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For decades, Miami has been one of the hottest vacation spots in the US. It is certainly THE destination for those looking for tons of sun, beaches and a vibrant night life! And let's not forget the avid shoppers: every year tourists from all over Latin America and Europe choose Miami for their shopping sprees. The city offers a wide variety of options for all budgets and preferences: from department and chain stores to boutiques and designer stores to everything in between.
Now, what if your vibe is a different one? What if spending all day on the beach or dressing up to go dance the night away at night clubs is not your idea of fun? Instead, you prefer to do something more low-key or perhaps something related to culture, arts or nature. For those of you, fortunately, there are many other activities you can do when you happened to be in The Magic City, as locals like to call it. Read on for a few fun suggestions that will not require you to break the bank.
1. MORE THAN BOOKS AT BOOKS & BOOKS I read somewhere that the joke going around about this iconic bookstore is that it should be called Book & Book (in singular form) because South Floridians supposedly don't read. Judging from the number of events around literature and culture they host all year long (e.g. book presentations and signings, conversations with authors, classes, etc.), I dare to say that is not the case. I invite you to check out their full calendar for more information on their upcoming events. Their selection of books is actually pretty vast too. And, as if that weren't enough, their cafes are not to be missed. They serve breakfast, lunch or dinner, and they feature Wine Wednesdays (50% of all wine bottles all day long) at all three locations, among other events. Their Coral Gables location also offers patrons live music, every Friday and Saturday evening beginning at 7pm.
2. EXPLORE COCONUT GROVE BY BIKE In South Florida, there's no better neighborhood for a bike ride than Coconut Grove. Its tree-shaded streets provide the perfect setting to admire the amazing water views, its charming architecture and its diverse flora and fauna. You can do this on your own or with friends. Don't have a bike? No problem! You'll find a number of bike rentals in the area, including citibike and lime at very reasonable rates. Interested in learning more about the area's history, traditions and nature? Royal Palm Tours offers a free bike tour of the area the 1st and 3rd Saturday of each month, starting at 9:30 am (weather permitting, meeting point: Miami City Hall). I've done this tour a couple of times and loved the experience. The guide, Frank Schena, is very knowledgeable and his tours are really informative, aside from always being different.
3. GET THE BEST LOCAL PRODUCE AT PINECREST GARDENS FARMERS MARKET Hands down one of the best farmers market I've been to in the US! You can stop by this wonderful open-air market year round, thanks to Miami's glorious eternal summer. Operating every Sunday from 9am to 2pm, Pinecrest Gardens Farmers Market features a variety of seasonal vegetables and fruits, artisanal bread, pizza and other homemade meals as well as plants and flowers, to name a few. Everything is produced by local growers and small businesses. I do recommend getting there on the early side so you can pick a few things for breakfast...there are so many delicious choices! Bonus: you'll avoid the heat and the crowds (it's very popular among locals).
4. VISIT THE BEAUTIFUL VILLA VIZCAYA ESTATES My first time in Villa Vizcaya was back in summer 1983 and I was mesmerized by its magnificence. It still captivated me when I returned a few weeks ago and it felt like time had frozen. Visiting Villa Vizcaya is a timeless experience indeed. Built between 1914 and 1922, it was supposed to resemble an Italian villa from the 1600s. Its perfectly kept gardens were designed then with Italian and French elements, adapted to the sub-tropical environment. Today, it provides the perfect backdrop to have a peaceful time, read a book, meditate, or simply admire its beauty. It is also great for photo shoots: it is not rare to run into wedding couples or quinceañeras posing for the camera of a photographer around its many picturesque spots. Villa Vizcaya opens Wednesday through Monday 9:30am-4:30pm. They also host a number of events throughout the year.
5. STROLL DOWNTOWN CORAL GABLES One of my favorite neighborhoods in Miami is certainly Coral Gables. I love its characteristic Mediterranean architecture, which reminds me of beautiful Spain. Its downtown area has gone through some extensive renovations in recent years. Fortunately, the urban planners in charge of this project have made sure to keep its unique personality intact. Miracle Mile is the ideal place for a stroll in the evening, since it now boasts wide sidewalks with shops, restaurants and cafes. Giralda Avenue has become a pedestrian street too and visitors love it. Want to explore beyond the retail area? Then, I suggest you ride the air-conditioned trolley that goes around the neighborhood's main attractions. You can also attend different events all year round, such as Live Music at the Plaza (corner of Merrick Way and Aragon Avenue) every Friday from 6 to10pm.
Instead of heading to the same, crowded places you tend to visit when you're in Miami, why not engage in some of these low-key activities next time you have a few hours to spare? I bet you'll regret not doing it much earlier.