Things to Do in Miami that Don’t Involve Sand
Butt crack sand can be a real bummer. And while no Miami vacation would be complete without hitting some of the stellar beaches, sometimes you’re just not in the mood for it. But fear not, lovers of a dry derriere, for there are plenty of cool things to do in Miami besides going to the beach. From culture to nature to good retail therapy, there’s something for everyone.
Ancient Spanish Monastery
The term “architectural marvel” is often tossed around lightly, but the Ancient Spanish Monastery truly deserves it.
Construction on the Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux began in Spain way back in 1133. The building was a home for Cistercian monks for almost 700 years until a social revolution in the 1830s. At that time, the monastery’s cloisters were seized and turned into a granary and stable.
Then, in 1925, newspaper bigwig William Randolph Hearst took notice of the impressive monastery. Mr. Hearst bought the cloisters and outbuildings and had them disassembled stone by stone. He then shipped them in over 11,000 crates to the U.S. However, Hearst had some financial problems and the shipment sat in a warehouse for 26 years until they were purchased for nearly $20 million in today’s currency. Time Magazine called putting the structure back together “the biggest jigsaw puzzle in history.”
Today, the monastery is home to a progressive Episcopal congregation. Tours are offered on most days for a small fee. Best of all, the guides seem to know every little detail of the architecture and history, so it’s definitely worth your time. Remember to check ahead beforehand, as the building may be closed for a special event such as a wedding.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
83 acres of tropical beauty await you at this enchanting botanical attraction. Popular with adults and kids alike, the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is home to internationally-renowned collections of cycads, tropical fruits and flowering trees, vines, and numerous endangered species. Their mission is to explore, explain, and conserve the biodiversity of all tropical plants.
Stroll the paths or take the tram through sunken gardens, 11 lakes, and the largest palm collection in the U.S.. Check out the huge leaves of the monstera deliciosa and the stunning heliconia or “lobster claw” plant. There’s even jackfruit – the largest fruit in the world. And don’t miss the Wings of the Tropics exhibit; home to dozens of species of exotic butterflies from around the world. Magic! This garden is one of the loveliest things to do in Miami.
Once the home of Florida businessman, art collector, and philanthropist Charles Deering, the sprawling Deering Estate encompasses 444 acres. Today, the estate is an environmental and archaeological preserve on Biscayne Bay and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nature lovers will enjoy canoe tours, butterfly walks, and guided nature hikes of the grounds. Keep your eyes peeled for fossils, as some dating back 50,000 years have been found. The estate is also a hub for visual, literary, and performing artists. Be sure to attend any of the numerous events while you’re in town.
This famous neighborhood is certainly one of the most upbeat things to do in Miami. Little Havana represents Miami’s mix of Latin cultures, but it will forever be the heart of Miami’s Cuban exile community.
Start off on the celebrated Calle Ocho (8th St.) and snap a photo with the brightly-painted roosters, visit the local art galleries, and check out the Walk of Fame. And tell Celia Cruz we said, “Azúcar!” And lest you think everything is laid-back here, head to Máximo Gómez Park, a.k.a Domino Park, to watch a few fiercely competitive rounds of dominoes, complete with trash talk. Feel the beat of the Latin music, catch a waft or two of cigar smoke from the cigar shops, and eat some of the best Cuban food anywhere. Coffee, pastries, sandwiches, cocktails… it’s all part of the wonderful sensory delight that is Little Havana.
Patricia & Phillip Frost Museum of Science
We know there are some of you who hear the word “museum” then promptly doze off. If that sounds familiar then head to the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science and chase the boring away. And no, this is not a silly science museum ideal for kids only; this place is six floors of awesome!
One of only 2 locations in the U.S. that incorporates a planetarium, aquarium, and science museum in one place, the Frost Science Museum is one of Miami’s best family-friendly attractions. Plus, as of this writing it’s the most technically-advanced planetarium in the world, featuring 8K resolution and incredible 360-degree views. The 500,000-gallon aquarium is home to about 3,800 individual animals from ~250 different species, and the environment mimics south Florida’s unique ecosystem.
