Perched on Florida's southern tip, Miami draws visitors from around the world with its blend of urban buzz and glamorous beach scene. However, visiting Miami is very different from visiting other popular Florida destinations. Why is that? Well, in terms of cultural diversity, vibrant nightlife and overall bustle, Miami can feel light years away from hotspots like Orlando, St. Pete Beach and the Florida Keys. To help first-time visitors make the most of their time by avoiding any faux pas (and hopefully saving some cash along the way), we've compiled a list of 12 key things every traveler should know before visiting Miami. Read on for tips on everything from the best time to go to Miami and its best beaches to where you should stay on your Miami vacation.
1. Miami is a late-night city that likes to party.
New York isn't the only U.S. city that never sleeps. Whether you're just dining out or gearing up for Miami's legendary club scene, you'll want to consider pushing your plans back later than usual - or risk being the first to arrive. Leading clubs, such as Space and E11even are open around the clock, while another top choice, LIV, doesn't open its doors until nearly midnight. You'll also want to keep in mind that headlining DJs usually don't take the decks until as late in the night - we're talking between 2 and 3 a.m. in most instances. If you're looking for something on the earlier side, head to Lagniappe, an open-air bar that puts on live music for a more traditionally primetime crowd.
You'll also want to make note of the many seasonal parties that take up residence along Miami Beach, which can mean 24/7 beats for days at a time. These include March's Ultra Music Festival, May's Rolling Loud and Miami Beach Pride in early June. This is to say nothing of the individual hotel parties that take place up and down the beach, as well as the events associated with major events like Art Basel and the Miami Food Festival.
2. Pack more than beachwear for your Miami vacation.
This isn't the Florida Keys or Daytona Beach, so don't plan on sporting flip-flops and swimsuits anywhere other than the beach or hotel pool when you're in Miami. To be fair, even the pools can feel like fashion runways at some of the city's posh hotels. Many restaurants and bars enforce dress codes in Miami - including Miami Beach and South Beach - while clubs can be as selective, barring entry to sandal-wearing clientele. Miami is one of the United States' most cosmopolitan cities, so dress to impress, or at least try not stand out for the wrong reasons. If you're after a more casual vibe, the beach towns up the coast makes a great alternative, or stick to the restaurants and bars tucked away on Miami's side streets rather than the dining scene along Collins Avenue, Lincoln Road, and Ocean Drive.
3. The effects of climate change are already flooding Miami - and it's not going to get better.
Oh, Miami - so blessed and so cursed at the same time. While the city sits firmly in the hurricane zone and has been victim to several major storms in the past, the largest current threat is fair-weather flooding due to climate change. These floods are most often associated with king tides, which are excessively high tides caused by lunar and solar cycles. While these have been a normal occurrence since the beginning of time, rising sea levels fueled by climate change have cause the tides to become even more destructive in Miami. This is exacerbated by the porous stone that underlies much of the South Florida region, allowing water to rise from directly underneath this major urban area. King-tide flooding can happen regardless of weather - though it's worse during high tides and weather events that cause the sea near shorelines to swell. In other words: It can be perfectly sunny outside, but several streets will be filled with water and impassable. September through November - which coincide with the end of hurricane season and the king-tide cycles - are the worst time of year for this troubling phenomenon.
4. Miami is home to huge Caribbean and Latin American communities.
Cuban culture is incredibly prominent in Miami, and enjoying a fresh mojito while watching a live salsa performance is a highly recommended experience. The strong Cuban presence stems from the fact that more than 25% of Miami-Dade County residents are Cuban-born plus the many descendants of Cuban immigrants that have arrived over the past six decades. However, this still constitutes less than half of the city's foreign-born population. Miami is also home to significant Haitian, Bahamian, Venezuelan and Colombian communities - to name just a few. Between restaurants, art galleries and music venues, there are plenty of ways to dive deeper into these other cultures. For starters, head to Little Haiti for free concerts and art at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex. Be sure to stop for spicy seafood at laidback Chef Creole.