Forget everything you’ve been told about Miami.
Sure, the city may still be a choice destination for planning rowdy bachelorette weekends and later flying home with a $15 tankini that says, “I’m in Miami, Bitch!” But born and raised locals like myself know that when it comes to the place once known as “America’s Riviera,” there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Not convinced? Each December, celebrities and influential art leaders fly south for Miami Art Week and Art Basel (pronounced Baah-sel, not basil like the herb used to make pesto sauce), one of the world’s largest contemporary and modern art fairs. There, you’ll find celebrities mingling with artists inside museums and at champagne-fueled parties, but you’ll also be privy to thousands of works of art you’ll need hours to absorb. Basically, it’s a culture geek’s dream.
And while most of the action ends after one week (the main fair kicks off December 7), many pieces remain on display for the remainder of December, when the weather hovers around 80 degrees and the city feels a little more European, a little less Real Housewives.
Here, we’ve put together a curated selection of the things to see and do to make you feel like you own the place.
Where to See Art
Let’s be real: a successful trip to any museum isn’t complete without a solid Instagram, right? For that, you’ll want to head to the newly reopened Bass, Miami Beach’s contemporary art museum. The entire second floor is home to Ugo Rondinone’s “Good Evening Beautiful Blue,” where you’ll find not just a series of captivating video installations but also 52-mirrored windows and 45 life-size colorful clown figures placed inside an ombré, psychedelic gallery. Translation: It’s Insta-bait.
Across the MacArthur Bridge and over on Biscayne Boulevard (Downtown Miami), there’s no way you’ll miss architects Herzog & de Meuron’s gorgeous Pérez Art Museum Miami, which opened its grand 200,000-square-foot space in 2013. Check out Haroon Mirza’s “A C I D G E S T,” which basically wows with LED-lights dancing to various noise frequencies. Dara Friedman’s films are also worth the trip.
If you’re looking to stay inland, head to Miami’s chic Design District, where the brand-new, 20,000 square-foot Institute of Contemporary Art is home to pieces by Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, Carolee Shneemann, and an impressive sculpture garden.
Not to be missed are the outdoor Wynwood Walls and notable local galleries like Spinello Projects, the Rubell Family Collection, the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, Locust Projects, and Nina Johnson.
Where to Stay
I’ll cut to the chase: Don’t seek shelter on Ocean Drive. The iconic oceanfront street is Miami’s equivalent to Times Square, and spending too much time there will give you a false, tourist-packed impression of the city (do try to check out The Villa Casa Casuarina aka the Versace mansion). There are some stellar hotels in South Beach, but for a more chic stay, make the jaunt to what’s considered “mid-beach.”
Here’s where you’ll find a recent favorite: the Nobu Eden Roc Hotel Miami Beach. The Eden Roc is a historic spot that once welcomed glamazons like Elizabeth Taylor and Lucille Ball. And though it's still just as over-the-top now as it was then, you'll definitely want to spend a night at the Nobu Hotel, which is basically housed within the Eden Roc’s property.
You’ve likely spotted the Kardashian-Jenner clan chowing down on sushi at Nobu Malibu, right? Well, chef Nobu Matsuhisa has expanded his celebrity-approved restaurant line into the world of hospitality, hence this hotel. The glorious lobby bar here was designed by architect David Rockwell, and there are three pools to choose from when it’s time to catch a tan. There’s a Starbucks if you need your daily iced coffee and another restaurant, Splash by Malibu Farm, on the property. Should you choose to keep it classic at the Nobu restaurant downstairs (the largest in the world), don’t go without ordering the yellowtail japaleño.
Need to completely relax? The best bet is at the Standard Spa Miami Beach. First of all, the pool here features an underwater speaker system, so you can listen to jazzy-like, soothing tunes as you swim. There’s a great view of Biscayne Bay and while this property isn’t on the sandy shores of the Atlantic, it’s removed from the hustle and bustle of South Beach, meaning you’ll be able to enjoy some super private R&R. The treatments at the spa are spectacular though you could simply walk into the hammam and accompanying sauna and steam room as a guest.
If you want to feel like a star, you don’t have to be a member of private club Soho Beach House to stay there. The entire place (and pool!) was just revamped this fall, and you’ll get fresh mimosas delivered right to your lounge chair on the sand. Inside, there’s an outpost of Italian restaurant Cecconi’s, and the Cowshed Spa on the second floor offers everything from deep tissue massages to “skin perfecting” facials and waxing.
