Off the beaten path, Miami edition
When most people think Miami, they think ritzy clubs, muscle cars, and bronzed Adonises as beautiful as they are unattainable. And while that may be true in well-heeled, top-shelf Miami Beach, there’s far more to Miami than its clichés. The rest of Miami radiates a truer, less contrived vibe rife with art, culture, and some of the best food in the US.
While it gets mind meltingly hot in the summertime, Miami’s coolness can offset inclement weather any time of year. Attention all culture vultures, here’s your guide to Miami’s hidden gems.
Miami nightlife is the stuff of legends — I’ve heard of evenings that started off tamely enough with a Cuba Libre or two and ended with bottle service behind a velvet rope with Lil Wayne.
Away from the glitz and the glamor, however, there are far chiller watering holes that offer the allure of the clandestine. The bar inside Coyo Taco (2320 NW 2nd Ave) is easy to miss — just beyond the bathrooms of this legit taco joint hides a candle-lit, ambiance-packed tequila bar, voted the best secret bar of 2015 by the Miami New Times. There’s also El Carajo, (inside the BP on 17th ave and US1), a hip Spanish wine bar squirreled away inside a gas station (seriously). You can also check out Thrillist’s list of top Miami speakeasies for a more comprehensive glimpse. For the best under-the-radar music scene, check out Miami Music Club (91 NE 40th St), an experimental pop-up club that blends electronic music and visual arts into an enlightened amalgam of modern cool. Kush (2003 North Miami Ave) is a tiny little gastropub at the edge of Wynwood that has an impressive tap list and equally impressive fried alligator.
Miami vibrates with art, and the Wynwood neighborhood has become the hub of Miami contemporary urban art over the last several years. The Wynwood walls (2520 NW 2nd Ave) — a revitalization effort of a once-tired warehouse district — offer one of the richest collections of street art in the world, including works by Shepard Fairey and FUTURA. You can also opt to take a guided tour with the Wynwood Art Walk, and take part in the Second Saturday festivities every second Saturday of the month. There are also some amazing murals at Jose de Diego Middle School (3100 NW 5th Ave), voted the best public art in 2015. Recharge with a beer at The Butcher Shop (165 NW 23rd St), and swing by the Pérez Art Museum Miami (1103 Biscayne Blvd) while you’re in the hood.
Also of note is Miami Ironside (7610 NE 4th Ct) in the Upper Eastside, an artist colony with cafes, galleries, and even a piece of the Berlin Wall.
For a more traditional museum experience, the Institute of Contemporary Art (4040 NE 2nd Avenue) brings a vibrant permanent collection to the masses highlighting local and international artists, and an enticing roster of exhibitions (right now it’s John Miller through June 12, 2016) for free, that’s right, FREE admission.
For all you film buffs out there, steer clear of the local multiplex and instead cool off in the darkness of Miami’s best indie arthouse theaters. The Cosford Cinema at the University of Miami screens cutting-edge indie films, and O Cinema, with three locations in Wynwood, Miami Beach, and Miami Shores, brings arthouse flicks to all corners of the city. Trade those fluffy summer blockbusters for the fringes of mainstream film.
Spring is heating up and Miami gets real warm during the summer swelter, but Miami Spice gives locals and visitors an impossible-to-resist reason to stick around in sticky August. Miami Spice offers three-course meals at Miami’s most acclaimed restaurants for dirt-cheap prices ($23 for lunch, $39 for dinner). Simmer in the ocean waves by day and explore Miami’s gastronomical all-stars by night for a perfectly chill summer weekend.
Cuba’s borders may be open to Americans now, but you don’t have to voyage to Havana to get a taste of authentic Cuba. Check out Versailles (3555 SW 8th St) for a killer cuban sandwich, yucca frita, and platano frito. The cubano at Luis Galindo’s Latin American Cafeteria & Restaurant (898 Red Rd) was voted best of Miami last year, and El Exquisito Restaurant (1510 SW 8th St) is a solid option as well.
Miamians keep their beach bods taut by tapping into the healthy side of the city. Get your fruits and veggies at Pinecrest Farmers Market (11000 SW 57th Ave), the only farmer’s market around that’s open year-round, juice up at any of Jugofresh’s locations (and recreate your own Beyoncé photo with all your fans at the Wynwood location — 222 NW 26th S), take a vegan cooking class at Veganaroma (3808 SW 8th St.), and go for a nice run down the Venetian Causeway for some sweeping views of some crazy mansions.
South Beach is something to behold in its own right (for better or for worse), but if you’re not looking for a thong-clad, lubed-up scene, try some of Miami’s tamer beaches. Virginia Key Beach (4020 Virginia Beach Dr) is great for barbecues or watersports, and Crandon Park Beach is routinely named one of America’s best beaches. If you must venture to Miami Beach, consider going north instead of south to check out the North Beach Bandshell for free or cheap concerts and a nearby food truck rally.
Kitsch is no stranger to Miami. Be sure to check out Stiltsville, a super random, yet quite historical, collection of houses on stilts in the middle of Biscayne Bay. Built by Crawfish Eddie in the ‘20s and ‘30s, Stiltsville was THE place to go for gambling and boozing during prohibition. Now it’s more of a novel curiosity for out-of-towners.
Another slice of Miami randomness is Safari Edventure (23700 SW 142nd Ave), a non-profit that lets visitors hang out and interact with some of the world’s coolest and most exotic animals, like wolves, anteaters, and my personal fave, sloths (!). For an extra dose of weirdness should you be a snowbird in the winter months, swing by Santa’s Enchanted Forest (7900 SW 40th St) for some holiday themed fun.