Miami is more than just palm trees, beaches, over-crowded nightclubs and all the other things Will Smith sings about in his hit 1998 single, “Miami.”
The entire South Florida community buzzes with life. It celebrates cultural diversity, uniting people of different backgrounds from around the globe and has created hotspots, like Little Havana and Little Haiti, that Hispanic and Caribbean communities call home. It features unique art rich with history, from the iconic Wynwood Walls to the exotic exhibits in the Perez Art Museum. And, of course, you can’t forget about the year-round summer weather fit for any tropical vacation.
In its short history, Miami has evolved from a retirement town to one of the most electric, vibrant and popular cities in the United States, and it continues to grow as an international hotspot for entertainment, business and commerce.
The University of Miami has the luxury of being perfectly situated at the heart of the greater Miami area. UM’s main campus in Coral Gables is just a short drive away from the downtown area and many of Miami’s suburbs, including Key Biscayne, Coconut Grove, South Miami and Kendall.
To help incoming Hurricanes get to know their new home and take advantage of the “I live where you vacation” Instagram caption, The Miami Hurricane has created a totally-not-comprehensive guide to the best South Florida has to offer.
Below is the first of a four-part series covering the best things to do in Miami once you start college at The U.
The Wynwood Walls is an outdoor art museum located about 10 miles northeast of campus, just north of downtown Miami. Throughout the streets of Wynwood, graffiti adorns the walls of buildings in every direction, creating a colorful, exotic atmosphere in an area full of shops and restaurants.
Since 2009, the year of the project’s inception, the Wynwood Walls has featured the work of more than 50 artists representing 16 countries. Collectively, they have covered more than 80,000 square feet of walls with their art.
While visitors can stroll by the outdoor murals at their own pleasure, the Wynwood Walls does offer a 50-minute guided group tour, which begins at the Second Avenue entrance.
2. Miami Design District
Just north of Wynwood and about 11 miles northeast from campus is the Miami Design District, another hub for art, design, fashion and architecture in the Miami area. The Design District, similar to the Wynwood Walls, showcases artistic expression in unconventional, yet creative ways.
The area features two parking garages, City View Garage and Museum Garage, that are must-visit sites for photography. Both feature abstract exteriors, floors and staircases that burst with color, and the garages’ rooftops offer sights of the downtown Miami skyline.
The area’s focal point is a shopping center with high-end jewelry stores, boutiques, restaurants and temporary outdoor art exhibits.
Our favorite spots are the outdoor food trucks by the shopping center. Among them is Caja Caliente, famous for its Cuban tacos, and Meli Gourmet Greek Donuts.
3. Bayside Marketplace
Bayside Marketplace is a festive shopping center about eight miles northeast of campus in downtown Miami, and it is one of the most-visited attractions in the area. From live music on a seaside patio to restaurants and stores, Bayside has something for everyone.
Despite having opened in 1987, Bayside continues to expand and modernize while maintaining its classic, beachy feel. One of the site’s latest additions includes the Skyviews Observation Wheel, a ferris wheel that is the first of its kind in Miami and offers views of both the ocean and the downtown area.
4. FTX Arena
Right across the street from Bayside and up Biscayne Boulevard is FTX Arena, formerly known as the AmericanAirlines Arena and home to the Miami Heat basketball team. When the three-time NBA champions are not on the court, FTX Arena is repurposed for concerts, musical theatre performances and other shows.
If you’re lucky, you may even find Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler selling cups of his famous $20 Big Face Coffee drinks.
5. Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science
Three blocks north of FTX Arena is the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, an interactive and innovative attraction that opened in 2017. The six-level museum has an aquarium, a planetarium, an observation deck that looks over Biscayne Bay and an array of temporary exhibits.
6. Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM)
Adjacent to the science museum on the northeast side is Perez Art Museum Miami, a contemporary and modern art museum that collects and exhibits art from international artists in the 20th and 21st centuries.
The museum also has a must-see outdoor area with gardens and sculptures and is part of the 20-acre Museum Park, formerly known as Bicentennial Park.
PAMM was originally founded in 1984 as the Center for Fine Arts. It was then known as the Miami Art Museum from 1996 until 2013, when the museum relocated to downtown Miami.
7. Adrienne Arsht Center
A few blocks past the MacArthur Causeway and on the western end of Biscayne Boulevard is the Adrienne Arsht Center – Miami’s premier destination for the performing arts.
As one of the largest arts centers in the country, the Adrienne Arsht Center hosts an array of events throughout the year, including stand-up comedy shows, musicals, ballets and plays.
On July 8, the Adrienne Arsht Center announced they will begin opening some of their auditoriums at full capacity for the first time since the start of the pandemic, marking a significant step forward in bringing the performing arts back to South Florida.
