By Patricia Guarch Wise
If you’re looking for a place to take a pocket-wise vacation, you might not think of Miami, the glitzy-glam capital of sparkle and sun, but you’d be surprised to find that this city is an ideal travel destination full of places, things and events to enjoy for free or nearly free. From the beaches to outdoor yoga in the parks to an innumerable amount of art and cultural events, the Miami of late is one you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy.
The main attraction in Miami is the always free and readily available picturesque weather. A typical winter Miami day is a comfortable high 70s. You can always count on year-round sunshine; Florida is, after all, known as the Sunshine State. Miami’s free beaches are aplenty and no matter where you stay, you’re sure to have one close enough to spend your days sunning by the water’s edge.
People Watching, South Beach-style
For the best beach people-watching in the Greater Miami area, head to South Beach. Expect to find rowdy young locals with boom boxes and crowds of international visitors -- but also readily available concession stands and bathrooms. This long stretch of beach starting with the pier at the top of historic Art Deco Washington Avenue (1 Washington Avenue) is a great place to see the Miami of postcards, watch the cruise ships come and go, and watch the sunset over the cityscape.
Art Deco Tours
Walk north along Ocean Drive to explore the preserved Art Deco buildings. Farther north on Miami Beach, near the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc hotels, admire the MiMo (Miami Modern) architectural style of 1950’s buildings painted in a palette of pastels with cutout shapes and mosaic murals. Log onto the Miami Design Preservation League’s website at www.MDPL.org to learn more about how to spot the style and the history of the area and for information on guided walking tours.
Hit the Beach
A good rule of thumb for those looking for a quieter beach experience is the further north you go, the quieter it will get. Miami Beach Central, from Collins Avenue 21st Street to 46th Street, has a raised boardwalk for walking with shoes and without sand. While parking in these areas may be challenging, there’s always metered street parking, even if it may take a few rounds around the block to find it.
The beaches of Key Biscayne, a residential island off of mainland Miami, cost a minimal fee, but are guaranteed to be very clean and incredibly beautiful. Crandon Park Beach is a three-mile lagoon style beach with walking and biking trails, beach volleyball nets, shelters for shade and BBQ grills available for the ideal beach day. An even more remote beach on Key Biscayne is at the tip of the island, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, where you can fish and enjoy the historic lighthouse.
Once you’ve soaked up the sun at the beach, gotten your tan on and are ready to explore the rest of the city―on a budget of course―there’s plenty more to see!
Miami’s nightlife offers something for everyone starting with our opulent and world-renowned clubs, but right now in Miami, the see-and-be-seen spots are free Art Walks hosted in different areas. Not only can you soak up art of all kinds from avant-garde, contemporary, collections, street art and historical pieces from artists of all over and notable locals, but you can spend the whole night doing it!
Art Walks all over the city are usually soaked in free wine and alcohol if you get there early before it’s gone, often feature free music, and are always changing. Virtually every week there’s an Art Walk somewhere. Visit www.ArtCircuits.com for Art Walk maps and schedules.
The biggest and most popular is the second Saturday of the month in the up-and-coming Wynwood Arts District and the Design District. If you aren’t in town for the Wynwood Art Walk, full of galleries and stores open late, you can venture there any day of the week to explore a community turned street art museum. Colorful murals are painted on the sides of former warehouses-turned-studios. Don’t miss Wynwood Walls, which is a great starting point.
Other Art Walks include Viernes Culturales (Cultural Fridays) on Calle Ocho in Little Havana where Miami’s colorful Cuban community shows off their exuberant cultural exports in music, art, and food. There’s also the Coral Gables Art Walk on the first Friday of the month, a calmer and quieter Art Walk in historic downtown Coral Gables.
Free Museum Days
If you can’t fit an Art Walk into your schedule, there is art available all the time in Miami―and sometimes, for free! In fact, Miami is very much an art capital of the country. December’s Art Basel Miami Beach art fair is a must-stop on every serious collector’s cultural calendar, with many free events scheduled throughout the city. The rest of the year, you can still easily fill a weekend just stopping at Miami’s many museums and galleries. The Wolfsonian-FIU museum is free every Friday after 6 p.m., the Miami Art Museum is free the second Saturday of each month, and Museum of Contemporary Art offers free live jazz on the plaza at 8 p.m. on the last Friday of each month. In November, Sleepless Night Miami Beach offers 24 hours of free cultural programs including museum exhibits, concerts, dance performances, and film screenings.
If, after all that art, you need some “ohm-ing”, there’s a lovely free yoga class at Bayfront Park in Downtown Miami on every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. There are also free yoga classes on Saturday mornings in Coconut Grove at Kennedy Park and Wednesday and Saturday evenings at Margaret Pace Park. Best of all, all three of these options are on the water! Namaste.
Online Sale Sites
A great way to keep your pockets full but your belly fuller is to take advantage of Miami’s immense culinary opportunities by using online sale websites like Groupon and Living Social and Gilt Miami. These daily coupons can make an otherwise pricey meal affordable -- or just save some cash for shopping and bringing home souvenirs.
Miami can be a bit overwhelming to explore. There’s so much to see, but the free Metromover makes Downtown, Brickell and Bayside―all tourist friendly areas with lots of restaurants, shops and arts centers―easy to visit and explore by just jumping on and off as many times as you’d like. It may even be fun to get lost and see where it takes you if you have some time on your hands to freely explore. The Metromover runs in loops and it will always be easy to get back to where you started. There’s also public transportation available for a low cost in all the different areas of the city and connecting them.
Having fun for free in Miami is easy to do and there are many great options. Every weekend in Miami, you’ll find farmer’s markets, free concerts, outdoor movie screenings, and so much more. There’s a festival or event for anyone, any day, in this sunny city by the bay. Browse our calendar of events for the latest happenings. Use your time wisely, have fun, and remember to soak up Miami’s natural beauty and amazing weather. After all, they’re free!