by Rebecca Holland
Miami is synonymous with beautiful beaches and crazy parties, or at least it was in my mind. South Beach and Spring Break, tiny bikinis and late nights. What once sounded so appealing in college now sounds painful. I would much rather relax on the beach with a good book and drink cocktails in a quieter setting.
That’s why, on a trip to Miami last month, I was excited to explore the city’s diverse neighborhoods. From a vibrant arts district to some of the best Cuban food you’ll find anywhere, there’s so much more to Miami than the beach.
Where to Stay
My base for the week was Circa 39, a boutique, art-deco hotel designed for those with the travel bug. The hotel is simple and elegant, with pops of tropical color and postcard-like paintings on the walls. There’s a nice courtyard in the back, a patio in front, and an amazing bar–Wunderbar, which serves rum-focused craft cocktails, artisanal wines, and craft beer. The restaurant, Jules Kitchen, has a nice breakfast buffet and a larger brunch menu (get the stuffed crepes!).
Circa 39 was renovated in 2014 and is Florida Green Lodging Certified. The green and white décor and white teak details make you feel like you’re on a tropical island, even though the hotel sits on a rather busy street.
I know I said I was excited to explore beyond the beach, but I was still happy the hotel was steps from the Miami Beach boardwalk, perfect for running and catching the sunrise each morning. I did sneak in one trip to the beach, but in October it wasn’t actually that hot outside, making it the perfect time to visit and explore elsewhere.
One of the best parts of staying at Circa 39 is the hotel’s local neighborhood guide app. Save the web app on your phone, click on a neighborhood–Wynwood, Little Havana, Little Haiti, North Beach, and South Beach–and get local recommendations on what to do and where to eat. There are even videos put together by bloggers for each neighborhood, so you can get an overview of each neighborhood before you head out.
Wynwood Arts District
Wynwood wins for most colorful neighborhood in Miami. The famed Wynwood Walls draw renowned graffiti artists from around the world to create giant murals. Tony Goldman, a community revitalizer, started the project in 2009 to transform the warehouse district. Giant, windowless buildings seemed like the perfect place to paint murals, and soon enough a movement was born.
It’s not just the area designated as ‘Wynwood Walls’ that’s colorful though. The entire neighborhood pops with street art on the sides of buildings, rooftops, and even on the sidewalks. It’s no wonder the area has been called a ‘Museum of the Streets.’
If you can pull your eyes away from the mesmerizing murals (which are, of course, ideal for Instagram photos), then you should stop in the shops along 2nd Avenue. They’re all straight out of an indie home catalogue.
At some point, you’ll probably need coffee. Go to Miam, where everything is local and made from scratch, and can be sipped and nibbled on an airy patio.
As your day winds down, stop at Wynwood Yard, a hub of food and culture with events, live music, and high-end food trucks. Favorites included a spicy tuna rice bowl from Michelin-starred Kuenko, fish and chips from The British Garden, a healthy protein bowl from Della Test Kitchen. Grab a drink from the bar in the center of the yard, find a table, and feast away while listening to live music. Check the calendar to see who’s playing, or to find times to drop in for a Pilates or cooking class.
Do and Eat
Exploring Little Havana with Miami Culinary Tours might have been my favorite part of this trip. It wasn’t just the incredible food that made it so great, but the amount of history and other information our guide included. This seemed like much more than a food tour, though we did eat a ton. Come hungry, because you will feast on empanadas, plantains, Cubano sandwiches, croquetas, Cuban doughnuts, and ice cream.
You’ll also sip coffee, sugarcane juice, and mojitos, all while learning about Cuban traditions, shopping for cigars and other handmade goods, and dancing.
The coffee stop was one of my favorite parts. The rich, espresso like coffee balanced with sugar and served in tiny cups was a sweet jolt after a morning of walking around.
I also loved our stop in Domino Park, a park built by the city so older people would have a place to get together during the day. The dozen or so domino games going on looked intense!
It was interesting to see the building where Bay of Pigs was planned, and to see Tower Theater, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and was one of the first theaters in the US to play movies with Spanish subtitles.
Other Neighborhood Recommendations
North Beach–Lou’s Beer Garden. This small, hidden beer garden is charming and laid back. Sip whiskey cocktails poolside, surrounded by lush plants and fairy lights by night. Bonus points for the incredible 80s music selection.
Downtown Miami–Phuc Yea. This restaurant opened as a pop-up, but became so popular it moved it’s Vietnamese-Cajun fusion cuisine to a brick and mortar location. It’s impossible to choose a favorite off the menu, but the crispy fish, mama rolls, eggplant curry, and green papaya salad definitely top the list. I didn’t try it, but the Dim Sum Sunday brunch looks amazing too.
Miami Beach–Tropical Vinyasa Yoga. Everyone in Miami is beautiful. Seriously. It’s a city full of stylish, gorgeous people. I guess if you live on a beach you probably want to look your best at all times, not like in the Midwest where we layer up in winter and eat creamy soups, forgetting about swimsuit season until around May, when we frantically try to prepare. To fit in, visit Tropical Vinyasa Yoga, a studio that embraces sweaty, challenging workouts without being intimidating. I took the Tropical Flow class, a heated class focusing on sun salutations, inversions, and breathing. It was definitely challenging, but the teachers are fun and supportive. There were people in the class of all levels, and it didn’t feel like you had to be great at yoga to attend.
To feel extra healthy, stop at Juice Lab across the street on your way out.
And there you have it! There’s so much more to Miami than the beach.