In the coming months, the Adrienne Arsht Center has a full slate of events scheduled, including the first show of comedian and “Patriot Act” star Hasan Minhaj’s “The King’s Jester” tour on Friday, Sept. 17.
8. Brickell City Centre
Brickell City Centre is an upscale shopping and dining destination on the southern end of downtown Miami complete with four levels of entertainment that interconnect over three city blocks.
The shopping center’s most notable destinations include a 107,000-square-foot Saks Fifth Avenue and a Cinemax movie theater.
9. South Beach and South Pointe Park
South Beach and Miami are synonymous, and for good reason. Despite the many beaches in the Miami area, there are none quite like South Beach. About 13 miles northeast of campus and across the MacArthur Causeway, the crystal-clear waters and soft white sand of South Beach are not the only things that make this destination a must-do.
On the southern tip of South Beach is South Pointe Park, which provides panoramic views of the South Beach shoreline, has trails for walking and biking, restaurants, a water playground and a dog park. The easternmost end of the park is South Pointe Pier, a popular fishing spot that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, the Port of Miami and the beach.
The South Beach area also has several clubs for students 21 and older, but that’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Miami, right?
10. Ocean Drive
It may take longer to drive through it than it would to walk, but a trip to Ocean Drive is necessary for any South Beach adventure. Located just off the beach, Ocean Drive is known for its restaurants, nightlife and Art Deco architecture, which has been shown in a variety of films and television series taking place in the area, including “Scarface,” “Miami Vice” and “Bad Boys.”
It is also not uncommon to find luxury vehicles on the street, and many of them are likely worth more than all four years of your UM tuition.
11. Lincoln Road
Sixteen miles northeast of campus and running from east to west between 16th and 17th streets in Miami Beach is Lincoln Road, Miami’s world-famous shopping destination for unemployed, indebted freshmen.
Lincoln Road features more than 200 retailers, galleries and restaurants. As an outdoor attraction, there is also an outdoor farmer’s market every Sunday between Washington and Meridian avenues.
If you’re looking to escape the oftentimes overwhelming hustle-bustle of South Beach and Ocean Drive, Lincoln Road is a great tourist attraction to visit, and its proximity to the beach is a plus.
12. Miracle Mile
Miracle Mile is Coral Gables’ downtown area, spanning east to west from Le Jeune to Douglas roads. On each end of the street, shops and restaurants line every block, making it a popular hangout and dining destination.
13. Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden
The Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden, about four miles south from campus, is an 83-acre garden consisting of a variety of tropical plants, trees and nature trails. While it is known as a major tourist attraction, it doubles as a laboratory and biodiversity conservation research facility.
If you find yourself near Miami during the holiday season, Fairchild’s NightGarden exhibit offers a breathtaking experience, complete with illusions, animations, holograms and a light show.
14. Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Coconut Grove is one of the most photographed and visited locations in all of Miami.
In the 20th century, the present-day museum was built as the winter home of businessman James Deering, who hired 1,000 workers to build his dream mansion with more than 70 rooms and Italian Renaissance gardens.
Ownership of the estate has since been transferred to Miami-Dade County, which opened Vizcaya to the public as a museum. Today, visitors can tour the vast majority of the property both in and out, and it is frequently used for filming, photography, weddings and quinceañera photos.
The heartbeat of Coconut Grove can be found in Cocowalk, a newly renovated shopping mall with restaurants, a movie theater and retail shops. With its close proximity to the water, public parks and strips of restaurants and stores, Cocowalk is centrally located in one of Miami’s most popular districts for hungry or thirsty students.
16. Crandon Park
Beyond the Rickenbacker Causeway about 11 miles from campus and in the northern part of Key Biscayne is Crandon Park, an 808-acre hotspot for beach activities. The area offers opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing, snorkeling and windsurfing. For the days when an Uber to South Beach might empty your bank account, Crandon offers a calmer alternative to de-stress.
However, if you’re looking to spend most of your time relaxing in the water, you might want to find another beach in the area; Crandon Park tends to have a lot of seaweed and seagrass close to shore.
17. Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
Two miles south of Crandon Park is Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. It is located on the southern tip of Key Biscayne and houses the town’s most famous beach. Bill Baggs is also home to the Cape Florida Lighthouse – known as “El Farito” to Miami’s Spanish-speaking community – which can be accessed by visitors and offers beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Aside from the beach and the lighthouse, Bill Baggs also has several fishing docks lining the coast of Key Biscayne.
18. loanDepot park
Formerly known as Marlins Park, loanDepot park – yes, you read that right – is the home of the two-time World Series Champion Miami Marlins.
The stadium is located in Little Havana about six miles northeast of campus and on the same grounds of the famed Orange Bowl, where the Miami Hurricanes used to dominate the college football world. They may not play at the Orange Bowl stadium any longer, but the Hurricanes – ranked No. 10 in the pre-season – will look to play in the Orange Bowl playoff game at Hard Rock Stadium this New Year’s Eve.
