When simply “seeing” a destination just won’t do.
There’s a little-known ghost town that resides in Miami. Well, technically not Miami, but a mile off the coast in Biscayne Bay. Known as Stiltsville, this curious grouping of pastel-colored wooden stilt houses are reachable through a boat tour with History Miami. During the excursion, a docent will fill you in on the history, about how in the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, this was the place to see and be seen where 27 total structures served as private clubs and gambling quarters. But, as you figure-eight your way around the last-remaining seven spindly legged structures, what you’ll experience is an eerie and weathered memory, populated only by seabirds.
ENJOY THE GHOST STORIES, AND TOAST THE STARS.
Explore the natural beauty of Florida with a two-hour nighttime tour through a mangrove trail in Oleta River State Park; ends with a bonfire on a private beach. Other activities include extreme mountain biking and relaxing paddleboard tours. These adventures are available for private groups day or night.
TASTE THE FLAVORS OF THE CITY
Allow the pioneers of Miami Culinary Tours to take you through five authentic stops along eight blocks in Little Havana: picadillo-stuff empanadas, Cuban sandwiches, café Cubanos, and Latin ice cream. These local eateries sample the unique blend of flavors that collide in Miami, one of the most diverse and exciting culinary destinations.
MIAMI'S EXTREME SPORTS DESTINATION
Let your inner adrenaline junky fly with a 30-minute or hour-long session; jet pack attaches to your feet (instead of your back), for hovering over water at 30 to 40 feet. If flyboards and jet packs aren't for you, then there are an abundance of other rentals, including stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, boats, parasails, and Jet Skis.
Quirky, under-the-radar highlights only a local could recommend.
For 60 years, a sign stating “You are about to see an unusual accomplishment” has greeted visitors to this stone sculpture garden 40 miles south of Miami Beach. Built by just one barely-100-pound man between 1923 and 1951 under the cover of night, the 1,100 tons of carved, coral-rock obelisks, blocks, and edifices utilized no cranes or mechanical machinery. To this day, scientists are still baffled by how the monuments were erected.
THE VENETIAN POOL
It’s the only swimming pool to ever be listed to the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1923 from an old abandoned rock quarry, this 820,000-gallon pool in Miami’s Coral Gables is spring fed, filling and draining naturally each day. Loggias, porticos, and palm trees, as well as waterfalls, cave-like grottos, and old bridge, add to the Mediterranean charm.
As the name suggests, you’ll have to do a little hunting to find this bar with an unmarked entrance located down an alley between Alton Road and West Avenue. Inside, expect only the slickest touches: a polished cement bar with a creative speakeasy-style cocktail list, deep leather booths, and wall of backlit vintage weaponry.
PLANT THE FUTURE
Modern art sculpture meets a plant nursery in this boutique based in Miami’s Wynwood Art District. Succulents and air plants, cacti and grasses come arranged in the store’s signature white porcelain animal figurines and objects (think horses, deer, televisions sprouting porcelain mushrooms), as well as irregularly cut glass vases and hanging terrariums.
How to spend 36 hours in Miami, with Cardozo Hotel as your base camp.
6 P.M. | SUNSET CRUISE
Head three miles north of Cardozo Hotel to Mid-Beach for a Sunset Champagne Cruise with Miami Aqua Tours.The Heritage of Miami II – the only commercial schoonersailing in Miami Beach – gently plies the intercostal waters for two hours, offering a breathtaking vantage of the Miami skyline at sunset amid unlimited champagne refills.
9 A.M. | BEACH MORNING
It wouldn’t be a visit to Miami without spending some time on South Beach, with two-miles of sugar-white sand, emerald waters, and iconic pastel-colored lifeguard stands just across the street from your guest room. Umbrellas and lounge chairs are available for rent; for those who can’t sit still, the beachfront Lummus Park’s paved promenade winds from 5th to 15th street for Rollerblading, running, and plenty of people watching.
1 P.M. | ART DECO DISTRICT
Rent a Citi Bike from the dock station on 13th Street ($6 an hour), just a block west of Cardozo Hotel, to explore South Beach’s Art Deco architecture district. The main drags of Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue, in particular, are home to hundreds of historic pastel-colored retro-fabulous structures from the 1920s through ’40s (including Hotel Cardozo built in 1939). Must-see buildings: Jerry’s Famous Deli, The McAlpin-Ocean Plaza, and the Bass Museum of Art. Grab lunch at one of the many sidewalk restaurants.
5 P.M. | WANDER THE WYNWOOD ART DISTRICT
This trendy arts hub is the center of “cool” in Miami right now, having undergone a renaissance that transformed the once-quiet neighborhood of neglected warehouses into 70 art complexes, galleries, and performing art spaces. Peruse the Wynwood Walls, a set of giant outdoor murals in the heart of the district created by some of street art’s biggest names, including Shepard Fairey.
