One of the challenges in planning a Miami tour is deciding how much, or how little, you really want to see and do. Hours of sun and sandy beaches are all that some people really need on their tropical vacation. For those folks, the Simple Guide to Miami & Miami Beach is: 1. Swimsuit, 2. Sunscreen, 3. Sandals…
But perhaps you want more. You want to survey the area, or get a glimpse of Miami’s rich history, or maybe just check out where all the stars live? To assist you in quickly organizing a tour of the city that covers your particular interests, our Guide to Miami Tours zeros in on the best options so you can go it alone or join a group of like-minded travelers who share your interests. Ready?
Cruise passengers with a few hours between the airport and the ship can hop on and off a Gray Line bus or climb aboard a party boat at the Bayside Marketplace to spend the afternoon touring the breezy island communities along Biscayne Bay. Visitors who have more time to enjoy the city can rent a car to investigate the local wildlife (beyond the nightclubs) and see what an alligator looks like up close and personal. If you are an intrepid explorer, a budget-conscious traveler or just want to sit back and see the sights in air conditioned comfort, our Top 40 Guide sorts out all of your options.
Water Tours – See it by Sea
Surrounded by water, Miami and the Beaches are best viewed by boat and the types of vessels vary from kayaks to jet skis to sailboats to schooners! South Beach Kayak (305-975-5087) offers single and double kayak rentals plus a guided sunset tour around the islands of Biscayne Bay with stops for a weenie roast on Monument Island.
Jet Ski Tours of Miami (305-538-7547) rents wave runners to speed past the cruise ships at the Port of Miami, Bayside Marketplace, the celebrity mansions along Star Island, Flagler Island and the coast of South Beach. Miami Sailing (786-423-3131) has private charters leaving Downtown Miami for full or half days, dinner cruises and sunset sails including the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, historic Stiltsville and the Venetian Islands.
Some of the most fascinating tours of the city are conducted by Doctor Paul George, a renowned historian at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida who spent the last two decades helping travelers and locals examine city graveyards, famous crime scenes and the cigar factories of Little Havana. Dr. George explores churches and synagogues, Al Capone’s Miami home, the Everglades, our hidden rivers and architectural points of interest. Larger groups can customize tours to suit their interests. If you are interested in a detailed account of the people and places that make Miami “The Magic City,” check out the impressive roster of city tours from the Historical Museum of Southern Florida list at the end of this article.
Historians from the Miami Design Preservation League lead daily walking tours from the Miami Beach Welcome Center at 10th Street and Ocean Drive or rent loaded iPods daily from 9:30am-7pm for self-guided walking tours of the Art Deco District so you can set your own pace. The landmark pastel structures that fill the southern end of the city are easily navigated in about 90 minutes with commentary provided in English, Spanish, German and French. Info – (305-531-3484 or www.mdpl.org)
Guided tours are available for a quick overview of the city sights, a detailed exploration of historical points of interest, or targeted to special locations like the Everglades, the Florida Keys and the Orlando theme parks. Duck Tours are family-friendly 90 minute land and sea adventures, Miami Culinary Tours help foodies discover South Florida fine dining (786-942-8856), and monthly Bike & Skate Tours (305-531-4161) swoosh through the streets of Miami Beach under the watchful eye of a full police motorcade.
Visitors over 18 can rent bright yellow Talking GoCars, 35-mph three-wheel vehicles that are loaded with GPS-activated talking tour devices that navigate the streets of Miami Beach and tell you all about the sights as you drive by. Explore the city at your own pace for an hour or all day in one of these extraordinary little cruisers (305-908-8497).
Miami Tour Company offers small, guided tours around the City, focusing on history, true crime and trivia. They have great feedback on TripAdvisor, and work hard to show people a good time.
If two wheels are better than three, tour South beach on a Segway i2 self-balancing human transporter at just over 12 MPH. A 3-hour tour covers the Art Deco District, the Bass Museum of Art, the Holocaust Memorial and the Versace Mansion (305-604-0001).