Fitted with a retractable roof to combat Miami’s heat and rain, loanDepot park is also a venue for a variety of other events. In its near-decade-long history, the ballpark has hosted football games, soccer games, rounds of the World Baseball Classic, monster truck events and concerts.
During the Major League Baseball season, college students can sign up for the Miami Marlins Student Pass to get special pricing discounts on weekday home games.
19. Hard Rock Stadium
As an incoming Hurricane, odds are you’ve heard of Hard Rock Stadium, the home of Canes Football. However, it is also home to the Miami Dolphins NFL team.
Since opening in 1987, the Miami Gardens stadium has hosted six Super Bowls, the 2010 Pro Bowl, the Marlins’ two World Series Championships, Wrestlemania, boxing matches, concerts and more.
While it is a 20-mile drive north of campus with little to do in the surrounding residential area, Hard Rock Stadium’s expansive outdoor parking lots are perfect for tailgates, pick-up football games and other pre-game festivities.
For students without a car, UM’s UBus shuttles give students with a Cane Card and game ticket free rides to Hard Rock Stadium from Stanford Circle. The buses pick up students as early as three hours prior to kickoff and continue until a half hour before kickoff, and they begin returning students to campus from halftime until 30 minutes post-game.
20. Seminole Hard Rock Hotel
Once you check out Hard Rock Stadium, you might as well check out the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel, which is just a short drive north of the stadium.
Also known as The Guitar Hotel, it is one of the most distinguished architectural marvels in South Florida. If you ever find yourself in the Miami Gardens area at night, the guitar-themed resort will be impossible to miss. Once the sun sets, the exterior of the hotel shines with colored lights and the neck of the guitar sends a beacon of light into the sky.
While incoming freshmen would not be able to take advantage of the casino built into the hotel, a tour of the resort is worth the time in and of itself. From its high-end restaurants to the art galleries and shops in the hotel lobby, there’s plenty to do.
21. BB&T Center
The BB&T Center is the home of the Florida Panthers NHL hockey team and is located in Sunrise, 38 miles north from campus. While the arena is just outside of Miami-Dade County, the Panthers used to play in the now-demolished Miami Arena before moving north.
Since being founded in 1993, the Panthers have struggled to find success in the ice rink. Despite having made the playoffs six times in their history, they were eliminated without a series win on five occasions. Here’s hoping our incoming freshmen will bring some luck with them, if not the ghost of Wayne Gretzky.
Similar to loanDepot park, the BB&T Center has several student benefits as part of its Student Rush program. All student tickets are $20 including parking, and the arena’s rooftop lounge, known as “The Library,” is the official student section for Panthers’ home games.
22. DRV PNK Stadium
DRV PNK Stadium – home to the Inter Miami soccer club – is the newest addition to Miami’s sports scene. While the destination opened in July 2020 to accommodate Inter Miami’s inaugural season, the team will eventually relocate south from Fort Lauderdale – about a 40-minute drive north – to Miami and play in Miami Freedom Park.
Many questions remain on the status of Miami Freedom Park, but until their move is completed, DRV PNK Stadium will continue to host Miami’s fifth major professional sports team and its youth academy. Eager fans may also catch a glimpse of Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham, if his plane breaks down in the parking lot before he leaves for Cancun.
23. Versailles Restaurant
Versailles is Miami’s signature Cuban restaurant and is located on Eighth Street – or Calle Ocho. While customers can sit down and dine at a table, Versailles also has a bakery, takeout area and sections designated for banquets and large gatherings.
Among the restaurant’s most popular features is a walk-up window, where customers can order Cuban coffee, pastries and croquettes.
24. Flanigan’s Restaurant
Flanigan’s is a South Florida-based seafood bar and grill chain best known for its barbecue ribs. Whereas Versailles has only one location, Flanigan’s has multiple franchises spread throughout the Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Martin counties.
Fortunately for UM students, there is one just minutes away from campus in Coconut Grove.
25. Knaus Berry Farm
Every November through mid-April, the best cinnamon rolls on the planet can be found at Knaus Berry Farm in Homestead.
It may be a long commute from campus, even without any traffic, but Knaus Berry Farm is definitely worth a visit. While cinnamon rolls are its signature food item, the farm has a small market at its entrance that sells fruits, vegetables, milkshakes and other baked goods.
Beyond the market, visitors can also handpick their own strawberries and tomatoes and take them home.
Because Knaus Berry Farm is only open October through April, demand is always high. So, if you want to make the most of your experience in a short amount of time, arrive early in the morning and you’ll beat the lines and parking frenzies that occur in the afternoon.