Monday, July 11, 2016

Where to Travel: Miami

Usually when I vacation in Miami, I strictly stay on South Beach. With pristine waters, incredible lounges and nightclubs, and more than enough bars/restaurants to pick from, what more could a vacationer ever ask for?

Well, a recent birthday trip to Miami fortunately got me off the island and exploring more parts of the city. And, I’ve seen the light; Miami truly has a ton of rich, cultural and eclectic offerings to excite the curious traveler. From gigantic art murals in Wynwood to upscale lounges in Brickell and the historic Little Havana, Magic City is a must for anyone who’s a foodie/party animal/club-goer/beach bum, all rolled into one person.

Below is the #WilsonsGuide Top 10 List of MiamiCheck out the list and leave your favorite sights to see in the city, in the comments section below!

10) Where to Eat: An Intimate Dinner @ Bagatelle Miami 

While there are nine Bagatelle locations throughout the world — including one in L.A. — it took me flying almost 3,000 miles across the country to finally check out Bagatelle. Coined as bistro-meets-chic, this South Beach restaurant serves up French-inspired cuisine within an intimate and classy ambiance. And if you love truffle, Bagatelle is just the place for you. They’re generous with the truffle in so many of the options — including pizza, chicken, fries, mashed photos and gnocchi. The truffle is so good and rich and decadent. Also, speaking of the gnocchi, you'll definitely want to order it. Bagatalle makes its very own French-style gnocchi. In this version, the traditionally used potato is substituted for wheat, water and flour. The results are a divinely light pasta that literally melts in your mouth. Also not to be missed are the desserts. A great choice for a low-key or romantic date! 

9) Where to Drink: Afternoon happy hours @ Ocean Dr. on South Beach

Yes, it’s touristy and yes, it’s probably overpriced, but a trip to Miami surely wouldn’t be complete without a stop at one of the restaurants/bars lining Ocean Dr. in South Beach. This street, which is bustling between 5th and 15th Avenues, is a major part of the Miami Art Deco District. You’ll find scores of hotels and buildings still sporting the signature art deco look — bright colors, arcs and other geometric shapes. While the strip can be packed at any given time, with tourists walking around and hosts/hostesses haggling you to stop at their restaurants, during the precious two to three hours during the afternoon happy hour time frame, prices are slashed considerably. It’s not uncommon to find 2 for 1 drink specials, discounted food prices and even free shots. One place we got a steal at was Down N Dirty Tacos and Tequila Bar. They had $1 tacos, free tequila shots and $24 40-oz margaritas (which are big enough to share).


8) Where to Be Merry: Clubbing @ Wall

With seven years in the game, Wall is actually South Beach’s longest running lounge. Nestled within the W South Beach, it’s very exclusive and very upscale. It's also a ton of fun. You’ll rub elbows with celebs like Nick Jonas, gawk at an unusually attractive crowd, hear incredible sets from resident and visiting DJs, and pretty much dance nonstop until the wee hours of the morning. Music varies from techno to the latest R&B and hip-hop, depending on which night you come. When we went, Raekwon just so happened to be there and spontaneously performed a few songs. The crowd went wild. Also, if you're willing to spend the cash and/or have a very large group, definitely consider bottle service. It'll be easier to get in and guarantees seating at one of the many reserved booths lining the walls and dance floor.


7) Where to Eat: Lokal @ Coconut Grove

Coconut Grove is a quaint, upscale area that’s also Miami’s oldest neighborhood. With shaded, tree-lined streets and stunning views of the Biscayne Bay to the east, it has a noticeably more laid-back and easygoing vibe than South Beach. While visiting there, friend of a friend took us to a great eatery, Lokal. With a keen focus on local sourcing, sustainability and eco-friendly practices, Lokal serves up burgers, beers and other hearty items. And while I’m not normally a fan of eating alligator, their “Fresh Alligator Strips” are fantastic. Fried to a beautiful golden brown, they have a light, airy crispiness and the batter that’s coated on them has great flavor. Lokal also sells locally bottled beer to-go and offers free treats for doggies.


The trendy, youthful Brickell neighborhood has no shortage of luxury apartment high-rises and Millennials — and certainly no shortage of posh restaurants, swanky lounges and down-to-earth bars. Sugar, an outdoor bar and garden, is one of the neighborhood’s newest lounges. It’s located 40 stories above ground, on the rooftop of EAST, Miami, a high-end hotel. At Sugar, a maze of earthy green trees decorated in strings of soft lights creates countless cozy nooks, perfect to slip into and engage in long conversations while sipping cocktails. End the night at Blackbird Ordinary, a no frills, action-packed spot that’s open until 5 a.m. Energetic crowds dance indoors, while people outside claim the patio for standing around and talking. DJs vary by night and play a wide range of genres, ranging from old school hip-hop to R&B, reggae and salsa.

