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A Brief List Of Requests for Miami Visitors

As you might or might not know, I left my hometown of Miami last year after an on-again-off-again stint of 28 years. Repeatedly people come to me and tell me they’ve visited Miami and had bizarre, possibly bad experiences.

Inevitably the conversation goes something like this:
Them: “Oh Miami’s so vapid and weird. I didn’t like it at all.”
Me: “Well where did you go?”
Them: “I spent the whole time on South Beach, why?”

Really? This is like visiting Ibiza and saying all of Spain is garbage or going to New York and never leaving the Meatpacking District. So with that, let’s go through a list of requests for any visitors to the Magic City.

Please Stop Thinking South Beach Is The Only Thing In Miami

Not that there’s anything wrong with South Beach … well, actually there is, at least for a visitor. If you live in here, South Beach is probably the best semi-urban walkable community the city has to offer. There are great things all over the place, albeit hidden between the exceedingly fake and/or plastic things, which of course can be amusing to observe in and of themselves for a day or two.

The problem? While I love each of these places I wouldn’t spend an entire vacation going to them. Every town has its local bars that reflect the uniqueness of their city. What really makes these bars special as a part of this landscape is that they’re comparatively normal despite being wedged between trashy tourist bars, ridiculous clubs, and trashy tourist bars trying to pretend they’re ridiculous clubs. So while the view at Zeke’s is fantastic and often humorous, it’s really not all Miami has to offer at night.

Look, I love the Abbey. I love The Room. I love The Douche. If you’re in South Beach and need something to do at night, I heartily recommend any of these. But maybe you want to leave South Beach for a minute and see what else the city has to offer? On a related note:

Please do not go to a South Beach club without thoroughly preparing yourself for what you’re getting yourself into

I have been to one South Beach club in my adult life. I showed up early because I am an idiot and actually go to things when the invitations say they start. Anyway, virtually no one there yet when suddenly Brooke Hogan shows up with a camera crew. As the place was empty, the footage they took wound up getting interposed with stock footage from another club so as to make it look like there were actually people in the room and the place was basically 3x as big as it actually is. By the time people started showing up, Brooke was gone and I had finished my $15 Heineken and discharged all social obligations. As I was leaving, a 1/2 block long line had formed for no good reason other than to make people think the place was somehow interesting or exclusive when it was in fact just a lounge selling overpriced alcohol.

But hey! That’s clubs, right? Ridiculous door policies, vapid people and all that. So if you’re looking to party with blonde women with scary jawlines in an incredibly fake, expensive way – knock yourself out! Just realize it won’t be the soul sucking experience you’re expecting – it will be far, far worse. If you’d rather go to a club where people don’t drive up in rented Maseratis, there are other options available – many of which are unfortunately not on the Beach and I’ve probably been away from too long to really have any idea if they’re cool anymore. This brings me to my next request:

Please stop thinking it’s possible to actually see anything of note in Miami without a car or at least a bike

“See it like a local” as they say. Well, every local has a car because public transit is crap. You need to get the hell off of South Beach for a minute, so rent a damn car. Alternately though you should seriously consider finding a bike.

“But John, isn’t Miami hot and disgusting basically 11 months out of the year? Don’t you basically run from air conditioned box to air conditioned box?”

Well, yes, but here’s a fun fact: while Miami’s public transit is notoriously bad, with a bicycle it can actually be pretty great. Buses all have bike racks and while the Metrorail doesn’t exactly GO anywhere all that great it makes for a terrific connection between north and south IF you have a reasonable means to get to and from a station. That means, my friends, is a bicycle. You didn’t really want to spend your vacation paying for a rental car just to get stuck in traffic anyway. Speaking of getting stuck in traffic …

Please don’t take the generalized unfocused rage we all have personally

Miami is an angry city filled with angry drivers and angry people who don’t make eye contact with or acknowledge one another unless absolutely necessary. We are not friendly. Cashiers will rarely respond well to jokes, much less smile. Bartenders will usually take a while to warm up. This isn’t because you’re a tourist; It’s because we hate everything. Don’t sweat it and don’t think tipping well will help. Tipping poorly WILL make it worse, however, so for everyone’s sake please tip decently.

Please do something outside that doesn’t involve a beach and please go to a beach that is not South Beach.

Vizcaya, Fairchild Tropical Gardens, Deering Estate, Virginia Key, Bill Baggs and Matheson Hammock are all valid options for things to do outside. There are a ton of places to rent kayaks. There are tons of amazing beaches. Please utilize some of these.

