Ahhhh, Miami, Florida, it’s quite a place. The sexy people are everywhere, the beaches are gorgeous, and there is something for everyone. However, when most people go there, they end up dropping hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on long weekends alone. We both have family in the Fort Lauderdale and Miami areas, so we frequently visit the area. Our FI-minded ways, however, do not easily align with the price points in the hottest city in the Southeast U.S. We have been trying out different ways to experience South Beach and nearby areas for years now, so here are our tips for visiting Miami in style, yet on a friendly budget.
1. Go off-season
Miami is popular year-round, however, especially so in December for the holidays, and in March and April for Spring Break. We actually ended up scoring an unbelievable deal this March with Frontier Airlines for only $98 roundtrip from Philly, due to a promotional sale they were having. Usually, we go in February, May, or October. Airplane tickets are normally lower during the off-season, as well as the accommodations. Additionally, be sure to check out if Miami is having any festivals or events when you plan your trip. They have some huge gatherings around big events, which also drives prices up. When you save on the flights, you can afford to splurge on something else, say, getting tipsy 10,000 ft in the air.
2. Book accommodations through discounted providers
The ultimate discounted provider is a friend or a family member in the area who you could stay with, even if they have unusual pets that like to get down in unusual ways. 🙂
If you are still working on convincing someone to move there, then read on. Avoid booking your stay through the typical Hotels.com or Expedia.com. Hotels in Miami are super expensive, even the low rated ones, unless you happen to get lucky and find a deal on a decent 3-star place. Instead, consider renting an apartment through VRBO and get a place with a kitchen to avoid having to eat out every time. Keep in mind that most apartments/condos for rent have a minimum night stay requirement.
Another way to save money on accommodations is to book through Hotwire, which hides the name of the hotel, but gives you enough information to make an informed decision. For those of you planning a rather spontaneous trip to Miami, check out the Hotel Tonight app, which sells hotel rooms at an increasing discount the closer you are to the check-in date (seven days or less).
3. Pack your walking shoes
Unless you want to drive while on vacation, and miss out on all the tipsy afternoon possibilities, I recommend you forgo a car rental. Firstly, Miami drivers are not the best, and that’s putting it mildly. Secondly, there are often lots of traffic jams. Instead, stay somewhere within walking distance to South Beach, even if it’s a 20+ minute walk. You will get some cardio exercise in, and avoid stress due to traffic. Another great option nowadays is “Ubering”. Uber is an app that connects private drivers with people who need a ride. We personally tested this service out a few times while in Miami, and it was awesome! It’s safe, friendly, and cheaper than regular cabs. Use this invite code and your first ride is free. For example, a fare from downtown Miami to Lincoln Rd. in South Beach was only $10. It is a great option to get around, especially on the nights you plan to drink. Hello, designated driver!
4. Pre-drink and pre-eat before going out
There are many great restaurants and bars in Miami, with perfect people-watching and mingling opportunities. The bummer is that a typical drink, say a mojito, is $12 and up. Food is often over-priced, as Miami has a higher cost of living than many other U.S. cities, and the constant tourism demands don’t help either. To avoid racking up big tabs, we did the following:
- Pack a picnic and BYOB when going to the beach in Miami, just don’t be obvious (i.e. use masking containers, and don’t bring glass bottles.) Some beaches actually allow alcohol in non-glass containers. You know you’ll be tempted to eat and drink something after all that swimming, walking and playing at the beach, so prepare in advance.
- Pre-drink responsibly when heading out for the night. We made our own delicious mojitos at home before Ubering somewhere to party the night away. Mr. Enchumbao is becoming quite the bartender.
- Avoid a point of starvation. Eat before you go out, or at least bring snacks. This way you won’t feel like you could eat a horse if you decide to dine out.
- Our preference was to eat breakfast and lunch at home, and go out for an afternoon cappuccino or light dinner.
Here are the places we checked out in South Beach.
This cozy french bakery cafe is a great little gem. It’s on a prominent corner of Lincoln Rd., which is a pedestrian only street with lots of restaurants and shops, so people watching is amazing here. They are kind of like a Panera with a more french twist. We came here for cappuccino and pastries a few times. They have great outside seating to enjoy the treats and the views.
I love me some falafel! 🙂 If you have never tried them, it’s essentially deep-fried balls made of ground chickpeas, and then you put them into a pita with a host of other yummy ingredients. It’s kind of like a Chipotle burrito, except Middle Eastern style. If you’re conscious about eating deep-fried dishes, there are more healthy ways to cook them at home. Since we eat a mostly vegan diet, places like Maoz Vegetarian are great because they have healthy, flavorful and inexpensive options for us. This location is right off of Lincoln Rd., so if you are in the area, drop in for a bite.
2017 update: looks like this location closed. So bummed!
