Before a recent trip to Miami I had, what I felt, was a fairly reasonable set of assumptions about this city—fast cars, beautiful people, wild nightlife, and expensive fashion. Otherwise known as not my scene.
What would a card-carrying Gap girl, with a little pudge around the middle, and a 10pm hard stop find to keep her happy in Miami? Well, Greater Miami as it turns out, is not all vice. So if you’re debating where to go next now that the world is opening up again, here is what you need to know before you go to Miami and Beaches.
Sustainability is Top of Mind
Over the last two years I’ve had a lot of time to think about travel and how I interact with the destinations I visit. Tourism can bring a lot of revenue to destinations, allows for revitalization, and gives communities the opportunity to grow. The flip side of that is locals can be robbed of income (particularly where cruise lines are concerned), and more crucially, tourism can wreak havoc on the environment. The bottom line is that responsible travel is the only option going forward. For more on this, I highly recommend you see The Last Tourist.
All of this is to say that Greater Miami, gets it. It’s no secret that climate change has a target on Florida’s back, and nobody knows that better than the people who live here. You can take a peek at local government initiatives here.
At almost every stop, during my five days in the Greater Miami area, there was evidence that hotels, restaurants, and tour operators are making efforts to increase sustainability efforts, but to me there were a couple of notable exceptions.
There are many that feel in order to save the environment you have to give up the finer things in life. The Palms Hotel & Spa is here to prove you wrong. You can have it both ways. From the farm-to-table food found at their restaurant Essenia, to the waste reduction measures in rooms and for water usage, The Palms is not just paying lip service to sustainability. Their “Inspired by Nature” program guides their environmental policy on everything from décor and cusine, to recycling and beach clean-up. Bottom line, leave this property relaxed and rested knowing that the footprint you left behind was minimal.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens covers an impressive 83 acres and for locals its the perfect venue for weddings, company events, and school trips. For those visiting from afar, it’s an absolute must see. With a focus on botany, conservation science, and environmental education, The Fairchild has over 23,000 plants, all lovingly cared for by groundskeepers and staff. The most impressive part for me though, were the wild orchids.
Orchids, at one time, were found all over south Florida but as urbanization took over, orchids were picked by locals to virtual extinction. Bringing them back has not been as simple as planting and watering a seed. Orchids are incredibly fickle with microscopic seeds that will only adhere and grow to a certain bacteria found in soil. The Fairchild has spent years essentially conducting plant IVF by harvesting the pollen in a lab on site, and carefully planting it in their lush gardens. The result, after years of hard work, is paying off and orchids are now starting to grow wild without assistance. They still have a long way to go, but I can tell you that if you love orchids then you’ll marvel at seeing them grow on trees as you meander through the tropical forests here.
Also of note at The Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is the exotic butterfly exhibit called Wings of the Tropics. Set in a small “Garden of Eden”, guests can stroll amongst brightly coloured butterflies like the Blue Morpho and rare plants. There is something quite calming about this experience and while you should take loads of pictures, I also recommend you put the tech away and just breath in the wonder that surrounds you.
Finally, I’d never heard of Dale Chihuly prior to our visit to the Fairchild, but from the moment I saw his blown glass art so naturally placed in the pond at the entrance, as if Mother Nature herself had shot up vibrant purple glass from beneath the surface, I was obsessed. Look for exhibits throughout the gardens and take a minute to marvel at the beauty and complexity of his designs.
If there’s one thing to know for certain about Miami it’s that the skyline is always changing. Miami is a rapidly growing city and with that you’d expect some loss of historic buildings, particularly in the Miami Beach Art Deco area. With an understanding that unscrupulous developers would love nothing more than to insert towering resorts overlooking the stunning beaches in this area, Miami moved to protect the 850 art deco buildings located in this area, and for that we all owe them a debt of gratitude.
I could easily have spent a full week simply walking and exploring the buildings that span a total of one square mile and face some of the bluest water and whitest sand I’ve ever seen. Be sure to stop at the Miami Beach Welcome Center and book a walking tour. Reasonably priced at $30 per adult and $25 for seniors, the volunteer staff at the welcome centre can point out a lot of the quirky characteristics and unique materials used in this area you would likely miss if left to your own devices. When it’s all over grab a map and head out solo, armed with the knowledge you need to appreciate this unique neighbourhood.
Once referred to as “God’s waiting room” when the average age of residents was 64, Miami Beach now has a younger set breathing life into this iconic area. In particular, you can escape the heat and catch a glimpse of the future 100 years from now as envisioned by Artechouse Digital Museum. An interactive experience guests can explore the cyberpunk cityscape of an industrial future.
For both weird and historic you won’t want to miss the Coral Castle. This oddity has been the subject of many documentaries, tv shows, and podcasts as its construction remains largely a mystery. Built by Edward Leedskalnin, a rather diminutive man, as a show of love for a young girl he would ultimately never partner with, The Coral Castle will leave you scratching your head. How did this 5 foot tall, 100 pound man erect the walls, doors, and sculptures without assistance? It’s remains a mystery to this day, which is part of the appeal of course of visiting.
