These Miami hidden gems are fun, quirky, historic, tasty, and fascinating. Most Miami residents and veteran South Florida visitors will not know all of these secret places to visit in Miami so enjoy them and revel in your insider Florida knowledge.
I grew up in Miami, frequently visit, and discover new off-the-beaten places every time I visit. I am happy to share many fun Miami secret places in this article.
Miami Hidden Gems and Secret Places to Visit in South Florida
1. South Florida’s Funkiest Architecture
Almost 100 years ago, Opa-Locka Florida popped up in Miami as a fantasy town modeled after Arabian Nights. Hurricanes, age, neglect, and other factors destroyed most of the structures but there are still some to see. Opa-Locka City Hall is probably the highlight along with street names like Ali Baba Avenue. For more details, including tips and warnings, see Opa Locka: Funny Name, Cool Architecture
Other things to do in Opa-Locka Florida include Amelia Earhart park (mountain biking, a watersports facility, hiking, paddling, and more), Opa-Locka/Hialeah Flea Market, and Opa Locka airport—where Amelia Earhart began her RTW journey and later served as a processing center for Cuban refugees. And if you are hungry, see below for one of our fun places to eat in South Florida.
2. Oldest Building in the US
Did you know USA’s oldest building in located in Miami? Actually, it is the oldest building in the entire Western Hemisphere. Head up to North Miami Beach and visit the Spanish Monastery. How old is it? The Spanish Monastery was built in the 12th century (the year 1141). You may be wondering how and who built it in Miami. Ah, I did not say it was built here. Sneaky. For more details and tips, see Spanish Monastery in North Miami Beach, Florida
3. USA’s Smallest Post Office
Among the plentiful and underrated Miami scenic drives, my favorite is probably heading west on Tamiami Trail from Krome Avenue. About an hour later, you will see the Ochopee historic post office, smallest post office in the US. My grandparents lived a mile from here for 25 years.
Visit nearby Joanie’s Blue Crab Cafe with its funky bar stools—I am sure my uncles spent much time on them! Drive west another 15 minutes on Tamiami Trail to Everglades City and Chokoloskee (throwback Old Florida and untouched Florida nature spots). Heading back to Miami, you will see several airboat operators, Shark Valley entrance to Everglades National Park, Loop Road (often 4WD only), and Miccosukee Resort (casino).
McCool Travel tip: turn left (north) on Krome Avenue for the Miami urban drive closest in experience to Tamiami Trail—another 25 miles of road with no traffic signals and along the eastern edge of the Everglades.
4. Florida’s Most Popular Fast Food Restaurant
I learned about this Miami hidden gem on my previous South Florida visit. The Miami Lakes Pollo Tropical, on NW 67th Avenue just south of the Palmetto Expressway, is the most popular Pollo Tropical location and perhaps Florida’s most popular drive-thru and fast food restaurant. Traffic lines were so long that the city of Miami Lakes sued the property owner, forcing the building to be redesigned to have two drive up lanes. Pollo Tropical employees walk among cars taking orders to expedite the traffic flow. McCool Travel tip: I love the sides even more than the chicken here. Try the sweet plantains, yuca with garlic, and yellow rice and black beans. Mmmmmm.
McCool Travel note: One of the most famous native South Floridian musicians lived less than 1/2 mile from here. Harry Casey, aka K.C. from KC and the Sunshine Band, was born in Hialeah and had a lavish residence in Miami Lakes. When I played high school baseball, we would gawk at his house (across the street from the park) but of course he was usually on tour. Ironically, many years later, one of my classmates, ended up in the Sunshine Band.
Miami Lakes most famous resident was probably Don Shula. His first restaurant was at the Miami Lakes Country Club and he regularly attended the Catholic Church (I saw him many times).
5. Gawk at Miami’s Rich and Beautiful (well, at least their homes!)
Most Miami visitors crave celebrity sightings but are lucky to score a glimpse when the beautiful and powerful people enter a private room at a South Beach club. But you can view their palatial residences. Drive around Star Island and see the front gates and some yard/house views. One Star Island residence sold for $65 million. Wow! For information and tips to visit Star Island, see 8 Best Scenic Drives in South Florida Near Miami. McCool Travel tip: Rent a boat and see the other side of the same houses. Your celeb sighting chances will increase from zero to one in a trillion.
6. Miami Film Scenes
Miami appears in countless movies, TV shows, videos, and photo shoots. One of the movies most identified with Miami is Scarface. Some Scarface scenes include the iconic early scene along Ocean Drive in Miami Beach and the Lopez mansion at 485 West Matheson Drive in Key Biscayne Lopez mansion. The Birdcage has scenes all along Ocean Drive and in Miami Beach. Visit the cemetery from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video in Coconut Grove.
7. Miami Hidden Gem Oasis
Oleta River State Park is truly one of the best Miami hidden gems. It is Florida’s largest urban park with miles of trails (for biking, hiking, and paddling), ancient mangroves, and (I just found out) a magnificent butterfly garden. Oleta River State Park is ideal for fishing, picnics, or just escaping the city. There are even cabins to stay overnight.
8. More Secret Miami Hidden Gems
Perhaps I will write a followup article about the following Miami hidden gems. For now, I will list these Miami secret places to explore and enjoy.
- Miami City Hall, check out the 1930s tile floor from the early Pan Am Airways headquarters
- President Nixon’s Winter White House and Bebe Rebozo’s hideout are on Key Biscayne
- Stltsville (if any remain) are visible from parts of Key Biscayne. Better to visit Stiltsville by boat.
- Wynwood Walls is an incredible creative section of Miami with colorful street art and wonderful local food
- Flo Rida, Rick Ross, and many pro athletes grew up in Miami Gardens (formerly Carol City). I always drive by a couple of their houses when I visit but I cannot publish those addresses. Sorry! When I grew up in Carol City, a voodoo shop was less than 1/4 mile from my house. The Little Haiti section of Miami might suit your mystical needs (no guarantees).
- Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, grew up in Miami and graduated from Palmetto High School. Visit the local McDonald’s in Pinecrest where Jeff Bezos had his first traditional job.
- Schnebly Winery in Homestead is USA’s southernmost winery. While there sample all their tropical fruit wines. I love the passionfruit, guava, and avocado wines.
- Miami Circle in downtown Miami (on the Miami River) marks the spot of the oldest known human existence in their area.
- Old Cutler Road is the closest thing in South Florida to a country drive. It is gorgeous!
- See Crocodiles! South Florida is the only place in the world to see crocs and gators sharing the same natural space. The southern edge of the Everglades, on the drive from Miami to Key West, is the most common place but you can also see a croc (if lucky) at Greynolds Park in North Miami Beach. Look for the sign and stay back!
- Venetian Pool in Coral Gables is the largest freshwater pool in the US, built in 1920s
- Coral Castle is so quirky, well you just have to visit it
- Deering Estate property along Biscayne Bay contains 444 magnificent acres with a Tequesta burial mound from the 1700s
- Barnacle in Coconut Grove is the oldest Miami house still in its original location
- Hialeah Race Track and Miami Jai Alai Fronton are classic old school Florida throwback sporting venues
- Reno Ranch is undergoing legal appeals and such. It is the family home of Janet Reno (former US attorney general), built by her mother and survived. It likely will anchor a Miami-Dade college campus program one day.
Phew, I feel like I am just getting started. There is so much more to see and do in Miami. If you have any favorites I did not list, let me know.