Downtown Miami Guide
The heartbeat of the city, Downtown Miami is the perfect locale for those wanting to be close to the action of shopping, entertainment, and history, as well as beautiful views of Biscayne Bay. Condos and apartments in Downtown Miami can be found in the city's many high-rise buildings.
People from throughout South Florida head to Downtown Miami to catch a show or a basketball game at the FTX Arena (formerly the AmericanAirlines Arena) or museum hop for a day of science and art. History abounds in museums and sites such as the Freedom Tower, which lights up with changing colors according to the seasons or world happenings.
Downtown Miami is also a large area; its borders are on the mainland and Watson Island, Dodge Island, Brickell Key, and part of Virginia Key, just across the I-395 for easy access to the beaches. Cruise goers head to the Port of Miami to board one of the many ships bound for the Caribbean and beyond.
Like much of South Florida, the origins of Miami can be traced to the construction of Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Highway. Three months after the railroad was connected to the area in 1896, Miami was officially incorporated. In the 1930s, with the arrival of the Art Deco era, Downtown Miami gave rise to the city's only skyscraper from that era, the DuPont Building. In the late 1940s post-WWII, Downtown Miami saw continued growth, with visitors from around the country flocking to the area. Unfortunately, Downtown suffered a blow when I-95 and I-395 cut through the heart of Overtown, Downtown Miami's neighbor to the west, causing a domino effect of building closures and families forced to move to the suburbs. With the opening of Bayside Marketplace on the shores of Biscayne Bay in 1987 and later the Miami Arena, now known as the FTX Arena, Downtown Miami bounced back. In more recent years, world-class museums, hotels, and high-rises have found a home in Downtown Miami, making it the destination it is today.
For those who live and work in the area, it's quite walkable, and there is plenty of public transportation in Downtown Miami. Metrorail serves as Miami-Dade County's heavy rail system and makes multiple stops in Downtown Miami. Riders can take it west to the Miami International Airport, northwest to Palmetto, or south to Dadeland. The city of Miami's free trolley system has even more stops throughout Downtown, including along Biscayne Boulevard and into Brickell and beyond. The Metromover, which is also free, is the city's light rail system that travels almost exclusively in Downtown Miami, with stops in some neighboring areas. Finally, the public bus system travels throughout the county, including Downtown.
The Brightline express train also has a stop in Downtown Miami at MiamiCentral, the southernmost stop on the line. Guests can use the train for service to Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and construction is under way for a stop in Orlando.
Most people in Miami, including in the Downtown area, have their own cars and utilize parking garages made available through their apartment. During certain times of the day, traffic in Downtown Miami can definitely slow you down. Likewise, finding parking in Downtown Miami can be challenging.
Top chefs have opened stand-alone restaurants throughout Downtown, as well as opening on the grounds of high-end hotels that dot the neighborhood: SLS Brickell Miami, EPIC Hotel, Conrad, East, Novotel Miami Brickell, and Hyatt Centric, to name a few. Bars and restaurants in Downtown Miami come and go frequently, but popular destinations at the time of the writing of this guide include Mandolin Aegean Bistro, Cote Miami, Lost Boy, Novikov Miami, and Zuma. Even the museums have dining options, such as Verde at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. The Wharf is an outdoor entertainment venue on the Miami River, with food trucks, games, and bars. Food halls are growing in popularity, and foodies exploring Downtown Miami can check out the restaurants at CentralFare and The Citadel.
The neighboring islands also have unique dining options. On Watson Island, the trendy Joia Beach allows diners to dip their toes in the sand while enjoying their meal. On Brickell Key, the Peruvian La Mar serves up raw dishes.
There are many options for shopping in Downtown Miami, but the largest mall is Brickell City Centre in the Brickell area. The shopping mall boasts 500,000 square feet of retail space spread over four floors, including an expansive Saks Fifth Avenue, Zara, Kendra Scott, Victoria's Secret, Sephora, Intermix, Lululemon, and other popular brands. The mall also offers a number of dining options, such as Casa Tua Cucina, Ch'i, Est. 33 Thai Craft & Kitchen Brewery, and a CMX movie theater. Also in Brickell are The Shops at Mary Brickell Village, where shoppers can purchase goods at boutiques, get pampered at salons, or dine at cafes.
A casual shopping experience can be found at Bayside Marketplace in the heart of Downtown next to the AmericanAirlines Arena. Here, visitors can shop at Bath & Body Works, Guess, GameStop, Foot Locker, Rainbow, and other stores, or dine at Five Guys, Hard Rock Cafe, Chili's, and more.
For grocery shopping in Downtown Miami, two popular options are Publix and Whole Foods. There are also smaller, local grocery stores in the area.
Culture abounds in Downtown Miami, ranging from music, performing arts, visual arts, and history. The Adrienne Arsht Center has been a fixture in the Downtown Maimi skyline since 2006, overlooking the water and hosting big-name comedians, musicals, dance performances, and more. The FTX Arena is home to the Miami Heat basketball team as well as major concerts by touring singers and bands throughout the year. For the visual arts, the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) provides a whopping 200,000 square feet of exhibition space, focusing on modern and contemporary art by artists presenting pieces that showcase the US Latino, African diaspora, Latin American, and Caribbean experience. For little ones, the Miami Children's Museum on Watson Island offers interactive exhibits and events. The building can't be missed as you're going over I-395, as the outside features a large sculpture by famed Brazilian artist Romero Britto. Finally, the newer Frost Science museum is a draw for visitors of all ages — guests enjoy IMAX movies, a dome aquarium with sharks, and four levels of exhibits.
History is also alive in Downtown Miami. The Freedom Tower serves as a museum and memorial for its role as the "Ellis Island of the South," welcoming newly arrived Cuban refugees from 1962 to 1974. Then known as the Cuban Assistance Center, the tower is under the care of Miami Dade College. You can continue to delve into the past at the HistoryMiami Museum, which preserves the history of the Magic City with permanent and visiting exhibits highlighting moments of significance in culture and politics.
There are plenty of greenspaces in Downtown Miami, the largest being Bayfront Park. Here, locals enjoy shows at the amphitheater, indulge in yoga and flying trapeze classes, sit by the Pepper Fountain, or simply rest on a bench to enjoy the lush greenery. Another large park in Downtown Miami is the 21-acre Maurice A. Ferré Park, named for a former Miami mayor. Also on the water, the park is filled with large sculptures and palm trees, and it's just steps away from the Pérez Art Museum Miami. Finally, Virginia Key is a popular destination off the mainland via the Rickenbacker Causeway and is a mix of walking trails, wetlands, and beachfront. It's not only a place to enjoy a day in the sun, but it serves historical significance, too. During the years of segregation in Miami, the Black millionaire D.A. Dorsey purchased the island to be a beach that could be enjoyed by Black Miamians.
Downtown Miami is home to a number of colleges and universities and their many campuses. Miami-Dade College, for one, is spread throughout Downtown Miami with at least seven buildings. In southern Downtown Miami is Florida International University, home of the Panthers. The university has many campuses spread throughout Miami-Dade County, and its Riccardo Silva Stadium is out west in Miami-Dade County to catch a football game. For the most part, students commute to school. Smaller, private universities in the Downtown Miami area include Brown Mackie College, Miami International University of Art & Design, and Babson College, which offers an MBA program affiliated with its Massachusetts main university. The largest university in the area is the University of Miami, located south in the city of Coral Gables.