Wander Freely Through Miami
Top 10 Must-See Attractions in the Magic City
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.
But if you can only experience a few things, which ones do you choose? Luckily, we did the work for you, and these are undeniably the Top 10 attractions you must check out when visiting the Magic City.
Miami Beach is a 9-mile island along the Atlantic Ocean, connected to the rest of Miami through a series of causeways. It contains several beaches and areas, but the most famous—and the most fun—is arguably the trendy South Beach, which occupies the bottom few miles of Miami Beach.
I mean, you’re not going to visit Miami without hitting the beach, right? So while some people call this the touristy beach because it’s so popular, it’s also where you’ll find the most iconic attractions that Miami is famous for.
By day, South Beach is a place to hang out on the sand, soaking up the sun or swimming in the ocean. By night, it’s a place to hit the Miami nightclub scene or enjoy world-class dining. You can also rent a bike, take a Segway tour, hop on a trolley, check out the brightly-colored lifeguard stands, or stroll along Ocean Drive and do some shopping.
Art Deco District
The historic Miami Art Deco District is where you’ll find the architecture most often associated with the city—hundreds of pastel-colored Art Deco buildings from the 1930s with large neon signs and accents. From shops and hotels to restaurants with canopied patios, this strip of Ocean Drive is classic Miami all the way.
South Beach’s specific style of architecture is called Streamline Moderne, which is like Art Deco 2.0. It features a less ornate styling and represents the attitude of the Great Depression. Since Miami Beach had to be rebuilt after the destructive 1926 Miami hurricane, these buildings reflect a spirit of optimism and hope. If you’d like to take a tour, the Miami Design Preservation League offers self-guided tours and guided walking tours from the Art Deco Museum and Welcome Center.
Stretched out next to the ocean, the 26-acre Lummus Park is a quiet spot where you can relax and enjoy a good book, or exercise and play sports. It has been featured in many movies and TV shows, and it’s home to concerts, special events, and Miami’s Muscle Beach, as well as a playground, bike trails, horse stable, and 18 volleyball courts.
South Pointe Park
The 17-acre South Pointe Park is on the bottom tip of South Beach and offers panoramic views of the shoreline and cruise ships leaving the harbor. You can stroll or ride a bike along the 20-foot-wide promenade or hang out on the 450-foot fishing pier. There’s also beach access, a playground, public art, and plenty of green space.
Founded in 1938, Fairchild is a sprawling 83-acre oasis that’s considered one of the country’s premier botanical gardens. It includes more than 3,400 species of rare palm trees, flowering trees, orchids, tropical fruits, and butterflies. These come from various tropical, coastal and rainforest habitats, displayed in a series of exhibits and ecosystems, like the Arboretum and Geiger Tropical Flower Garden, the Water Gardens and Aquatic Exhibits, the Succulent Garden, and the Wings of the Tropics, where you’ll find yourself surrounded by hummingbirds and more than 40 species of colorful butterflies.
Fairchild’s namesake is Dr. David Fairchild (1869-1954), a famous plant explorer who traveled the world and brought back hundreds of species, including cotton, bamboo, mangos, and Washington’s flowering cherry trees. He retired to Miami in 1935 and created the tropical botanical gardens with the help of other passionate horticulturalists.
The warm weather and humidity are perfect for tropical vegetation, and the result is a lush property where you can stroll for miles through exotic tree-lined pathways dotted with sculptures, sit on benches overlooking 10 picturesque lakes, or hop on a 30-minute narrated tram ride through the grounds. Trained volunteers run the operation and lead informative guided tours through the close to 30 collections. Don’t forget to take plenty of photos of the colorful scenery.
Another picturesque and historic botanical jewel, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is considered one of the city’s greatest treasures. This 28-acre waterfront estate features stunning architecture, authentic artwork, and beautifully photogenic grounds. This is a favorite spot for brides and quinceañeras to get their portraits done, so you might as well snap some photos of yourself there too.
Almost surreal, this 34-room Renaissance-style villa seems like it was transported straight from Italy to the Florida coast. And it kind of was. Chicago industrial magnate James Deering built this mansion as his winter estate in 1916, bringing over 1,100 craftsmen from Europe to ensure a truly authentic design. The villa is also filled with more than 2,500 pieces of art and design, including antique European furniture and historic artwork dating back to the 15th century.