While going to The Everglades is also a valid option, it is also an extremely touristy and out-of-the way one. Also remember how you didn’t want to rent a car? All of the above are much easier to get to and potentially less uncomfortable when you get there, not to mention less expensive. Speaking of uncomfortable:

Please don’t visit during the summer

It’s the tropics – it’s going to rain between 1 PM and 8 PM without fail and be hot as hell the rest of the time. Go any other time of the year.

Please do not pretend you experienced anything of local culture without at least passing through some of these places:

  • Wynwood/Design District
  • Little Havana
  • Coconut Grove
  • Downtown Coral Gables
  • Morningside/Upper East Side/whatever just drive up Biscayne Boulevard for a bit and marvel at how the scenery changes as you go.

Doing at least some of the above will guarantee you will not bump into me on the street and tell me that my hometown sucks. Thank you.

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love it.

— esti · Nov 8, 02:38 PM · #

I had a very cool young lady at the register at Books & Books few months back grilling me on where to go for culture in Miami. She was travelling across the country by train.

After being here for a day, she wrote a scathing review of Miami on her blog, which pissed me off.

Thanks for this. Your response is much better than mine.

Aaron John Curtis · Nov 8, 04:33 PM · #

Aaron how can you say something like that and not provide a link???

john spain · Nov 8, 05:08 PM · #

Seriously. LINK!

— urlporfavor · Nov 8, 08:01 PM · #

u suck kinda swampy, in real time.

swampthing · Nov 8, 09:36 PM · #

Very nice. Also you’ve got many parks, Key Biscayne, walking or running the bridge at sunset or sunrise is one of the best things you can do in Miami. Many great restaurants from any country in the world. Or just the palm trees, drive around old cuttler. I love Miami.

Joaaco · Nov 8, 11:38 PM · #

Joaaco you make me think of another story I didn’t mention above:

When I was going to UM I had problems keeping friends as most of the “normal” people in the dorms (i.e. the one’s that didn’t choose University of Miami for it’s proximity to South Beach and/or a good party) came from small towns around Florida and couldn’t wrap their head around Miami culture.

I actually started doing driving tours around Miami, going from then-Parrot Jungle, up through the grove, looping over to the Gables and Little Havana, cutting to Key Biscayne, then up through Brickell and eventually to the Design District. I’d spend the whole time talking Miami history and interweave it with personal history, like when describing the Grove (where I grew up) immediately post Hurricane Andrew.

Basically the whole point was to take 3 hours and show them that geographically Miami had a lot to offer that wasn’t South Beach, and hopefully stop along the way to get some good Cuban food. The response to this article has kind of made me want to condense one of those tours into a podcast.

john · Nov 9, 07:15 AM · #

right on brotha

— los Andres' · Nov 9, 10:29 AM · #

Muy bien hecho john spain! Also think this applies to people who move to Miami and never leave South Beach. #sigh #eyeroll #frommiamithisishowwetalk

— Tati · Nov 9, 05:12 PM · #

Loved it as always, John. And you’re right about the general surly disposition of the populace; we are all very angry people (I blame the ceaseless construction on the Palmetto).

However, you left out the most totally-super-epic-amazing-zomg thing about Miami—Monkey Jungle (right there off of A1A) has an honest to goodness, for-reals liger; and while I’m unsure as to whether Monkey Jungle sells alcohol (the availability of which I assume is important given the number of bars and such you cited), I can personally attest to the fact that no one seems to notice or care if you show up to see liger already very drunk. In fact, that’s probably the best way to go see the liger.

— Berto · Nov 13, 04:41 AM · #

I think you mean Jungle Island, Mr. Berto. Monkey Jungle is way down south, near the Ernest Coe Visitor Center of the Everglades, in Homestead I think. They have monkeys that will throw poop at you, but alas, they have no liger.

Nice piece, John. You’re too kind to South Beach, though.

— Ricky P · Nov 13, 11:35 PM · #

I met some people a few weeks back who moved to Miami from NC and CO respectively, they live on south beach. We were rhapsodizing together about the lovely beaches when I asked them if they had been to virginia key or crandon— and this was met with blank stares. bay kayaking; drinking at hobe; sundays on the bay; the rennaisance fair at vizcaya; exploring coconut grove from cute, hippie houses hidden behind tropical forests to the foreclosed, needle-infested streets around Carver Middle; gallery nights and parties in the design district; open mics or a chill irish pub in downtown gables; cafe con leche and maduros at La Carreta…this is MIAMI.

— anne · Nov 14, 10:03 AM · #

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