Notable Destinations: Miami, More Than Just Beach

The last time I visited Miami was 15 years ago. Back then, I remember being out on Miami’s vibrant club scene ‘til 4 am, thinking how cool it was that last call was 2 hours later than Toronto. My cousin and I partied and shopped our way through South Beach, basking in the sun without our SPF, working on our beach bunny tan and people watching *looking at hot guys* while thinking about where we were going to go later to drink way too much tequila. 

This trip was so different.

Since the ushering in of the Art Basel era in 2002, Miami’s vibe has transformed, and while it retains its electric club and beach allure, it’s also a culturally rich, important place for the arts to thrive. There’s so much support for artists to create the work arts patrons from around the world flock to experience. Trust me, you have never experienced Miami like this.

When I tell you I’ve never experienced Miami like this, I mean that in the best way. Reflecting on my memories, I was intrigued by how much Miami has evolved since then. My trip revealed a city with a depth and richness that’s truly unparalleled. If you’re curious about what Miami offers for your next visit, keep reading to discover the mosaic masterpiece that makes this Notable Destination truly one of a kind. This article is your guide to exploring a Miami you’ve never seen before.

Our trip started at the iconic Eden Roc Hotel. The hotel evokes nostalgia with its Art Deco ceilings; you can almost picture old Hollywood enjoying brandy and cigars in the lobby during happy hour. 

This hotel wasn’t just a frequent spot for the glamorous; it is also one of the largest hotels on Miami Beach. Boasting an impressive 535 rooms and 96 suites, the hotel sits on the beach with a gorgeous patio at the Ocean Social restaurant that overlooks the white sandy shores. The food is top-notch – a flavourful, soul-filled menu focusing on fresh seafood and delicious cocktails.  

Bright and early, we headed to the Miami City Ballet Headquarters to tour the facility where all the magic happens. The new space is bright with big open windows, intentionally installed to allow people to see dancers practising and provide an approachability uncommon in the ballet studio world. The facility boasts its own costume and ballet shoe department, full of every material and thread colour you could imagine. It was incredible to see so many talented people in one space working towards a collective vision.

From there, it was a quick walk to the Bass Museum, which was in preparation for Art Basel. There, we viewed the work of famed artist Nam June Paik: The Miami Years. Paik is a pioneer in video art, creating electronic moving images and digitized compositions as a form of creative expression. Paik’s work is fascinating and clever – probably one of my favourite pieces of art on this trip.

Miami’s New World Symphony is a national treasure. We sat in on their rehearsal; being a fly on the wall was a treat and a unique experience. Then we saw it all come to life for their ‘Symphonic Dances From Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story’ performance! It is a dazzling experience for music lovers and a must-see in Miami.  

With all the tours and steps we got in, we worked up quite the appetite, and I was excited to share a tapas-style Spanish lunch in the open street mall, Lincoln Road. The iconic outdoor shopping, dining and cultural destination situated in the heart of Miami Beach recently installed an impressive 45-foot-tall, 32,000-pound kinetic sculpture on display named ‘R-Evolution’ designed by Marco Cochrane, that will glow in the sun and illuminate at night with RGB LED lights. Once you’ve taken in the sights, stopping at Tapelia to try their famous paella is a must; it was *chef’s kiss. Everything was excellent; I could have eaten just their addictive empanadas and oowey-gooey, cheesy Mediterranean flatbreads. We clinked our prosecco glasses to good health and made new friends over astrology chats and dating stories topped off by the perfect ending, espresso and desserts! 

If you’re lucky enough to be in Miami before January 21st, visit the Oolite Arts exhibition, “Bounce.” Now, I once thought of Miami as where you go to party and live the GTL lifestyle (gym, tan, laundry, for the millennial nostalgia). I was so excited and admittedly a little jealous of the immense respect for the art culture (as an artist myself). Oolite Arts is a perfect example of Miami’s investment in its creative talent to support, promote, and honour artists. Artists can apply for a residency at Oolite and can have access to precious studio space for up to two years to hone their craft. Not only does Oolite provide space, but it also procures potential buyers and collectors of art so the artists in residency can thrive and make a living off their work.

Storm Ascher’s inaugural curated “Bounce” exhibit “infuses the exhibition with an electrifying vibe, evoking notions of kinetics where static objects come alive in motion while also delving deep into the profound cultural implications that the word carries, deeply intertwined with Miami’s vibrant history of diverse cultures.” – Storm Ascher. Each piece in the exhibit is equally unique as they are intriguing, holding onto your gaze and luring you into each artist’s perspective.