Our local Hop On/ Hop Off Gray Line Motorcoach Tour makes 21 stops in Miami and Miami Beach including a wireless headset with tour narration in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and German leaving the Bayside Marketplace from 9am-7pm and circling the Art Deco District, Lincoln Road Mall, Jungle Island, the Arsht Center, Vizcaya Museum, Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, Little Havana and Mary Brickell Village (786-235-2775). Passengers can hop off to visit any attraction and hop on the next available coach later in the day with one, two or three day passes in hand.
Duck Tours South Beach (305-673-2217) are some of the most popular guided tours offering a light-hearted review of the city and the star’s homes in a motorized coach that transforms with a splash into a watercraft that navigates Biscayne Bay. Ideal for groups and families, the 90 minute tour launches from James Avenue near Lincoln Road Mall.
The Miami Local Tour (305-949-9720), Safari Tours (305-956-9922) and the Miami Tour Company (305-260-6855) can help you plan an Everglades adventure, a Key West getaway or a family visit to Orlando theme parks on buses guided by a team of friendly locals.
Discount shoppers call Sawgrass Express (305-651-7196) for twice daily bus trips to the massive Fort Lauderdale Sawgrass Mills Outlet Mall and the Swap Shop Flea Market from Downtown, South Beach, Sunny Isles and Aventura hotels. The Dolphin Mall works with Miami Jet Tours (786-351-2355) to schedule low cost transportation from South Beach and Downtown hotels to the outlet mall located near the Miami Airport which is an ideal last stop for cruise passengers with a few extra hours between the ship and the plane.
Self-Guided Tours – Go Your Own Way
Touring South Florida can be as easy as a pre-trip web search to find a few fun facts about your particular area of interest from Art Deco landmarks to the addresses of your favorite star’s homes. Local parks offer bicycle and kayak rentals, guided trail rides on trams, airboats and horseback plus handy maps to help you explore the wilderness on foot. All local beaches are free and open to the public with designated areas for DIY picnics and BBQs, children’s play zones, fitness equipment, volleyball nets, showers and changing areas.
Budget-conscious travelers can tap into city government websites where dedicated visitor’s sections detail the locations of public pools, municipal golf courses, playgrounds and year-round community cultural events. Miami Beach Community Centers offer access to tennis courts, ice skating, kid-friendly water parks, competition-ready training pools and seasonal concerts. The city hosts free fireworks displays, street dances, art festivals and beach parties year round. More info here.
Downtown Miami closes the city streets to traffic on weekends to host a community bike ride, brings local and international entertainers to perform at Bayfront Park on Friday nights, and promotes a cultural program in celebration of Cuban Heritage along Calle Ocho in Little Havana. Local galleries in the Design District and Wynwood join forces to present Saturday night gallery walks featuring new works by contemporary artists with free snacks and drinks, live music and entertainment throughout the year.
Everglades National Park Tours
One of the most popular attractions in South Florida, the Everglades National Park is open 365 days a year and is accessible from many points of entry. Cooler months from November through April are the best time to visit when most areas of the park are open, offering a full range of tours and programs.
Summertime high temperatures and heavy rains make it daunting to explore this subtropical wetland. Most locals avoid the park from May through October. No matter the season, know your own personal limitations before hiking, biking or paddling in the park as extremes of heat and humidity can be dangerous. Bring along ample water, sunscreen, insect repellent and be mindful of smaller children as there are freely moving animals throughout the park. Pets are not allowed on the trails and cannot be left inside vehicles due to extreme heat.
Understand the dangers of exploring any wilderness area. Do not approach or feed any wild animals and avoid getting close to an alligator (even if it appears to be sleeping) even for a single photograph. Simply put, alligators are instinctual animals who will eat anything that moves so steer clear or you will be lunch!
Whether you visit the park on your own or ride along with a tour, summer heat, rain, flooding and mosquitoes can be a challenge to most visitors. The Ernest Coe Visitor Center (305-242-7700) opens from 9am-5pm mid-April through mid-December and 8am-5pm mid-December through mid-April. Chekika – off Krome Avenue in Homestead – is closed May through November 30 due to seasonal flooding. Shark Valley offers guests a fully paved loop road running through the Glades that is easiest to navigate by bike, on foot, in a wheelchair or via daily 2-hour tram tours running from 8:30am-6pm (305-221-8455). The Gulf Coast entrance south of Tamiami Trail and Route 29 is open 24 hours. Naturist guides are available for boat and tram tours at the Gulf Coast Marina, the Flamingo Marina and Shark Valley. One of the most popular trails starts at the Royal Palm Visitor Center some 4 miles from Ernest Coe; the Anhinga Trail is just under a mile round trip and winds through the sawgrass marsh where there is an abundance of alligators, turtles, anhingas, herons, egrets and other migrating birds.