Sugar Website, Blackbird Ordinary Website

For a really cool street art experience, head to the Wynwood Arts District. Take in the massive murals that adorn warehouses in this former industrial district. There’s literally streets upon streets of painted and graffiti-laden buildings, depicting so many diverse snapshots of life, in so many different graffiti styles. One area worth stopping by is The Wynwood Walls. Here, you’ll find more than 80,000 square feet of murals, with the artwork rotated frequently. Since its launch in 2009, more than 50 artists from 16 countries have had their work displayed at The Walls. Wynwood is also now home to more than 70 art galleries, hipster shops, breweries and eateries. A few places recommended to me: J Wakefield Brewing, Kush Wynwood and Coyo Taco. I can’t wait to go back to try them!


4) Where to Eat: Al Fresco brunching @ SEASPICE

Situated on a tiny stretch of the Miami River, SEASPICE features al fresco dining on a gorgeous, shaded patio. You can’t beat the picturesque views of the backdrop of the downtown Miami skyline, watching yachts cruise by and occasionally dock at the restaurant so that their passengers can grab a table (next lifetime, I’m trying to live that kind of life). With a heavy emphasis on seafood, the menu features a wide range of goodies, including ceviche, grilled octopus, freshly caught local fish,  larger-than-life lobster and more. There’s also even an entire roasted pig that can be shared between four people. Add into the mix attentive customer service and pretty-but-still-potent cocktails, and you’ve got yourself the perfect recipe for a great place to kill several hours for brunch.


Forget a hotel; stay at one of the luxury apartments at the Icon @ Brickell! You’ll get all of the amenities of a hotel, but with more room and at a considerably cheaper price point. Built in 2008, the entire space feels new, modern and luxurious. The Icon shares communal space with the W Miami, which includes access to a restaurant, a nightclub, a gorgeous two-story spa that boasts several Jacuzzis and an outdoor deck area that has cabanas, guest DJ appearances and an incredible 4,000 square-feet infinity pool. A standard apartment will have a balcony, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and dining area. Check sites like Airbnb for availability and to make reservations.


2) Where to Eat: The Little Havana Food Tour @ Miami Culinary Tours

I’m going to have to say that my favorite activity from this recent birthday trip was taking Miami Culinary Tours’ Little Havana Food Tour. It combined all that I love to do — eating, drinking and being merry — into 2 ½ nonstop hours. Headed by a seasoned guide, the tour stops at six different places, including traditional Cuban restaurants, bars, bakeries and fruit stands. It also stops by the historic Domino Park and a family-owned Cuban cigar shop. What’s great about the tour is that it provides not only delicious food and beverages, but also lots of valuable insight into the history, culture and traditions of the residents of both Miami and Little Havana. From coffee tastings to empanadas, mojitos, dessert pastries and ice cream, they provide ample food on the tour. You’ll leave feeling full — both your stomach and your mind!


1) Where to Be Merry: The beach @ South Beach 

Hands down, there’s nothing like spending some QT on the actual beach at South Beach! Whether it’s squeezing in a few hours during the morning or turning it into an all day excursion, a trip to the warm waters never fails to disappoint. And better yet, it’s a completely FREE activity. Throw a Frisbee, layout, or splash around. Take your own towels, food and libations, or, there are plenty of umbrellas and chairs to rent, and of course, scores of nearby eateries. While I’m a California girl through and out, Florida’s beaches trump California’s beaches anytime!

Ball & Chain was one of the stops on Miami Culinary Tours’ Little Havana Food Tour, and I just loved it so much I went back and fell even more in love with it. To begin, it has such a rich history. Originally opened in the 1930s, it was once the place where many African-American musicians and singers — including the famed Count Basie and talented Billie Holiday — held jam sessions, after performing in the segregated South Beach clubs. Although it closed for decades, Ball & Chain reopened last year in 2015, keeping its original roof. Now, live bands continue to perform here, playing everything from rock and salsa to jazz and more. A bar serves up mean mojitos, and food specials run on any given day. And not to be missed, there’s a massive bright yellow pineapple on the back patio, where many of the live music shows take place.


Leave your favorite Miami destinations in the comments section below, and I'll see you in Miami soon!



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