Here’s where to visit to take advantage of living in Miami: Part 2

Photo credit: Daniel Toll
Photo credit: Daniel Toll

Miami is more than just palm trees, beaches, over-crowded nightclubs and all the other things Will Smith sings about in his 1998 hit single, “Miami.”

The city celebrates cultural diversity, uniting people of different backgrounds from around the globe and housing thriving immigrant communities in neighborhoods like Little Havana and Little Haiti. 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 second of a four-part series covering the best things to do in Miami once you start college at The U.

26. Miami’s Best Pizza

Miami’s Best Pizza is a must-hit pizza place located on Ponce de Leon Boulevard right across the street from ‘Canes Baseball’s Mark Light Field. Its proximity to UM’s Coral Gables campus has made it a staple in the community throughout the 50 years since it was founded by former Hurricanes Football player Al Papich in 1970. While most known for their pizza pies, Miami’s Best serves an array of hero sandwiches, chicken wings and desserts available for pick up, eat in or delivery to campus and beyond

The restaurant is sure to live up to the hype, but for an enhanced experience, be sure to cap off your dinner with a Canes Baseball game and a Mark Light Milkshake.

27. The Big Cheese

If you have a lactose intolerance, avoid this destination at all costs. The Big Cheese’s game stays true to its name, serving enormous pizza slices, baked pasta dishes, sautéed pasta dinners and more. The fan-favorite restaurant is situated just off of US-1 two and a half miles southwest from campus.

However, The Big Cheese is more than just a restaurant that will ruin your fitness regime; it is also an official sponsor of the Miami Hurricanes. Since establishing its partnership with UM in 1991, The Big Cheese has collected over 200 pieces of original memorabilia from The U, many of which adorn the walls of the long-time institution. The Big Cheese also provides pre-game meals to UM’s sports teams, as well as Miami’s opponents, and extends its hours to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays so hungry students can indulge in some late night cheese.

28. Wall’s Ice Cream

If you managed to avoid an especially cheesy meal at The Big Cheese out of concern for your physique, you may have an even harder time controlling the temptation to visit the restaurant’s across-the-street neighbor: Wall’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream.

In addition to its variety of 21 unique ice cream flavors, Wall’s serves banana splits, sundaes, homemade fudge and its signature item: The Great Wall of Ice Cream. The Great Wall is more than enough to satisfy your sweet tooth, combining 12 ice cream flavors with bananas, brownies, a selection of four toppings and a cherry. You may need 100,000 steps to burn off this juggernaut of a dessert, but if you finish it yourself, you’ll find yourself on the Wall’s Wall of Fame. Once you’ve completed your two-stop journey to the corner of SW. 67th Avenue, you can go home, take a cold shower and collapse into your bed as the approaching food coma takes control.

29. The Salty Donut

The Salty Donut – commonly referred to as The Salty – is a family-owned donut shop with multiple locations around the Miami area. The closest to the University of Miami is four minutes southwest from campus on US-1.

The Salty has a year-round selection of delicious donuts, but also offers a seasonal menu that cycles throughout the year. The current seasonal menu includes a number of unique flavors, including chocolate caramel pretzel, tiramisu and coffee cake. The Salty also serves a variety of coffee and tea beverages for those hoping to supplement their sugar intake with a healthy dose of caffeine. And no, not all of their donuts are salty.

30. Mojo Donuts

In the spirit of competition, we must also recommend that new Miami residents continue their donut peregrinations along US-1 at Mojo Donuts, one of the most unique donut shops you will ever find and located only a mile from campus. Where else can you order donuts that are categorized as “fancy”, “gourmet” or “specialty”? While the selection itself is enough to make your mouth water, with premium donuts come premium prices. Mojo’s specialty sweet treats will definitely inflate the cost of your total order, selling for $3.95 each, but can you really put a price on donuts? (Don’t answer). The store’s website is currently under construction, but in their own words, “donut worry,” as you can still fill your stomach and Instagram with these artful and delicate pastries at any of the companies three locations.