The Faena is the main gem of Miami Beach’s newish “Faena District,” and the gold-leafed columns that align the lobby (called the Cathedral) of this magnificent space will make you feel like you’re literally Princess Jasmine. Say hello to Damien Hirst’s nine-foot skeleton of a mammoth called “Gone but not Forgotten,” outside.
Other just as luxurious options include the 1 Hotel South Beach (there's a SoulCycle adjacent to it) and the Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club. On a budget? No problem: The hostel-like Freehand Hotel offers shared, bunk bed-style rooms with rates as low as $50.
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Where to Eat and Drink
Miami has its fair share of legendary dining destinations but a popular and perhaps unexpected go-to is Mandolin Aegean Bistro. Trust me, I polled many friends. Open since 2009, this Greek and Turkish Design District joint is just damn good. You can keep it light with “mezes” (aka appetizers) like the fresh mussels with white wine and the greek village salad (tomato, cucumber, green pepper, red onion, feta, olives, capers, and parsley) or you can indulge with some fried calamari, grilled halloumi, and grilled tiger prawns. Definitely have one too many glasses of wine, go with a large group of friends, and if you’re considering getting the whole Mediterranean sea bass, do not hesitate.
The best restaurant in Miami? That’s arguable, but no one discredits Joe’s Stone Crab's ability for delivering one fantastic experience. It’s been around since 1913, they don’t take reservations, and you’ll have the best seafood of your life. Stone crab season runs from October through May, so get them while they’re hot.
Please do not leave Miami without trying some Latin food. Situated in the heart of Little Havana, Versailles, which you’ll also find outposts of at Miami International Airport, is a classic. Ask for a croqueta de jamon with a cafecito and you won’t regret it. In South Beach, you can get a similar, super authentic experience at the fast-casual Las Olas Café. Try the Cuban sandwich, any of their empanadas, or lechón asado, aka roasted pork shoulder (Pro tip: you’ll want to brush up on your Spanish before stopping by these venues).
The deviled eggs at Michael’s Genuine are bomb, and the cocktails at the Freehand Hotel’s 27 Restaurant are super fun. For more glamorous dining options, consider Komodo, Matador Room, Sugar, Upland, and The Bazaar.
As for what to do past midnight, the best nightclub is hands-down LIV at the iconic Fontainebleau Miami Beach. For something more chill, stop by Basement at the Edition, where you can drink, bowl, dance, and ice skate at the same time.
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Where to Shop
In the mood to drop some dough? Make a beeline for The Webster, a multi-story designer shop housed inside a historic 1939 Art Deco building designed by architect Henry Hohauser. Founder Laure Heriard Dubreuil is the brain behind this beautiful space, and while the retail brand just opened its fifth boutique in N.Y.C.’s SoHo neighborhood, nothing beats the South Beach original.
The perfectly curated selection of women’s and men’s clothing and accessories includes designers like Off-White, Chanel, Balenciaga, Altuzarra, The Row, Vetements, Haider Ackermann, Isa Arfen, Sonia Rykiel, and Maison Rabih Kayrouz, to only name a few. The first floor feels more relaxed, with a foyer-like entrance featuring magazines and jewelry while the second floor equates to a super private, hand-selected arrangement of racks of clothes that artfully coordinate with one another and will surely find a way into your closet.
Nearby, Alchemist, which looks like a literal glass box on top of the uber cool 1111 Lincoln Road parking structure, is where you can shop for brands loved by streetwear enthusiasts like Rick Owens, Yeezy, and Fear of God. For an exclusively posh experience, drive north on Collins Avenue and visit the Bal Harbour Shops where the boutiques open include Dior, Céline, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Versace, Saint Laurent, and a Neiman Marcus. If shopping makes you hungry, definitely eat at Carpaccio.
Miami’s Design District resembles Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills thanks to its impressive outdoor shops (say hello to Christian Louboutin, Tom Ford, and Marni). Our favorite? Jonathan Anderson’s Loewe store, where you can view an exhibition titled “Chance Encounters III” through February. Art plus fashion is always a win.
You’ll find a more affordable (think Coach, Intermix, MAC, and Zara) yet still breathtaking shopping experience at Brickell City Centre, which to put it plainly is just massive. If you’re in need of a last-minute gift, like a coffee table book, any of the Books & Books locations will do the trick.