48 hours in . . . Miami, an insider guide to South Florida's cultural cool kid

Shayne Benowitz
South Beach is usually the first thing people think of when it comes to Miami – but there's so much more

Sun, sand, and a thriving cultural scene

South Beach is usually the first thing people think of when it comes to Miami; famous for its turquoise Atlantic shoreline, kitschy Art Deco architecture, Latin swagger and pulsating nightlife. While this portrait is accurate, Miami is in the midst of a decade-long cultural renaissance. Neighbourhoods such as Wynwood, the Design District, Downtown, Little Haiti and Little Havana have injected the city with newfound energy, buzzy homegrown restaurants and hipster bars.

Thanks in part to Art Basel Miami Beach, North America’s largest contemporary art fair, held in December, Miami now boasts a bona fide international arts scene year-round. New landmark museums include Perez Art Museum Miami and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. Still, the simple pleasure of a day at one of the city's beautiful beaches is hard to beat.

Hot right now . . .

Shayne Benowitz, our resident expert, offers her top tips on the best things to do and places to eat and stay this season. 

Do

With free admission, an alluring location in the stylish Design District and cutting-edge contemporary art, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (61 NE 41 St; 00 1 305 901 5272) is a must-visit for anyone who wants a taste of the latest in Miami culture.

The best free things to do in Miami

See the latest in Miami culture at the Institute of Contemporary Art Credit: Photo: Iwan Baan./Iwan Baan

Eat

Palmar (180 NW 29 St.; 00 1 305 573 5682) is an intimate, haute Chinese restaurant with a casual yet hip vibe by the team behind Alter, one of Miami’s most revered restaurants. The menu is ever-changing, but don't miss the soft-shell crab fried rice or the whole roasted duck. 

The best restaurants in Miami

Palmar is an intimate haute Chinese restaurant with a casual yet hip vibe

Stay

Four Seasons Surfside at the Surf Club (9011 Collins Ave.; 00 1 305 381 3333) is a feat of sublime architectural and design harmony from Richard Meier and Joseph Dirand. Soak it in over a flute of Ruinart at Le Sirenuse’s champagne bar just off the lobby.

The best hotels in Miami 

Le Sirenuse Champagne Bar in Four Seasons Surfside at the Surf Club

48 hours in . . . Miami

Day one

MORNING

Get your morning started by taking in the sights and sounds ofSouth Beach. The heart of Ocean Drive spans from 5th to 15th streets and runs parallel to Lummus Park and the beach. It’s a cacophonous swirl of neon lights, pulsing music, Art Deco architecture and sidewalk cafés. Instead of grabbing a table, take a stroll to get a taste of this somewhat infamous strip.

Get lunch atLa Sandwicherie (229 14th St.; 00 1 305 532 8934), a charming lunch counter specialising in enormous sandwiches on baguettes or croissants. I love the chicken salad, piled high with lettuce, tomato, onion, cornichons, olives, peppers, Swiss cheese and crave-worthy French vinaigrette. Eat at the counter or take it down to the beach for the perfect picnic.

The best beaches in Miami

South Beach's Ocean Drive is a cacophonous swirl of neon lights, pulsing music, Art Deco architecture and sidewalk cafés Credit: Pgiam/Pgiam

AFTERNOON

If you're looking for an active way to enjoy Miami's gorgeous weather, head to South Beach Kayakand give stand-up paddle boarding a try. This family-owned business will get you oriented so that you can set off on a self-guided exploration along the tranquil waters of Biscayne Bay. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, manatees and egrets as you paddle along. Head past Belle Isle (underneath the Venetian Causeway towards the uninhabited Flagler Memorial Island) for a swim.

Credit: Scott B Smith Imagery/Scott B Smith Photography

LATE

Freshen up for dinner and head to Sunset Harbour, a trendy South Beach enclave overlooking Biscayne Bay that locals flock to. Grab dinner at Pubbelly Sushi (1424 20th St.; 00 1 305 531 9282) where you’ll delight in creative, deconstructed sushi by beloved local chef José Mendin, with a backdrop of playful anime-like characters drawn on the walls. The bigeye tuna roll on crispy rice drizzled with truffle oil is one of my favourite dishes. Afterwards, head down the street for drinks at Bay Club (1930 Bay Rd.; 00 1 305 695 4441). You'll find a local crowd mingling over craft cocktails and glasses of Italian wine.

Delight in creative, deconstructed sushi by beloved local chef José Mendin at Pubbelly Sushi

If you’re not ready to call it a night, you’re in the right place. South Beach is famous for its unrivalled nightlife and filled with hedonistic megaclubs. Start at Basement at the chic Miami Beach EDITION hotel (2901 Collins Ave.; 00 1 786 257 4600). This multi-faceted, semi-subterranean lounge features an intimate dance club dubbed Disco Box, a four-lane bowling alley and a small ice skating rink. For the true club kids, all roads lead to LIV (4441 Collins Ave.; 00 1 305 674 4680), the two-level megaclub at the Fontainebleau, known for headlining DJs ranging from Tiesto to David Guetta. It’s smart to purchase tickets in advance. The main acts go on at around 2am, when the confetti starts flying and glow sticks come out.