When it’s not booked up for a wedding, party or other private event, you can explore the grounds and estate. You have access to 25 acres of endangered forests, 10 acres of manicured gardens with over 2,000 orchids, and a variety of exquisite Italian and French fountains, pools, and sculptures. On weekends you can also take part in outdoor yoga classes, full moon parties, farmers markets, coastal cleanups, and other free or low-cost community events.
We have to give honorable mention to another Deering property 12 miles down the coast. James Deering’s equally successful older half-brother Charles built the 440-acre Deering Estate in the early 1900s. It’s not as ornate as Vizcaya, but the property is more than 15 times the size—so it’s hard to say who won this sibling rivalry.
Deering Estate is an environmental, archeological and historical preserve with houses dating back to 1896, an Indian burial ground circa 1500, and a fossil pit with animal bones up to 50,000 years old. You can also enjoy canoe rides, butterfly hikes and guided tours (including seasonal ghost tours), or stroll through mangrove forests, endangered pine habitats, salt marshes, and a coastal dune island.
Like James, Charles Deering was an art collector. But he was also a painter, so you can see his artworks here alongside pieces by the Old Masters.
South of Miami Beach, you’ll find Virginia Key with its Historic Virginia Key Beach Park. When Miami was founded in 1896, one-third of the charter signatures belonged to Black men, and yet by 1920, racial segregation meant that all the beaches were for white people only. After a lot of protest, Virginia Key Beach became an official “colored only” recreation site— as they called it back then—in 1945.
For over 25 years, Virginia Key Beach Park was closed to the public. But it re-opened in 2008 as the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, and it now contains a playground, vintage carousel and mini train, historic cabins, food vendors, picnic areas with barbecue grills, native plant species, bike trails, hiking areas, an 18-hole disc golf course, and free tours. You can even rent it out for events. And of course, it has amazing views of the Miami skyline while you lounge on the pristine sand near the world’s biggest sandcastle, complete with recreations of famous landmarks from around the world.
While you’re at Virginia Key, check out South Florida’s best aquarium, the 38-acre Miami Seaquarium. You can swim with the dolphins, sharks or seals, pet a penguin, dive in the tropical reef, and learn about wildlife rescue and conservation of endangered species—the Seaquarium has protected thousands of animals since it opened in 1955. There are daily shows, touch pools, and large observation tanks with manatees, sea turtles, and many more.
Bayfront Park is a 32-acre public green space that sits on Miami’s coast and offers a bunch of fun things to do. It was built in 1924 but refurbished in the 1980s, and includes numerous sculptures, monuments, and other works of art. This includes The Challenger Memorial to honor the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger, and the electronically controlled Pepper Fountain.
There’s also a large amphitheater for musical events and other live performances, and additional attractions that stand on their own as great places to visit.
One of the main draws within Bayfront Park, Bayside Marketplace is an outdoor waterfront mall with over 150 specialty shops and chain stores, as well as restaurants, cafes, boat tours, walking trails, daily live music shows, and more. Locals like to hang out here as much as tourists do because there’s always something to see or do.
It’s not as big as the High Roller in Las Vegas. But at 180 feet high, the Skyviews Miami Observation Wheel still gives you amazing views of the beach, the skyline, and the surrounding park. Each gondola on this oversized Ferris wheel is kept a perfect 72 degrees inside, and the VIP gondola comes with leather bucket seats and a glass-bottom floor.
Pérez Art Museum Miami
At the northern end of Bayfront Park is the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), featuring international modern and contemporary art from the 20th and 21st centuries.
The museum’s permanent collection features close to 3,000 artworks spread throughout eight galleries, including Miami-based artists, self-taught artists, and Latinx and Caribbean art. Miami’s rich cultural history and Latinx influence are deliberately prominent in the chosen works. In addition, ongoing and temporary exhibitions feature well-known and significant modern artists.
The HistoryMiami Museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate officially called the Historical Museum of Southern Florida. It uses art, exhibitions, tours and publications to teach people how Miami’s past is important to shaping its future. So if you want to learn about Miami’s colorful history, this is the place to go.
The museum has more than 37,000 artifacts on display, covering everything from prehistoric archaeological finds to 20th-century Afro-Cuban folk art. Their permanent exhibition, Tropical Dreams: A People’s History of South Florida, showcases 10,000 years of South Florida history, while culturally relevant temporary exhibitions rotate through each year. In addition, the Archives and Research Center collection includes over one million historical images that serve as important records of the state.