31. Night Owl Cookies

You may have to travel into enemy territory to get there, but cookies from Night Owl are worth the risk. Located right by Florida International University about 10 miles northwest from campus, Night Owl is arguably Miami’s signature artisan cookie store, which is a far bigger accomplishment than it may seem considering the stiff competition.

When it was originally founded, Night Owl’s sales pitch was that it was the only late-night cookie shop in the city. While the company still serves deep into the night and into the early morning, they have expanded their hours to open at 11 a.m. in all of their South Florida locations. If you prefer to avoid the FIU location out of pride for your university, Night Owl locations can be found in Wynwood, the Miami Design District and in North Miami Beach. Just try to remember that pride is a social construct and Sebastian will be here to cleanse you of your rival’s stench when you return.

32. Metrorail, Metromover and Metrobus

If there is anything Miami is infamous for, it’s traffic. Tourists visiting the city’s glamorous night clubs and pristine beaches are confronted with the reality of the forty minute drive from Coral Gables to Miami Beach and, upon arrival, the perilous hunt for empty parking spots in a city with no offseason. The Metrorail, Metromover and Metrobus systems are the city’s best attempt at making Miami a more navigable destination, and while neither is as efficient nor as effective as an underground subway system, they definitely beat sitting in your car during rush hour, with a near-empty gas tank and sweat beading down your chin.

The Metrobus still has to navigate through Miami traffic, but passengers can depart at one of its several connections to the Metrorail and Metromover to avoid major jams. The Metrorail, which has a station across from campus, provides transportation all the way to Downtown Miami, where passengers can take the Metromover to explore the busy Brickell streets.

33. Coral Gables Trolley

The Coral Gables Trolley is probably the only thing in the entirety of Coral Gables that is free, and in all honesty, it really shouldn’t be. The trolley system does a magnificent job of reducing traffic congestion and alleviating the difficulty of finding parking in Coral Gables by following routes that travel the entirety of the city’s downtown area and connecting roads adjacent to local neighborhoods.

The trolley also extends into Miami and Coconut Grove along Grand Avenue, making it an indispensable mode of transportation for students looking to spend their money on muscle shirts and bikinis instead of gas.

34. Giralda Avenue

Located two blocks north of Miracle Mile is Giralda Avenue, a one-block strip consisting of a variety of restaurants and cafes.

Once a road with bumper-to-bumper traffic, Giralda Avenue underwent a drastic renovation and makeover in 2015. Today, what was once a road consists of outdoor seating areas for the restaurants that line the sides of the street.

Giralda Avenue has become a frequent destination for its art displays, which are hung from cables above the street’s restaurants, the most famous of which was the Umbrella Sky, a display that brought locals and tourists to the street in the hopes of proving that they were there with an Instagram-worthy photo.

35. Coral Gables Farmers Market

Despite being a seasonal operation, the Coral Gables Farmers Market is one of the most well-known attractions in the city. In 2021, it took place every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. from Jan.16 through March 27. Featuring a variety of fruits and vegetables, prepared meals, baked goods, flowers and more, the Coral Gables Farmers Market has something for everyone, and it all takes place in the heart of Coral Gables: right in front of City Hall on Biltmore Way.

36. La Carreta

Right across from Versailles on 8th Street is La Carreta flagship location, one of Miami’s most renowned Cuban food chains. While La Carreta plays the role of a little brother to the more famous Versailles, both restaurants are actually owned by the same family – the Vallses – and serve similar dishes like classic picadillo and empanadas with cilantro cream sauce.

While Versailles is much more of a tourist attraction, you can never go wrong with La Carreta, and you are much more likely to find convenient parking and open tables. As a bonus, you can get a photo in front of a huge chicken statue decorated in the colors of the Cuban flag. Does anything scream Miami more than that?

