Miami is famous for its golden beaches, foodie scene and Latin vibe. But there is much more to this sparkling city by sea. Read on. There is a reason they call it The Magic City. Check out the 50 things Miami is famous for.
A brief history of Miami
#1 Miami is the most important U.S. city founded by a woman, Julia Tuttle. In 1891 Tuttle purchased 640 acres of land in what today is downtown Miami and headed south from Cleveland.
Five years later, Henry Flagler was building his East Coast Railway connecting the industrial cities of the north with the sunny lands to the far south…but not as far south as Miami! Julia Tuttle intervened and persuaded Henry Flagler to extend his railroad to Miami in exchange for land parcels for a hotel he wanted to build.
That was a banner year for Miami. Miami was incorporated. Henry Flagler connected Miami to the north. The city took off and never looked back.
#2 Miami is known for its nickname, “The Magic City.” Flagler believed in Miami and hired journalist Ethan Blackburn to write an article celebrating the railroad and extolling the city’s attributes. Blackburn coined the city’s moniker, The Magic City, and the name stuck.
Fun fact: Miami was incorporated with 444 people. Today Miami-Dade county has a population of 2.7 million.
The Magic City blooms
The city grew rapidly until the Great Depression of the 30s put the breaks on. But that didn’t last.
World War II saw over half a million service people transferred to Miami to train in a number of war related activities. They were housed in the hotels and local movie theaters in the historic Art Deco District. Local Auditoriums were commandeered and used as classrooms.
Of course these service people from all over the country fell in love with Miami. They spread the word of this sunny city with golden beaches. Many returned to make Miami their home.
The Latin connection
After the Cuban Revolution of 1959 many Cubans left their country. Most arrived and stayed in Miami. In 1965 alone over 100,000 Cubans arrived.
Over the decades people from Cuba continued arriving in Miami where they were joined by other Latin Americans fleeing political turmoil in their countries and seeking economic opportunities.
#3 Fun Fact: Today 72% of Miami’s population is Hispanic.
Over the decades the city experienced minor setbacks but continued growing. In the 2000s and beyond, Miami experienced what some would call its “Manhattanizaiton.” High-rise residential and office buildings began popping up like mushrooms throughout the city.
#4 Today Miami boasts the third highest skyline in the U.S. after Chicago and Manhattan! This iconic skyline, crisscrossed by neon lit highways and dotted with futuristic architecture, has become one of the things Miami is most famous for. The city is creating a 100 story hi-rise building that will be the tallest south of Manhattan.
Miami is famous for its beaches
Among the beautiful beaches of Miami, some would say South Beach is the best. Why? It is located on the east side of iconic Ocean Drive right in the middle of Miami’s Art Deco Historic District.
Further south is South Point Park with its pier extending out into the ocean. That is also where you’ll find Government Cut a stretch of water where the cruise ships have their terminal. It’s fun to watch the cruise ships leave the terminals and sail out into the Atlantic.
#5 The iconic view of neon-lit Ocean Drive is perhaps the most important and recognizable famous Miami site.
Walking south on Ocean Drive the Atlantic Ocean is on the left and the beautifully maintained historic Art Deco District hotels and restaurants is on the right. An early morning walk on Ocean Drive to witness the sunrise is one of the coolest things to do in Miami.
#6 The South Beach Wine and Food Festival. Every mid-February, South Beach celebrates its legacy of good food and fine wine with the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. Join the celebration with delicious meals, wine tastings and food samplings. Come hungry!
#7 The Miami weather! It can get a bit hot and humid in the summer, but oh…those winter months are just perfect temperatures with ocean breezes from the Atlantic.
Other fabulous beaches in the area include:
#8 Lummus Park Beach. North of South Beach is Lummus Park Beach where you can see body builders (and wanabees) practicing physical fitness on the beach’s well-equipped outdoor gym and volleyball courts.
#9 Bal Harbor Beach. One the toniest area in Florida, Bal Harbor, has its own beach. Although the beach is free to the public, there are day passes available at the area’s ritzy hotels to spend a day at the beach in style.
