I planned a self-drive trip to the most interesting parts of Miami and we spent a great day driving and sightseeing in Miami.
The Miami area is huge and there is a lot to see you don’t even know about. So it’s good if you know where the best sights are and it’s also good if you can avoid rush hours. So don’t make your time schedule too tight.
So I made a driving route and put it on the map to help you find what to see in Miami, mainly in the southern part of it. Here it is: sightseeing in Miami, a self-drive tour:
Where Did We Go?
We started our Miami sightseeing trip in downtown Miami, at Bayside Marketplace just north of the downtown. It is a good place to park your car at for a downtown walk. Then we went south to Coral Gables, Cocout Grove and Key Biscayne.
We almost spent a whole day exploring these areas. We also spent time on beaches and had a relaxing bath in the Venetian Pools in Coral Gables. Afterwards we headed for dinner to Calle Ocho just south of downtown Miami.
Sightseeing in a big city like Miami takes a lot of time but that’s not a problem if you are using your own car. You can continue your self-drive trip on the next day. That’s what happened to us. We had to leave South Beach and Ocean Drive to another day.
I included South Beach in another blog post but above and below you can see some South Beach photos. My post on South Beach: Miami Beach and Ocean Drive
Sightseeing in Miami: Driving Route
This post follows the route that is marked on the map: from Bayside Marketplace to Little Havana via Key Biscayne, Coconut Grove and Coral Gables. So first: the Bayside Marketplace.
The Bayside Marketplace has parking garages and there’s open parking space towards the downtown area so leave your car and start your Miami sightseeing tour here, walking in the marketplace.
Bayside Marketplace is a lively restaurant and shopping area between downtown Miami and the Port of Miami where all the Caribbean cruisers leave.
Walk around in the shops that are partly touristic and see if you find good bargains. Bayside Marketplace also has a good choice of restaurants if you want a coffee or a light meal.
Suggestion: If you like you can take a sightseeing boat tour along the Miami coast (but be prepared it takes a long time).
At the Marketplace you can find the Hard Rock Café and maybe taste the good hamburgers of the Five Guys, we tasted them and they were delicious, and so American!
From the Bayside Marketplace walk south along the park in the waterfront and you will get a good views of the modern downtown of Miami with its skyscrapers. This is Miami’s financial district and administrative center.
Suggestion: To see more of the downtown you can take a trip with the Miami Metromover. In Miami they have an elevated public bus (looks like a train) system snaking through the skyscrapers. From the Metromover you can see the Bank of America tower and the Miami-Dade cultural center and many more important buildings.
After you have seen enough of the downtown continue driving south. The traffic normally is slow here but it gets better after you have left behind the downtown. In Miami you should try to visit downtown at daytime and avoid rush hours when the traffic gets extremely slow.
The next destination on our self-drive Miami sightseeing trip is the wealthy garden suburb of Coral Gables, which in fact is a separate city. Coral Gables is one of the richest neighborhoods in the US, full of elegant houses surrounded by lush gardens.
Coral Gables was planned in the 1920s by the architect George Merrick and most houses were built in a similar style.
Drive up and down Coral Gables for a while and enjoy the winding tree-lined streets and the pretty villas. We we driving in Coral Gables round Halloween and there was wonderful Halloween decoration in the gardens.
University of Miami
Coral Gables has the University of Miami. It’s unfair that some universities have campuses and gardens like this… I would really like to study in this place.
Back in Coral Gables, it’s time to relax in the Venetian pool. This must be the most beautiful public swimming-pool in the world. The Venetian Pool opened in 1924 as a part of the plan George Merrick had for Coral Gables.
The pool was built on coral rocks that still border it and the fresh pool water comes from a natural spring.
There are two waterfalls for you to enjoy, and cave-like grottoes to swim in.
The houses, the loggias and the towers are all built in a Venetian style and there’s a beautiful Italian bridge to a small island.
Celebrities and movie stars have been visiting the Venetian Pools and concerts and special occasions are being arranged here.
And what surprised me: this little water paradise is open for anybody and in addition at a low cost, yet small children are not allowed.
Southern Coral Gables
The souther part of Coral Gables is full of hidden canals and pretty palm-fringed streets. We took the Old Cutler Road to Matheson Hammock State Park.
Matheson Hammock State Park
Matheson Hammock State Park has short walking trails in the hammock where you can see crooked mahogany trees growing in the water.
The State Park has a man made atoll pool that is flushed by the tide and a pretty white beach, but at the time we visited the water wasn’t clean as we had supposed so we were happy that we had been in the Venetian Pools just an hour ago.
From here you can head back towards Miami and have a short stop in Coconut Grove.
Coconut Grove is a mixed area with different populations, stylish homes next to a more original Bahamian community.
The center, Coconut Grove Village is an outdoor shopping-mall with popular restaurants and evening life. Try Johnny Rockets burgers opposite the mall!
Key Biscayne is another wealthy area with luxurious houses. It is an island connected with Miami by a high bridge where you get great views of downtown Miami. Drive along the famous Key Biscayne Harbor Drive and see all the luxury that exists here.
Key Biscayne is a residential area with some great beaches, but there’s also the Miami Sea Aquarium and the Bill Baggs State Park at the south end of the island.
Bill Baggs State Park
The Bill Baggs State Park has a beach, walking paths and a historic lighthouse that was built back in 1825. The lighthouse is the oldest standing structure in the Miami-Dade County.
Did you know that Key Biscayne has one of the best beaches in Miami, Crandon Park? Crandon Park is 5 kilometres long and shaded with palms.
Hobie Island Beach Park
And Key Biscayne has one more beach, a small sandy beach on the sheltered lagoon side that has calm waters. The Hobie Island Beach Park has calm waters so it’s good to swim and in addition it is a good place for evening views of Miami downtown.
Little Havana is the center of the huge Cuban community in Miami. It is an area where many Hispanic groups live.
In fact 70 per cent of Miami’s population speak Spanish as their first language, and in shops and restaurants all over Miami you sometimes have to speak Spanish to get understood. Spanish is spoken more than English.
Go and walk the streets and feel the atmosphere and taste some good Cuban food. Calle Ocho (SW 8th Street) is the main street of Little Havana.
After a delicious Cuban dinner (recommend!) it may be time to finish your Miami sightseeing for the day and drive back to your hotel. From the freeway you can see the evening lights of downtown Miami:
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