Miami. See it like a native. was an award winning ad campaign in the late 1970s. The most popular ad poster was kinda risqué and I read that it is still not allowed on Facebook. You could once buy one of the vintage posters on eBay for $5,000.
Various parodies naturally ensued, like this Miami Herald magazine article and this t-shirt.
Since I spent over 90% of my school time in South Florida—in other words, I grew up there—I feel qualified to present attractions that are not mainstream. These fun places to visit in Miami Florida likely do not appear in official tourism guides or travel books. Let me know what you think!
Read on so you can See Miami. Like a Native.
1. Places to See in Miami: Beaches
High rise development up and down the South Florida coast have turned the sleepy, quaint beaches of my childhood into playgrounds for jet setters. Two amazing South Florida beaches that remain virtually untouched are state parks: Cape Florida (at the south end of Key Biscayne) and John U. Lloyd (in Dania Beach, 10 miles north of North Miami Beach). A third beach has changed a lot—some say improved while others disagree. Haulover Park features the longest undeveloped beach area in South Florida (1.5 miles), the likely marina you will use to go deep sea fishing, and a fantastic kite flying area. The “improvements” include a dog park and one of the world’s most popular clothing-optional beach areas. So now you know where to go to get an all-over tan before your See Miami like a Native model session.
See also these Miami scenic drives.
2. Crandon Park
On the way to Cape Florida you pass through Crandon Park. The beach is the highlight of Crandon Park but there is much, much more to do here. Crandon beach is very popular because a sand bar protects swimmers from the big waves. Activities include nature walks, golf, tennis (home of the Miami Open), kayaking, boating, a marina, and tram rides. Bear Cut is a marine preserve preserving “old florida” wilderness. On one field trip, a teacher took a small group to observe the various eco-systems. A sea urchin floated on my foot and I kicked it off resulting in a classmate getting soaked and an ensuing water fight. Ah, good times. Sorry, Todd and Mr. Kappes.
3. Coconut Grove Arts Festival
I was not really interested in art when I was growing up. However, I was really amazed the first time I went to the Coconut Grove Arts Festival and excited for repeat visits. CGAF has become a humongous festival—with musical lineups, cooking demos, and outdoor games—a big change from a few small art booths in a sleepy village from my youth. Still, this festival is not on many visitor’s radars and a great way to See Miami Like a Native.
4. Lowe Art Museum and University of Miami
Really, truly, I was not what you consider someone interested in art when I was growing up. I had to say that again. Perhaps my most memorable field trip in elementary school was to the Lowe Art Museum where I saw a display of Christmas trees from around the world (and creatively, from around the universe). Then we ate lunch in the area around the University of Miami pool, where we watched the swim and dive team practice. To this day, one of my favorite sightseeing activities is visiting college campuses.
5. Tropical Park
In southwest Miami, Tropical Park is a South Florida oasis with hundreds of acres of open space for bicycling, running, nature walks, frisbee, football or soccer, and many more outdoor activities. One flashback, if I may. When I ran cross country in high school (not very well), Tropical Park was the site for the regional championship. Almost every runner in that race struggled on the big hill in Tropical Park. My driveway is probably longer and steeper than that hill but to Miami natives, that Tropical Park hill was torture. If you happen to be visiting South Florida in the winter, make sure to visit Santa’s Enchanted Forest at Tropical Park. It is the world’s largest holiday theme park. McCool Travel Tip: South Florida is obsessed with Christmas lights and holiday decorations. Other cool parks: Greynolds Park and T.Y. Park.
6. Opa Locka Flea Market
Show me a travel article mentioning Opa Locka Flea Market and I will give you, well, never mind. Believe me, this is a true See Miami Like a Native attraction. Officially called the Opa Locka Indoor Flea Market, this is a place to shop for anything, I mean ANYTHING.
The fresh produce and seafood would be tops on my list now but, in the day, I would look for used comic books, games, toys, baseball equipment, tools, electronics, you name it. Shout out to Gil, who sold TVs, fixed by his dad, there. He would say to me, “It’s $25 but, because you are my friend, just for you, $30.” As always, gee, thanks, Gil.
Alternate: Ft. Lauderdale Swap Shop (world’s largest flea market).
7. Virginia Key
Most people pass right over Virginia Key on the way to Crandon Park and Key Biscayne but locals (and savvy visitors) know that it has some great waterfront spots along the main road. During my years in South Florida, I probably spent more time on Virginia Key than anywhere else—besides home, school, and baseball fields.
The main reason is that I had an internship with the Southeast Fisheries Center after my high school senior year and college undergraduate years. During many lunch breaks I would explore the abandoned Virginia Key Beach Park, which is now a thriving restored area with a mountain bike trail. Other lunch breaks were spent visiting marine mammals and sea life at Miami Seaquarium, then eating my sack lunch with my feet in Biscayne Bay while humming “Dock of the Bay.”
8. Visit Cuban Store Fronts in Miami
It gets hot in Miami, you may have heard. One fantastic discovery as a kid were the yellow Igloo coolers of cold water in the front windows of Cuban cafes and stores. Not just cold, but the coldest water on earth. Even colder than water from a stream in Alaska. Am I wrong? Prove it. While the water is FREE, and very refreshing on those brutally hot days, I will usually also buy at least one guava pastelito or a loaf of fresh Cuban bread.
There you go, some of my childhood memories (you are welcome) and 8 great places to visit in Miami Florida.
- Along the South Florida Waterfront
- South Florida Back Roads
- Quirky South Florida Sights
- 8 Great Scenic Drives in South Florida
- Opa Locka: Funny Name, Cool Architecture
- Spanish Monastery in North Miami Beach, Florida
- Fun Tropical Christmas Decorations to Inspire a Florida Holiday Vacation
If you grew up in South Florida, lived in Miami (or currently do), or have visited Miami many times, let me know:
— what are your See Miami Like a Native attractions?
15 thoughts on “8 Great Places to See Miami Like a Native”
What a fun list! I remember visiting John Pennekamp state park back in 1997 and staying in a nearly deserted campground right on the beach. Heaven!
Thank you, Rachel. It gets harder to find such secluded places in South Florida but there are still some.
The one that I would head to first is Opa Locka Flea Market. Sounds like a blast.
You got me at Pastelillo de guayaba!
Remind me to tag along on your next Puerto Rico trip to discover some righteous food. I remember having the tastiest guava jelly in old San Juan.
Great post. I’m heading to Miami next week and will definitely use your recommendations. Thanks!
Excellent. If you think of it, contact me after the trip and let me know how it went.
I love finding great attractions outside of the mainstream. I will keep track of this information for when I visit Miami. Thanks.
Let me know how it works out for you.
We were in Miami for four days in April and friends gave us a tour around some of its most popular sights. Next time we visit, I’ll be sure to see some of the things you’ve listed here – thanks for the tips!
So many places to see …
I Wish I saw this sooner! I did Miami twice in the last six months. Honestly, the first time I was stuck on South Beach and was wholly unimpressed, besides the architecture. The second time I had more fun downtown and at Biscayne Bay, but this list is fantastic!
Thank you. Agreed, you gotta get away from South Beach to experience any authenticity.
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