8 P.M. | DINNER AT JOEY’S
Located next to the Wynwood Walls, this modern Italian restaurant features white marble tables, polished concrete floors, a huge dining-room mosaic mural, and “the best pizza in the United States” – as alleged by Food & Wine magazine. Try their best-selling “Joey”– tomato sauce, mozzarella, portobellos, shallots, and oregano on a thin crust – and watch it being thrown in the open kitchen.
11 A.M. | BRUNCH AT EATING HOUSE
Located in Coral Gables, this laid-back restaurant with a graffiti-decked interior is famous for two unique brunch dishes: the chicken and waffles (bite-size pieces of fois gras waffles, fried chicken, and candied bacon presented on a skewer) and the Cap’n Crunch pancakes topped with a candied version of the cereal.
12:30 P.M. | VIZCAYA MUSEUM & GARDENS
Walk off some of that breakfast by among the 10 acres of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European-inspired gardens at this 1910 estate. Perched on Biscayne Bay in Miami, the property’s most impressive feature is the breakwater, carved out of Florida limestone to mimic the shape of an ornate Venetian barge.
This 50-year icon of a fruit market is known for its unique menu of locally grown exotic fruit: Jackfruit, canistel, sapodilla, persimmon, dragon fruit, and guava are just a few that make up aisle after aisle of the open-air building you can’t miss off West Palm Drive in Homestead. You might even see the owner and establishment’s namesake, Robert Moehling, behind the counter slicing up samples of his current fruit in season.
Two longtime Miami residents run this small deli-style operation, offering artisanal smoked pork products, like slab bacon, prosciutto, sausage, and more. They refuse to use anything other than locally raised heritage breed pigs and Old World curing and smoking techniques: just Miami sea salt, smoke, and temperature/humidity control. Try their candied bacon cured with sugar and nuts.
North Beach’s busiest bakery is the place for authentic Argentinian empanadas. Get there before 8 a.m.; otherwise, you’ll be waiting in a line that snakes out the building for the savory pockets filled with whole olives, garlic, spices and your choice of chicken, spinach, or ham and cheese.
Made in the kitchen of Renee Joslyn, these jams and jellies are prepared and canned from whatever is in season (oranges, mulberries, strawberries, etcetera). Even the rum used in the signature piña colada jam – pineapple, coconut, and rum – is from Florida. Order online, or visit Joslyn at Miami’s Saturday Southwest Community Farmers’ Market.
It wouldn’t be a visit to Miami without a café cubano. The best place for the frothy, super sweet, and super strong coffee drink served in a thimble-sized cup is the outdoor coffee window (which translates to "la ventanita" in Spanish) at this long-running Cuban eatery in the heart of Little Havana. The staff cranks out as many as 1,000 café Cubanos a day.
Your top-rated places to explore in Miami Beach, FL
Have you ever waited outside of a bakery at 6 a.m.? We promise these authentic Argentinian empanadas are worth it. If you show up after 8 a.m., the will probably be sold out, but the rest of their vast pastry offerings are a pretty sweet consolation prize. No Credit/Shutterstock.com
Built by just one barely-100-pound man between 1923 and 1951 under the cover of night, the 1,100 tons of carved coral-rock obelisks, blocks, and edifices utilized no cranes or mechanical machinery and still baffles engineers. No Credit/Shutterstock.com
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, which is why Eating House has made their breakfast into an experience with a graffiti-decked interior and over-the-top dishes like chicken and waffles with bite-size pieces of foie gras and pancakes topped with candied Cap’n Crunch cereal. www.eatinghousemiami.com
According to Food & Wine magazine, the pizza at Joy’s is “the best pizza in the United States.” For the best of the best, try their best-selling “Joey”– tomato sauce, mozzarella, portobellos, shallots, and oregano on a thin crust – and watch it being thrown in the open kitchen. No Credit/Shutterstock.com
If you didn’t try a frothy, super sweet, and super strong café Cubano where you even in Miami? The best place to get one is the outdoor coffee window (called a “ventanita" in Spanish) in the heart of Little Havana. No Credit/Shutterstock.com
You’ll find nothing but locally raised heritage breed pork going into the smokers here, which is why their slab bacon, prosciutto, sausage, and candied bacon cured with sugar and nuts are the best you’ll find in Miami (and maybe all of Florida). No Credit/Shutterstock.com
This isn’t your average farmers market, unless your town has a purveyor of Jackfruit, canistel, sapodilla, persimmon, dragon fruit, and guava. Look out for Robert Moehling, behind the counter slicing up whatever exotic fruit in season. http://visitflorida.com
About a mile off the mainland, the colorful ghosts of Miami’s most scandalous neighborhood still stand over the water. No Credit/Shutterstock.com