This is the art deco district of South Beach Miami. The buildings are painted in pastel colors surrounded by tropical palm trees.

Your Trip to Miami: the Complete Guide

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Watch Now: Tips for Planning Your Visit to Miami

Miami and South Florida as a whole is a long-established tourist mecca, offering the best in beaches, entertainment, hotels, dining, and attractions. It's easy to spend too much money enjoying these amenities, but there’s never enough time to do and see it all. We’re here to help. With a little direction, you can squeeze the life out of your visit, no matter how short, and really feel as if you’re taking advantage of the very best Miami has to offer.

Surfside beach in Miami
TripSavvy / Kristjan Veski 

When to Visit

Anytime is a great time, but if possible try to avoid peak tourist periods such as Christmas and spring break when restaurant lines are long, causeways are clogged and attractions are jammed. Scheduling trips during hurricane season (August through October, give or take) can be tricky, too. Even if a hurricane does not hit the area, the mere threat creates multiple logistical problems like traffic, gas shortages, power outages, and business closures. We don’t want that, but the weather does change at the drop of a hat. Make sure to pay attention to weather reports leading up to your trip in case you do decide to travel during storm season. Rescheduling isn’t favorable, but sometimes it’s inevitable. Mid-winter and late spring, though, are two high-value times for a visit.

Rainbow pathway at MIA
Luis Albejante / Getty Images

Getting Here

South Florida has three major airports. Use that to your advantage. And Miami’s a city where it pays to shop by the airport. International terminals at Miami (MIA), Fort Lauderdale (FLL), and Palm Beach County (PBI) are all located within a 60-mile span along I-95. Fares can vary quite a bit from one airport to the next, and sometimes the price of ground transportation pales in comparison to the savings. At MIA, the bus station is in Concourse E, directly across from U.S. Customs. Cab rides into downtown Miami generally run about $40. Now, you can Uber or Lyft from any airport and opting for a shared ride will save you a pretty penny that you can later spend on a meal or a drink.

Art deco architecture in South Beach Miami
TripSavvy / Kristjan Veski 

Where to Stay

During the late 20th century, the South Beach area of Miami Beach was considered a slum and was frequented by drug dealers and hooligans, anyone looking for trouble really. Since that time, many of the Art Deco, stucco buildings have been restored to their original splendor and you can see immediately how the crowds have changed, too. This trendy locale is a great place to find all kinds of hotels, from budget to luxury.

As you search for Miami-area hotel stays, look for well-established boutiques as well as hip, new hotels catering to millennials and young professionals. The redesigned Stanton South Beach, a Marriott property South of Fifth (SoFi), is oceanfront and features a beautiful and authentic Japanese restaurant with a hidden Izakaya as well as a Baja-inspired Mexican eatery. Head a bit north on Collins Avenue and you’ll eventually run into the Eden Roc Hotel, Nobu Hotel (home to Florida’s first and only Malibu Farm, a West Coast dining establishment that’s made its way to Miami serving California-inspired fare), the Freehand Miami Beach (grab a table at 27 Restaurant and then a post-dinner cocktail at the Broken Shaker here) and the Generator, which is the newest and possibly coolest of the bunch. All of these hotels feature incredible dining and cocktail concepts as well as entertainment, the best quality amenities and furnishings and more.

Landscape view of a jungle with a river in a natural environment
Pola Damonte via Getty Images / Getty Images

Getting Around

Nowadays, you don’t really need to rent a car unless you’ll be driving all around town and maybe heading out of Miami altogether, either south to the Florida Keys or north to Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach. If your goal is to hit the beach and local attractions, Uber, Lyft and a good old-fashioned taxi ride will suffice.

There are some pretty interesting attractions (the Everglades, for example) that are quite a distance from where you're likely to stay. Car rental rates in Florida tend to be reasonable because of the volume of business. There’s also the option to ride Tri-Rail, a north-south service from West Palm Beach to Miami Int'l Airport. Find its online fare calculator here. Tri-Rail connects with Metrorail and Metrobus routes and offers monthly passes (not geared for visitors) and discounts for younger riders. The newest and (we think) most fun mode of transportation if you’re heading north from Miami is the Brightline. Hop on in Downtown Miami — the new station, which opened this year, has dining options and a city view. Once you’re on the train, feel free to booze up. Certain tickets include beer, wine, champagne, and house cocktails.