#10 Crandon Park. This expansive 800 acre state park is Miami’s own. The park has a shallow-water crystalline beach in addition to many other activities like hiking, kayaking, birdwatching, nature tours and much more.
Miami is famous for its cool neighborhoods
From elegant Coral Gables to funky Wynwood, pricey Arts District to lively Little Havana, Miami’s neighborhoods offer something for everybody. All these neighborhoods have become iconic areas Miami is famous for.
#11 Coconut Grove. Originally a Bahamian fishing community, “The Grove” transformed itself into a cozy neighborhood with maximum walkability. Don’t miss Commodore Plaza lined on both sides of the street by good restaurants; Argentine, Thai, Italian, Mexican, Greek, classic American and more.
The neighborhood attracted many celebrities throughout its history but never lost it “neighborhoody” Bohemian feel. The heart of Coconut Grove is the recently renovated Cocowalk, an outdoor food and shipping venue with a Cineplex.
It is also home to the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, former estate of businessman John Deering. Take a tour of this 32 room European style mansion by the sea with its expansive gardens, and make it a day trip.
#12 Coral Gables. Staid, established, elegant with wide avenues shaded by massive banyan trees, Coral Gables is home to graceful mansions and bucolic parks. Miracle Mile is the main street where you find shops, restaurants and movies.
#13 Downtown. Miami’s downtown has grown dramatically over the past decades. It is now home to Bayfront Marketplace and some of the most daring and innovative architecture in the country. It is an arts center, has one of the country’s largest Ferris wheels, a major sports stadium and a forest of high-rise office buildings and condominiums.
#14 Little Havana. Miami’s biggest ethnic neighborhood, it is no longer just a Cuban neighborhood. Today Little Havana is home to many Central American, Mexican, Asian and other residents. A major stop on the tourist circuit, its streets pulsate with open air music venues, clubs, cigar and souvenir shops and restaurants.
Where to stay in Little Havana
Don’t miss Cultural Fridays on the third Friday of every month. Enjoy live music, artisanal vendors, open air markets and art galleries, many on pedestrianized streets.
#15 Historic Overtown. One of the nation’s first historically black communities, historic Overtown is known for its rich history, African-American culture and civic pride. It has one of the oldest churches in Florida, art galleries and restaurants galore. Don’t miss Red Rooster with its excellent Southern themed food and nightly entertainment venues.
Taking a page from the success of Little Havana’s Cultural Friday, Overtown now has its own special Folklife Friday. The first Friday of every month the pedestrian streets explode into a festival of open air markets, pulsating live music, art and more!
Historic Overtown is closest to the downtown area.
#16 The Art Deco District. In the heart of South Beach, this is perhaps the most recognizable and iconic neighborhood that Miami is known for. Art Deco hotels line Ocean Drive and the design spills out to other streets creating an aura of the 1920s sunny party town this once was, and is again.
#17 Wynwood. This quirky Miami neighborhood is itself a living art gallery. The area has over 100 galleries. There are restaurants, shops, breweries, nightlife and outdoor arts venues to explore. Throughout the neighbor you’ll see much of the amazing street art Miami is known for.
One of my favorite places to hangout in Wynwood is the Cerveceria Tropical, a brewery with origins in pre-revolution Havana beautifully recreated in Wynwood. The food is good with service both inside and on their lovely tropical terrace. The Latin music on the weekends can’t be beat!
#18 Design District. This neighborhood combines art, shopping, restaurants and art venues in an elegant space. The big draw here, however, is high-end shopping. Here is where you’ll find a mattress for $35,000 (not a typo).
The stores on the main street rival 5th Avenue and Rodeo Drive; Cartier, Bulgari, Chanel and Dior, they’re all here. Great for window shopping.
Miami is know for its international vibe
#19 People from all over the world call Miami home. The city has rich cultural diversity and celebrates its different cultures like, African American, Hispanic, Haitian and other Caribbean, Jewish American, Native American, Asia Pacific and an increasing number residents from places as diverse as Buenos Aires and Beijing.
Fun fact: Miami had 25 million visitors pre-pandemic and the number is expected to continue rising.
Tourists come from the northeast U.S. states particularly New York. In fact, some say Miami is the 6th borough of New York City. Other main sources of tourism include Canada, Western Europe and increasingly, China.
