When I was growing up in central Pennsylvania, my favorite football team was the Miami Dolphins. I watched the games and Miami seemed so exotic. So different. So hot. As a child from Pennsylvania, Miami seemed so far away. Almost like another planet. Who is almost 50 years old. Now we live in Florida and we often travel to Miami. A lot has changed with the city and it is truly an international hub. Miami is an iconic American city that people around the world have at least heard of, even if they have never been there before. The history of the area is quite long with Spanish settlers first colonizing the area, before passing the hand to the British and finally to the Americans. It was the coming railway in the 19th century that brought people to the area and a highway that connected the keys to the mainland. Homesteading and tourism exploded in the 1920s and during prohibition, many Floridians became wealthy from smuggling Caribbean rum.
21st century Miami is another place, though many vestiges of the past remain. Tourists and tourist hotspots are usually centered around the beach, so if you’re traveling for a beach vacation, there are definitely tons of them in the city, but Miami is also a lot of other things. Check out some of the best things to do in Miami that aren’t just on the beach.
See the monasteries of the old Spanish monastery
While Spain was the first country in Europe to start a new life in the Spanish monastery of the church of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, making it technically the oldest European structure in the Western hemisphere, although it was not technically built here, and was built by the Americans. Confused? We will explain.
In 1133, the Cistercian monastery was built in the city of Sacramenia, Spain, and was dedicated to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. For more than 700 years, the building was used as a monastery in Spain until the mid-1830s, when the Spanish rulers closed it and privatized it. Spain sold Florida to the United States in 1819, and in 1925 entrepreneur William Randolph Hearst bought the remains of the monastery and had it shipped to the United States in 11,000 crates. The crates were in a warehouse in Brooklyn until 1952 where they were after purchased. After 19 months of assembling the monastery blocks, it has become a tourist attraction in North Miami Beach.
Technically, it is the oldest non-Indigenous building in the Western hemisphere. It is now known as the ancient Spanish monastery and it is a beautiful shady place to spend a sunny afternoon.
Hanging out with the Miami Design Preservation League
There is nothing better than getting a crash course in something by people who are super passionate about it. The Miami Design Preservation League are people who are more than just passionate about design and architecture. They live it and breathe it, and they want you to live it too. For budget travelers, the Miami Design Preservation League offers affordable tours in South Beach’s Art Deco district with tours from the illustrious Ocean Drive.
Learn about the colorful and iconic buildings that make Ocean Drive and Miami part of its architectural charm and the glamorous colors and chrome accents that give it personality. The tour is expert and at the end of the hike it feels like you’ve just taken a crash course in art deco history.
Shop on the Bayside Marketplace
There is no doubt that shopping in Miami can cost a good penny. For those looking to make purchases that won’t put them in debt, the Bayside Marketplace is a good alternative. The two-story open-air shopping area is a great spot on the waterfront with over 150 shops and stalls for shopping. Even if you’re not looking for something to buy, hanging out at the Bayside Market is a good option for sightseeing, people watching, and even taking a quick bite to eat.
There is often live music and lots of things for the family to see and check out and for TV fans out there, the mall was often featured on the Miami Vice show.
Surround yourself with monkeys
In 1933, much of Miami’s land was established as a protected area for various endangered monkeys and apes. Florida’s natural vegetation and environment have made it a good area for this effort and now Monkey Jungle is one of the largest monkey conservation areas and is a popular tourist site home to over 400 primates with 30 different species representing them.
Monkey, Jungle, started as an interesting concept. Zoos were not uncommon at that time and most people would have been familiar with the concept of a zoo, but what founder Joseph DuMond wanted to do was allow monkeys to roam freely. The concept of Monkey Jungle is that it is the monkeys that roam of their own free will and that it is the people who are caged. As the park grew, monkeys did not like to be caged, so a compromise was found in favor of monkeys, with human visitors being those caged.
Discover the food and culture of Little Havana
After the Cuban Revolution of 1959, wealthy Cubans took refuge in Miami. With Florida was only 90 miles off the coast of Cuba, the city was soon filled with Cuban immigrants. Little Havana was a predominantly Jewish neighborhood from the 1930s to the 1960s, when it became a cultural hotspot for Cuban exiles fleeing the revolution. Today, Little Havana is a protected area and home to one of the largest Spanish-speaking populations in the United States.
So while you’re here, check out some of the coolest things to do to taste Cuba in Miami.
Party at Ball & Chain: The original Ball & Chain was one of Miami’s largest and most popular clubs even before the neighborhood was known as Little Havana. The club was an extremely popular jazz club in its heyday that brought jazz greats like Billie Holiday and Chet Baker on stage. Today, the Ball & chain has recreated its original 1930s jazz charm, but modernized its cocktail menu and clientele. If you’re looking for live music, dance and 1930s charisma, Ball & Chain will definitely deliver.