There’s just something about Miami. The more I travel, both domestically and abroad, the more I’ve come to appreciate this great big backyard of mine — and while there are many places within the fifty states that tug at my heartstrings, in just two visits Miami has easily climbed the ranks of favorites.
It’s a place I could see myself living someday — big city sophistication with a stunning sea backdrop, a thriving arts scene alongside an active beach-bum contingent, beautiful weather year-round, prices than any ex-New Yorker will find downright reasonable, and a generous dash of Latin culture sprinkled throughout the city’s food, music, and nightlife.
beauty, man-made and natural
I’ve been itching to return to Miami ever since my first epic visit concluded, and when I started planning a major Florida jaunt I knew it would be my final stop. With my girl Michelle by my side, we arrived at the high-rises of downtown Miami to check into my favorite kind of accommodation — the couch of a dear friend or family member. In this case, it was my cousin Eric, who is successful model and personal trainer to the stars, living in a gorgeous apartment overlooking Biscayne Bay. In other words, we all hate him. Way to hog all the good genetics in the family, am I right? Just kidding, Eric! We love you. Want a new roommate, for, like, ever?
Sadly, Eric had to leave town last minute and so we didn’t get to spend too much time together over the weekend (though I did return for some cousin time after Michelle departed). Still, we loved having his suggestions for how to spend a few days enjoying Downtown — a different Miami entirely from the South Beach most tourists know and adore. It was such a treat lounging around Icon, hitting the luxury gym, sipping smoothies poolside and just generally fantasizing about being residents there ourselves.
We had a really fun Friday night out in Brickell rubbing shoulder’s with Miami’s stiletto-ed, cash-flush, Spanish-speaking set. Favorites spots included the rooftop lounge at Area 31 and Icon’s own skybar FIFTY. One bar we didn’t quite make it to but is high on my list for next time? The hipster-ific Blackbird Ordinary.
But as much as I love hanging in Brickell, it’s not a true Miami trip without a little South Beach thrown in. So two nights after arrival, we made our way across the bay to check into the Freehand, a much-buzzed about design hostel just two blocks from the beach. I’d been to the über-hip, onsite Broken Shaker cocktail bar on my previous Miami trip, and vowed to return one day to stay.
At $35 a bed it might be pricey as far as international hostels go, but by Miami standards? It’s a steal.
And unfortunately, I think that could be a bit of a problem. I’d read reviews in the trip planning stage that hinted that the crowd at Freehand was sometimes less than desirable, but I brushed them off. How could a hostel created by the Sydell Goup attract an unsavory element? Yet we arrived to find two crazy-eyed women having an all-out brawl in the lobby, one of whom the flustered receptionist indicated to me was homeless. Later, by the pool, we were pushed out of our lounge chairs by a loud, chain-smoking family who I highly suspect did not flock to the Freehand due to their write-up in Travel and Leisure magazine.
I hesitated to even mention this aspect of our stay, because it’s not about age or getting past some coolness dorm bed bouncer — I’ve met plenty of families and travelers of all ages that I’ve bonded with on the road. But it is about the spirit of hosteling versus those just looking for the cheapest digs possible. I went to a hip design hostel hoping to meet other young and young-at-heart travelers with similar interests, not to choke on Virginia Slims and get splashed by unsupervised toddlers and feel like I was in a mental institution at check-in.
I want to believe we just caught a weird weekend, but I know from speaking to management at other popular US hostels that it is sometimes tough to keep the upbeat traveler vibe they are striving for and not turn into local flophouses. Some institute policies that require out-of-area IDs, age restrictions and maximum stays. I wouldn’t mind seeing Freehand give some of those policies a try.
That aside, there are so many positives about this place. It truly is a stunning hostel in an unbeatable location, and I would recommend it to friends — just with the caveat above. I mean, beach or pool — take your pick! The pool is right downstairs, and the ocean less than a five minute stroll.
The rooms were charming and detail-oriented, and my designer heart swooned at everything from the room keys to the carved wooden bed number plaques. And though we didn’t skip any meals out on the town, a full service kitchen was a nice treat that allowed us to keep our beach drinks cold, and have small snacks on hand.
The Broken Shaker was lovely as always, and I regretted we didn’t get the chance to check out the newly opened onsite restaurant 27. I would return to the Freehand — and I look forward to checking out their new Chicago location, too!
The best part? Simply being within walking distance or a quick Uber ride — Uber is by far the best way to get around Miami as opposed to traditional cabs* — of the art deco district was enough to send me into tailspins of happiness. I just never get sick of wandering up and down Ocean Drive.
What a treasure this beautiful area is!
For me, it’s not a trip to Miami without one big night out. Our guacamole love bordering on obsession, we were pretty pumped to hit up the Naked Taco — even more so when we arrived and the waitress handed us each a shot. “We don’t do bread for the table,” she deadpanned. “We do tequila for the table.”