Officially called The Miami-Dade Zoological Park and Gardens, Zoo Miami (yes, Zoo Miami—not Miami Zoo) is Florida’s largest zoo and the nation’s fifth largest. It’s also the only sub-tropical zoo in the US, made possible by South Florida’s climate. Animals are grouped by geographic region, peacefully sharing exhibits that are closely matched to their native habitats, from trees and foliage right down to the soil type. Explore Africa, Asia, Australia, Amazon, Americas and more in a single day.
Zoo Miami covers almost 750 acres of land with four miles of walkways, and it houses more than 3,000 animals from over 500 species—130 of those species being at risk or endangered. We’re talking amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, including lions, tigers, elephants, primates and zebras. There are also more than 1,000 species of plants and trees.
You can take part in animal feedings, from giraffes and camels to rhinos and parrots, as well as walk among the giant tortoises, take a tram tour or float through a river ride. There are also special events, like bike tours, Feast with the Beasts, and the annual ZooRun.
Jungle Island is a more intimate and interactive animal experience than Zoo Miami, and it’s been one of the most popular attractions in Miami for decades. Founded in 1936 as Parrot Jungle, with the main draw being a performing bird show, it even attracted Winston Churchill for a visit in 1946.
Now Jungle Island has a lot more than parrots and cockatoos. This is where you can have up close and personal interactions with animals and birds through the Flamingo Experience, Sloth Encounter, Capybara Encounter, Kangaroo Encounter, Lemur Encounter, and Giant Tortoise Encounter.
You can also take a VIP Tour that goes behind the scenes, or get a new perspective with Treetop Trekking, an aerial adventure that includes Tarzan swings, suspended bridges and ziplines. Oh, and if you want to get married among the animals, you can do that too, at a choice of three venues—the Bloom Ballroom with skyline views, Lakeside Terrace overlooking the flamingo habitat, or the romantic Lover’s Perch Waterfalls.
Freedom Tower is like the Ellis Island of the South, and it’s worth seeing not just for its beauty, but its historical significance as well. This wedding-cake-style building served as the Cuban Assistance Center from 1962 to 1974, offering relief and immigration processing to Cold War Cuban refugees seeking political asylum. Now it stands as a tribute to those immigrants who had a profound effect on the history and culture of Miami, from art to music to culinary trends.
But it was originally built in 1925 as the Miami News Tower, home to the Miami Daily News. The day the tower opened, the newspaper published a 508-page edition which still holds the world record for largest page count. Though it’s only 17 stories and less than 300 feet high, the “skyscraper” was the tallest building in the south for a while, and ships used it to navigate into port. The architectural firm that designed it is the same one responsible for the luxurious Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York, and it’s modeled after the Giralda bell tower of the Seville Cathedral in Spain.
Now the Freedom Tower is a National Historic Landmark owned by the Miami Dade College (MDC). It houses the flagship Museum of Art and Design (MOAD) and MDC Special Collections, which include the Cuban Legacy Gallery. The Freedom Tower is also home to MDC’s Cultural Affairs Department, MDC Live Arts, the Miami Book Fair offices, and the Miami Film Festival.
The Wynwood Walls is an urban industrial area where graffiti, murals, sculptures and other street art make up the “most Instagrammed place” in Miami—an outdoor art gallery that’s part of the Wynwood Business Improvement District. Through the mid-to-late 20th century, Wynwood was home to Miami’s Garment District, where Caribbean immigrants established businesses. But a period of recession left many of the factories and warehouses abandoned and neglected, and community revitalizer Tony Goldman of Goldman Properties thought the windowless buildings would make perfect giant canvases. He was right, and The Wynwood Walls were born.
Goldman felt street art was underappreciated and wanted to shine the spotlight on this genre while giving it more respect. Since the open-air wall gallery was established in 2009, the area has attracted some of the world’s best street artists to Miami. It’s reminiscent of California’s Venice Beach, but with a more modern (less retro) vibe.
With more than 50 colorful murals covering over 80,000 square feet of wall space, and some pieces designed to be interactive, this is the perfect place to take a selfie—or, let’s be honest, a bunch of selfies. The artwork is not just eye-catching but meaningful, groundbreaking, and entirely unique.
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