Beyond-the-Beach Miami

I’ve been traveling to Miami for 15 years. In that time, it has changed dramatically, evolving from a spring break destination into one of America’s most sophisticated cities, with an incredible art scene, fantastic food, and a host of cool hotels. It’s also become a popular destination for spring breakers of the younger variety. These days, almost every family I know has spent at least one winter vacation in Miami thanks to frequent flights and less expensive resort options than most warm-weather getaways.

Anyone who visits Miami in winter has cursed the weather gods when a tropical weekend suddenly turns cloudy and chilly. But fear not. Take advantage of these days to explore beyond the pool scene. There’s a lot to do, and there’s nothing like an unexpected drop in the mercury to encourage new discoveries. Here’s where to go.

> ART:

Art Basel takes over Miami Beach every December, but the city’s thriving contemporary scene is a year-round attraction.

Apart from the newly opened (and architecturally amazing) Pérez Art Museum downtown, most of the galleries and collections are clustered in the compact Design District and Wynwood. The three to check out are the Margulies, de la Cruz, and Rubell Family collections, the last of which displays one of the country’s largest private contemporary art assemblages in a 45,000-square-foot warehouse formerly used by the Drug Enforcement Agency.

In general, I find grittier Wynwood and its small galleries and shops more interesting than the Design District, which is a destination for shopping luxury brands as well as for art. Don’t miss the famous Wynwood Walls, an outdoor exhibit displaying the work of street artists from around the world. For lunch, hit the Wynwood Kitchen & Bar or Coyo Taco. (Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink or Harry’s Pizzeria are best bets in the Design District.) If you need a lift before hitting the galleries, Panther Coffee, a few blocks south of the Walls, is a great option.

> NATURE:

Skip the Seaquarium; around Miami, there are plenty of places to see animals in their natural habitats. The Everglades are a 1.5-hour drive from Miami and provide a fun, campy day of airboating and gator-nugget eating. But be warned: Airboats are very loud and can scare small children (I learned the hard way).

Closer to Miami, Kevin Mims, a journalist who has spent the past two years exploring Florida’s state and national parks on an extended road trip with his wife in a tricked-out motorhome, recommends Oleta River State Park. Blue Moon Outdoor Center rents kayaks and paddleboards for exploring the mangroves and searching out dolphins and manatees. There are also easy hiking trails and bike rentals, including children’s models. For a gourmet picnic on the go, stop by the famous Joe’s Stone Crab before heading out. They do a mean takeaway.

> ODDITIES:

Well-known attractions such as the gardens at the Vizcaya Museum or the colorful Miami Children’s Museum can get crowded. Over the years, I’ve discovered some unusual attractions that don’t make the normal guidebooks.

The Miami Auto Museum has the original station wagon from Ghostbusters, the Batmobile, Back to the Future’s Delorean time machine, James Bond Jaguars, and other famous Hollywood rides as well as a huge collection of vintage Vespas and early-model cars. There’s also the Flying Trapeze School, just off Biscayne Boulevard, and my next visit will include Coral Castle, a limestone “castle” created by an eccentric artist who spent 28 years hand-carving the structure after getting dumped by his fiancée.

When the sun comes out again, the beach beckons, but you’ll be glad you used the cloudy day to see more of the city. Save the Netflix marathon for the sub-zero days back home.

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Comments

  1. samiya selim
    Sheffield, England
    January 28, 2015, 6:34 am

    I loved Miami the only one time I was there and particularly getting away from the cliche popular beach and party destinations! Some great recommendations here and ones we will explore with our two young travellers when we are back in the USA! Our last time there in 2014 was fab, few suggestions on outdoor fun with children http://selimfamily.com/2014/09/16/driving-along-the-pacific-coast-los-angeles-to-san-fransisco/

  2. Boundless Mongolia
    Mongolia
    January 28, 2015, 5:37 am

    Miami is too beautiful….I would love to spend my vacations there……Nice…..!!

  3. Susie
    January 22, 2015, 8:09 am

    I love that Miami has a lot to offer, beyond the cliche party town that it is known for. I would love to kayak in Oleta River State Park. Love the tips, thank you!