We’re going to Miami! That’s right – today we are talking all things Miami, Florida because I got to sit down with Debra Lee, the Director of Travel Industry Sales for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau recently to dish on what’s new in this world-famous town. And the word dish was used on purpose because we are going to focus a lot on the gastronomy side of things. Check it all out below!
Getting There: The Miami stretch of beaches lies only eight miles from Miami International Airport making it very easily accessible – basically you land and in 20 minutes you are at the beach! And should you choose to fly into Fort Lauderdale airport it’s still only 35 to 40 minutes to get to the sand and surf.
Introduction to Miami: A lot of people think of Miami and immediately think of the beaches. And yes – they have fabulous beaches plus the hotels are situated right across from the beach giving you super easy access to it. But Miami is not just the beach. There are so many different things, and many are even somewhat walkable. What a lot of people don’t realize is that Miami – Deb says they refer to it as Greater Miami and the Beaches – has 34 municipalities that make up Miami-Dade County, so the makeup is actually 34 different little cities that make up this wonderful area that is as diverse as its people. It starts in the north at Golden Beach and goes all the way down to Homestead and in between and from east to west there is a plethora of diversity in terms of the destination. The landscape is different as you move from the north coming down the beach areas. Then the beach areas are even different as you move down and then you get into areas like South Dade and Homestead (which are just before you get reach the Keys which is another county). But in South Dade its farmland with beautiful farm to table type restaurants and there’s even a winery (which we will talk more about later) so it’s just very, very different and diverse and perhaps something that you don’t expect from Miami as a destination. Not only that but there is plenty to be learned while you are in Miami making it a true living classroom experience. For instance, there is the beautiful Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, that is part of Miami history that many people don’t know about, and it is also a National Historic Landmark. And here is a fun fact – Miami is the only U.S. city that was founded by a woman, and that woman was Julia DeForest Tuttle. Now that’s some girl power right there!
The Mid-Beach Area: Mid-Beach is basically what everybody refers to as South Beach and Miami Beach, but in fact it’s a long stretch – several miles of beaches – with South Beach being the most southern, then you have Mid-Beach and then you have the North Beach area.
In the Mid-Beach area, it’s a very eclectic type of area and over the most recent couple of years actually it’s grown to be the area to find true seafood and Mediterranean fare. If you love seafood and Mediterranean cuisine this is the place to go as there are a lot of excellent restaurants including five star Michelin rated restaurants that are located in the Mid-Beach area. That being said it is a bit on the pricier side but certainly if you want to have that amazing gastronomic experience Mid-Beach would be your area.
The Design District: The Design District actually is a relatively new area – it’s only been around for a bit over five years or so, so it’s not something that is tremendously well known. It is located approximately three miles from the downtown area, only a few blocks north of Wynwood which is the Street Art District, and it’s really where fashion, art and food collide. Here you will find a lot of very high end boutiques and very high end shopping. You also have art, including a massive public art display which Deb noted is actually probably the biggest public art display in any of their cities. It’s a lot of modern art and its very interesting to walk around and view. Then they have the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami which is a beautiful museum that focuses on contemporary art. And let’s not forget the restaurants! A lot of celebrity chefs own restaurants in the Design District, and I asked Deb if there are any Michelin star restaurants in this area. She said not quite yet in this area, but some are planning on opening, which is always good news! But right now, their restaurants are super popular because of the celebrity aspect – it’s one of those areas where you are sure to see someone you know – an A list or even a B list celebrity – when you dine here. So, if you want to hang out with who’s who, this is where you got to be!
South Dade: We talked earlier about it being farmland and because of that you have some really great opportunities for fresh markets. South Dade is not as very as well-known as a lot of the other areas, but it is the southernmost part of the county and the area where we mentioned above that has true farm to table experiences. And this is where you will find a fruit and farm stand that has been around for 60 years called Robert is Here that is considered a South Florida landmark. Locals and residents know this place and love it because they have amazing smoothies and shakes, and you can go and literally pick handpick your fruits and vegetables because they are such a tropical oasis in Miami. Deb shared that you’ll see a lot of fruits and vegetables – primarily fruit – that are familiar for those that are from the Caribbean or Latin America like mangoes, papayas, avocados etc. So, all of those amazing fruits and vegetables you can get from Robert Is Here! And they’ve recently pivoted due to COVID, and you don’t even have to get out of your car because they added a drive-thru!
Then just down the road from Robert Is Here you’ll find Schnebly’s which is a winery and Deb commented that a lot of people always are like, what, you have a winery?? Schnebly’s is actually a winery that focuses on fruit wine – so like mango, guava, etc. – so it’s very unusual obviously and not particularly something you might find anywhere else. They do have an eatery there as well so while you’re wine tasting you can enjoy some of the delicious farm to table cuisine that they have available. What a great little find you guys! How often do you find an off the beaten path in such a large area and really again something that you wouldn’t necessarily think of? This, by the way, has to be on your itinerary now anytime I do Miami. Without a doubt we’re definitely adding this in because you need to experience this – that’s me your travel professional telling you guys you can’t go to Miami and not visit it! 😊
Miami Culture: Then of course you’ve got a lot of different cultural aspects going on like Little Havana – which is where I personally get my food fix! – but there’s a lot of different other cultural opportunities in the area because Miami is certainly multi-cultural and diverse just as its makeup – meaning the people are just as diverse as the makeup of the county. The other multi-cultural and heritage neighborhoods in addition to Little Havana include Little Haiti, and Historic Overtown to name a few.
