Photo Credit: Ann Baekken

Although it’s just one district in the city of Miami, South Beach has a name and reputation that is all its own. Considered by many to be the Riviera of the United States, South Beach is all about class, elegance and fun. For years, South Beach has been the refuge of society’s upper crust, but an increasingly prominent Cuban influence has added a lot more character and excitement to the area in the last century or so. With its thumping nightlife and ultra popular beaches, it can be tricky finding unusual attractions or out of the way places to enjoy when in South Beach and Miami; however, there are definitely some hidden gems in this eccentric region.

Sightseeing and Attractions: South Beach’s Best Kept Secrets

You don’t have to have a lot of money to enjoy South Beach and the surrounding area – although it helps. Fortunately, there are many quirky and unique things to see and do in South Beach and greater Miami; check out a few of them below:

Go On A Balloon Ride

Many people don’t realize it, but there are several opportunities to go on hot air balloon rides in South Beach and Miami. These excursions popularly head out right around sunrise, and are a delightful way to get a whole different perspective of Miami, South Beach and the rest of the area. While others spend the day at the beach, you can float happily right over them.

Explore The Art Deco District

The vibrant and exciting appearance of South Beach’s Art Deco district is what usually springs to mind when most people think about this part of Miami. Set off on foot and explore the Art Deco district and its many pastel colored buildings when in South Beach. If you head out early enough in the day, you can beat the crowds – and the worst of the heat, too.

Versace’s Mansion

The history of South Beach isn’t strictly about fun and games. One of its most famous residents, Giovanni “Gianni” Versace, was killed right in front of his mansion back in the year 1997. In many ways, the fashion designer epitomized what South Beach was all about and it is interesting to walk in front of his former mansion to get a feel for how Miami’s elite live. It is located right in front of the beach and is easy to find.

Oleta River State Recreation Park

Even though it’s the largest urban park in the state of Florida, the Oleta River State Recreation Park is rarely crowded. Fiddler crabs and eagles are in abundance here, lending an exciting feel of nature to the premises. Try canoeing or kayaking along the river to get a bit of exercise while still having a phenomenal time in the South Beach region.

Best Kept Secrets For Families & Couples

On the outset, it may appear that South Beach is strictly geared toward retirees and other older folks. While there are many attractions like that, there are also plenty of things for couples and children to get a kick out of, too. Consider one of these:

Venetian Pool

A former limestone quarry has been transformed into a pool with a lovely waterfall and other neat features. Located in nearby Coral Gables, the Venetian Pool is something that the whole family will enjoy. Interestingly enough, the pool is spring fed and is drained each day and refilled with fresh water every morning. Esther Williams once swam here, so history buffs should take note.

Hit The Beach

If you and your sweetheart want to hang out and relax together, you could rent some beach chairs and umbrellas and stretch out on the beach in South Beach. It is a great place to people watch, too, and the two of you will have an entrancing time no matter what time of day you choose to do it.

Barnacle Historic State Park

With a brief excursion over to nearby Coconut Grove, couples can get a taste of “Old Florida” at this estate that was once owned by one of the area’s early pioneers. Indeed, the home was built by Ralph Middleton Munroe and offers visitors a glimpse into what life was like in the area so many years ago.

Eating - Sample the Local Cuisine

No visit to Miami or South Beach would be complete without sampling some of the incredible Cuban cuisine that has helped make the city’s culinary reputation so strong. If you can, try out some traditional empanadas or pan con bistec for a real treat. Cuban desserts are amazing, as well; sample some bocaditos or pastelitos if the opportunity presents itself.

When To Go & How to Get There

Miami International Airport is the natural place to begin any vacation to South Beach. As a massive airport, there are always plenty of options in terms of flights and times. Otherwise, if you’re arriving by car then you’ll most likely take I-95 or I-75 for at least part of your journey over to South Beach.

Summertime in South Beach can be very, very hot and very, very humid. For that reason, many people prefer to visit during the winter. Keep in mind that the late winter usually coincides with Spring Break, and crowds can be absolutely atrocious. December is usually a very good choice for those who want to avoid the crowds along with the high temperatures and humidity of the summer.