In news to no one, this world class city has a wide variety of dining establishments that reflect its diverse community. In short, foodies will not be disappointed with what Miami has to over. Here are four can’t miss establishments:
I have had some impressive meals in my travels in Italy, France, and Tahiti, but Zitz Sum located in Coral Gables is on par with all of them. A recent addition to the dining scene, I would recommend going out of your way for this one. Every single dish created by Chef Pablo Zitzmann and Natalia Restrepo, bursts with intense flavour and texture. I am loath to pick a favourite, because every dish we had was exceptional but if you were to twist my arm, I would say do not leave without ordering the Sheng Jian Bao. Okay fine, and the wagyu if it’s available. I told you I couldn’t pick one!
As you’re exploring the Art Deco buildings in Miami Beach, you’ll no doubt build up an appetite which is a very good thing because it’s an excuse to pop into the Time Out Market. A curated food hall, the Time Out Market houses 17 kitchens and 3 bars. Simply put, even the pickiest eater will find something to love here, and those who love all food, will struggle to decide what to get their fill on. The vibe here is chill with communal tables, and is the perfect way to fuel up for more exploration.
If you’ve ever traveled to Italy, the expectation for Italian food anywhere else in the world is held against a very high standard. Thankfully Osteria Morini, located in Miami Beach, effortlessly delivers an authentic Italian menu with a heavy focus on foods from the Emilia-Romagna region. Throw on your stretchy pants for this one because you’ll find it hard to stop eating.
Finally, it would be a crime to visit Miami and not partake in dining heavily influenced by the Cuban population that calls this area home. La Cañita, is located in the Bayside Marketplace and delivers a fully rounded experience with delicious food from Jame Beard award-winning chef Michelle Bernstein and partner David Martinez, live curated music, and stunning waterfront views.
Outdoor Adventures on Point
There’s little doubt that sun-starved Canadians will come to Miami for the sun; it’s the belle of the ball after all. If, however, you’d rather have a root canal than lie on a beach towel for hours on end, then never fear, Miami has plenty of outdoor adventures suited for the ants-in-your-pants crowd.
At Deering Estate visitors can have double the fun, with outdoor adventure and rich history combined into one visit. Rent a kayak and paddle through Florida’s mangroves first and then stay and visit the buildings on this historic site afterwards.
Can you really say you’ve been to Florida if you haven’t encountered an alligator, or a hundred?
At Everglades Alligator Farm, guests can watch alligators being fed, take an exhilarating airboat ride through the Everglades, and get up close with a baby gator. An endangered species, the owners here are quite protective of their wards, and a trip here is a great way to educate yourself about the American Alligator and the efforts made to protect them.
Off the Beaten Path in Greater Miami
Be sure to take one day to get out of the city and explore the Greater Miami area.
Schnebley Winery is a delightful surprise. Walk into this oasis and enjoy an afternoon by their waterfalls tasting wine made from just about every fruit you can think of; avocado, passion fruit, pineapple, mango, guava, and coconut. If you fancy yourself a wine purist, please put your preconceived notions away and try these with an open mind as they are quite delicious. If I had room in my bag I would have left with many, MANY, bottles of AvoVino.
The story behind the fruit stand Robert is Here is the stuff of legend. In 1959, when Robert was six years old his father put him on a corner to sell cucumbers with signs strategically placed indicating that Robert is Here. Over the years, this fruit stand has grown and now carries exotic and local fruits of all varieties plus an overwhelming assortment of preserves and honeys. The best part though is that Robert really is there, and I have the receipts.
Certainly not one to rest on his laurels Robert still dutifully shows up and gets his hands dirty daily. Not to be overly preachy here, but small business owners like Robert, who employ so many locals and roll up their sleeves alongside them are worth a piece of your vacation time. Added bonus, this is the perfect place to stock up on orange blossom honey, and a variety of preserves. They’ll even wrap them for you so they don’t break in your luggage.
Just because I don’t often make it past 10pm doesn’t mean you won’t, and to be honest, even I was able to push myself a little bit further on this trip. Miami simply pulsates with energy and it’s hard not to get swept away by it all.
If you’re looking to capture that quintessential Miami vibe, I would highly recommend staying at the Selina, or at a minimum make a reservation to enjoy a fantastic meal at this utterly Instagrammable location.
It’s hard not to visit Miami, and not get swept up in the impeccably dressed locals. Thankfully you can head to Lincoln Road and shop your heart out so you can fit right in. For Canadians, who are used to either shopping inside a mall or racing from store to store in freezing weather for half the year, this shopping promenade is a little slice of heaven. Even if you don’t buy a thing, you can’t help but appreciate the setting.
Not just for shopping, you’ll also find a wide variety of restaurants and bars to enjoy al fresco. For a bit of silly fun, be sure to check out the Museum of Illusions.
Finally, true city slickers will want to be close to all, and the AC Hotel Brickell puts you there. I fell in love with the rooftop pool here, but for those who want to take in the night scene in Miami this hotel puts you within walking distance of the hottest bars and restaurants. Worth noting, one of Miami’s most popular bars right now, Rosa Sky, is conveniently located right next door.
Final Thoughts on Why You Should Go to Miami
There is something for everyone in Greater Miami, from outdoor enthusiasts to night owls. For Canadians though, perhaps the biggest draw is that it’s a drivable destination. It takes as long to get to Miami as it does to travel across Ontario. For those that love road tripping, the journey is scenic and offers an abundance of places to rest along the way.
For those that prefer to fly, direct flights to Miami are offered from most major airports daily. In addition, let’s not forget that Florida is a second home to over half a million fellow Canadians. It’s hard not to feel at home here, eh?