Sun, sand, surf and balmy winter weather – Miami’s beguiling climate has charmed more than its fair share of visitors. One of the best ways to experience the perks of being on a warm-weather peninsula is with a frosty beverage in your hand and water views for days.
Surprisingly, finding a bar with that kind of real estate in Miami isn’t as simple as you might think. Many of the area’s hotels and condominiums have snapped up prime beachfront parcels and restrict the views to guests staying on property. But there are a handful of bars in the area that offer both a well-made cocktail and stunning views of Miami’s various waterways. Some of these gems take advantage of the Atlantic’s warm shores, while others prefer the calmer waters of the Intracoastal. But no matter the bar, the cocktail garnish of choice is always a stunning Miami sunset.
By moonlight, all the magic of Miami unfolds in its salsa-filled dance halls, swanky candlelit lounges, and rooftop bars with sweeping views over Biscayne Bay © Louis Davilla / Getty Images
Party in the palms at Key Biscayne
Just south of Miami’s Brickell neighborhood lies the barrier island of Key Biscayne. A quick jaunt on the scenic Rickenbacker Causeway takes you over the placid waters of Biscayne Bay and onto the lush shores of this tiny island enclave. But before you get too far, pull into the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS). Once there, make your way to WetLab. Rather than cracking open books, locals know it’s a prime spot for cracking open a beer and taking in unobstructed views of the water from the oceanfront veranda. With 17 taps of local craft beers and an assortment of affordably priced cans, you’re bound to find a brew worth toasting with.
Cantina Beach offers 110 premium tequila selections, the largest 100 percent Agave tequila collection in Miami © Jackie Gutierrez-Jones / Lonely Planet
For a different scene, head further down the Key to the The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami . While the surroundings are noticeably more upscale than the WetLab, the vibe at Cantina Beach—their coastal Mexican restaurant—is decidedly laid-back. Housed under a thatched palapa roof built by the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, this beachfront oasis offers up a tightly-curated menu of dishes including fajitas nortenas and snapper ceviche. Aim for one of the seats directly facing the ocean and summon the services of their in-house tequilier. With more than 110 premium tequilas on hand, you’re going to need an expert to guide the way.
American Social is located in the neighborhood of Brickell, and has a patriotic-themed decor © Jackie Gutierrez-Jones / Lonely Planet
Live the high life in Brickell
Back across the causeway you’ll find Brickell – Miami’s financial district. High-rises and busy city streets now populate one of Miami’s oldest neighborhoods, making it difficult to spot the Miami River coursing through its boundaries. But at American Social (690 SW 1 Court), you’ve got front row seats to one of the US’s shortest working rivers. Kick back on the patriotic rattan seats outside and watch a parade of glitzy yachts glide by while you wet your whistle with one of more than 50 craft beers on tap.
If it’s a cocktail you’re craving, a short trip across Brickell Key Drive will lead you to Brickell Key, a manmade island. There, nestled inside the Mandarin Oriental, Miami, you’ll find Yaku by La Mar. This breezy Peruvian-inspired outdoor lounge boasts some of the sexiest views of Biscayne Bay and the Brickell skyline alongside a potent selection of punch and pisco cocktails. At night, the bronze-and-terracotta-outfitted space comes to life with a rotating roster of guest DJs. Pro-tip: don’t miss happy hour. Nothing beats $5 small plates prepared by executive chef Diego Oka except for a killer Miami sunset. Here you get both.
Creativity is one of the great hallmarks of Miami, and that's reflected in its drinks © PJPhoto69 / Getty Images
Find the raucous fun downtown
Make your way north of Brickell and through Miami’s bustling downtown scene until you come upon The Wharf. Sidle up to one of the three bars in this open-air event space, order up a drink and take it out to the wooden deck overlooking the Miami River.
It’s a bit of a carnival-like atmosphere here, with live music, a rotating roster of food vendors, string lights and the occasional furry four-legged companion scurrying about, but that only adds to the charm.
The Art Deco Historic District is one the largest areas in America to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places © Paul Chesley / Getty Images
It’s a fashion show at Miami Beach
Across the MacArthur Causeway, the glitz of South Beach beckons with glamorous cars, Art Deco décor and residents in barely-there bathing attire. But Smith & Wollensky, located in the oceanfront South Pointe Park, offers some pretty spectacular views of its own – especially from the patio bar. Well-heeled patrons lounge with wine glasses in hand and chilled shellfish on a platter, while soaking up the salty ocean air and priceless views of the Atlantic. A few streets down, Monty’s Sunset embraces its name with picturesque views of the sun’s daily swan song from its perch on the dock of the Miami Beach marina. Pack a bathing suit – the pool here usually has a few revelers slurping down one the bar’s legendary frozen Pain Relievers.
If it’s good vibes, sunshine and a decidedly neo-hippie scene you’re after, look no further than The Standard Spa, Miami Beach. Toward the back of this nouveau-crunchy hideout you’ll find The Lido Bayside Grill. With a frosé in hand, you can watch paddleboarders navigate the calm waters of the bay while the occasional dolphin leaps to greet them.
Nestled between the mainland and Miami Beach, Shuckers Bar & Grill serves up spectacular views of Biscayne Bay along with margaritas, oysters and a solid rendition of fish tacos. There’s a casual, sports bar vibe at work here, so feel free to come in your flip flops. Especially during happy hour, when the sun’s busy painting the sky a mesmerizing hue of orange and red and draft beers run for about $3.
For a slightly different sports bar scene, drive a bit further north until you reach the Miami Beach location of Duffy’s Sports Grill. Don’t let the name fool you, though—this isn’t any ordinary sports bar. Boats are welcome to pull up and dock at one of fifty slips on the premises to enjoy what is arguably one of the best water views in South Florida. The menu here is mostly of the pub grub variety, but between the massive pool deck overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway and the over 200 flat screens situated around the bar, you’ll have plenty else vying for your attention.
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