37. Sunset Place

Right across the street from Mojo Donuts is Sunset Place, or Sunset, an open-air shopping destination and entertainment venue. For the most part, many of the stores that make their way to Sunset get replaced by others rather quickly, but there are four sites within the location perfect for UM students to enjoy that seem to be around for the long haul.

Sunset has an LA Fitness gym, a GameTime arcade and gaming center, an AMC movie theater and a Splitsville bowling alley. College students like bowling and movies, right?

38. Miami International Mall

The Miami International Mall is a large shopping center spanning over one million square feet in Doral, about 11 miles northwest from campus. While most of the shopping centers close to UM have limited, and oftentimes expensive options, International Mall boasts over 120 retail and fashion brands.

The mall also has 22 restaurants, many of which are located in the food court facing the main entrance.

39. Dolphin Mall

If you’re looking for the best of Sunset Place and International Mall thrown together into one massive location, Dolphin Mall is where you can find it all. Showcasing over 240 retail outlets, it is one of the largest shopping centers in the Miami area.

Dolphin Mall also has a number of restaurants fit for any celebration, two movie theaters, a Bowlero bowling alley and a Dave and Buster’s arcade. By the main entrance, there is also an outdoor patio where bands play live music for those in the outdoor seating areas of the surrounding restaurants.

With all of the amenities Dolphin Mall has to offer, it is easy to spend an entire day and your life savings there.

40. Shops at Merrick Park

The Shops at Merrick Park is an open-air shopping mall about a mile and a half northeast from campus on Le Jeune Road. Some of the mall’s most notable stores include Pandora, Nordstrom, Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic, Sephora and Vineyard Vines. However, as is the case throughout most of Coral Gables, the vast majority of the stores are on the pricey side, so it may not be the best place to visit if you are on a budget. Then again, where else can you buy a Gucci belt and pay for overpriced Soulcycle classes?

Beyond its clothing stores and Soulcycle, the Shops at Merrick Park also has a small Landmark movie theater and several restaurants, including the fan-favorite Yardhouse.

41. Dadeland Mall

Three miles southwest from campus and leading into the Kendall area is Dadeland Mall. Of the shopping centers on this list, Dadeland Mall most resembles Miami International Mall in that it doesn’t consist of many entertainment venues and sticks largely to clothes shopping and food. However, Dadeland Mall’s modernized look and proximity to UM gives it the edge over its Doral counterpart.

Housing over 180 stores, Dadeland offers more than enough to be the preferred shopping destination for UM students, and the cherry on top is a Chick-Fil-A in the food court, which can be distressingly hard to find in South Florida. While some may think that Chick-Fil-A sells over-hyped chicken sandwiches for twice their cost of production, UM students can leave the pessimists behind on their journey to nugget nirvana.

42. Aventura Mall

Aventura Mall may be 23 miles north of UM, but it offers a unique shopping experience unlike the other sites on this list. With over 300 retail stores, this luxury shopping center is the biggest in Florida. However, Aventura Mall consists of much more than shopping. It has its own farmers market, an expansive list of over 40 dining destinations and art installations and statues spread out throughout the interior and exterior of the mall.

43. CityPlace Doral

Ten miles north from campus and west of the Miami International Airport is CityPlace Doral: the heartbeat of the Miami suburb. While it is a shopping destination, it is much more of a dining and entertainment venue than anything else, featuring multiple restaurants and bars, a movie theater, a comedy club and a bowling alley. At CityPlace’s center is a fountain and circular patio where bands can play live music and visitors can soak in the sounds of Frost’s best and brightest jazz guitarists.

44. The Falls

The Falls is an open-air shopping center about 10 miles southwest from campus along US-1. At 108 stores, it is on the smaller end of Miami’s collection of major malls, but still checks any and all boxes you may have for your shopping needs.

However, considering the lengthy commute needed to get there, it is probably best to go if you are already in the area or during the weekend to avoid the bumper-to-bumper traffic on US-1 during the afternoon. If the distance seems too far for a Lyft, students can always visit one of Miami’s other seemingly infinite outdoor shopping centers.

