Top 5 Ways to Save Money in the Magic City
Author: Heather Vale
November 18, 2022
Miami is a super fun place to go, but it’s also known for being expensive. So while it might be your first choice for beachside partying, it’s probably not somewhere you think of taking a budget vacation. Until now.
It always seems like a cool place to visit. Like, it’s hot … but cool at the same time. The laid-back vibe and eye-catching colors are completely unique. The Spring Break worthiness is indisputable. And yet, Miami is also known for being pretty expensive. So how could you possibly travel there on a budget? Well, some of the top attractions in Miami are free, and a little bit of insider knowledge can get you some smoking deals.
Here are the Top 5 ways to save money while having a blast in the Magic City.
The number one tip to vacationing on a budget in Miami is to avoid Spring Break, since that’s when prices skyrocket throughout the region. Students from across the country want to go there to party, and you don’t have to take Economics 101 to know that the laws of supply and demand make everything more expensive when it’s most popular.
So when’s the best time to go? Either in the late winter, from January to early March … or summer, when the snowbirds have flown back up north (we’re talking about the people who winter in Florida, not the actual birds). During the summer, crowds are thinner, and prices often drop. Again due to supply and demand. However, it’s also prime storm and hurricane season, so bring an umbrella and keep an eye on weather reports.
Hotels in Miami can certainly be on the spendy side, especially in the touristy districts. And your lodging costs are usually among the biggest expenses on any trip, so you want to save money on your room. Here are some additional tips to make that happen.
The best way to get a deal is to head north and stay in North Beach, which is still near the water but in a more residential area. It’s further from the nightclubs and shopping areas, so that makes it less pricey than the tourist hot spots in Mid Miami Beach and South Beach.
You could also go inland and stay in other parts of Miami rather than the island of Miami Beach. Just consider how far you need to travel to experience the attractions you’re interested in, and choose the best deal you can find in a reasonably convenient area.
You can often save money by booking a place to stay through a home rental site like Airbnb or Vrbo. Miami Beach still has the priciest offerings in this category, but you can generally snag a private room in mainland Miami (or a shared room in Miami Beach) for around $50. You can also find private guest suites, studio apartments, and even hotel rooms for under $100. Again, make sure you’re not booking too far from the action if it’s going to increase your transportation time and costs substantially. Close to a free trolley route is ideal, so you can get around easily—and without expense.
No matter where you stay, you can save money by using a credit card that gives you points or cash back on travel and lodging. For example, Credit One Bank’s new Wander® Card offers 10X rewards points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked using their travel partner, directly through your online account. You can also get 5X rewards points on other eligible travel, dining, and gas buys, and 1X rewards points on all other purchases.
You could rent a car in Miami, but unless you’re planning to sightsee in the outskirts, you might find it more trouble than it’s worth. You could also grab a rideshare service, like Uber or Lyft, when you need to. But if saving money is your goal, these are your best budget travel options.
The metropolitan Miami area has a robust public transit system, including—get this—an extensive free trolley network. Yes, free! This is the best place to start because chances are you can do all your traveling at no cost. So here’s a list of the free trolleys you can take around the various Greater Miami cities while keeping your money in your pocket for other things.
That monorail in the sky is the Metromover, which is also free and services Downtown Miami, Omni, and Brickell. It takes you straight to major destinations including FTX Arena—home of the Miami Heat NBA team—Bayside Marketplace, and Miami Dade College. The Miami-Dade Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTPW) operates this elevated train 7 days a week from 5:00 am to midnight.
Another train, which isn’t free but only costs a few dollars, is the Miami-Dade Metrorail. This longer 25-mile route goes from the Miami International Airport through South Miami, Coral Gables, Downtown Miami, and more. You can buy a Transit Pass or use their mobile app for convenient payment options and fare management.
If you’re going places where free trolleys and trains don’t go, the Miami-Dade Metrobus is your go-to transit option for getting around. These buses go to all major shopping centers, entertainment areas, hospitals and more, in Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, West Miami-Dade, Florida City, Middle Keys and more. It costs the same as the Metrorail, and you can use the same Transit Pass or EASY Ticket.
A lot of the must-see Miami attractions are free to visit, and others can be seen for a deal. Here are your best bets if you’re looking to save as much as possible while still experiencing what makes Miami unique.
You’re obviously not going to Miami to avoid the beach. Miami beaches are a big part of what makes the city iconic, and luckily, most of them are free to hang out in. There are also some amazing parks in Miami and Miami Beach you should consider checking out while you’re in town, including these gems.
Be sure to stroll the Art Deco district, filled with pastel-colored buildings, and wander past the brightly painted lifeguard stands by the water. You also need to check out at least two of South Beach’s amazing parks.
Lummus Park is a 26-acre oasis alongside the ocean. It’s home to Miami’s Muscle Beach and hosts a variety of concerts and special events, like the South Beach Seafood Festival and the Miami Music Festival. It’s also the spot you see most often featured in movies and TV shows about Miami.
