20 essential things to do in Miami

From can’t-miss culture to the hottest festivals, we count down the most crucial things to do in the Magic City.

As any true Miamian knows, there are countless things to do in the Magic City besides lounging on the sand—though it goes without saying that spending some time on the best Miami beaches is de rigueur. Of course, Miami is famous for its Art Deco architecture, and it’s not surprising that the U.S. host city of Art Basel Miami Beach has a vibrant cultural scene. In between sunbathing, swimming and sipping cocktails (or craft beer), check off these essential experiences.

Delight in Art Deco on Ocean Drive

Miami Beach is young by most city standards but its Art Deco District—containing more than 800 buildings dating from the 1920s to the ’40s—has made it onto the National Register of Historic Places. To gawk at the highest concentration of these streamlined, strikingly geometric structures in the U.S., take a walk along Ocean Drive north of 5th Street, and stop by the Art Deco District Welcome Center for self-guided audio tours. Fascinating fact: The seemingly iconic candy colors of some of Miami’s Deco buildings aren’t original but were introduced in the 1980s as a preservationist’s attention-grabbing tactic—the buildings were originally painted white with subtle pastel trim.

Browse in the Design District

The former Decorators’ Row has expanded into a hub for vanguard architecture, fashion and art. Among the numerous high-end interior showrooms is Holly Hunt, offering furnishings by the likes of Rose Tarlow, Christian Liaigre and Wendell Castle. In addition to the Institute of Contemporary Art, a growing number of galleries include not-for-profit artist space Locust Projects, popular for its artsy fundraisers and site-specific installations, and Opera Gallery (30 NE 39th St at NE Miami Ct, 305-868-3337), showcasing works by Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, among other modern masters, and tipped to move to a permanent location in Palm Court in late 2015. Multilevel, open-air shopping complex Palm Court is also the place to shop for luxury fashion labels including Emilio Pucci and Giorgio Armani.

Dine like you’re in Dynasty at the Forge

One of the most fantastic dining experiences in the city, this deluxe steakhouse has hosted the likes of Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and Richard Nixon. Behind the 19th-century Parisian facade is a glitzy interior that’s a rococo lover’s dream. The Forge still has an 1822 Château Lafite Rothschild worth $165,000 to prove its star quality and an enomatic wine system to dispense various-sized pours of some of the world’s most sought-after vintages. The decadent wines accompany steak and fish dishes such as the bone-in filet mignon with the signature Forge rub, and the local red snapper. The glam weekly dinner parties, complete with music and drink specials, evoke the over-the-top opulence of Dynasty.

Escape to tranquil Key Biscayne

Key Biscayne (locally known as “the Key”) may not have much in the way of nightlife or shopping, but what it lacks in consumer attractions, it makes up for in serenity and seclusion. The northernmost island in the Florida Keys offers pristine beaches, two waterfront parks, a cycling path and gorgeous views of Miami. Toward the east end of the Key, Crandon Park has barbecue and picnic areas, making it great for family trips, while the tip of the island offers excellent and (and safe) swimming in the 400-acre Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. Spring brings the Miami Open tennis tournament, as popular for celebrity sightings as for the riveting matches.

Join in the festivities

From the traditional to the tacky, Magic City is fast on its feet when it comes to celebrations. Each spring, Latino Miami struts its stuff at Carnaval Miami, 10 days of beauty pageants, culinary competitions, galas and an upscale Latin jazz festival. The grand finale is Little Havana’s 23-block street party, Calle Ocho, where more than a million people come to watch live entertainment on 30 stages featuring salsa, merengue and Caribbean music. Running almost simultaneously is the electronic music festival Ultra. For three consecutive days over two weekends in Downtown Miami you can catch performances by the world’s leading DJs and top musical talent (past performers include Madonna and Tiësto), pyrotechnic shows and swarms of scantily clad or costumed attendees of all ages.

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