45. Sawgrass Mills

About 36 miles north from campus in Fort Lauderdale is Sawgrass Mills, which is, you guessed it, the largest mall in Broward County and the second-largest in the state, trailing only Aventura Mall in size and housing over 350 stores.

While Sawgrass Mills has plenty of outlet locations and value retailers, Sawgrass Mill’s signature feature is The Colonnade Outlets, which hosts over 70 luxury-brand outlets, including Burberry, Tory Burch and Versace. At this point, it has likely become clear to you that Miami residents and tourists are big fans of soft-to-the-touch overpriced clothing.

46. Zoo Miami

Zoo Miami – located about 13 miles southwest from campus – is the largest zoo in Florida and the fifth-largest in the country. Because of Miami’s sub-tropical climate, the zoo is able to house a variety of species from various continents that other zoos cannot support.

Today, Zoo Miami sits on 750 acres of land and houses over 3,000 animals, representing over 500 species. Of this total, 130 of the species cared for in the zoo are at risk in the wild, with many being classified as endangered. In addition to its animal population, the zoo has over 1,000 plant species.

To combat Miami’s warm weather while at the zoo, groups can rent out a Safari Cycle with a roof to save time off the feet and escape the heat.

During the winter, Zoo Miami Lights offers a unique way to celebrate the holiday season. While much of the zoo is closed off while the animals sleep, certain sections remain open and are fully adorned with Christmas decorations, lights and life-size silhouettes of zoo animals outlined by sparkling lights. Just be sure not to mistake the cardboard bear cut-out for its more threatening inspiration.

47. Miami Seaquarium

The Miami Seaquarium is a 38-acre oceanarium and marine sanctuary situated on Virginia Key about eight miles from campus. Despite Miami being an oceanfront city, the Seaquarium offers experiences found nowhere else in the area, including dolphin encounters, penguin encounters, swimming with seals and diving at their 300,000-gallon artificial coral reef. The Seaquarium also showcases a variety of species of tropical birds, sharks and fish in addition to stunt shows for dolphins and seals.

Beyond its entertainment purposes, the Seaquarium has also been committed to wildlife conservation and rescue, rehabilitation and release efforts for local species.

Despite all of the good the Seaquarium has done to preserve biodiversity in South Florida’s waters, it has also been the subject of serious backlash due to the living conditions of Lolite the orca, who has been in the world’s smallest orca tank for over 50 years. If you can overlook such a dubious claim to fame, however, then the Seaquarium may be for you.

48. Venetian Pool

Coral Gables’s Venetian Pool – about two miles north from campus – is a swimming pool unlike any other. Created in 1923, it was formed out of coral rock and it is filled with 820,000 gallons of spring water pulled from an underground aquifer.

With palm trees surrounding the pool and a backdrop of waterfalls, Venetian Pool truly has the makings of a tropical paradise. However, to best enjoy the water, make sure to pick a hot day; the pool naturally runs extremely cold and can be known to induce serious cases of teeth chattering in unprepared adventurers.

49. Biltmore Hotel

The Biltmore Hotel – about two miles north from campus – is one of the most well-known destinations in Coral Gables. It may not be a beachfront resort, but who needs more than a 23,000 square foot pool to soak in the water and tan until your beat-red skin sizzles to the touch. While the Biltmore’s famous pool is certainly a hit attraction, the hotel also offers access to poolside cabanas, spas, tennis courts and a golf course to its guests.

Even if you don’t rent a room, the Biltmore is at least worth a visit. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to photo-bomb some wedding photos.

50. Miami Marine Stadium

The Miami Marine Stadium used to be a seating area for speedboat racing, concerts and boxing matches from the 1960s through the early 1990s. However, after being declared unsafe in 1992, it has since been abandoned.

Since then, rust and graffiti have overtaken the stadium’s deteriorating walls, but the area makes for a popular photography spot and offers breathtaking views of the ocean and Downtown Miami from Virginia Key.