The Frost Museum of Science is definitely one of the most educational and fun things to do in Miami. It inspires kids and adults alike to become good stewards of the environment. Plus, it’s a great way to restore your sense of wonder, if you’ve lost it in the daily hustle and bustle.
Let’s start with a story. Once upon a time there was a man named Edward Leedskalnin. Ed was born in Latvia in 1887, came from a family of stonemasons, and also worked in lumber camps. He was a very private person and fell in love with a young lady named Agnes Scuffs. Ed and Agnes planned to marry. One day before the wedding, however, Agnes called off the wedding and dumped Ed. Pretty devastating, right?
Some people might see a therapist but Ed went the unconventional route. He built a massive castle out of 1,100 tons of coral rock, which often measures 4,000 feet thick. What’s more, he built Coral Castle using only primitive hand tools and it took him 28 years. Ed was very secretive about the whole process and worked at night by lantern, so no one really knows how he accomplished such a feat. All he would say was that he understood laws of leverage and weight. And speaking of weight, Ed weighed a mere 100 pounds and stood a little over 5 feet tall. Oh, each section of the coral wall is 8 feet tall, 4 feet wide, 3 feet thick, and weighs more than 5.8 tons. So, what have you accomplished today?
Art Deco Walking Tour
The Art Deco District in South Beach contains 960 historic buildings and the largest collection of 1920s- and 1930s-era architecture in the world. And while some visitors are happy to just stroll along and admire the geometric designs and chrome accents, we recommend a more in-depth look at the sleek styles that make Ocean Drive and the surrounding area so unique: Art Deco, Mediterranean Revival, and Miami Modern (MiMo).
Start off at the Art Deco Museum and Welcome Center, home of the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL). This amazing nonprofit actively protects Miami’s architectural integrity. Walking tours are led by MDPL members, who are basically encyclopedias of everything you want to know about Art Deco and the buildings you’ll see on the tour. Note that you’ll gets loads of details, but you don’t have to have previous knowledge of architecture to be utterly fascinated by all the information and sights along the way.
Lincoln Road Mall
Usually, we wouldn’t recommend going to “the mall,” because that reminds us of shuttered up Cinnabons and winter mall walkers. But Lincoln Road is different. This spot bills itself as the place where “South Beach meets to shop, dine, and entertain.” They sure hit the nail on the head there.
A favorite with both locals and tourists, Lincoln Road Mall is a pedestrian-only promenade that spans 10 blocks. Shop for some of the most popular retail brands–from high end to fast fashion. Then, hit one of the many sidewalk cafes for some of the best people watching in Miami. You’ll probably see everything from bikinis to cocktail dresses to a shirtless dude on roller skates with a parrot on his shoulder. Or, if you prefer, simply admire the work of architect Morris Lapidus and the fun MiMo style.
World Erotic Art Museum
We chuckled when we first discovered this place because we might have an immature streak. However, we readily admit the WEAM has a lot of cool stuff. This museum is the only one of its kind in the United States. It features over 4,000 international works of erotic art dating from 300 BC to the present. This unique institution began as part of the private collection of Naomi Wilzig, wife of well-known Holocaust survivor Siggi Wilzig. Mr. Wilzig fled Auschwitz and eventually became a millionaire philanthropist.
The collection includes works from famous artists such as Dalí, Rembrandt, Picasso, Mapplethorpe and more. There are also life-size sculptures of women using sex toys and more penises and vulvas than you’ve probably ever seen at one time. Or not… we won’t judge. One caveat: Rethink taking your kids and/or your mom because um, awkward. Our promise: This is one of the weirdest things to do in Miami.
This once-blighted industrial neighborhood is now home to over 130 showrooms, art galleries, antique stores, retail stores, creative services, bars, and restaurants, each with its own panache. Looking for luxury? Then the fashionable Design District is the place to be. You’ll find names like Christian Louboutin, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Prada, Balenciaga, and Cartier, to name a few. There are also a number of carefully curated boutiques and home furnishing stores specializing in many different styles.