South Pointe Park is a 17-acre recreational area on the southernmost tip of South Beach, and it has gorgeous panoramic views of the ocean and the Miami skyline. It also has a beach, green space, public art, a 450-foot fishing pier and a 20-foot-wide promenade for walking or riding your bike.
Bayside Marketplace is just one of the attractions you should experience at Bayfront Park. This outdoor waterfront mall has plenty of shops and restaurants, but there are also daily live music shows on the Marina Stage, local art, and walking trails to explore. This is one place you’ll find locals hanging out among the tourists, since there’s always something to see here.
You don’t have to go to a museum or art gallery to appreciate art and design in Miami. There are several celebrated areas you can explore for free, soaking up the Miami vibe as you soak up the sun.
This specific design style is called Streamline Moderne, from the later Art Deco period that came out of the Great Depression—and in Miami’s case, rebuilding after the 1926 hurricane destroyed much of the city. It’s less ornate than early Art Deco to represent optimism and hope. You can admire these buildings on your own, or take a free walking tour with the Miami Design Preservation League.
Now the Freedom Tower is a National Historic Landmark housing the Miami Dade College’s Museum of Art and Design, as well as their book fair and film festival offices. But even if you can’t go inside, the exterior is the big attraction and worth a special outing to see.
When you go on vacation in a world-class city like Miami, paying for entertainment can cost a pretty penny. Luckily, you can find plenty of shows, events and other fun things to do for free, or with very little expense.
From historical artifacts to local and emerging artists, Miami has some great art galleries and museums that won’t break your budget. Even those with admission fees often have free days or times that you can strategically plan for.
Miami has always had an active music scene, so it only makes sense that you can see plenty of concerts for free. During your visit, you’ll probably stumble across lots of additional options for taking in a free show, but here are some you can always count on.
If you want to see a selection of paid attractions, shows, museums and tours while still saving money, look into one of the discount cards like Go City Miami or the Miami Sightseeing Pass. These combo passes let you choose the attractions you want to see—or get the all-inclusive option—while spending significantly less than the standard price of admission.
Going out to eat at world-class restaurants always costs more than we expect. However, Miami has plenty of options that let you sample the local Cuban-influenced and international cuisine without spending too much.
It doesn’t have to be greasy fast food from an international chain. In Miami, you can find low-key eats that are distinctly part of the local scene, like Cuban sandwiches and burgers, authentic Mexican tacos, fresh seafood, and more. There are also small cafés and sandwich shops to grab a quick bite. Seeking out casual dining options over high-end restaurants will help you stick to your budget.
Some highly acclaimed options include My Ceviche, for diverse and healthy poke and burrito bowls or avocado toasts, La Sandwicherie for gourmet sandwiches, Lime Fresh Mexican Grill for tacos and southwest bowls, and El Rey de las Fritas, which has been serving up classic Cuban burgers in Miami since 1976.
Speaking of casual, it doesn’t get much more informal than a truck. And Miami treats its food trucks not just as a place to eat, but as an entire event. So instead of just randomly parking in different places, you’ll also find permanent, advertised locations that you can always count on. Either way, meals from trucks are usually pretty cost-effective, and Miami options range from Cuban, Mexican and Haitian cuisine to American favorites like hot dogs and hamburgers.
Here are some regular events and trucks that often have their own spots. Wynwood is a popular place for many of them, so you can grab a bite while checking out the Wynwood Walls murals. Besides these local favorites, you can find the nearest food truck through Roaming Hunger.
If you really like eating out at restaurants, going out for lunch usually saves you money over the dinner menu, because typically the meals are smaller. In Miami, you can also find eclectic international brunches, sometimes with bottomless mimosas or Bloody Marys. And there are some great daily Happy Hour specials that include appetizers and small meals as well as half-price drinks.
You don’t need to eat out every time you’re hungry. Stock up your motel fridge with premade snacks and meals from the supermarket, or go grocery shopping like at home to cook in your rental.
So yes, you really can enjoy a vacation to a great city like Miami while still sticking to a budget. For added savings, be sure to take along a credit card that gives you points on your travel purchases, like the new Wander Card from Credit One Bank.
About the author:Heather Vale
For over a quarter of a century, Heather has been working as a journalist in all media: TV, radio, print, and online. After establishing her career in Toronto, she has been living, working, and playing in Las Vegas for the past decade. She loves pulling apart complicated topics to make them simple, fun, and easy to understand, especially in the business and financial niches. But she also enjoys writing about the personal side of life, including success, relationships, families, and pets. She approaches everything from a yin-yang perspective, so her passion for wordplay and entertaining metaphors is always balanced with an intense (and some would say annoying) focus on facts and accuracy.
This material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified tax advisor, attorney or financial advisor. Readers should consult with their own tax advisor, attorney or financial advisor with regard to their personal situations.
Miami is a colorful city, with warm beaches and cool nightlife. It’s about bright sun and pastel shades. It has a Caribbean climate with a Cuban flair, and plenty of culture to immerse yourself in.
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