Similar to New York City, it is not uncommon to walk a Miami street and hear many languages other than English spoken.
Miami is known for its foodie scene
Ahh…the Miami foodie scene. It is so rich you don’t know where to start.
Similar to New York’s ethnic restaurant scene, Miami’s cultural diversity offers a vast array of restaurants both ethnic and classic American.
The city’s restaurant scene ranges from the outrageously exclusive ones where you couldn’t get a table to save your life, to the humble Cuban “ventanita” (take out window in a Cuban restaurant) where a $1.50 croquette and a Cuban coffee will fuel you for hours.
Let’s take it from the top.
Iconic Miami restaurants that have been around for a while include:
#20 Joe’s Stone Crabs. A Miami staple since 1913, this seafood restaurant in South Beach never disappoints.
#21 Versailles. “The world’s most famous Cuban restaurant” in the heart of Little Havana is an integral part of Cuban culture. When something significant happens in the community, this is where Cubans gather.
In business since 1971, every recent president of the U.S. has campaigned here having a café in the restaurant’s “ventanita.” Oh, and did I mention the food is amazing?
#22 Puerto Sagua. This mid-range South Beach restaurant has been serving authentic and delicious Cuban food since 1962.
#23 Sanguich de Miami. A more recent arrival with the chops (no pun intended) to also reach iconic status. This modestly priced cafeteria type restaurant offers mouthwatering Cuban sandwich creations.
#24 Rusty Pelican. Surrounded by water on all sides, this seafood restaurant sells experiences, not just food. Eclectic and impressive classic American cuisine and seafood delights with a view to die for.
A recent wave of New York City restaurants have established themselves in Miami and brought their culinary excellence with them including:
#25 Cote. This impossibly trendy Korean steakhouse in the Design District offers delicious food in a serene, beautifully appointed environment.
#26 Carbone. Long established in New York City’s Greenwich Village, Carbone has now opened in Miami’s South Beach. This Italian “red sauce” eatery is famous for its celebrity clientele and its exclusivity. If you get a reservation there, let me know.
#27 Smith and Wollensky. Although a Miami resident for decades now, it is still a New York City transplant. All the good things, particularly the service and great food that made this steakhouse famous in New York City has made it famous in Miami as well.
The restaurant faces Government Cut so you can see the cruise ships sail by as you dine on oysters and martinis by the waterside.
#28 Red Rooster. Born in Harlem, NY, the brainchild of Swedish-Ethiopian celebrity chef Marcus Samuelson, Red Rooster Miami is a gem. This is a soul food restaurant in Miami’s historic Overtown neighborhood.
The restaurant offers music and entertainment almost every evening in the “pool hall.” Every Sunday there is a gospel brunch with music so beautiful and inspirational it will break your heart.
#29 Another New York City transplant to Miami is Smorgasburg. This culinary street fair is the largest outdoor food market in the United States. With dozens of vendors from dozens of countries, it’s a great way to sample Miami’s culinary variety.
What to eat in Miami? Miami has every imaginable delectable delight available. But there are certain dishes that are iconic and have contributed to making Miami famous for its food scene.
#30 The Cuban sandwich. Good any time of day. The ultimate in delicious, satiating comfort food.
#31 Key Lime Pie. Alright, so it’s really a Key West originated dish, but…close enough. Miami adopted it.
#32 Cuban Croquetas. It’s just so much a part of the Miami culinary tradition. It’s a snack, a major catered item at every gathering, a classic ventanita offering. It is Miami.
#33 Florida stone crabs. This is the signature dish of Joe’s Stone Crabs restaurant in South Beach.
#34 Arepas. Not quite an iconic Miami dish but on its way, the arepa hails from Venezuela and can be combined with almost anything for a tasty dish.
#35 Mojitos. The traditional Cuban cocktail that began its life as a medicinal concoction for the soldiers in Cuba’s revolutionary war against Spain. Today the mojito is a standard in just about every bar on Earth.
Miami’s foodie scene is vast and amazing with something to suit everyone’s taste.
Miami is famous for being an Art mecca
There was a time when Miami was considered a cultural wasteland. That is almost unimaginable now. Oh, how things have changed!
