From the intoxicating mix of the colourful hotels along Ocean Drive, to the daring murals seemingly winking at us from every corner in Wynwood, to the natural, hefty mix of smells and sounds in Little Havana and Little Haiti, this is my cheap Miami travel guide.
I have to admit something that's going to shock you: my favourite part of Miami wasn't the food. Don't get me wrong, my cheap Miami travel guide has some good food recommendations... they just weren't the centre of my trip.
My cheap Miami travel guide is actually more about art.
For you see, here's something else you may not know about me: back in high school, I was a full-blown arts student.
Those kids you see, wearing black and moody outfits and lying on the grass all day, sketching and smoking cigarettes and day-dreaming about the life they're going to start when they get out of this hell hole you call home? Well, I wasn't quite THAT BAD.
But I was definitely one of those kids you see, wearing homemade ripped jean outfits and bizarre vintage jewelry, lying on the grass all day, sketching and day-dreaming about the life they're going to start when they get out of this hell hole you call home.
My obsession was Japanese art, I drew comics and majored in fine arts when I actually bothered to go to class - where I got straight As in everything but math, naturally. Trust me, you would have hated me.
To this day, art remains a driving force in my life. My favourite dates always involve the museum, where I get to wander around the rooms looking dreamily at paintings and sculptures, occasionally pausing to make an observation and dazzle the listener with my art history prowess (which, as the years get away from the 90s and modern art makes way for contemporary art, is diminishing considerably).
I stop by galleries wherever I go, and I take many photos of balconies and street art (more on this later). I have to admit something else that's going to shock you: I actually probably have more photos of street art in my travel collections than food photos.
In a similar vein, my whirlwind first visit to Miami could be summarized as an art tour. Wedged between bites of South American food, our tour of the South Beach Art Deco boardwalk and our time at Wynwood Walls and Galleries were the highlight of my visit.
From the intoxicating mix of the colourful hotels along Ocean Drive, to the daring murals seemingly winking at us from every corner in Wynwood, to the natural, hefty mix of smells and sounds in Little Havana and Little Haiti, where we stayed, Miami was alive with art. And I just couldn't get enough.
But enough of a preamble. Let's give you guys the highlights of my cheap Miami travel guide.
All the art you can find: The free and cheap painted highlights of Miami
If Wynwood itself is Miami's most happening district, filled with white-washed coffee shops, bars made of exposed woods and restaurants decorated with Edison light bulbs, then Wynwood Walls is its mecca. This cluster of buildings, hangers and - you guessed it - free-standing walls is the backdrop for some of the world's top street artists to display their craft.
Entrance is completely free, there are a million things to see and photograph, and during the Wynwood art walk on the second Saturday of every month, the complex is open until midnight, when it transforms into a large party.
For me, the best part of Miami included the walk through the Wynwood neighbourhood, searching for hidden street art and graffiti, and I chose to go back to this area every chance I got.
As two huge architecture and design nerds (one of our favourite things to do when first dating was watch Abstract), the Art Deco Historic District of Miami was probably what my partner and I were most excited to see. I read up on it a ton, and the area did not disappoint.
We spent about two hours on an organized tour (more on that in a second), and then another hour wandering by ourselves until we stopped to grab drinks in a somewhat shady hookah bar that played non-stop reggaeton (2-for-1 daquiri specials are where it's at).
We had too many favourites to count - The Cavalier and The Leslie were big ones - but you can see some of them in photos throughout this piece. A special shout out goes to the famous colourful lifeguard towers of South Beach, which were a marvel even during twilight time.
On our only morning in Miami, we took the Miami Design Preservation League 10:30AM tour. While the tour was extensive and took us past most of the important art deco landmarks of South Beach, we have to admit that it was a bit too expensive for what it was. We saw few things not covered by the extensive research I did (the view from the rooftop of the renovated The Dream South Beach hotel deserves a worthy mention).
The tour itself had a hefty cost ($25USD/person), and at the end the guide, who was a volunteer, solicited gratuities... As someone who takes a lot of free and by-donation tours across the world, I found this to be a bit much.
However, it's important to note that the proceeds from the tour go to fund the work of the Miami Design Preservation League, which was the body that ensured the survival of a lot of these historic landmarks, and which still continues to advocate for the preservation and restoration of the old in the face of rising real estate costs... so at least the money goes to a worthy cost.
One thing that you should not miss while in Miami is the Wolfsonian. The marble-clad halls of this turn-of-the-century building, which in itself is an architectural landmark, offer a welcome reprieve from the oppressive heat of Miami's streets.