If you’re looking for a way to impress your friends while in Miami, look no further than Dinner at Pao, followed by the fantastic show at the Faena Theater, All conveniently located at the Faena Hotel. Drawing from a range of international styles, including Filipino, Spanish, Japanese & French, Pao boldly presents a new brand of modern Asian cuisine with stunning ocean views. The ambiance is luxe; definitely a splurge but worth every penny. There was no dish we didn’t completely devour, and the cocktails were an incredible addition to every course. Dishes like the Kinilaw featuring hamachi and hearts of palm swimming in scrumptious coconut milk and the short-rib asado were so perfectly balanced and portioned, every little detail thoughtfully executed with the utmost standards. 

When I tell you, you are in for a treat, honey! The Allura show is fantastic! Truly a treat for all the senses. The dancers are incredible performers and, dare I say, athletes. It’s giving acrobatics, it’s giving drama, party, and all the feels of a good time. If you’re looking for a fun date night or night out without it getting too “red light district,” this is perfect! The cocktails were also delicious; you almost forget how many you’ve had because there’s so much happening at all times. The shows change to keep it fresh, and it’s always worth the visit.

I’m not going to lie; waking up early after the Allura night was a challenge in the best way. The Frost Museum was the perfect place to start the day; with its aviary and aquarium, the tranquillity is precisely what the doctor ordered. 

After playing with stingrays and observing exotic birds, we took in more art at the Pérez Art Museum. It was fascinating to see all the different mediums and read the stories of the artists and how their pieces came into existence. We strolled through the large rooms, stumbling upon an interactive piece by Yayoi Kusama – a contemporary Japanese artist widely known for collaborating with the AGO and Louis Vuitton. We stepped into a large dark box filled with the stars of the universe, an experience to remember for sure.

The museum’s critically acclaimed building, designed by Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, houses an impressive collection of 20th and 21st-century art emphasizing works that relate to Miami’s ethnically rich community, as well as Latin America, the Caribbean and the African diaspora.

Lunch at Verde, at the Pérez Museum, was super convenient and delicious. It was a beautiful day, so we enjoyed the patio, taking in the museum’s sculptural greenery displays suspended from the ceilings and sweeping views of Biscayne Bay. The lush greenery of Miami never gets old, and it’s even better when city spaces integrate them into their design. It lets you know you are in the comfort of Mother Nature. 

After lunch, we headed to The Elser Hotel & Residences. It felt like home; my room was more like an apartment with a kitchen and in-suite laundry. It was perfect; the view of downtown Miami was incredible, and I appreciated being able to wash my clothes so I didn’t have to bring dirty clothes home. The service at the Elser was fabulous, and our VIP concierge was always ready to help make our stay a 5-star experience. You absolutely have to stay at the Elser if you enjoy a central location with stunning views, incredible amenities, service, and a rooftop pool.

I had an hour before dinner, so I quickly popped into the Brickell City Centre to look for a dress to wear to the ballet that evening. I wanted to see if I could find something cute! Let me tell you, malls in America are on another level. Now, my naivete had me thinking that getting to the mall, 7 minutes from the hotel, would be quick. *Laughs* Not! Miami city traffic is as bad as they say it is. It took 20 minutes to get to the mall. So, naturally, I realized that I would need 20 minutes to get back and, therefore, only had about 15 minutes to quickly zip through the mall for a fast find. I wish I had more time because it was beautiful with every store you could want, so I will definitely be making more time for shopping next time! I ran all around the mall, quickly found a cute black dress from Zara, called my Uber and made it back to The Elser just in time to leave for dinner, sweating!

Dinner was at the incomparable Jaguar Sun. The food was phenomenal; all the flavours and textures were unique, delicious, and perfectly balanced. Cocktails and ambiance were also 10 out of 10. The energy of the hostess was infectious, lighting up the room and setting the vibe for the amazing culinary journey we were about to embark on. This place filled up fast, and I understand why. Make reservations in advance to secure a spot. Jaguar Sun is right around the corner from the Elser, about a 2-minute walk, perfect for us to head back to freshen up for the ballet. 

Opening Season Performance by the Miami City Ballet at the Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, say that ten times fast. The ballet was such a treat! It brought all the nostalgia of the early 2000s era of Center Stage and the ballet obsession. I’m always fascinated by the athleticism in ballet performances; they remain ethereal and poised even when they are sweating buckets doing the absolute most while standing on pointe! 

This opening season show was a milestone – the work of the respected George Balanchine’s first original ballet created in the United States, Serenade, was the entertainment of the evening. Against the backdrop of the brilliant Tchaikovsky’s 1880 Serenade for Strings in C, Op. 48, this piece is the pinnacle of Balanchine’s ability to transform everyday inspiration into expressive art. Twyla Tharp’s exploration of movement in all its challenging forms also joined the season’s first program, In The Upper Room. Fall Mix is Sea Change, a world premiere work from Bessie Award-winning artist Jamar Roberts. The show was spectacular; I highly recommend adding a show at the Miami City Ballet to your itinerary.