Today Miami is an exciting center of the arts. The most notable art and culture venues that Miami is famous for include:
#36 Art Basel is a yearly collection of galleries exhibiting cutting edge art in one venue. There are only four Art Basil cities in the world; Basel Switzerland, Hong Kong, Paris and Miami.
#37 The Adrienne Arsht Center for Performing Arts. Opera, ballet, symphonies, musicals, plays from all over the U.S. and the world.
#38 The Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science. A first class natural history museum with a focus on dinosaurs.
Miami is known for its sizzling Nightlife
This club opened in 1935 and has what has to be the most colorful history in town. It involves felons, prohibition, striptease and openings and closings under “interesting” circumstances.
Over the decades Ball and Chain hosted many of the greats like Billy Holliday, Count Basie and Chet Baker to mention just a few.
The club has music all day (from 11AM) everyday. The outdoor section frequently spills out into the street especially on the frenetic weekends.
#41 Another hot spot, albeit more sedate, is Cafe La Trova, also in Little Havana. This club is unassuming on the outside but beautiful, welcoming and exciting on the inside. It was rated one of the 50 best bars in the world for several years.
The food and drinks menus are Cuban inspired and the music is infectious.
Do you need a car in Miami?
#42 Miami is famous (or infamous) for not having good public transportation. With the exception of some neighborhoods like Coconut Grove, Coral Gables and some downtown areas, Miami is NOT a walkable city. You absolutely MUST have a car. Don’t even think about trying to take public transportation. You will grow old waiting for a bus in Miami.
You can bring your own car to Miami from the northeast via the Amtrak auto train. Just put your car onto the train in Virginia and you and your car will be reunited in Orlando, FL, just 3 and 1/2 hours from Miami.
Taking the Amtrak car-train is easy to do, reasonably priced, a nice ride and you can eat and sleep on the train. Rent a “roomette” for one or two people, or a family room with a shower.
If you read my blog regularly, you’ll know I am a big fan of Hop-On-Hop-Off buses. Yes, they’re touristy but you are, after all, a tourist. These buses are great for giving you the lay of the land fast enough to be able to identify places you want to explore more extensively. Sit back and let someone else do the driving and parking.
Miami is famous for its outstanding Happy Hours
#43 Miami is serious about its Happy Hours. The Happy Hours in this city offer true value, not just a slight discount from an inflated cocktail price. It is worth getting to know where these Happy Hours are to make sure you hit them at the right time.
The best thing about these Miami Happy Hours is that many of them include up to half price meals in top restaurants.
Miami is famous for its nearby attractions
#44 Miami is a great spot to use as a base and visit nearby attractions. Chief among these is the spectacular Everglades National Park. Other notable nearby destinations include Fort Lauderdale and the Florida Keys.
#45 Miami is famous for being a major hub for the cruise industry. Take a cruise for the day or long weekend to one of the nearby islands in The Bahamas.
#46 The island of beautiful Bimini frequently has promotions for all inclusive cruising to and from the island from the Miami cruise ship terminal for a day or more.
Other Miami destinations worth checking out include:
#47 Lincoln Road. A lovely outdoor mall in he heart of South Beach with mid-range shops and a wide selection of restaurants and bars.
#48 Hispañola Way. Touristy but fun. This pedestrian street has shops and restaurants and gets really jumping on the weekends.
#49 Shark Valley. Rent a bike and ride through the Florida wilderness to an observation tower with spectacular views. You are sure to see loads of alligators up-close, but no sharks. Perfect for birdwatching.
#50 Miami is known for its sports teams and loyal fans. The city is home to the Miami Marlins, Miami Heat, Miami Dolphins, Miami FC and other teams. Check out a game in one of the city’s major stadiums.
What’s the best time to visit Miami?
Anytime is good for visiting Miami but the November to April months are best. Temperatures range from a high of 76°F to lows in the mid-60s.
Visiting Miami soon? Read about the city and its surroundings first, so you know how to budget our time for what you want to focus on.
Miami has something for everyone. What are some of YOUR favorite things Miami is famous for? Let us know in the comments.
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