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White sandy beaches, hand-rolled Cuban cigars, psychedelic cocktails, Art Deco buildings. Miami is a city of many faces, situated between the river of the same name, the Bay of Biscayne, the Everglades National Park and the Atlantic Ocean. Florida’s second-largest city and the Country’s most important tourist destination is a rather expensive… unless you know what to do. If you asked my husband Aldo what he was most impressed with in Miami, he won’t tell you about the delicious crabs or the nice hotels. He will candidly reply that he liked the skyline of the city at sunset … and the exotic dancers dancing outside each room on Ocean Drive (still something we’re not used to)! Having fun without spending too much is therefore possible: let me show you how, with this list of the 10 free things to do in Miami.
10 free things to do in Miami: Miami Beach
Let’s start our tour with the iconic Miami Beach, that will immediately project you into the fashionable and entertaining spirit of the city. This narrow, long stretch of sand extends between the Bay of Byscaine and the Atlantic Ocean. In the 1920s, this part of Miami was an agricultural area in serious economic difficulties. It was thus transformed into a refined and classy place. Palms were planted and hotels, restaurants and spas built, in a lovely Art Deco style. The beaches here are free and there are always lifeguards on duty. Miami Beach is a place where a mix of cultures, residents and travelers mingle. It’s also called “America’s Riviera“.
10 free things to do in Miami: Wynwood Arts District
If you love Instagram, you’ve probably seen a lot of photographs taken at Wynwood: they usually represent boys and girls in front of colorful murals. This is in fact one of the most “instagramable” spots in the entire Florida and thus we had to place it in our list of the 10 free things to do in Miami!
This neighborhood is also the result of a wise urban regeneration policy. Once a desolate area, full of empty warehouses, it’s now home to over 70 art galleries. Full of bars, restaurants and small hipster shops, it’s definitely worth a visit. North of Downtown, along the NW 2nd Avenue, every inch of every wall is covered with murals – these are the Wynwood Walls. Designed by Tony Goldman, one of the first to believe in the revival of this neighborhood, this area is a real open-air museum of modern art. Some of the pieces are signed by world-renowned artists such as Shepard Fairey, Retna and Kenny Scharf.
Wynwood’s bars and restaurants are much more hipster than the super glam ones at South Beach. Even in the evening, therefore, the neighborhood is always crowded with men and women of all ages who want to have fun and live the city.
On the second Saturday of each month you can attend the Second Saturday Art Walk, a free evening event during which the art galleries remain open until very late. With food trucks selling street food, music and breakdancers, fun is assured!
10 free things to do in Miami: Little Havana
Calle Ocho is the main street that runs through the Little Havana district. You can there by car (or by bus!) in about 20 minutes from South Beach. Little Havana is the center of Hispanic culture in Miami: many Cuban immigrants live here. Walking along Calle Ocho, the impression we have had was really to be in Cuba. From restaurants to bars, shops, we saw colorful “vintage” cars, men and women rolling cigars by hand, showing this old art to tourists, and we got to taste the traditional Cuban cuisine.
The Little Havana’s semi-official gathering point is the Maximo Gomez Park, also called Domino Park, because the favorite pastime of young and old people who hang at this park is to play domino.
Every Thursday at Ball & Chain, you will also have the chance to take part in a free 1 hour long salsa lesson with professional dancers. The weekend here is fun, colorful … and full of joy!
10 free things to do in Miami: Bayside Marketplace
The Bayside Marketplace is a picturesque open-air mall that stretches along the Biscayne Bay, in the heart of downtown Miami. Although it is mainly frequented by tourists, rather than locals, and despite the proliferation of restaurants and big chains such as Bubba Gump, Gap or Disney, we still think it was to be added to this list. The Bayside Marketplace is open every day, from morning till night, and is a nice place to spend some time, even just to stroll through the shops or take pictures of the magnificent South Beach, seen from a different perspective. In the evening there are often free live music events on the main stage of the marina.