The next day, we met in the lobby for another day of incredible art, first heading to the Wynwood Walls, encompassing more than 50 cutting-edge murals created by respected street artists from Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the United States. The murals are constantly changing, depending on the artists featured and their display period, so there’s always something new splashing onto the scene at Wynwood. Some of the murals are optical illusions that you can integrate yourself into with fun photos. It’s interesting to see the vastly different styles of street art and expressions from around the world. Every year, this outdoor street museum attracts hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world. A Miami ‘must-see.’

We then took a quick ride to Miami’s illustrious Design District to visit the Institute of Contemporary Art, featuring over 20,000 square feet of exhibition galleries and a public sculpture garden. The museum features the work of international artists and offers year-round free admission. This gallery is a cool escape from the Miami heat, complete with thought-provoking, intriguing works from artists of various disciplines and a cute little gift shop.

As you can imagine, our appetites were appetiting, and it was time to rest with some delicious food and drinks at the beautiful restaurant Sofia – a pink girlie’s dream!

We enjoyed the sun on the patio under the obnoxiously adorable millennial pink fitted table settings. The food is elevated Italian, and every bite is delicious. We complemented our scrumptious pasta and burrata with rosé, and it was just perfect – yet another *chef’s kiss. Inside, the restaurant is glamorous, bold, and stylish; easily a go-to for days you want to dress cute and hang out with friends or even a romantic date night. I would strongly recommend making a reservation to try Sofia next time you’re in town – 5 stars.

If you can believe it, after eating and drinking our faces off, we journeyed onward to Superblue, a high-concept, family-friendly, immersive experience. The museum hosts stunning, transformative installations in a network of centres worldwide. Each piece is incredible, changing and responding to its environment and us. It feels like another world; every experience is unique and captivating. You can’t look away, you will love it. 

Across the street is the Rubell Museum, home to one of the world’s most significant and far-ranging collections of contemporary art, featuring works by artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cecily Brown, Keith Haring, Rashid Johnson, Hayv Kahraman, Jeff Koons, William Kentridge, and many more. The museum balances the works beautifully with both established and under-recognized rising stars. Walking the cathedral-esque halls of the Rubell Museum through Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden, I found myself at the gift shop picking up some souvenirs for my husband, who was, no doubt, missing me terribly (I think) – a Basquiat art hoodie I’m obsessed with.

I returned to The Elser and cleaned up before heading to Teatro for dinner at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Teatro sits above the New World Symphony stage, dripping in decadent red walls and vintage-inspired decor reminiscent of classic theatre. The food was outstanding, and the cocktails were generous, setting the stage for a fantastic evening at the symphony. We ended our meals with desserts and espresso martinis and made our way down to our seats, excited to hear the symphony we had gotten a peek of in rehearsals a few days prior. Performing Dances from West Side Story at the Knight Concert Hall, the New World Symphony was an absolute pleasure to watch under the direction of Miguel Harth-Bedoya and Molly Turner. We left for our hotel completely full and satisfied. 

The trip’s grand finale was a culinary tour of Little Havana with Miami Culinary Tours. We started strong with empanadas and Cuban coffee – so, so good. Miami’s Cuban spirit permeates the city; a quick stroll through Domino Park can confirm that. One gem you have to visit is Old’s Havana Cuban Bar & Cocina for their famous Cuban Sandwich and fresh, thirst-quenching Mojitos. It did not disappoint. I’m not usually one to choose pork, but this sandwich is the perfect combination of flavour, and with a Mojito to wash it all down, you will be back for seconds.

A few blocks down, we met a sweet, older woman working in the local fruit market who graciously served us some fresh sugar cane juice. She and her family have owned the market for over 70 years; they are true OGs. The sugar cane juice was the perfect boost to continue to Party Cake Bakery for some flakey guava pastries, which were absolutely delicious. But the treats didn’t end there. After observing the tradition of hand-rolling cigars, we finished the tour with fresh, hot churros! After all the sweets, I felt like a kid again, but it was worth it. There’s nothing better than warm churros to round out a fantastic culinary tour. 

With a full stomach, I returned to the hotel to prep for the airport. As the sun set on my time in Miami, I fully indulged in a much-needed massage at Lapis Spa at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach Hotel. It was such a decadent way to end such an incredible trip, and I can honestly say that I’ve grown a newfound love and appreciation for the arts and culture in Miami. I’m already planning my next visit, and if you’re looking to get out of the Canadian cold, Miami is a Notable Destination you should check out.