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Visiting Miami for the First Time? Here’s What To See and Do

Here’s what to do to maximize your first trip to Miami.

Boats in a marina at sunset with Miami skyline in the background
Hi, I'm Jessica!

Jessica Colley Clarke is a freelance writer and curious traveler based in New York City. Her stories have appeared in AFAR magazine, BBC Travel, The Daily Beast, and the New York Times, among other publications.

Sun, sand, and surf may attract first-time visitors to Miami, but it’s often the city’s art, music, and food scenes that will pull you back again and again. If this is your first visit to the Magic City, diving right into the cultural side of the city is the best way to get to know it. Begin your exploration in Miami Beach with its signature art deco architecture and picture-perfect beaches, then head to the town’s other vibrant neighborhoods, each of which boasts its own atmosphere and attractions. From getting out on the water to exploring Miami’s lesser-known state parks, here are some ways to get the most out of the city.

Embrace the sunrise

Group of people practice yoga on the beach at sunrise
Yoga is one of many early morning activities in Miami.Foto: Melander / Shutterstock

Catch the sun breaking the horizon.

Locals in Miami love to get up early and see their city at sunrise. Rise early, and you’ll see plenty of locals jogging, on bikes, and opening a yoga mat on the beach. One of the best ways to experience dawn is from the seat of a kayak, where you can see the sun breaking the horizon from out on the water. Other options for early morning activities include a beach breakfast picnic, sunrise yoga, sunrise paddleboarding, a Segway tour, or a photography session.

See the art deco architecture

Row of art deco style buildings with pastel colored painted details
Locals worked together to preserve the Art Deco Historic District.Foto: Vlad G / Shutterstock

Learn about the Miami Beach Art Deco Historic District.

Tropical greens, blues, and corals fill the Art Deco Historic District in Miami Beach, a must-visit area for architecture lovers—or anyone interested in local history. Go for a guided stroll through this section of South Beach, and you can learn about the landmark buildings and how they were preserved or get a peek at hidden spots visitors don’t usually see. To cover ground quickly, you can also choose a Segway tour or a bike tour. Some tours also include an introduction to the local food scene.

Enjoy boat life

Roadways crisscross turquoise water with the Miami skyline in the background
Boat tours offer different ways to see the city.Foto: Bogdan Dyiakonovych / Shutterstock

Climb aboard for a fresh perspective.

No first time visit to Miami would be complete without getting on a boat. Cruising along the coastline, dropping anchor to swim or snorkel, or raising a glass on a sunset cocktail cruise are all fun ways to embrace Miami boat life. There are a variety of different tour companies in the city offering everything from relaxed sightseeing tours that take you past celebrity mansions to private boat rentals that take you to the city’s famous sandbars to sunset tours that let you enjoy the sight of the city as its lights come sparkling to life.

Take a food tour

Brightly painted rooster statue on street corner
Brightly painted rooster statues line Calle Ocho in Little Havana.Foto: Fotoluminate LLC / Shutterstock

Explore Little Havana for a taste of Cuba.

One of the best ways to experience Cuban culture in Miami is to visit Little Havana on a food tour. An experienced guide can take you on a neighborhood stroll and also tell you about the area’s history, culture, and food. These tours usually pair stops for specialties like Cuban coffee and sandwiches with other cultural activities, like watching cigar rollers at work and listening to Cuban music.

Dive into the local art scene

Two women look at a large mural painted in a cartoon style
The Wynwood Walls murals feature international artists.Foto: Erika Cristina Manno / Shutterstock

See how street artists are transforming local neighborhoods.

Miami is a city known for its creativity, and this is on bright display in the Wynwood district. This mainland neighborhood—which is quickly becoming a destination for art, food, and shopping—is home to the famous Wynwood Walls, an outdoor attraction made up of street murals painted by international artists. To learn about the history of Wynwood and its street art efficiently, you can join a tour that will take you around the various pieces in a golf cart or a party bike.

Discover the Miami Design District

Luxury shops in Miami's Design District.
Miami's Design District consists of 18 blocks of shops, restaurants, and more.Foto: Olga V Kulakova / Shutterstock

Step into the future in this sophisticated neighborhood.

Miami’s architecture keeps on evolving and you can see its most modern examples in the Miami Design District, north of Wynwood. Spanning 18 blocks, this shopping and arts district is home to a number of upscale fashion boutiques, cutting-edge contemporary galleries, and trendy restaurants. Adding to the aesthetic, you’ll also find an abundance of captivating public art, from monumental installations to colorful murals.

Relax in Miami’s parks

White lighthouse on a sandy beach
The lighthouse at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park was built in 1825.Foto: Red Lemon / Shutterstock

Discover the peaceful side of the city at local green spaces.

To get away from the crowds and see an unspoiled side of the coastline, head to the city’s parks. For a relaxing afternoon, visit Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park at the tip of Key Biscayne to see a historic lighthouse, have a picnic with an ocean view, hike or bike along groomed trails, or just raise a glass and watch the sunset. Other options include Crandon Park, which has a nature center and tennis courts, and Oleta River State Park, where you can kayak or canoe.

Hit the museums

Palm trees line the water's edge outside the glass and concrete Pérez Art Museum Miami
The Pérez Art Museum Miami is located at the water's edge.Foto: mariakray / Shutterstock

Miami museums are worth heading inside for.

Miami boasts a variety of world-class museums covering a wide range of subjects from art to history to science. Head to the Pérez Art Museum Miami for 20th- and 21st-century art, or tour the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens to see historical furniture and interiors. If you’re on a family trip, head to the Miami Children’s Museum for interactive exhibits or Frost Science, where you can learn about the world’s oceans, the Everglades, and more.

But don’t skip the lesser-known spots

The exterior of the Bass Museum in Miami, FL.
The Bass museum is home to plenty of artwork and educational activities.Foto: Kevelyn21 / Shutterstock

Some under-the-radar gems you won’t want to miss.

After hopping between Miami’s top museums, make a beeline for some of the city’s lesser-known cultural offerings. Learn about Haitian culture at the Haitian Heritage Museum, or dive into Jewish history at the Jewish Museum of Florida. If art is more your thing, don’t skip the fascinating World Erotic Art Museum (adults-only) or The Bass, home to educational activities and colorful artworks.

Related: 7 Under-the-Radar Museums in Miami

Jump into water sports

Woman kayaks with the Miami skyline in the background
Kayaking is one of many options for water sports in Miami.Foto: EB Adventure Photography / Shutterstock

Rent a jet ski or go parasailing for a true dose of Miami adventure.

In Miami, the ocean offers far more than a way to cool off and go swimming, and locals enjoy a variety of fun and adventurous watersports. Popular options for exploring the coastline include jet skiing (rentals are fast and easy) and parasailing, which lets you see the coast from the air and get a rush of adrenaline. If you like kayaking, you can rent a boat on your own or take a guided sunset tour, a clear kayaking tour, or a nighttime excursion with LED-lit boats. If you’ve ever wanted to try stand-up paddleboarding, take a speedboat tour, or go deep-sea fishing, Miami is the perfect place to embrace the adventure.

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