You can blame Will Smith, LMFAO, Rick Ross or Uncle Luke for the prevailing stereotypes of Miami — the music they've made has branded the city as party central, where the bartender never stops pouring and the booties never stop shaking. It's known as the Magic City, and locals laugh as they call it a sunny place for shady people.
But most tourists get it twisted. They'll go to South Beach and stay on Ocean Drive, get sloshed at Wet Willies, eat at Jerry's Famous Deli, then go back home and brag to all their friends that they've been to Miami. Take it from us — you haven't truly been there unless you venture away from the beach and onto the mainland. There's so much more to see in the 3-0-5 than palm trees and barely there bikinis.
The city isn't exactly known for its stellar public transportation system, so rent a car if you can. This trip can afford you the opportunity to rent a convertible and cruise around the city like a celebrity. Trust us — when you experience some of the neighborhood gems we're about to share with you, you'll definitely have stories to tell and bragging to do when you get back.
Of course you've gotta spend some time on South Beach, just so you can say you were there — but that doesn't mean you have to get stuck at the same old tourist traps. If your sole vacation goal is to follow in the footsteps of ballers like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, then you should hit up LIV at the Fontainebleau, which always promises visions of scantily clad females and VIP bottle service.
Nikki Beach delivers that quintessential Miami Beach experience, complete with model types lounging on beds, and bottle service on the beach. For a taste of gritty history and cocktails served straight, no chaser, you gotta hit up Miami Beach's oldest bar, Mac's Club Deuce. Every so often you can catch the bar's owner, 90-year-old Mac, supervising from the sidelines as his customers get sloshed.
First-time visitors love the scene on Ocean Drive near Wet Willie's, where it can seem as if there's an ongoing a competition for Most Aggressive Pickup Line or Most Scandalous Bikini. Locals tend to avoid this particular stretch, but a stroll down Ocean Drive can offer interesting people-watching and sightseeing.
Take a photo outside the Versace mansion (now known as Casa Casuarina, a pricey hotel and restaurant). If you're looking for shopping, stroll along Lincoln Road. The pedestrian-only street offers wonderful alfresco dining during weekdays, but on Sundays the weekly farmers market brings out local artisans. On Sunday afternoons, Lincoln Road is all about gorgeous people walking their tiny dogs, and the kind of epic brunch that effortlessly bleeds into dinner.
For a high-end gourmet experience you will never forget, suck it up and shell out some cash for dinner at the Setai, where the dim sum is to die for and truffle mac and cheese will cost you $25. For a colorful dose of culture and a more affordable bill, go to Tap Tap for tasty Haitian food, potent cocktails and hand-painted artwork everywhere you look.
Click this link to view The Root's Guide to Having Fun in Miami on our Google map.
If you're a hip, cool local living in Miami, you probably don't venture across the causeway to Miami Beach that often. There's more than enough fun to be found around downtown Miami, if you know where to look. A good place to start is the Design District, an 18-block neighborhood that is all art galleries, chic boutiques, elegant restaurants and high-end furniture stores. Every second Saturday of the month, the District comes alive for Art & Design Night, and the galleries are abuzz with art lovers and open-bar aficionados.
The District is also a hotbed of activity during Art Basel, which is arguably the most fabulous celebration of art in the United States. There are great eats in the District — we recommend Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, which is known for incredible brunch; a fun, upscale outdoor atmosphere; and the occasional celebrity sighting.
Further south along Biscayne Boulevard, you'll find the Adrienne Arsht Center, and if you're looking for a concert, play or ballet, it's more than likely to be hosting an event you'll be excited about. Along the waterfront, there's the outdoor Bayside Marketplace — which is chock-full of chain restaurants like Chili's — and its landscape-dominating neighbor, the American Airlines Arena. Those ginormous billboards of D. Wade and LeBron will immediately let you know who the reigning poster boys of the city are, in case you needed a reminder.
If you wanna party like a local, you need to hit up Vagabond; Thursday night, the joint is jumpin' for Shake, a weekly hip-hop hipsterati party with DJ A-Train on the ones and twos. On Saturday nights, a more mature, but no less cool, crowd gathers at Electric Pickle for live music and killer DJs.
Key Biscayne, Coconut Grove and Coral Gables
For beautiful vistas and spectacular dining, do yourself a favor and head out to Key Biscayne. This island village offers an entirely different vibe than the rest of the city. Drive over the bridge and hang your first left to visit one of the most scenic restaurants. The Rusty Pelican serves up sizzling steaks, along with a stunning view of Miami's downtown skyline, offering a picturesque spot for a celebration.
For a gritty, authentic glimpse into the lifestyle of hardcore Miami lifers, bring a six-pack and spend an afternoon at Jimbo's on Virginia Key. Expect to encounter grizzled fishermen reminiscing about hurricanes past, more stray cats than you can begin to count and a boccie ball court that's always rumbling with use. The place is a dump, but there's no place like it.
To see how the top 5 percent lives, venture past the state parks, beaches and tennis courts to the Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne — a stunning resort that redefines the meaning of luxury. If you've got dollars to spend, the outdoor couples massage is one of the best investments in luxury you can make. Evenings at Cantina Beach, the resort's oceanfront Mexican restaurant, promise incredible, freshly made guacamole and tequila selected by one of the country's few tequila sommeliers.
Coconut Grove is just a hop, skip and a jump away, and this historic pedestrian's paradise is worth the visit if you enjoy shopping and good food. Here, elements of the Grove's history — from the Bahamian villagers who made it their home in the late 1800s, to the hippies who made the Grove the place to be in the '60s and '70s — are still evident. A stroll down Grand Avenue offers stores galore and some pretty great restaurants. We suggest that you bypass touristy fare like Johnny Rockets and the Cheesecake Factory and instead grab a burger and beer at the Sandbar, or sample exotic Peruvian seafood at the inimitable Jaguar Ceviche Spoon Bar.
Miami is a party town, but it's also a sports town, and for many, the beating heart of Miami sports can be found in the well-heeled city of Coral Gables. Besides being the University of Miami stomping grounds (go, Canes!), Coral Gables is also home to a breathtaking display of old-money mansions and a delightful stretch of restaurants, bars and boutiques known as Miracle Mile.
Around the corner on Aragon Avenue, there's Books & Books, a rare and special literary landmark in the city. Writers like Edwidge Danticat and Diana Abu-Jaber can often be found browsing through the stacks or enjoying lunch in the sunny outdoor courtyard.
The important thing to remember is that when you're in Miami, the party's wherever you want it to be. The city has no shortage of cosmopolitan glamour, counterbalanced by visions of inner-city life straight out of a Trick Daddy verse. But there's fun to be found in every corner of the city, and Miami has a way of stealing your heart. Soon enough you'll be daydreaming about your next visit, so it's best just to say hasta la vista instead of adios when your trip to the Magic City comes to an end.
Patrice Grell Yursik is the creator of popular beauty and culture blog Afrobella.com. In her past life she lived in Miami for 11 years and worked as the calendar editor of the Miami New Times. Follow her on Twitter.