Uber-cool Miami is a seaside city that drips with Art Deco architecture, expensive art, silver-white sands and chintzy rooftop pool bars. But you don't need to have the bank manager on speed dial when you visit – these are the best free things to do in Miami.
Celebrate classic Miami in the Art Deco Historic District
The world-famous art deco district of Miami Beach is pure exuberance: an architecture of bold lines, whimsical tropical motifs and a color palette that evokes all the beauty of the Miami landscape. Best of all, it’s free to peruse the 800-plus art deco buildings in the city.
For an enlightening overview, visit the free Art Deco Museum. It teaches visitors about the woman who helped save the buildings, Barbara Baer Capitman. The best art deco structures are between 11th and 14th Streets, but seek out the perfect symmetry of the Congress Hotel facade and the seahorse themes of Cavalier South Beach Hotel.
Get picture perfect at Wynwood Walls
One of the most photographed locations in Miami, Wynwood Walls is a collection of murals and paintings laid out over an open courtyard. Artist-led tours are available, but it’s free to simply explore on your own.
What invariably bowls people over is the sheer exuberant colors and commanding presence of the murals, which only tend to be around for less than a year before they are painted over. For another side of the neighborhood's creative chops, check out the free Bakehouse Art Complex, a bakery-turned-art-incubator with some 60 free galleries and studios to visit.
Take in all the sights on Ocean Drive
Gawping and walking along the great cruising strip of Miami is one of the best free things to do in the city. Ocean Drive is an endless parade of classic cars, testosterone-sweating young men, peacock-like young women, street performers, vendors, those guys who yell unintelligible nonsense at everyone, celebrities pretending to be tourists, tourists who want to play celebrity, beautiful people, ugly people, people people and the best ribbon of art-deco preservation on the beach. Say “Miami.” That image in your head? Probably Ocean Drive.
Watch a game of dominoes at Maximo Gomez Park
For Little Havana’s most evocative reminder of Cuba, visit Máximo Gómez Park (known locally as Domino Park), where the sound of elderly men trash-talking over games of dominoes is harmonized with the quick clack-clack of slapping tiles. The heavy cigar smell and a sunrise-bright mural of the 1994 Summit of the Americas add to the atmosphere.
Soak up some rays on Miami's beaches
The soft, white, pillowy sands of Miami run parallel to the North Atlantic like a set of gleaning Hollywood gnashers. You won’t fork out anything to visit most of these beaches, which means this delicious stretch of coastline leaves travelers spoiled – really spoiled – for choice.
South Beach – SoBe to the locals – is the sparkling show-off here: snow-white sands; turquoise waters; palm trees. It’s also Miami’s busiest beach, so head south to the SoFi area for more space. However, our fave is Crandon Park Beach, a two-mile belt of tourist-free sand and mangrove swamps.
Enjoy the stunning views at South Pointe Park
There’s a reason the very southern tip of Miami Beach is the focus of countless photo spreads and selfies – the views of its resident pier jutting into the turquoise waves of the Atlantic are simply staggering. Free to visit, South Pointe Park is ideal for families, replete with manicured grass for lounging and warm, scrubbed-stone walkways, as well as a tiny water park for the kids.
Grab a bike and head to Shark Valley
One of the best ways to experience part of the Everglades is on a bicycle. If your hotel offers free bike rentals (and plenty around town do), head to Shark Valley, where a 15-mile paved road gives an intimate glimpse of mangroves, birds, alligators and other inhabitants of the subtropical wetland – though sadly not sharks. Entrance is free, but bike rentals from here start at $9 an hour.
Spend a day with the kiddies at Bayfront Park
Few American parks can claim to front such a lovely stretch of turquoise as Biscayne Bay, but this fantastic green space is packed full of freebies too, including a great playground for the kids.
The Tina Hills Pavilion has free concerts and yoga sessions, but Bayfront Park has some interesting public art worth discovering as well. The JFK Torch of Friendship recognizes the accomplishments of US congressman Claude Pepper, while Isamu Noguchi, who redesigned much of Bayfront Park in the 1980s, has three great sculptures: the Challenger Memorial, The Light Tower, and our favorite, the Slide Mantra.
Hit the trails at Virginia Key North Point
In a wooded section at the north end of the Virginia Key Beach North Point Park, you'll find a series of short mountain bike trails, color-coded for beginner, intermediate and advanced. It's free to use the trails, though if your hotel doesn’t have free bicycle hire, you may have to stump up for that.
Explore lines and shapes at the Institute of Contemporary Art
A free contemporary arts museum, the ICA sits in the midst of the Design District and hosts a good range of contemporary exhibitions alongside its permanent collection pieces. The building, designed in 2017 by Aranguren & Gallegos architects, is especially beautiful, with its sharp geometric lines and large windows overlooking the back garden.
Marvel at the public art at Española Way
Two excellent examples of public art grace Española Way where it runs by the Betsy Hotel. The Betsy Orb is just that: a sort of giant white beach ball-ish sculpture squashed into an alley between Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue. Once a month a video and/or photography exhibition is projected onto the Orb's surface.
Steps away is the Poetry Rail, a metal wall etched with the words of 13 poets, including Adrian Castro, Richard Blanco, and Gerald Stern, paying tribute to Miami's multicultural population and unique geography.
Visit the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center is a great introduction to South Florida's unique ecosystems and is particularly good for children. Named after the beloved environmental crusader Marjory Stoneman Douglas, it has hands-on exhibits as well as aquariums in the back full of parrotfish, conch, urchins, tulip snails and a fearsome-looking green moray eel.
Indulge in the good life at the Biltmore Hotel
The greatest of the grand hotels of the American Jazz Age, the Biltmore was where Judy Garland and the Vanderbilts would stay when in Miami. Even Al Capone had a speakeasy here. You can discover the fascinating history of this standout hotel during its free 55-minute Sunday walking tours. Tours depart at 1:30pm and 2:30pm.
Little Havana's Viernes Culturales
Cultural Fridays in Little Havana are like little carnival seasons, with music, old men in guayaberas (Cuban dress shirts) crooning to the stars, and art galleries throwing open their doors for special exhibitions. Hosted on the last Friday of the month, this free event features local arts and crafts, dominos, live music and plenty of dancing.
Catch a concert at SoundScape Park
Every spring, the sprawling grounds of the Frank Gehry-designed SoundScape Park hosts the New World Symphony’s Wallcast concert series – a free 7000 sq ft projection of the live performance going on inside the New World Center concert hall, beamed against its exterior wall.
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