This is the first post in a new travel series where I’ll be sharing my recommendations for small, local businesses that I encounter in my domestic and international journeys. Since I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that I am in every sense of the word, a “foodie”, you can trust that the restaurants below will be nothing less than mind-blowing.
Miami, or, as I like to refer to it, the “Las Vegas of the East Coast” is a hot, vibrant city coursing with energy, loud music on every corner, and international flavors. It is also, as I happily found out, full of local gems and small businesses galore. There is absolutely NO reason to step foot in Señor Frog’s or Starbucks, or spend your money at big name hotels like the Hilton or Radisson.
I recently traveled last month (March) with my sister to Miami/Miami Beach for four days, and we had an absolutely amazing time despite the fact that we spent about one hour on the actual beach itself. Below are some of our favorite spots that I would highly recommend visiting if you make it to Miami!
*We are both also gluten free (the Celiac gene runs in our family due to our Irish heritage), so for those of you in the same boat, this will be an added bonus.
Located in the Wynwood district of Miami, this taco joint is hip, with lines out the door during its peak hours. They feature myriad types of tacos, burritos, and bowls, along with scrumptious appetizers like the esquites featured above, along with specialty frozen drinks and juices. Will please carnivores to vegans, and everything in between.
The Smoothie Shop
I visited this Caribbean-themed shop twice in four days, because that’s how good their vegetable and fruit juices are. When the sun was it at its peak and I couldn’t dream of eating, their healthy juices made fresh in front of my eyes gave me the nutrition and hydration I needed. All their juices and smoothies are easily customized, and they also have a variety of breakfast and lunch options available; if you’re looking for more sustenance.
Under the Mango Tree
I had never had an acai bowl prior to this trip, however, my sister insisted that they were life-changing, which led me to search out and find this oasis of clean eating. In addition to acai bowls (there are many options available, including gluten free), they have sandwiches, hot drinks, juices, smoothies, and salads. I’m not sure that a restaurant could have a better vibe or more healthy food (that tastes as good as it looks) than this shop.
On our way to the Fort Lauderdale airport we stumbled upon this 100% gluten free restaurant. For those of you who are shaking their head at this, stop right now, because the food was incredible, and I guarantee you wouldn’t even notice that it was anything other than delicious on all levels. I had Eggs Benedict with turkey bacon, and it blew my mind.
The Salty Donut
I think that this was one of my favorite dining experiences in Miami. My sister and I walked in and almost fainted with the aromas of coffee and the pans of freshly baked donuts in flavors such as tres leches, nutella, guava and cheese, and maple bacon. Unfortunately, because we’re living that gluten-free life, we were limited to their one daily option, but it was nonetheless a divine experience. Pictured above is the Samoas (that’s right, like the Girl Scout cookie) gluten-free donut and salted caramel iced latte. I promise you, it doesn’t get better than this.
Also located in the Wynwood district of Miami (near Coyo Taco, The Salty Donut, and Nomad Tribe; as well as myriad beautiful murals), Panther Coffee is a hipster cafe boasting outdoor seating beneath a low-hanging, shady tree. I sipped their soy cappuccino, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
While I didn’t buy anything (I already have too many clothes!), I would have loved to support this company that produces and sells eco and social-conscious fashion. The displays were eye-catching, the storefront bright, and the clothing soft and high-quality.
This pint-sized museum packs a punch, and, for the price of the $10 admission fee, you can experience some pretty fantastic contemporary art. The museum has two floors, gorgeous grounds with ancient Baboab trees, a multi-towered colored rock sculpture, and a cute little cafe. I’d recommend approximately an hour for a visit and suggest putting it at the top of places to visit.
Vizcaya Museum & Gardens
You’ll have to drive to this attraction, but it’s certainly worth it. While admission is a bit steep ($18 for adults, $6 for kids; $10 with a student id), the house, gardens, and view of the ocean are absolutely breathtaking. I’d recommend approximately 1-2 hours for a visit, and there is a cafe on site when you need a break from all of the walking. Fun fact: the owner was a member of the Deering family of Portland, Maine.
Miami Botanical Gardens
I fell in love with this tropical, tree-covered sanctuary in the middle of the city. It’s free, and very peaceful; perfect when you need to escape the heat and spend some time regathering your energy. I was amazed at the size and age of the trees and delighted with appearances of many types of butterflies. Bring a blanket and cold beverage for extra enjoyment.
Princess Ann Hotel
We stayed at the Princess Ann Hotel located on Miami Beach for four nights and were quite pleased with the location (five minute walk from the beach) and amenities. While it’s by no means fancy (especially for the price of $100/night), they provide a free breakfast and quiet rooms.
When booking your hotel, avoid the big corporate names and, instead, find a small, independent establishment to give your business. Not only will you be supporting a locally-owned company, but I bet you’ll also enjoy a more personalized experience.
- Parking: overnight parking is very expensive ($30/night on average on Miami Beach), and the public transportation options are sub-par, so I would recommend taking Ubers/Lyfts/cabs when necessary to get around Miami and then using your feet to walk around Miami Beach.
- For trips to the Everglades or to other places outside of the city, rent a car for the day or pay for a night of valet parking at your hotel to then drop it off at the airport on your way home (we did this and it worked out really well).
- To/from the airport:
- Miami airport: either arrange for your hotel to pick you up/drop you off with their shuttle (if they have one), or hop in an Uber/Lyft/cab.
- Fort Lauderdale airport: either rent a car or pay for an Uber/Lyft/cab. It’s quite a bit further from the Miami airport to Miami/Miami beach; and, as I mentioned previously, the public transportation options are limited and time consuming. Because I had some extra time on my way there, I took the train from Fort Lauderdale to the Miami station, but then still ended up having to take an Uber/Lyft/cab to my hotel on Miami Beach, and it took close to two hours, instead of the 40 minutes that a car would have been.
Other Tips for Traveling in Miami
- Attractions: If you’d like to enjoy the beach, but would also like to soak up some culture while you’re there and not just drink yourself silly; be assured, there are plenty of museums and historical sites to see. Most are within a 20-30 minute drive of Miami Beach and are easy to locate. There is also an up-and-coming arts scene in the city, so be sure to check out the Wynwood murals and other galleries scattered around the city. A native also told us that the Fashion district is really nice, but, unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to visit it on this trip.
- The Beach: Head out to the beach early for a prime spot. Many of the hotels bring out beach chairs and umbrellas for rent, but there is no need to spend money if you have your own. Be sure to ask the front desk staff at your hotel for a beach towel.
- Put sun screen on before you leave your hotel. Even if you’re not heading to the beach, my sister and I got some serious sun just walking around town. Also, bring a hat and some good sun glasses; and then wear them!
- Drink lots of water and carry a water bottle around with you to fill up as you go. Miami is VERY hot and humid, and not for the faint of heart. It takes serious energy and money to party like the natives.
- Best happy hour spots are those located on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach where you can get a 2-for-1 giant (and strong) cocktail during their early and late night happy hours. Point to note: restaurants along Ocean Drive automatically add gratuity to your bill regardless of the party size, so don’t tip extra unless your server went above and beyond. Avoid the hookah at these spots since it will run you $45 on average.
That’s it! Enjoy 🙂
*I’m happy to answer any other questions if you’re planning a trip!