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Four days of exploring South Beach, Miami Area, Friday to Tuesday. This itinerary is perfect for the solo traveler that prefers to sightsee primarily in the daylight hours and rely on public transportation options.
Try to arrive at Miami International Airport before 2pm. Hop on Miami's "Downtown" metrobus (be sure to purchase a transfer) to the Miami-Dade Cultural Center. This complex encompasses the Miami Art Museum, the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, AND the main public library. If you want to patron both the Miami Art Museum (MAM) and the Historical Museum--be sure to ask for the combined ticket which will save you money.
At the MAM, I enjoyed the retrospective on artist Lorna Simpson's photography, while at the Historical Museum I grounded myself in southern Florida history and enjoyed the special exhibit on the history of Miami Beach tourism--perfect for me since SoBe was my homebase for the weekend!
Stay in the Art Deco Historic District of Miami Beach--take in the cool architecture and imagine yourself in a time where Frank, Sammy and Deano rule the scene!
During my stay, the Dorset was my homebase. It was truly art deco-dent! A great hotel for the price and location. While a good number of the hotels in the art deco district have been renovated, be sure to research the hotel before taking the plunge as many vary in quality.
After checking into your hotel, it's time for dinner. I recommend the Icebox Cafe, which was recently profiled on Oprah as having "the best cake." Sadly, the curried chicken was so good there was no room for dessert.
Practically across the street from the Icebox Cafe, is the Frieze Icecream shop. This is a good place to go if you need to satisfy your sweet tooth after eating at the Icebox but want something nice and light. I had the key lime sorbet. After one spoonful (or many samples) you will notice right away that Frieze uses truly fresh ingredients--all their sorbets taste like the real thing!
With sorbet in hand follow Lincoln Road toward your hotel and stroll the Lincoln Mall--nine blocks of people watching, eating, and shopping!
You learned about the founding of Miami at the Historical Museum--now it's time to get some fun field experience (on land and on water) with a Miami Beach Duck tour. Take the earliest scheduled Duck Tour you can (I recommend the 11am tour). You can buy tickets online or take your chances the day of by going to 1665 Washington Ave, just off Lincoln Road. My tour guide was pretty hammy and hilarious, and a great time was had by all. Trust me, after this tour all the names of the Miami streets will make sense and you'll learn that Miami Vice wasn't just a TV show. Just go!
Gourmet hot dogs! I'm serious...and they're really good. They offer other stuff as well. Come here for a quick bite after your Duck Tour.
Located on 935 W 41st St, this is great salon to get styled and profiled, Sobe Style. This place gets high marks for its waxing--ask for Laura herself, she's a pro and you'll leave feeling less tender and more "Love Me Tender."
Between the sand and salon, several hours have gone by. Time for an early dinner! Stop by the Cafeteria (yes, that's the actual name). The portions are quite large, so warn the waiter in advance you would like a doggy bag. I don't know if it was the name of the restaurant or not, but I felt compelled to order the meatloaf sandwhich. There was nothing mysterious about the meat--it was quite good. One word of warning about the Cafeteria--all plastic is good except Discover Card.
Give Lincoln Road another stroll, this time from the shopper's perspective. Charge!
Check out the Espanola Way weekend festival, which is between 14th and 15th Streets. The festival brings together vendors, artists and people in this historic spanish village.
After browsing the goods in Espanola Way, check out the Miami Beach indie film scene. Located at 512 Espanola Way, the Miami Beach Cinematheque is bound to have some unique art house offerings. When I visited, I saw the Miami premiere of this film called "Quality of Life" about one guy's struggles with his life as a street artists and future life as an established artist in the mainstream.
If you are an early riser, be sure to check out the Lincoln Road Farmer's Market and support local growers. But if you happen to wake up after 10am and want to start out with Sunday Brunch, Big Pink is the place!
Take the South Beach local bus (only 25 cents) to 2nd and Washington. Walk a block over to 1st and Collins and have brunch at the Big Pink, a SoBe institution. The portions are huge and the menu...it could take you five minutes to get through reading it all...which is not a problem since it may take another ten minutes before you see your first waiter. But don't worry, be patient--it's worth it! I had the famous "TV Dinner Tray" which was old school with a southwestern flavor (quesadillas and other items, plus a dessert). I recommend it--they rotate the offerings for the tv dinner, so whatever they have in store for you it will be be good!
After a big meal at the Big Pink, walk it off at the beach. Right behind Big Pink (toward 2nd and Ocean) is the beach. Give yourself a little exercise by walking in the sand with shoes on!
Now on to the city of Miami. "Discovery of America Day" an outdoor festival commemorating Columbus Day with lots of food and music happens here.
Within the area of Bayfront Park, this is the place for shopping, dining, and nice views of the water.
Perhaps you are exhausted from your excursions in the city of Miami--by bus, no less--and want to just chill and enjoy your hotel room. The best way to do that is to grab some provisions at Presto Pizza, on Lincoln Road. I had the three cheese calzone and a slice of chocolate cake, known as "the chocolate beast"...A great way to enjoy cable and a comfy bed.
Last day of sightseeing, and a great opportunity to get farther out of the city limits.
Sojourn to this palacial estate in south miami. It was built in 1915 but it seems centuries older! A unique sight not to be missed. Try to arrive early in the morning (9:30am) to get the best of the view and temperature.
After the Vizcaya, cross the street to see impressive exhibits for those whose interests are both down to earth and out of this world! When I went, the Titantic Artifact exhibt was around. Very well done and humanized this story in a powerful way.
Be warned: there is a big chance there will be a school group or three at the museum. Don't panic--simply visit the areas of the museum opposite their schedule, e.g., I started at the planetarium section while the youngins were busy with Titanic stuff.
After a few hours of seeing Vizcaya and the Planetarium, the hunger headache is about to strike. Hop the 48 Bus "South Miami" (or if you're feeling fiscally free...call a cab) and get yourself to Scotty's Landing. Be careful if traveling by bus b/c once you hit South Bayshore Drive--it's really easy to miss (if you end up at the CocoWalk..you've gone too far)! Tell your bus driver to drop you off just before the Miami city hall. You will then have to walk toward the water's edge, pass through a boat yard, before getting to the restaurant. Don't worry. It's worth it! The view from Scotty's is amazing and you'll feel great knowing that you're eating a true local's spot. I had the fish and chips with she-crap soup here. Very good!
After eating at Scotty's walk about 10-15 minutes to the Mayfair shops for window shopping.
Within less than a stone's throw from Mayfair shops is the CocoWalk, the major retail complex for the area....shopping, dining, movies..and more.
Traveler's tip: If you are taking public transport for these Day Four activies, try to plan to leave the Coconut Grove area no later than 7pm (afterwards, service gets less frequent or almost nonexistent to SoBe) and be sure to take something to keep yourself hydrated if it's hot (the bus journey will be about 75 minutes total). Otherwise, call a cab.
Evening is upon you. It's been a great couple of days, but tomorrow means you will have to come back. Time to check in online and print out that boarding pass. Patron one of SoBe's many cyber cafes along Washington Ave. I went to the Cyber Caffe on 1574 Washington.
After you get your internet fix, you realize something...you haven't eaten anything since Scotty's but you're not really *that* hungry. Then magically, an evening shower begins and you are forced to retreat back to your hotel room. The perfect solution: Big Pink Delivers...and no delivery charge! I recommend ordering the big bucket of sweet potato fries (which comes with ranch dip, weird...but it actually works!) and a dessert. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour for them to reach your hotel, which is perfect timing to shower and begin packing.