David Alexander Arnold

As part of a new series, Travel + Leisure is exploring America one three-day weekend at a time. Here’s what to do on a short trip to the Magic City.

Tom Austin

Tourists typically cling to the clichéd surf, sun, and bake routine of Miami Beach hotel life, but the pedestrian-friendly downtown Miami is locals-rule turf, full of authentic, only-in-Miami experiences.Here’s the perfect three-day itinerary for downtown Miami and a few side trips, full of the secret pleasures Miamians enjoy.

Related: How To Visit Biscayne National Park

Day One

From Miami International Airport, it’s a 20-minute taxi or Uber ride to the new East, Miami, the only United States East hotel from the Hong Kong–based Swire Hotels. Swire Properties’ adjacent Brickell City Centre has a weekly farmers’ market, as does the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Almost any show at the historic Olympia Theater—where the young Elvis once dazzled Miami teens—is worthwhile.

The surrounding Arts + Entertainment (A+E) District features such fun events as “Miami Soul Train,” a dance party on the Metromover, the elevated public transit train servicing downtown Miami.

Related: Things to do in Miami

Hit Museum Park on Biscayne Bay for a free yoga class and a fix of contemporary art: it’s anchored by the Herzog & de Meuron–designed Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM).

At the 1926 Langford Hotel, linger over a cocktail-infused sunset at the rooftop lounge, Pawn Broker, followed by dinner downstairs at PB Station: don’t miss the roasted octopus. Both Langford operations are helmed by the local James Beard Award–nominated Pubbelly Restaurant Group.

Day Two

In the morning, walk to the MDC Museum of Art & Design and the Miami Center for Architecture & Design. Then, Uber to the new Confidante hotel on Miami Beach for breakfast at the Salty Donut’s pop-up operation: the Relentless Roasters coffee and maple-bacon-brioche doughnut with Miami Smokers bacon is pure Miami.

Hop back to mainland Miami and sample the Wynwood aesthetic, beginning with the graffiti murals of Wynwood Walls and the new Wynwood outpost of Books & Books: Books + Books + Bikes + Lebo is a collaboration with No Boundaries bike store and Miami artist Lebo featuring bikes, paintings, vintage vinyl albums, and—of course—books.

In Wynwood, the dinner options include Beaker & Gray, highlighted by the tempura grouper; first-rate zucchini lasagna with macadamia ricotta at Matthew Kenney’s vegan Plant Food & Wine Miami, within the supremely elegant wellness center Sacred Space Miami; KYU, acclaimed for its Korean fried chicken and Thai fried rice stone pot.  

After dinner, head back downtown for Chilean wine at Atton Brickell Miami, the first American property for the Santiago-based based Atton hotel chain. Other nightcap options include ME Miami—the inaugural United States outpost from ME by Melia, which includes the restaurant STK Miami—and Sugar, the Asian-inspired outdoor lounge on the 40th floor of East, Miami.

Day Three

For breakfast, try egg-stuffed arepas at Quinto La Huella at East, and work it off with a jog along Baywalk in Museum Park.

Take a day trip to Miami Beach, starting at 1 Hotel & Homes South Beach: the hotel just launched Watr restaurant on the 1 Rooftop, featuring kimchi tuna poke and bento boxes with shrimp tempura rolls. After lunch, tour the art galleries attached to two smart independent movie theaters, the Miami Beach Cinematheque  and O Cinema.

Warm up for dinner with a gin fizz at Sweet Liberty, voted Best New American Cocktail Bar at the recent Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards in New Orleans. For dinner, start with a high-Miami tuna chicharron roll at Sushi Garage. Then, savor the best possible Bolognese/Modenese cuisine at Via Emilia 9, with tortellini that’s akin to stepping into Italy.

Head back to downtown Miami for a final drink at the new W Miami, formerly Viceroy Miami: from the 50th-floor Fifty Ultra Lounge, Miami is one beautiful place.

For more long-weekend itineraries in America's best vacation destinations, click here.

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