Basement at the Miami EDITION has an intimate dance club, a four-lane bowling alley and a small ice skating rink

• The best restaurants in Miami


Day two

MORNING

Start your morning in Little Havana at the legendary Versailles Cuban restaurant (3555 SW 8th St.; 00 1 305 444 0240) where you can either grab a table inside for a proper breakfast or order from the ventanita (hole in the wall) and sample sweet, strong Cuban coffee with pastelitos, such as guava and cream cheese pastries, croquetas and empanadas.

You can also book a Little Havana Tour (00 1 305 814 8884) with cultural anthropologist Corinna J. Moebius to explore Domino Park, Cuban bakeries, rum shops, cigar shops, art galleries and fruit markets in just a few short blocks along the famed Calle Ocho.

• The best free things to do Miami

Book a Little Havana Tour to explore Domino Park, Cuban bakeries, rum shops, cigar shops, art galleries and fruit markets Credit: littleny/littleny

AFTERNOON

Head downtown for the afternoon and visit the Perez Art Museum Miami (1103 Biscayne Blvd.; 00 1 305 375 3000) on Museum Park overlooking Biscayne Bay, set inside an architecturally significant building by Herzog & de Meuron. The contemporary collection focuses on international art of the 20th and 21st centuries from the perspective of the Americas. There’s also a lovely museum restaurant, Verde (1103 Biscayne Blvd.; 00 1 305 375 8282), offering grab-and-go selections, as well as a formal dining room with spectacular views of the bay (expect seasonal salads, pizza and pasta).

Credit: NicolasMcComber

Continue your culture crawl north to epicentre of the Wynwood Arts District. Wynwood Walls is an outdoor museum devoted to street art. Wander past the walls to discover works by artists such as Shepard Fairey, Retna, Kenny Scharf and the London Police. The sprawling complex includes a garden, indoor gallery and the studio of local artist Peter Tunney.

Wynwood Walls is an outdoor museum devoted to street art Credit: 2017 Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan

LATE

Get off your feet and prepare for a beautiful dinner at one of Miami’s hippest restaurants. KYU (251 NW 25th St.; 00 1 786 577 0150) is dedicated to pan-Asian, wood-fired cuisine with both small and large dishes perfect for sharing. A few of my favourites include cauliflower drenched in shishito-herb vinaigrette and goat's cheese, hamachi with white ponzu and green chilli, Thai fried rice stone pot, Korean fried chicken, red snapper with brown butter and white miso, and wagyu beef brisket. There's also an excellent wine and cocktail selection.

KYU is one of Miami's hippest restaurants, and serves pan-Asian wood-fired cuisine

If nightclubs aren’t your thing, not to worry. Miami has its fair share of mellow late-night haunts. While you’re in Wynwood, hit up Wood Tavern (2531 NW 2nd Ave.; 00 1 305 748 2828). With its beer garden-style back patio and craft beers on tap, it's best around happy hour, but the party goes late as the hipsters flock. Gramps (176 NW 24th St.; 00 1 305 699 2669) is another great option with a large outdoor patio and multiple rooms playing host to anything from rock music to stand-up comedy. Order the Penicillin, made with Scotch and honey.

If you’re still not ready to call it a night, head downtown to The Corner (1035 N Miami Ave.; 00 1 305 961 7887). This hip cocktail bar, which is more New Orleans than Miami, stays open until 8am on the weekend, so the party really never has to stop.

While you’re in Wynwood, hit up the Wood Tavern, with its beer garden-style back patio and craft beers on tap Credit: 2016

The best nightlife in Miami

Where to stay . . .

Luxury Living

Faena Miami Beach is a theatrical fantasia in red, gold and tiger print, dusted with mind-bending contemporary art. Both commissioned and acquired art is deeply incorporated into the hotel’s design scheme. Outside by the pool, a woolly mammoth skeleton dipped in 24-carat gold stands inside a temperature-controlled glass case overlooking the beach, palm trees swaying overhead.

Doubles from $500 (£355). 3201 Collins Ave.; 00 1 305 534 8800

Faena Miami Beach is a theatrical fantasia in red, gold and tiger print

Boutique Beauty

The Plymouth has a louche, subtropical clubhouse appeal with an oval-shaped lobby outfitted in rich jewel tones and an original Art Deco mural restored by artist Roman Chatov. It feels like a hidden secret, located a couple of blocks off the beach on Collins Park in South Beach’s northern perimeter.