Bananas For Sale Miami Little Havana Business on Calle Ocho
Boogich / Getty Images

South Florida Attractions

The aforementioned Art Deco district is well worth a walking tour. But you shouldn't stop there — go to the beach! South Florida offers a variety of beaches. Some are cleaner, quieter and more secluded while others are where tourists and locals alike go to see and be seen. Do not miss Little Havana, a a neighborhood on the mainland with restaurants, culture and ambiance that’ll allow for an international escape. The area is happening, especially Calle Ocho, where you’ll find cultural and historical monuments, rum bars, cigar bars, live salsa music, Latin-inspired ice cream, a Spanish/English movie theater and much, much more.

Further away from the city, you'll find Everglades National Park, a truly unique national treasure that is well worth a visit. A $20 permit allows your private vehicle inside all entrances of the park for seven consecutive days.

An offbeat attraction: If you’re in the Homestead area (maybe taking a little road trip from Miami to the Keys), Coral Castle is a fun and kind of quirky stop you must make. Here, giant coral rocks were carved and balanced perfectly to form a "castle" by one man who weighed only 100 pounds. This Latvian immigrant did it all to attract the love of one woman who later rejected him, which is pretty impressive. How did he do it? Visit and find out. Adult tickets are $18 per person.

Once you get to the Florida Keys, stop in at Pennekamp State Park (great snorkeling and diving) in Key Largo, just an hour or so driving from Miami. The remaining 120 miles to Key West requires an overnight commitment, but that’s OK, too. There are tons of great hotels that have popped up on the Roosevelt Avenue strip of Key West over the past few years, including the Gates Hotel, 24 North and Havana Cabana. Stock Island’s the Perry is another beautiful hotel option if you’d rather avoid staying in the crowded, touristy downtown Key West area.

Another day trip worth taking is about 60 miles north of Miami. Spend a day with the wealthy and visit Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. Here, you can window shop for some of the finest luxury goods the world. Take a few hundred thousand "imaginary dollars" when deciding what you’ll buy. If Palm Beach is too far, you can have a similar experience on Fort Lauderdale's Las Olas Boulevard.

A grand vista of tropical garden splendor.
Pat Canova / Getty Images

Two Gems Most Visitors Miss

There’s a lot to keep you busy in Miami including the Perez Art Museum, the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, watersports like jet skis, kayaking and paddleboarding and more. There are two gems in particular, though, that you might want to visit. Many visitors skip them so they can line up at the Theme Parks, but we think you’re missing out if you don’t make it to at least one. Fairchild Tropic Botanical Garden in Coral Gables is one of the highest-rated gardens in the world. You'll see a tropical rainforest and guides provide tram tours at no extra charge. Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is an Italian villa built by James Deering. Here, you’ll experience architectural beauty, objects d'art, and stunning grounds.

More South Florida Tips

  • Consider a GO Miami Card. This is a card you buy prior to your trip and then activate on first use. You can buy from one- to five-day cards ($81-$219) good for free admission at dozens of South Florida attractions. Design your itinerary before you consider a Go Miami purchase. That way, you can determine if the investment would save money on admissions. After all, you don't want to pay for a bunch of admissions that don't hold any interest.
  • Try to Blend in. Despite South Florida's once shady reputation, most tourists will not run into violent crime nowadays. Unfortunately, there are criminals who specialize in targeting visitors. Make it more difficult for them to spot you. Don't stack luggage in your car so it can be seen through the windows. Keep big bills tucked safely away in a purse or money belt. Use common sense when walking in unfamiliar areas, and heed local advice about entering new territory where security could be an issue.
  • A sunburn can ruin even the best trip. It might be obvious advice, but scores of people plan and save for a Florida vacation, only to lose most of the trip's value to sunburn. The intensity of the rays here probably exceed what you're accustomed to at home, and sunburn will set in far more quickly. Buy a good sun-blocker and use it consistently. Don’t forget to reapply every so often, especially after getting in the water and toweling off. Consider it cheap travel insurance. You’re welcome.