10 free things to do in Miami: Ocean Drive
The first time we drove on Ocean Drive at night, it felt like a place of perdition. Torches lit through a series of glam clubs. Sultry music. Dancers of every ethnicity trying to lure in the tourists. It was just like Miami Vice, the old tv show with Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas! The Art Deco buildings add a special touch to this road, and they don’t clash with the many Ferrari, Maserati, Viper and other VIP cars generally parked in front of the clubs.
We advise you to just watch: bars and restaurants here are very expensive, and they could be easily labeled with a name that generally makes us run away. Tourist Traps.
Ocean Drive before the sun goes down is a completely different place. Families and couples walk quietly sipping cold coffee and milkshakes. There are those who explore in rollerblades and those who prefer a bicycle, but at the end of the day everyone stops to admire the wonderful sunset, with the sun diving into the ocean.
Along Ocean Drive you can also admire the exterior of the Versace Mansion, the place where the designer was murdered in cold blood in 1997.
10 free things to do in Miami: Art Deco District
Speaking of Miami Vice, if the Art Deco buildings look familiar to you, it’s because they were featured in many episodes of this iconic show. This “District” (even if it isn’t a real district) includes, among others, Espanola Way, Collins Avenue, Washington Avenue and Ocean Drive. It is the first area of the XX century to be recognized as an artistic area of historic importance: the National Register Art Deco District. The buildings, built in Art Deco style, feature pastel colors such as pink, yellow, turquoise, baby blue or green mint, navy decorations or pink flamingos. There are about 800 historical buildings along the way and here you can download a free map that will guide you to a nice self guided tour through the area.
10 free things to do in Miami: SoundScape Cinema Series
From October to May, the facade of the New World Center, designed by Frank Gehry and new home of the New World Symphony, turns into a big movie screen, and the Soundscape Park right in front of it becomes the theater. The SoundScape Cinema Series, is an event that offers a series of free open-air movies, usually starting at 8PM. If you want to attend, you will have to bring your own folding chairs or blankets to enjoy the movie from the lawn. Here’s the schedule of the movies, with so many great classics. This year, four French films in their original language, with English subtitles, brought the France to Miami, in May. This free series was presented by the French Embassy Cultural Services and Miami Beach Arts in the Parks.
10 free things to do in Miami: Food Truck & Music Fest
The fourth Wednesday of every month in Miami there is a must-see event: the Food Truck & Music Fest. From 5PM to 10PM, at North Beach Bandshell (7275 Collins Avenue) this event brings together all street food enthusiasts for a great open-air festival with Miami’s best food trucks. Arepa Box, Gastropod, Ms. Cheexious and many more. You can attend free music shows with local bands like Kazoots and Bluejay, breakdancers and street artists. Beware: the lines for the best food trucks can be very long!
10 free things to do in Miami: Coconut Grove
Whether you plan on renting bicycle or not, Coconut Grove is the perfect place to enjoy a bit nature and history of Miami. Annexed to the city in 1925, this area features a very nice waterfront, with cycling lanes and much less chaos than you would find in South Beach. The residential streets of Coconut Grove are avenues lined with tropical vegetation and a typically bohemian air. On Grand Avenue you will find the Coco Walk Mall, as well as bars and restaurants frequented by students of the University of Miami. If you are looking for a picnic area, head to the David T. Kennedy Park, a green space that often hosts musical events, from which you can enjoy a magnificent view of the bay.
10 free things to do in Miami: Big Night in Little Haiti
Every third Friday of the month, the Rhythm Foundation organizes the Big Night in Little Haiti, from 6PM to 8PM, at the Little Haiti Cultural Center (212 NE 59 Terrace). Okay, that’s not quite a completely free event since recently what was a voluntary donation has turned into a “required” donation, but for $ 5 it’s definitely worth a visit. This great show combines culture, art, typical dishes and Haitian music. In this area they also have a small market with Haitian products and a photographic exhibition. Musical performances change from month to month, mixing reggae, traditional Haitian songs and even a bit of rock!
If you will move forth to Key West, consider reading my epic guide for a road trip from Miami to Key West!
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