Doubles from $200 (£163). 336 21st St; 00 1 305 602 5000

In addition to the swimming pool, The Plymouth also offers beach service Credit: Mike Faircloth

Budget Bolthole

This hip hotel-hostel is housed in a 1930s Art Deco building, formerly the Indian Creek Hotel. The Roman and Williams design is eclectic with mix-and-match furniture, but Freehand Miami's highlight is the lush, expansive courtyard with a nearby pool, home to the award-winning Broken Shaker cocktail bar, which has a party vibe at night and a mellow one during the day.

Dorms from $30 (£22). 2727 Indian Creek Dr; 001 305 531 2727

Freehand Miami's highlight is the lush, expansive courtyard with a nearby pool

A complete guide to the best hotels in Miami

What to bring home . . .

Take home a piece of Miami’s street art at Wynwood Walls Shop (2516 NW 2nd Ave; 00 1 305 531 44 11) where you can buy prints and original works by artists such as Shepard Fairey, Maya Hayuk and Retna. 

Cuban-style cigars are rolled in Little Havana at family-owned shops such as El Titan de Bronze (071 SW 8th st; 00 1 305 860 1412) andLittle Havana Cigar Factory (1501 SW 8th St; 00 1 305 541 1103).

You can buy prints and original works by Miami street artists at Wynwood Walls shop Credit: JORDAN BRAUN

The best shopping in Miami

When to go . . .

High season in Miami runs from November to April, when many visitors from colder parts of the US and from Canada descend in droves on the city for some subtropical warmth and sunshine. Daytime temperatures in winter are normally in the mid 20s. In summer, it's much hotter (typically around 30 degrees celcius during the day) and more humid. As this is the low season in Miami, hotel rates fall by as much as 50 per cent (August and September are normally best for absolute bargains) and everywhere is less crowded.

Various major events take place through the winter. Topping the list is Art Basel Miami Beach (1901 Convention Center Dr) in December – North America’s largest and buzziest contemporary art fair. There’s also the Miami Book Fair International (600 Biscayne Blvd; 00 1 305 237 3258) in November; the South Beach Wine & Food Festival and Miami International Boat Show in February; and the Ultra Music Festival in March.

Know before you go . . .

Essential Information

British Consulate General: 1001 Brickell Bay Drive, Brickell, 33131; 00 1 305 400 6400; gov.uk

Tourist information: 
miamiandbeaches.com and miamibeachguest.com. The Miami Beach Visitors Center (00 1 786 276 2763; open daily 10am-4pm) is located in Hall C of the Miami Beach Convention Center, 1901 Convention Center Drive, South Beach, 33139


Sightseeing passes: A Go Miami Card (smartdestinations.com), valid for one, two, three or five days over a two-week period, covers admission on 34 attractions. Prices start from $65 (£50) for a one-day pass (children aged three-12 $52 [£40])

Tipping: It’s customary to leave between 15-20 per cent for service. Unlike elsewhere in the US, an 18 per cent gratuity/tip is often automatically added to your bill at restaurants and nightlife spots in South Beach. This isn’t always the case, so to avoid over- or under-tipping, be sure to check your bill to see if a gratuity has been included

Getting around: Taxis and ride-sharing apps, like Uber and Lyft, are readily available throughout Miami, especially in popular tourist destinations like South Beach, Wynwood, the Design District and Brickell. While Miami is a driver's city much as Los Angeles is, there are a variety of public transportation options that can be useful, especially if you're traveling within a single neighbourhood. The free Miami Beach Trolley operates multiple loops throughout the city. There's also an extensive Metrobus and Metrorail system throughout mainland Miami, as well as the free Metromover for getting around downtown.

Local laws and etiquette:

• In the US, sales tax is added after a purchase and not included in advertised prices. Sales tax in Florida is six per cent: this applies to purchases in shops, and in bars and restaurants. A hotel tax of 13 per cent applies in Miami. Prices given in this guide for attractions, restaurants, bars and hotels have been calculated to include sales tax.

• Roughly 70 per cent of Miami’s population is Spanish speaking. However, most people are bilingual, so you’ll be able to communicate just fine in English.

• Drinking alcohol on the beach is technically illegal, but widely practised. Just be discreet and you’ll be fine. 

• Topless sunbathing on the beach is common in multicultural and exhibitionist South Beach.

Basics

Emergency services: 911; non-emergencies, 00 1 305 476 5423

Currency: US dollar

Time difference: - 5 hours

Flight time: London to Miami is around nine hours

Author bio

Shayne Benowitz has called South Beach home for almost a decade. She loves the city’s blend of subtropical beauty and international cosmopolitan flair.

Experience Miami with The Telegraph

Telegraph Travel's best hotels, tours, cruises and holidays in Miami, tried, tested and recommended by our Miami experts.

  1. Hotels

    Hotels

  2. Tours

    Tours

  3. Cruises

    Cruises

  4. Hotels + flight

    Hotels + flight