Our game plan for enjoying this sunny city without breaking the bank.

By Tom Austin
November 12, 2015
Courtesy Wynwood Walls

Miami is not generally considered an inexpensive vacation destination, but to see the city like locals do—with its mix of funky cultural enclaves, cheap ethnic restaurants, and public art—can be surprisingly affordable. Even in Miami, the best things in life are sort of free. 

Saturday: Little Havana and Wynwood

Start off the day in Little Havana with the $4.75 breakfast at El Exquisito, a hearty eye-opener with everything from Cuban toast to eggs to café con leche. Then, wander down to the Little Havana Cigar Factory to watch cigars being made: there’s nothing quite so Miami as the bracing aroma of a cigar factory.

From Little Havana, it’s a short drive to Wynwood, which has emerged as a shopping destination with thoughtful retail operations: Wynwood Letterpress, for example, carries elegant stationary, and the hybrid shop and café Made in Italy offers an assortment of Italian cheeses and cured meats. For lunch or early dinner, head to the echoes-of-the-Caribbean B&M Market (219 NE 79th St.; 305-757-2889), which has a small restaurant, is owned by natives of Guyana, and was featured on the Miami edition of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.” The restaurant is known for Roti, and a curry goat roti ($8) goes well with a Jamaican grapefruit-flavored Ting soda ($1.50).

Afterwards, head back to Little Havana for a little down time at CubaOcho Art Center. With food, drinks, murals, and caricatures of Cuban stars, the place is like stepping into old Havana. The neighborhood also has two fun dance palaces, Hoy Como Ayer and Ball & Chain, a historic (and inexpensive) bar that features acts like the Spam Allstars, Nil Lara, and Palo! For a nightcap, sip yet another café con leche at the venerable restaurant Versailles, the center of nocturnal Little Havana and heated Cuban exile political discussions.  

Sunday: Art All Around

Miami is emerging as a contemporary art center, and art—free art—is everywhere. Serge Toussaint’s surreal street murals, which span from images of President Obama to the Miami Heat, are all around Little Haiti. In Wynwood, visit the “Wynwood Walls,” a park with curated street murals launched in 2009 by the late developer Tony Goldman. Don’t miss the large-scale works by Shepard Fairey, Kenny Scharf, and Ron English. For lunch, stop by the nearby S&S Diner, known for classic All-American diner fare: a cup of chili costs $4.95 and will satiate the fiercest appetite.

Afterwards, work off lunch with a visit to the Perez Art Museum Miami for the exhibition “No Boundaries: Aboriginal Australian Contemporary Abstract Painting,” on view through January. The show is drawn from the collection of Debra and Dennis Scholl. In 2016, the Scholls are mounting a new exhibition of Aboriginal Australian Contemporary art, entirely focused on female Aboriginal Australian artists. (Adult admission to PAMM is $16, though admission is free on the second Saturdays of the month and the first Thursday of the month.)

Related: T+L’s Guide to Miami

At sunset, take a whimsy-fueled stroll on the beach along Miami Beach, from South Pointe Park to 86th Street. Miami Beach’s lifeguard outposts were once featured in the book South Beach Lifeguard Stations, and have embraced themes that include The Jetsons and surfing. The lifeguard stations are the happiest public art imaginable, a fitting prelude to another multi-cultural culinary infusion on Miami Beach, El Rey Del Chivito. The Uruguayan institution features a Classic Chivito sandwich for two, with ham, beef, and a fried egg for $12.90. It’s the perfect, hearty end to an equally substantial Miami day.

Tom Austin is based in Miami and covers the Florida beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter at @TomAustin__.