Road Trip: What to See, Do, and Eat to Make a Cheap Miami Vacation

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Summer weekends are made for road trips. They won’t take you as far as fast as jumping on a plane, but in addition to being cheaper and less stressful, road trips are way more rewarding than flying. (Because what’s better than you and your bestie tearing down the highway with the windows down and Despacito playing at top volume?)

One of the best places for road trips is Florida; specifically, South Florida between Miami and the Keys. Locals do this route all the time, but the most driving that tourists usually do in Florida is between the airport and South Beach — and it’s usually experienced second-hand, from the back seat of a taxi.

But there’s a lot of beauty and strangeness (emu farm, anyone?) in Florida.

Here’s what happened — and where I stopped — when I switched it up on a recent visit to Miami (e.g. enlisted some friends, jumped in a Chevy Malibu Hybrid, and got out of town).

First stop: Check in and day drinks at East Hotel.

East Hotel in Brickell is amazing. It’s modern and sexy and all of the things [that you want a hotel to be]. The pool is particularly awesome. I spent the first afternoon drinking poolside – they make a great margarita – while waiting for my friends to arrive.

Photo: East Hotel

Nighttime: Solo dinner at Cantina La Veinte. (Don’t feel sorry for me dining alone. Trust: I made friends.) I didn’t have a car yet and my friends were arriving later in the evening so I walked 10 minutes to this fantastic Mexican restaurant by Chef Santiago Gomez. Tacos, mezcal, and one of the prettiest restaurant interiors I’ve ever seen.

Pretty Interior Cantina La Viente

Photo: c/o Miami Chef

Day 2 starts with getting the car. My complice for the day is Carlos Yustis, the Mexican-born, now Floridian sportscaster behind @yustisfutbol. Here we are in front of our Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid pretending we’re car models. (I know; don’t give up my day job.)

Chevy Amanda

Photo: @yustisfutbol

Carlos lives in Florida, so Gracias a Dios, there was someone in the car who knew how to get to all the places we wanted to go.

The first place on the list was Robert Is Here — weird name, weirder (in a good way) place — that’s 30 minutes outside Miami and known for its amazing licuadas.

The licuadas (I had strawberry with guava) were as good as everyone said they’d be, but the even crazier thing is that Robert is Here is also a fruit stand and an animal farm. Yeah, you read that right… an animal farm. Here’s a picture of the emu that stalked me while I tried to take a picture of a baby goat.

Robert Baby Goat

Photo: Amanda Cargill

Fully loaded and ready to roll, we left Robert Is Here and drove towards the Keys. Confession: the goal wasn’t to get to Key Largo or even Key West; it was to chill and listen to Manu Chau and look at the mangroves and maybe buy a keychain at a cheesy souvenir shop. And that’s exactly what we did until we turned around and drove back towards Calle Ocho.

We were hungry. What can I say?

Calle Ocho Restaurant

Photo: Shutterstock

I love Calle Ocho: the food, the domino park, the art. If you haven’t been, go there on your next visit to Miami.

Calle Ocho Dominos

Photo: Shutterstock

(And if you live in Miami and you haven’t been, you are missing out on one of life’s great pleasures; namely, Cuban food that’s better than the food actually served in Cuba. #truth)

Calle Ocho Street

Photo: Shutterstock

Well-fed, we headed from Cuba to Haiti. Little Haiti, that is, where we stumbled into a super cool record store called Sweat Records and a performance by Miami-based Psychedelic Tropical Soul band, Elastic Bond.

Sweat Records

Photo: Amanda Cargill

Led by Honduran vocalist Sofy Encanto and long considered rising stars in the Latin alternative music scene — NPR World Café chose Elastic Bond as their ‘Next’ featured artist in 2013 — their recently released Honey Bun is a trip worth taking.

We spent a good amount of time walking around Little Haiti — stopping in shops, snacking on papitas and just soaking up the culture and environment. It was 7pm — time for dinner and drinks — before we knew it.

And so we drove to Wynwood – home to murals, mayhem, and some of the most exciting restaurants in Miami. One of the first spots to plant its flag in Miami was Wynwood Kitchen (pictured below), the restaurant right next door to the iconic Wynwood Walls.

wynwood kitchen

Photo: Amanda Cargill

After several small plates — don’t miss the tequeños, ropa vieja empenadas, and bacon-wrapped dates — plus one margarita and one mocktail (drinking and driving don't mix), it was time to call it a night.

Day 3 began at sunrise. It was time to return the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid and do as every other Miami tourist does (aka go to South Beach).

We checked out of East Hotel and parted ways: Carlos to his career and his fiance @AmandaLaGringa, a popular Latin food and culture blogger, and me to my friend Bryan, who had flown in from New York the night before and was waiting for me at the recently renovated and reopened Plymouth Hotel in South Beach.

plymouth hotel

Photo: Instagram via @theplymouthhotel

From here on out, it was a different kind of road trip – one with bikes. Bryan and I rented two Citi Bikes and cycled to the quiet residential part of South Beach where all the old homes are. Not sure of the name of the neighborhood but it was the kind of place I want to live. #daretodream

sobe bikes

Photo: Shutterstock

We rode for at least three hours then returned to the hotel for lunch and a nap. Don’t judge. Vacationing is hard work.

We rallied for dinner at Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill, The Plymouth’s intimate Asian fusion restaurant that’s as popular with Miami locals as it is with hotel guests. Below is the restaurant’s open kitchen.

Blue Ribbon

Photo: c/o The Plymouth Hotel

I had heard the Fried Chicken with Wasabi Honey and the Oxtail Fried Rice were not to be missed, so despite sushi being in the restaurant’s name, Bryan and I opted for these land-based signature dishes. We did, though, share a Negi Hama (Yellowtail & Scallion) Maki. All of it lived up to the hype.

Blue Ribbon Chicken

Photo: c/o The Plymouth Hotel

The next morning was our last in Miami. We were returning to New York later that night. Rather than run and see and do and go, we decided to sleep in, pack slow, and spend the afternoon drinking white wine by the pool. The long weekend was over. The road trip was done. But the memories – seeing new sights, hearing new songs, and finding new roads – live on in my mind (and on my phone).

Plymouth Pool

Photo: Instagram via @theplymouthhotel