Surprising Miami: Three Must Do’s

I’ve been visiting Miami for decades, enjoying its evolution into a world-class city with a lively Latin vibe and fabulous cultural attractions. By all means have fun partying in South Beach if that’s your thing—but there are also many more options for a great multi-gen getaway to Miami whether or not you put your toes in the sand. Here are three recommendations for a surprising Miami visit.

Perez Ai WeiweiSpectacular concrete architecture that brings the outdoors in; interesting exhibits of contemporary works that have included Ai Weiwei and Caribbean art retrospectives; a waterfront setting with sweeping views of Biscayne Bay; and a highly-rated restaurant with tasty, reasonably-priced food—the new Pérez Art Museum (opened December 2013) in downtown Miami is my favorite museum experience in the city. It’s the perfect size for a half-day excursion—large enough for a few hours of leisurely exploration yet small enough to not be overwhelming.

Although its Museum Park setting is still under construction, another thing I love about the Pérez is that it’s as much of an outdoor outpost and relaxing hangout as it is an interior museum experience. There’s a captivating progression of cool design elements that starts on the outside, including a dramatic plaza entryway and huge circular columns filled with native tropical plants that cascade down from the rooftop. PerezAnd you can enjoy a delicious al fresco lunch at Verde restaurant’s outdoor terrace while watching cruise ships leaving the Bay and other waterfront activity. Verde is one of my favorite Miami eateries, with clean, local, well-prepared food. I salivate just thinking about the best heirloom tomato gazpacho I’ve ever tasted; a yummy sauté of Maitake mushrooms; and a sinfully juicy cheeseburger. Entry fees for the Pérez are very reasonable, with free admission every second Saturday and first Thursday of the month. For more information, go to


The first time I visited Wynwood, just a few years ago, it was a tiny area of compelling graffiti art walls amidst a dilapidated inner city neighborhood of abandoned warehouses. Now, with expanded street-art murals and more than 70 galleries, shops, and restaurants, it has become one of Miami’s hottest neighborhoods, known as The Wynwood Arts District. Wynwood WallsThe streets buzz with an arty, alternative vibe; active nightlife; and many cultural events.

What I love most about Wynwood is how the quality and the variety of the gigantic graffiti walls have transformed a boring, low-slung cityscape into an incredibly vibrant and interesting neighborhood. Strolling around feels like being part of an amazing outdoor art installation. I enjoy exploring the streets and galleries; eating the Latin-infused small plates at Wynwood Kitchen & Bar; and getting tanked up on the exceptional java at Panther Coffee, a small-batch roaster of hand-crafted coffees. There’s a growing roster of neighborhood events, including a free art walk every second Saturday between 6 pm and 10 pm. and a food and beer tour of 5-6 local restaurants. Wynwood Kitchen & BarFor more information, go to

If you’re hanging out in Miami Beach and want to avoid the tourist crowds, head over to Southernmost point of South Beach, a tony neighborhood called South Pointe Park and known as South of Fifth by the locals. There’s a beautiful scenic promenade lined with snazzy high-rises, greenery, and an urban park on one side; and the ocean channel on the other side—eventually leading to the Port of Miami. It’s a popular filming location, and a great spot for walking, bicycling (there are bicycle and Segway rentals available all along South Beach), and people-watching.
South PointeYou’ll also find a view-to-die-for at Smith & Wollensky restaurant (1 Washington Avenue). The restaurant sits on its own like a revered grand dame on a prime piece of waterfront real estate. The food here is expensive but worth a splurge if you can snag an outdoor table on a fine day. And for the best all-round value in South Beach, have a drink at the outdoor bar area while watching the coral-streaked glow of a Miami sunset.

For an overview on the Pérez Art Museum, Wynwood, South Pointe, and other Miami neighborhoods and attractions, go to

About Regina Baraban

Regina Baraban is a veteran magazine editor and the author of Successful Restaurant Design (John Wiley & Sons, Third Edition, 2010). She was the founding editor of Hospitality Design magazine; “Best Dressed Restaurants” columnist for Metropolis magazine; and editor of Financial & Insurance Meetings magazine. She writes frequently about travel, design, and the arts and is content editor at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She lives in Newmarket, New Hampshire with a basic black wardrobe of no-iron travel clothes and too many shoes.