Miami, to put it simply, was a big party. Beautiful and warm, it was just the type of vacation we needed from the harsh Boston blizzards. As soon as we arrived, the tropical scenery, Cuban vibes, and blue beaches created an escape that made us forget about our busy lives up north. South Beach was home for the next four days.
We stayed at Casa Grande Suite Hotel in a condo-styled rental on Ocean Drive, across from the beach. Restaurants, bars, and salsa clubs were steps away in both directions, literally. A ten-minute walk from Lincoln Road and a 15 minute drive, (god-forbid there was traffic) from the mainland, we were set.
South Beach is perfect if you're there with friends. You meet some really interesting people (like a random guy holding his pet anaconda on the corner of a sidewalk, which Jyoths and I petted of course) and hear a lot of interesting conversations (like "nah man, they're too classy," amongst other things) as you maneuver your way through the crowd, much of which is intoxicated. We definitely had a few memorable encounters - the liquor store owner who gifted us with a set of shot glasses, the bachelor party (made up of the only Indians we had seen in those four days) that may or may not have sent us champagne, and the almost-racist woman who yelled at us for not learning about the Portuguese Man O'War in the fifth grade. There is no doubt you will leave Miami with a few stories.
Our mornings were reserved for the beach, before it got too crowded or searing hot. And after lunch, we'd venture out to a new area away from the crowds. Through our friends and Yelp, we heard of a few neighborhoods that were popular to see or well-known bars/lounges. Be open to the hole-in-wall restaurants/cafes - sometimes they offer the best food, authentic and cheap. Most of the restaurants along Ocean Drive carry similar menus for a not-so-great price. Take advantage of happy hour, especially for the Corona-ritas.
If you are looking to get away from the beach, definitely explore Brickell and Wynwood. Brickell is a classy and elegant neighborhood near downtown Miami. Meant more for the older crowd, it was still nice to get dressed up, walk around and get drinks at one of its popular lounges, Blue Martini, which has performances from live bands and a great happy hour menu. Wynwood is a must-see for the graffiti art that covers multiple streets. We ran into a local photography taking pictures for a bridal party.
Most of the days we cooked in our suite to save money, but we did eat at two places that come highly recommended. On Wednesday night, go to 100 Montaditos. Montaditos are Spanish tapa-sized sandwiches. And 100 Montaditos serves one hundred different savory and sweet montaditos, all for $1-$3 each on "DollarMania Wednesdays." Make sure you also save one night to eat dinner at Versailles, known for their authentic Cuban cuisine. Everything is so flavorful and delicious, even their small selection of vegetarian sides. Three of us could have easily shared a side of beans, rice, and plantains because the portions were huge (yet decently priced). When you're looking for something to drink, try their piña coladas. Whether it is alcoholic or not, it's delicious and compliments the food perfectly.
STORY, Mansion, and LIV are the three clubs we were able to go to. Miami nightlife is incredibly huge, so make sure to plan ahead, figure out which DJs are playing where and when, and if you need to buy tickets, get them as soon as possible. Nightlife, in general, starts very late so make sure you are energized, but this also gives you the opportunity to go to a few places in one night. For instance, we went to Mango's, a salsa-lover's dream, early so that we could skip the cover, catch some of the professional performances and try to learn salsa before we headed out to Story. The crowds at clubs can also get kind of crazy, especially when there are DJs headlining, so be prepared. We determinedly pushed our way to the front, so we could party with Porter Robinson on our last night.
My greatest advice, would be to plan as much as you can. One thing Miami is not, is cheap. Having an idea of what you want to do, will help in reserving Groupons, finding places to go at night, etc., while staying in a reasonable budget. But if you do ever get stuck (i.e. traffic, not getting a reservation, weather, etc.), be a little spontaneous. There are tons of things to do and see; even if it doesn't work out exactly as planned, chances are you'll still find a way to make some memories.