8 Things to in South Beach & Miami Beach

South Beach may be one of the most touristy parts of Miami, but it’s a must-see and my recommended area to stay for first-time visitors. South Beach is technically a part of Miami Beach (its southern tip to be exact) — and while North Miami beach is more relaxed and laid-back — South Beach is bustling night and day. It’s perfect for those who want to experience one of the most vibrant parts of Miami, as there are plenty of bars, clubs, beaches, restaurants, shops, and things to do. The architecture is also a must-see for first-time visitors to Miami. I’ve stayed here several time, and here are my top 7 activities in the area:

1. Walk along the beach to see the famous lifeguard towers. This is my #1 must-do in South Beach, and I highly recommend doing it right at sunrise (before it’s too hot or crowded). Each tower has a different design — starting with the striped red-and-white lighthouse at Jetty Lifeguard Tower all the way in the south — and stretching north for 8 miles to 87th Street (you don’t have to go all the way, of course). These colorful towers — with their different shapes and paint combinations — are such a quintessential symbol of Miami Beach. The city also has a great interactive map where you can see photos and locations for all of these.

2. Have lunch at Joe’s Stone Crab, which first opened in 1913 as a lunch counter. The stone crab here is famous, but will cost you a pretty penny (approximately $80 for a platter of large ones). You have to try it, though — as well as their key lime pie (or the incredible key lime pie martinis). They have indoor seating, as well as a beautiful leafy patio — but it certainly gets hot here in the warmer months.

3. See the art deco architecture. The Miami Beach Architectural District is a U.S. historic district located in South Beach. There are tons of walking tours for this (on Viator and AirBnB experiences, for example) — but you can also just walk around on your own. Most of the must-see buildings are along Ocean Drive (starting between 6th and 7th streets), but you’ll notice that style everywhere as you walk around. Essex House Hotel at 1001 Collins Ave is a great one for a little detour off Ocean Drive, too.

4. Eat some Cuban food, of course! Now I won’t claim South Beach is the best part of Miami for this — as there is Little Havana too (and you can read my post on things to do in Little Havana). However, there is great Cuban food everywhere in Miami, and if it’s your first time in the city and you’re staying in South Beach, you should definitely try it. Some of my recommendations in the area include Havana 1957, Esquina Cubana, Havana Vieja, and Puerto Sagua.

5. Relax on Ocean Drive with an enormous cocktail. There are some wonderfully oversized drinks in this part of town — and yes, they’ll run you about $40 — but you should experience it if you can (once you get over the tourist price tag). My favorites are the enormous frozen margaritas or daiquiris with upside-down mini champagne bottles in them. All the touristy spots along Ocean Drive offer some version of this, and if you can find an open table right along the street — it makes for great people watching, too.

6. Go shopping. There are some great little boutiques all over Miami (with a peculiar proliferation of bodysuits and sparkles), but Lincoln Road is the shopping destination in this part of town. It’s an 8-block-long pedestrian mall with more than 200 stores and restaurants — as well as fabled art deco architecture from Morris Lapidus. Lincoln Eatery is a cool food hall option here, Sundays welcome a weekly farmer’s market, and Sundays from October through May also host the Lincoln Road Antiques & Collectibles Market.

7. Eat at Gianni’s Restaurant at the former Versace Mansion. It’s not the best Italian food I’ve ever had, but the setting is absolutely one-of-a-kind — complete with outdoor atrium, mosaic pool, signature Versace design elements, colored lighting, and more. You can come here for lunch or dinner, and it’s not terribly expensive. However, reservations and somewhat upscale attire are highly recommended.

8. Party! South Beach is always happening, day and night. There are tons of fantastic daytime pool parties, and if that’s your scene, I recommend looking into one of these three (and booking in advance): Nikki Beach, SLS Pool Party at Hyde Beach, Strawberry Moon at The Goodtime Hotel. All of these will be pricy — like Vegas pricy — but so fun! For nighttime, a spot that’s unique to Miami and a must-see even if it seems touristy, is Mango’s Tropical Cafe right in the middle Ocean Drive (which often has live music and dance performances). LIV Nightclub is a well-known more typical nightclub a bit further north. And Medium Cool is an awesome cocktail lounge with live music that’s a bit more laid-back.

And that’s all folks! Feel free to contact me with any questions.