My kind of woman. We loved Naked Taco, and I definitely recommend it as the perfect place to for an upbeat meal before a big night out. Just make reservations — we barely snuck into the last table before the kitchen closed.
Our next stop was Mansion, but we had some time to kill before we met our girls there, so we wandered spontaneously into the first establishment we saw. Now, I’m pleased I can report that if visiting a wild, enthusiastic multi-level gay nightclub is on your wishlist for Miami, you can make that dream come true at a place called Twist. An extremely good time was had by all, and soon we were begging our way off the dance floor to skip a few more blocks up the road.
There, joining forces with New York friend Ashlee and two of her Miami-based friends, we skipped past the line (seriously the only way to enter a nightclub that required four inch heels) and into the VIP area of Mansion.
I know that at some point I’m supposed to declare my cheesy nightclub days over, but guys, I don’t think that announcement is coming anytime soon. I just love getting dressed up, going out with a bunch of girls, and dancing to sing-along pop music until my feet are about to fall off and I have to hobble my way out to the cab line.
This was one of those nights. The aerial acrobats spinning overhead lent a Vegas-like air to the place, and I spent a fair share of time staring mesmerized towards the ceiling.
On our final day in Miami, we found ourselves wandering down Ocean Drive once again. Two great tours aside — which I’ll chronicle in upcoming posts — most of our time had been spent pool or ocean-side lounging, or trendy restaurant-and-bar-hopping. For this final day we had not a single thing planned, and somehow found ourselves joining the masses sipping from human-head sized cocktails along the touristy stretch. Initially, we’d sat down to have a sensible lunch of salads. But we quickly decided it would be simply rude not to spontaneously order a 36oz. Miami Vice. No?
For some reason, we ordered impulsively and didn’t even think to ask the cost — after all, the salads were quite reasonably priced. Imagine our surprise when we got a bill for almost a hundred bucks! For two salads and one giant cocktail! Lucky we were both delightfully day drunk at that point and so found the whole situation to be positively hilarious — a later glance at Yelp made it seem like we actually escaped relatively unscathed. Yikes — buyer beware on Ocean Drive.
We decided the only way to cap off such a comical scenario would be to make yet another reckless decision — such as tipsily snarfing an Insomnia Cookies homemade ice cream sandwich on the way home. Is it sad if I say this was literally a highlight of my trip?
And then, the perfect end to a impulsive and hilarious day — ciders on the beach as we recounted all the ups and downs, tops and flops, giggles and greatness of the action-packed last five days. For Michelle, it was her last afternoon of sunshine before returning to the lingering winter in Upstate New York. For me, it was one of my final days in the US before boarding a plane for four months in Central America.
So we savored those final hours on the sand.
I know I say this about a lot of places, but I think Miami and I have a long road ahead of us. It’s a city that makes me proud to call the US home — one colorful piece in the crazy diverse puzzle that I’m discovering this country is. A place where I could spend the afternoon Stand Up Paddling on the ocean and the night at a gallery opening of a new up-and-coming South American artist? Or a day escaping to bike the Everglades followed by an evening at a trendy ocean-side tapas restaurant? A place with year-round sun and easy access to a major international airport? That’s the kind of place I could call home someday.
Till next time, Miami! Stay tuned for two of the adventures that made our stay so special.
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Do you Uber? I’ve found the cab alternative to be hit or miss in New York, but it truly is the only way to get around in Miami, in my opinion. Cabs are more expensive, less polite, and often don’t take credit cards! Get a $20 free ride by entering the code 7dfb2 at checkout. Uber did not sponsor this post and is not paying me for this promotion, though I will receive riding credit for anyone who signs up. I just love the service and am recommending it to you the same way I would to a friend — even Michelle signed up for the first time while we were in Miami!
Ahhh I love that picture of you with the cocktail as big as your head! That in itself has bumped Miami up to a top 10 destination for me!
Haha. Ocean Drive cocktails… gotta do it at least once!
I LOVE reading about U.S. cities I’ve never been to. The more international travel I do, the more I realize how many great places there are at home to visit!
I feel the same way. I’ve become really into domestic travel — really looking forward to another summer of it stateside!
i’m sure i’ve slagged off miami on here before & i certainly have on my own blog so i will just say this…it is to the credit of our dynamic world that 2 people — dare i say likeminded people — can have wildly different experiences in the same place. off to google “hot cookies LA.”
Ha, yes, not everywhere is for everyone 🙂 But I am very biased towards anywhere next to an ocean…
So many travelers seem to dislike Miami, so it’s nice to read a positive take! Also, I always love your photo style, but it suits Miami especially well.
I agree with Polly! Great pics, Alex. And geez, you’re cranking out the posts this week!
