind schedule. The Miami Trolley is a fun and free way to get around the city, but it operates only in certain parts of the city; same goes for the limited Metromover and Metrorail routes. The preferred mode of transport here is Uber or Freebee, a free shuttle service (it makes money from the advertisements on car doors, although tips are expected) that runs through Miami Beach, Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, Key Biscayne, Downtown, Brickell and Wynwood. Both are apps available to both Android and iPhone users.
Miami is famous for its traffic, but it’s even more famous for its high-speed residents. Whether you’re walking around, or driving yourself, you should assume everyone in a car here is in a rush. Miamians often don’t take too kindly to having to stop for a pedestrian, even if the pedestrian is at a crossing and completely within their rights. So, before you cross any road anywhere in the city (even if you have the right of way), be sure to check (and double-check) both sides of the street before crossing. If you’re driving, don’t be surprised if you get honked at or cut off if you’re hovering somewhere close to the speed limit.