A Local's Guide to Miami on a Budget
Miami evokes images of glitz and glam: lavish parties, five-star beach resorts and days spent sunbathing on yacht decks.
We're not going to lie to you — this really is a huge part of Miami. And it costs a pretty penny. In fact, even when you're not living the high life, the city can be so expensive that your eyes will water every time you have to take your card out.
Thankfully, our resident Miami local is here to impart hard-earned wisdom on how to do Miami on a budget. Yes, it's possible. And, yes, you'll still have an amazing time.
First Things First: The Beach
If you go to Miami and skip the beach, you've failed at travel. Ok, maybe you haven't failed, but you've made a huge mistake.
After all, the beach is the reason people come to Miami. You'll be happy to know that most beaches are free. To cross the famous South Beach from your list, hit the stretches of sand between 5th and 15th streets. The main cost will be parking, which can be costly in the area. Stick to metered parking and divide the cost between everyone in the car. Or, if you're staying close enough to the water, rent a Citi Bike and ride to the beach for under $8 an hour.
But try to get out to other amazing beaches that don't get as much tourist attention. Halouver Beach in Sunny Isles has no entrance fee and provides free parking. It's usually much less crowded than its popular counterparts. Oh, and if you feel like sunbathing, there's a nudist section where you'll be able to forego tan lines.
Another great alternative is Matheson Hammock Park Beach. You'll have to pay between $5 and $7 to enter, but the small price is worth it. The shallow water in the atoll pool makes it a favorite place for families. If you have some extra money to splurge, you can partake in fun water sports or dine in the park's scenic restaurant.
Delicious Food on the Cheap
Miami is one of the best foodie cities in the entire United States. This isn't open for debate.
The city's fusion of cuisines from every Latin American country, combined with Caribbean influences and international flavors makes it the perfect destination for anyone who lives to try new food. Sadly, the best things in life are not free and Miami restaurants tend to be absurdly expensive — we're talking $30 for a tiramisu and two coffees.
Still, it's not impossible to find decently priced places if you know where to look. For great Cuban food at very cheap prices, look for El Palacio de los Jugos or La Juguera Tropical. Both have locations scattered all over the city and serve deliciously fresh fruit juices as well as typical Cuban dishes. Halouver Beach hosts a Food Truck Tuesdays that make it easy to fill up without emptying your pockets. And if all else fails, you can get decent and filling fast food at Pollo Tropical, which specializes in rotary chicken.
Another strategy is to take advantage of happy hours. Dig into Venezuelan goodness at Doggi's Arepa Bar, which offers bites for $5 and beer for $3.50 from 4 to 7 p.m. The famously rowdy Tap 42 has different specials depending on the day: from half-off wine bottles on Wednesday to a long girls' night on Thursdays in all of its nine locations.
If you're willing to spend a bit more but don't want to go over budget, check out Bulla Gastrobar, which offers fixed-price menus with tapas.
Partying on a Budget Is Possible
Look, we're not going to sugarcoat it: Clubbing in Miami isn't cheap. Covers are usually at least $30, much more if there's a well-known DJ playing, and drinks are overpriced.
But you can still have a wild night of drinking and dancing until the sun rises. For a true Miami party, head to Little Havana's Ball & Chain, where there is always live music and never a cover charge. You can also dance your heart out at Gramps in Wynwood, known for its music, pizza and drag night on Thursdays.
Not in the mood for dancing? There are also some great bars that won't charge you $25 for a cocktail. Mac’s Club Deuce is purportedly the oldest bar in Miami. The drinks in this South Beach dive bar are cheap, the setting is unpretentious and you can only pay in cash. Or head to Lagniappe in Midtown. You won't have to wait for service because craft beer bottles are arranged in self-service fridges, as are different choices of cheeses, chorizo and salami. The ambiance is the opposite of pretentious Miami lounges — and so are the prices.
In the Right Place at the Right Time
Depending on when you make your trip, you might be able to participate in free events that locals absolutely love.
If you're visiting on the first Friday of the month, head to Coral Gables to participate in its Gallery Night. In this fun community event, galleries open their doors to anyone curious about the city's art scene. South Beach has a similar event on the third Thursday of each month called Culture Crawl. Bar hopping is fun, but have you ever gone art gallery hopping? We promise it's an absolute blast.
For a truly unique experience, watch movies under the stars every Wednesday from October to May at South Beach's SoundScape Park. No tickets are necessary. Just show up with a blanket or a chair and some snacks and enjoy free movies that range from the latest summer hits to golden classics.
Enjoy Nature Without Going Broke
Most people ignore Miami's breathtaking natural beauty. And, yes, we're talking about the Everglades. This misunderstood river of grass is a unique ecosystem that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world. Entrance into the park is $30 per car, so get a group together before heading in.
For an almost guaranteed alligator encounter, visit Shark Valley. Despite its name, you won't see any sharks. Rather, you'll complete a 15-mile loop paved trail that is teeming with gators. You can walk it for free, but the most fun way to experience it is by renting a bike or bringing your own. Finally, you can get discounts on Groupon and other sites for a fun airboat ride that takes you into the heart of the park. (We recommend the Coopertown tour.)
Other worthy-visit places that are affordable are Biscayne National Park and Oleta River State Park. Both have somewhat costly activities like kayaking or snorkeling. But it's possible to simply pay the reasonable entrance fee and swim or walk around.
Walking Is Free
Still looking for free things to do in Miami? You can always take a note from Europeans and walk through the city.
Of course, most areas are very car-centric. And many are plagued by the curse of beige strip malls that suck the beauty and joy and out of everything. But if you know where to go, you can have a lovely evening stroll. Española Way in Miami Beach is quite popular because of its European feel. Once you've walked it, you can head to nearby Lincoln Road.
Outside of the beach areas, you can also stroll down Little Havana to see cigar shops and public art sculptures of colorful roosters (maybe you'll even get to see a real rooster in someone's backyard). From there, you'll also be able to walk around the gorgeous residential Coral Gables area, famed for its tree-covered roads and for the boutique-dotted street, Miracle Mile.
Where to Stay in Miami
Rent in Miami is impossible. So is accommodation. But it's possible to find good deals when you're traveling off-season.
If you're lucky, you can find the four-star Kimpton Surfcomber Hotel for around $200 per night. That's a great price for a chic hotel with direct access to South Beach and one of the city's coolest pools.
For guaranteed good prices, citizenM Miami World Center is a chic property in the heart of downtown, with great signature cocktails and a rooftop pool (there's also a citizenM in trendy Brickell).
Or if you want the convenience of being near the airport, book the wellness-centric Even Hotel Miami. Besides in-room yoga equipment and brainstorming boards, you'll have healthy made-to-order dishes on the menu — all for under $150.
To Rent a Car or to Not Rent a Car, That Is the Question
Do you need a car in Miami? The answer is mostly yes.
As a fairly new city, Miami is built for cars and has a laughable public transit system. If you want to make the most of your time and see as much of the city as possible, a car is a must.
That said, if you stay in neighborhoods like South Beach, Brickell and Downtown, you can plan to do most of your activities in the area and walk or take the Metrorail.
In short, the very frustrating answer is that it depends on the kind of trip you're planning. But if you have wiggle room in your budget to rent a car for at least a few days, you'll have an even better, more rounded experience of this chaotic, loud and wonderful city.