The museum houses an impressive design collection, full of home wares from America's golden age, and has a number of remarkable art deco pieces (we took many photos of the naked iron man just by the entrance). Entrance to the Wolfsonian is free Fridays 6-9pm, and I highly recommend taking the informative tour on offer.
Le Sabor Latino: The cheap food of Miami
5205 NE 2nd Ave, Miami, FL 33137
Our attempt to test the different Latin cuisines in Miami was off to a great start with Dominican food at Seven Seas Restaurant in Little Haiti. The lunch special was under $20, and my choice included excellent grouper, flavourful soup and homini beans like I've never had before.
Low on the charm quota, this family-run shop served homemade food at its best - without the fanfare. One shared meal would have been enough, but getting two lunch specials ensured that these two taste birds were out of commission until dinner... which included nothing but ice cream.
458 Ocean Dr, Miami Beach, FL 33139-6614
Dinner on our first night in Miami was a hefty serving of maracuya (passion fruit) sorbet, and a mango smoothie. Located just on Ocean Drive and steps away from the first of the famous lifeguard towers of South Beach, this franchise branch offers a variety of Italian gelato and sorbet flavours, with a distinctly Latin flair.
Spanish was coming at us from every corner of this heavily-trafficked joint, as many-legged families attempted to placate their offspring with frosty treats and the wait staff casually bantered with each other behind the counter. It was the perfect way to end a hot, art-filled day in Miami.
1510 SW 8th St, Miami, FL 33135
After a hefty dose of 2-for-1 daquiris, we needed some heavy, greasy food to soak up all the lunchtime alcohol. Located just alongside the Ball and Chain (more on that in another second), El Exquisito is a no-frills traditional Cuban eatery. The place was packed for lunch, and we spent our wait time at the nearby Maximo Gomez Park, watching some pretty heated games of domino (this was people watching at its best - do not miss it!).
Unfortunately, El Exquisito turned out to be heavy on the pork and low on the gluten-free options... and the portions were so heavy, we couldn't eat another bite for 24 hours after. My first brush with Cuban food turned out less than stellar, and I'm not sure that I would go for this cuisine again if given the choice... But maybe you guys have better Cuban food recommendations? Let me know in the comments!
Pouring on the rum: The cheap drinks of Miami
1513 SW 8th St, Miami, FL 33135
Ah, the Ball and Chain. We heard many a great thing about the salsa scene in Miami, and I spent a long time skimming through the best salsa bars in the city. Consistently, The Ball and Chain came out on top, and on our second night in the city, we decided to give it a try.
We arrived there at 10pm, and the club was already packed. A live band was playing in the back garden, the rum was pouring, and the atmosphere was great. At no cover charge, we were more than happy to buy ourselves a drink at the bar - we went for a requisite mojito, which did not disappoint.
The only downside was that the dancing didn't really start until much later, and as early birds, we hit the road back to our Airbnb at 11:30pm... but the little dancing we got to do was, in fact, incredibly fun. If you're a salsa fan and you're heading to the Ball and Chain, be well advised to show up after 11pm - the lines may be long, but the dancing will be at its peak.
788 Brickell Plaza, Miami, FL 33131
Full disclosure: Sugar was anything but cheap. In fact, two drinks and service cost us about $40USD... But the lack of entry charge, the mesmerizing views, and the beautiful atmosphere of this rooftop bar ensured that this would be an experience worthy of a recommendation.
The fully-stocked bar cranks up some incredibly inventive cocktails for a pretty penny, and watching the bartenders at work is an experience at its own right. But what really struck us about Sugar was the design.
An interior set-up full of lush vegetation, raw-edge wood and naturally twisted branches and rock formations ensured the abundance of little secluded nooks and crannies, allowing each party or couple their own privacy and unobstructed views.
Being at Sugar felt like a five-star tropical hideaway, and it would be worth a visit during sunset even if you order nothing at all.
Well friends, this is it - my cheap Miami travel guide. With only two days in this electric city, we definitely only scratched the surface of affordable food and cheap Miami travel options, and a return visit is definitely in the books. So I'd like to hear from you! Have you been to Miami, Florida? What are your travel recommendations and favourite secrets to the city? Tell me in the comments - or on social media.
Follow At the Immigrant’s Table on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Bloglovin’, or Twitter, subscribe to my mailing list, or contact me about advertising and becoming a sponsor. If you make one of my recipes, don’t forget to tag it #immigrantstable @immigrantstable!
Stay tuned for more of our Florida trip highlights!