If you’d love to visit but hate to fork over so much dough, check out the schedule of free guided public art and architectural tours showcasing world-renowned artists and designers. Or just window shop and people watch, both of which are pretty good here.
Miami Beach Botanical Garden
Located near Lincoln Road, the lovely Miami Beach Botanical Garden is a real Miami Beach oasis. Founded in 1962 as a city park, the garden had deteriorated by the 1980s and 1992’s hurricane Andrew delivered a devastating blow. In 1996, a group of residents formed the Miami Beach Garden Conservancy and began to add a wide variety of plant life. Then, in 2011, the garden got a $1.2 million dollar facelift by renowned Florida landscape architect Raymond Jungles (whose name is fitting, don’t you think?).
The garden now features winding pathways traversing a relaxing environment of expansive water gardens, Florida-native species, flowering trees, cycads, orchids, and more. Billed as “Miami Beach’s back yard,” the garden is a great place for a stroll or family picnic on the lawn. There are also a variety of public programs and activities.
Head down the road a bit to Coral Gables and you’ll find the largest freshwater pool in the U.S. Founded in 1924 by Coral Gables Developer George Merrick and dubbed the “Venetian Casino,” the 820,000 gallon Venetian Pool is fed by an underground aquifer. The pool is a summertime tradition for residents and visitors alike. It also features stunning Mediterranean architecture, two cascading waterfalls, and a cave-like grotto to add to the fair-weather fun. Add to that swaying palm trees and the location’s signature bridge and you have the perfect swimming spot. It’s also the only swimming pool on the National Register of Historic Places, which is very cool, indeed. One note: If you’re a laid back adult looking to relax, go mid-week during the school year. Otherwise you’ll be “Marco Polo-ed” to death.
Art lovers and social media addicts definitely shouldn’t miss “Miami’s most-Instagrammed place.” Wynwood Walls is an ever-changing (and funky) outdoor gallery of muralists and street artists. Think “street art” is someone’s initials on a bridge? Nope… the caliber of the work here is simply exceptional. It represents the coming of age and constant evolvement of street art. What was once a decaying neighborhood is now an explosion of color and vibrancy thanks to real estate developer and arts visionary Tony Goldman. There are several spots at the Wynwood Walls to sit and admire the always-changing artwork. Be sure to check out the iconic art of Shepard Fairey near the entrance, which remains constant. (He did the famous Obama “Hope” poster.)
New World Center
This South Beach concert hall was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry and is home to the New World Symphony. Officially, the venue is home base for the orchestral academy, but actively strives to engage the community through a variety of music-centric programs and events. There’s even outdoor yoga set to classical music! You can also check out any of their free, live WALLCAST events that are projected onto the 7,000-sq.ft. outdoor wall of the New World Center. You may even be able to meet the performer(s) in a pre-concert chat, if you’re lucky. This is a great family-friendly activity, especially if the kiddos are little and might disrupt a quieter indoor venue. Be sure to take a blanket and snacks for the concert.
Vizcaya Museum & Gardens
Can’t get to the Charles Deering Estate? Then head to the winter home of Charles’ younger brother James Deering- the impressively ornate Villa Vizcaya. Built between 1914-1922, this estate was conceived as a modern and subtropical interpretation of northern Italy’s Veneto region architecture and landscape. The villa overlooks Biscayne Bay and features 10 acres of impressive gardens and a pool with vaulted arches. It also has dozens of rooms designed around precious Italian artifacts.
The location is now a national landmark and houses more than 2,500 one-of-a-kind antiques. If that weren’t enough, there are also 25 acres of endangered forests and thousands of colorful orchids. Ask around and most people will tell you that the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens is much more impressive than the Deering Estate. Sibling rivalries be damned!
As you can see, not everything fun in Miami involves sand castles, surfboards, and sea-salted hair. You can have a fabulous time learning, exploring, and appreciating some of the best things to do in Miami while staying fresh, dry, and sand free. Trust us, your butt crack and other crevices will thank us.