Happenings and Events: There’s a lot of spice and there’s a lot of different things going on here! Miami just has its own art deco flair and its own culture and then there’s culture within culture so there are lots of great opportunities for to experience it all firsthand and immerse yourself in the cultures.
Miami has its own version of carnival which is akin to a Caribbean carnival, and it boasts that 34 Caribbean nations are represented by it! Deb also said she believes it’s the oldest running carnival in the US – they do have a very large one in Canada but this one is the oldest or longstanding one that’s been running in the United States. It is an extremely popular event that attracts thousands of people, and it takes place in October during the Columbus Day weekend which is about mid-October every year.
Miami Spice is another program that the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau has been running for over 50 years. It consists of a list of participating restaurants that offer price fixed menus with three course meals. Most recently lunches were $25.00 and dinners were $39.00. The added benefit of Miami Spice is that it does feature some Michelin rated restaurants. I mean where can you go and experience and have dinner at a Michelin rated restaurant for $39.00?? It’s unheard of! It runs for two months – August and September – and the great thing about that is they’ve got a lot of different hotels and accommodations and during the summer is actually their low season, so they have a terrific number of great deals. And of course, you just ask me, and I can point you in the right direction as far as those hotel deals are concerned – and let me tell you we are talking four and five star hotels with great deals on them!
We couldn’t have a conversation about the cuisine and the gastronomic experience in Miami without talking about the South Beach Wine and Food Festival! Obviously, there’s food and wine festivals all around the country but South Beach of course has its own flair, and the fact that it’s held in February it means that for all of you guys up north where you’re going to be shivering, you’ll get an opportunity to warm up! (So, hey let’s preplan this because I can certainly do a lot of this stuff here with payment plan options, so you don’t have to worry about it paying it off all in advance.) The South Beach Wine and Food Festival was created by the Food Network many, many years ago and it’s something that used to really be a weekend event that has now turned into a mammoth event. Deb joked that you need to diet in January because when you go down there literally by the time you leave, you’ll easily have gained 15 pounds! But it will be one of the most tremendous experiences that you’ll ever have so it would absolutely be totally worth it! And here’s the thing – you can eat all of that and you still have the beach right there so you can swim and exercise and play beach volleyball and work it off and that way you have room for more! Deb agreed and noted maybe it won’t be the 15 pounds you will gain – maybe half – like seven and we’ll call it vacation muscle mass because you know you gotta get creative when it comes to food and vacation! Deb also noted that even though it’s called the wine and food festival don’t be deterred if you don’t like wine as they actually feature spirits too even though it’s not part of the name of the event. In fact, there are a lot of spirits and a lot of cocktails involved that are not necessarily wine related. Overall, you’re getting a really awesome experience by being able to taste a variety of cuisines and drinks every day, several times a day. Plus, there’s always different types of experiences going on. The main event takes place over the two days of the weekend but for the most part leading up to it every single day, several times a day there are different types of events that you can attend. For instance, there’s a burger bash for who has the best burger and a dessert battle – where the chefs compete against each other. And Deb said that some of the islands of the Caribbean have been having cook offs among their chefs where they bring chefs up from islands to compete, and now there is word that some other countries want to get in on that action. As of right now a lot of it focuses on the cuisine in the area, but slowly and surely it is really something that is transforming into an international event. And especially because of the time of year – it is attended by people from all over the world because February in Miami is a better time weather-wise to be there. Per Deb the weather honestly is just perfect, and she joked she’s not just saying that because she’s paid to – it is absolutely spectacular from about October all the way through till March because the weather is unbelievable. But that being said if the heat doesn’t bother you anytime of the year is good! It’s just during those months the weather is cool, and they get those sea breezes every day and very little rain so literally every day is a picnic and every day you can go out and enjoy the fantastic weather and the amazing cuisine!
Safety: I love that Miami as a destination has created a pledge to all the travelers that is basically their honor system and a way of making sure you’re going to feel safe and you’re going to be really comfortable when you go to the Miami area. And Deb advised that all of their partners whether you’re at the airport, at the hotel, at the beach, in a park, at a museum – they are all following the pledge and the CDC recommended guidelines and protocols that are in place.
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing Miami, Florida is open to domestic visitors!
And that my friends is our Miami overview. Hungry? I know I am! Rest assured that between Deb and I we will make sure you have the best experience possible when you visit this amazing part of our country and not just the food portion!
For more details on things to see and do in Miami, where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!