This is a great pizza restaurant on Lincoln Rd. You can either dine in or take out. We usually take out on the way to the beach. You can get a pretty good size slice for about $6. It’s really yummy, and has plenty of vegetarian items to choose from.
We decided to try this tapas place on a Wednesday night, their special promo night of $1 for many montaditos, or bites, on the menu, instead of the usual $2+. We ordered a few of the mini sandwiches, which were pretty good, and a pitcher of sangria, which was very basic and a bit watery, but for $9, it did the job of getting us nice and tipsy. I’d avoid their fried stuff though, as I think the oil they use is super cheap and leaves you feeling ehhhh. They had a wait when we arrived at 10 p.m., which confirmed that this is a hot spot on a Wednesday night. However, it was messy around tables, as they seemed short-staffed and didn’t clean up well in between clients. Service was super slow too. It took us about 20 minutes to get our drinks and probably an hour to get the tapas. Overall, I’d recommend checking this place out, but do it on another day. Avoid the crazy busy night. It’s not that expensive anyways.
Skip this: Pita Loca
We tried another falafel place in the southern part of South Beach called Pita Loca. The food was decent, however, the service quite awful. This waiter had the attitude of what I experienced during Soviet Union times. That is, they assume you have no choice but to get your food there, so they are rude and argumentative. Plus, they messed up the order and didn’t even apologize for it.
5. Party at clubs without a cover
Miami has some fun clubs, but they are notorious for long lines, super shallow or “I’ve got connections” ways to get in, and hefty cover charges, so your best bet is to get in early or find clubs without a cover. We found a few places that were entertaining at no cover charge.
Mangos Tropical Cafe
Mangos, located in South Beach, has scantily dressed staff dancing on the bar, while you sip some drinks. They also have really good mojitos here, and for an extra charge, you can take the glasses with you as a souvenir. The trick is to come here earlier in the day before they start charging a cover.
Taverna Opa is a Greek restaurant located in a two-story plaza in downtown Miami. This area has several spots to eat and drink, and it’s always good to have options. After 11 p.m., they move some tables out, and you can dance well into the morning hours. We visited this place on a Saturday night, and DJ Gabe was amazing! He played a little bit of everything, and mixed it so well, that I only sat out three songs all nights. That’s saying a lot, as I am a danceaholic, but only when the music is right. Fun fact: they release bar cocktail napkins from the ceiling throughout the night, confetti style, which provides for a funky floor decor and an opportunity to slip and blame it on the tissues, but is very useful if you catch one on the way down to pat the face down. With all the dancing, you are bound to break a sweat. 🙂
6. Take advantage of the free activities
I have yet to see a beach in the Miami area that I don’t like. They are great and free! We spent most days swimming and lounging at South Beach, which has some soft waves, pleasant sand, and clear waters. Then, we discovered the Key Biscayne Area in the last few days. Specifically, we went further into the key to Crandon Park, southern entrance. It’s a place where you can come for the whole day, about a 15-20 minute drive from South Beach. They have barbecue grills and tables, bathroom facilities, children’s playground, and the beach itself, of course. The cool thing about this beach is how shallow and flat it is. In most places, you’re only knee or waist deep. Not great for swimming laps, but perfect for lounging in the water for hours.
Note: There is a $5 cost to park there for the day though, if you are coming in a car.
Wynwood Art District
We stayed within a 10-minute driving distance from the Wynwood area and were able to appreciate the beauty of the Wynwood Art District. Wynwood is an up and coming neighborhood across the bay from South Beach. Take some time to walk around and enjoy the cozy streets with restaurants, shops and cafes. We had a yummy cappuccino at Panther Coffee.
We were lucky enough to catch the Calle 8 Latin Festival, which celebrates people from Latin American origins coming together with great music, street food, and drinks to go. It was held in the Little Havana neighborhood. There were about eight stages set up along the street, and you can check who’ll be performing where. We caught one of the artists we like, Tito El Bambino, at the main stage. It got pretty hot walking in the sun, so plan your day well. We came only from 5-7 p.m. and still broke a sweat in the heat. It was pretty crowded and the floors were messy by end of day, so wear closed shoes and don’t bring small children. It’s a drinking crowd.
By now, you can probably tell it’s one of my favorite hobbies, and it happens to be very entertaining and always free. You can do it anywhere, for as long as you like, and keep your hard-earned money in your pocket for something that’ll make you truly happy.
7. Make your exit on a budget
So many people cab it to and from airports, what?! It’s very expensive in general, especially in a city like Miami, where traffic jams are notorious and spring up like a weed you didn’t expect to show up. Look into public transportation options, such as Miami Beach Airport Flyer, Ubering it to the airport, or riding a shuttle with some other folks.
Now that you know the FI-friendly way to visit Miami, get your sexy beachwear ready. Bon voyage!
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What are your saving tips for how to enjoy Miami, or vacation in general, on a budget? And, what are the things you choose to splurge on?