Getting caught up to Latin America 🙂 Nicaragua coming your way soon!
Do they?! I didn’t realize this until reading through this comment section, ha. I’m obsessed!
Reading about your time in the US makes me want to explore my own country more. I’ve only been to Florida when I was little (Orlando, of course!) but I’d really love to go exploring even more now.
The more I travel stateside, the more I want to see! We are so lucky to be from such a diverse place with so many gems to explore.
I love reading your posts, Alex… you have the ability to make me want to go to places that I’ve had little interest in before. And I also wanted to say- I love the dress you’re wearing in the last photo!!
Khao San Road special 🙂 One of my favorites! I can’t wait to go shopping in Bangkok again…
Your blog is really becoming one of my favorites! I love Miami, but haven’t been since I was 18. For the longest time, my only goal in life was to live there, but then got seduced by D.C. and then Brazil. Reading this, though, I may have to give the idea a revisit. Or at least go for a visit sometime soon.
Sucks about the hostel, but I’m glad you wrote about it. The people need to know.
Hope you’re still having a great time in Central America!
Thank you so much Kacy! Glad to hear some more love for Miami. You should definitely go back and see if it still holds the same magic for you!
I’ve only been to Miami once, but it was years ago, so it’s great to read about a more updated look at it. I think it’s a good thing you wrote about the bad aspects of your hostel stay… it’s good to know the downsides, too! That drink looks phenomenal by the way!
I don’t like to dwell on the negative but I’ve got to keep things real… and I would be remiss not to share that aspect of our stay! But like I said, I would definitely return to the Freehand — but I would love to see them give those policies a try.
A Mexican place that gives you a shot of tequila instead of chips…that is just brilliant.
They definitely won us over with that move!
Wow, beautiful photos, and it sounds super relaxing! I’ll certainly add it to my list!
Miami should be on every traveler’s bucket list… in my opinion 🙂
You are so pretty, Alex! :>
Thanks, Julia! 🙂
It’s been a while since I last visited your blog and I’m happy to see a post about Miami. I was just busy pinning on Pinterest then I saw this! 😀 Hope you blog more about the USA since it is a country I haven’t been to yet 😀
I have a few more Miami posts coming up this week, and I’ll be writing tons about my US travels this summer! Glad to hear you are looking forward to them!
For me, I fear a Miami visit would be simply chasing locations out of the TV show Burn Notice!
Glad you had such fun!!
Never watched Burn Notice, but I was an enormous Dexter fan!
I just visited Miami for the first time at the beginning of March. Can’t say my experience was as positive as yours, but I loved the vibes there as well and can’t wait to give it another chance! Love your honesty about the hostel too. Great photos like always!
Oh, bummer! Did you just not fall in love with it or did something go really wrong? Glad you’re open to giving it another chance though — that’s the best attitude to have!
Stayed with a friend for spring break, and my wallet was stolen the first night I was there. Obviously partly my fault for not paying better attention, but still not a fun experience… you live and learn I guess! Now I will be even more careful with my things whenever I go someplace new.
Oh bummer! I’ve been there! Well, glad you’ll give Miami the chance to win you back over 🙂
I love the beach and Art Deco architecture in South Beach. Make sure you check out the small city of Napier when you make it to New Zealand, the whole city centre is art deco as it was destroyed in an earthquake in 1931 and was completely rebuilt in the style of the time
Whoa, I’ve never heard of the place but it sounds right up my alley! Thanks for the recommendation Katie!
Miami is on my list of places to visit during my trip to the States this summer. It looks and sounds amazing!
You’ve got to get there, Zascha! It’s definitely a US highlight… at least in my mind!
Wow, Miami looks gorgeous! Sorry to hear about your experience with the hostel, though, but it’s good to know that the city made up for it!
Yup, Miami has my heart! And thanks to having family there I know I’ll be back again and again 🙂
Oh, this looks like so much fun! Love the Vegas-like vibes in the club. I went to Orlando with a group of friends 10 years ago (there’s a sentence that makes me feel old :() and we were very upset when our eager 18 year old selves realized the drinking age was 21. This post makes me think I definitely need to return to Florida properly – and by properly I mean drinking cocktails as large as my head on a Miami beach.
Um, yes I think you do 🙂 Ha, that must have been an unwelcome surprise for a bunch of 18 year olds! Let’s face it… almost everywhere is a little more fun post 21-st birthday.
Girrrrrl, there will be no Ubering in Nashville. That company is the devil! Here, we Lyft =)
P.S. I think we need a Miami reunion!
Kristin, don’t you know that I am always a good half a decade behind in technology? I don’t even know what Lyft is. I literally got Venmo like a month ago… 😉
Hi, what photocamera are you using?
Hey Jessica, check out my obsessions page (reached via the navigation bar above or the camera button in the sidebar) for information about all my cameras!