For family travel, the easiest self-guided day trip to the Glades requires a one hour drive along US – 41 to the 729,000 acre Big Cypress National Preserve Oasis Visitor Center, approximately 50 miles west of Miami and 50 miles east of Naples. This center is open daily from 9am-4:30pm offering natural and cultural history exhibits and educational films. A free wooden boardwalk provides a waterside view of alligators, turtles and wild birds. Nearby Coopertown (305-226-6048), Everglades Safari Park (305-226-6923) and Gator Park (305-559-2255) offer airboat rides across the River of Grass. There are two scenic drives within the Big Cypress Preserve – a 27 mile loop road and a 17 mile Turner River/ Wagonweel loop at the intersection of US-41 and Turner River Road at H.P. Williams Roadside Park. Alligators, turtles, small mammals, reptiles and many birds line the trails. Contact the Oasis Visitor Center (239-695-1201) for more information on ranger guided walks, canoe trips and bike hikes.
South Florida on Wheels – Oh Baby!
Touring Greater Miami and the Beaches is easy and affordable for families with small children as well as people reliant on wheelchairs. Travelers to South Florida with physical challenges have many options for easy sightseeing including fully accessible trams and tour buses and specially modified facilities included in the following list of popular locations with public spaces designed for easy navigation.
Ten user-friendly Florida attractions for guests with limited mobility include:
* Monkey Jungle, 14805 SW 216 Street – Guests pass through rubber mat covered enclosures while monkeys run wild.
* Zoo Miami, 12400 SW 152 Street – Rents wheelchairs for $8 a day and offers accessible trams and monorails to tour animal exhibits
* Jungle Island on Watson Island at I-395 – Offers electric vehicles for $8.50 a day plus listening devices to assist visitors at the animal exhibits and shows.
* John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Mile Marker 102.5 – Key Largo’s undersea park has accessible tour boats for exploring the coral reef by glass bottom boat or snorkeling trip.
* Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, 10901 Old Cutler Road – Fans of Florida horticulture can utilize available wheelchairs on a first come/first served basis and each tram tour has room for 2 wheelchair guests.
* Deering Estate, 167 SW 72 Avenue – Offers access to the museum and gardens with motorized scooters and wheelchairs available at guest services.
* Everglades National Park has wheelchair accessible trails and paved roads at the Anhinga, Gumbo-Limbo, Pinelands, Pahayokee Overlook, Mahogany Hammock, West Lake and Bobcat Hammock. Shark Valley on US-41 offers a wheelchair friendly mobilized tram tour of the Glades that travels a 15 mile paved loop road which is also open to guests on foot, on wheels and on bikes (bring your own or rent on site).
* Dry Tortugas National Park, 70 miles west of Key West – Served by a ferry that can accommodate wheelchairs, the first floor of historic Fort Jefferson is accessible.
* Miami Seaquarium, 4400 Rickenbacker Causeway – Wheelchair users plus one companion are admitted for free to see the captive dolphin and whale shows.
* Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, 3251 South Miami Avenue – Offers wheelchairs on a first come/first served basis at the ticket booth but because this is a historic residence, not all areas are ADA compliant. The garden is unpaved, the first floor of the museum is accessible but the second is not. A small elevator original to the structure is available upon request.
Additional Tour Information…
The Historical Museum of Southern Florida offers a wide range of private group coach and boat tours of Miami that may be customized to meet the group’s needs. HistoryMiami also offers group lectures and historic slide show presentations delivered by noted Miami historian, Dr. Paul George, as well as private eco-history tours conducted by Frank Schena.
To find out more about Historical Museum of Southern Florida tours, visit the HMSF Web Site. Here is a sample of what they offer…
* Architecture Tour
* Coral Gables: The City Beautiful
* Fort Lauderdale
* Henry Flagler’s Railroad Coach
* Historic Architecture
* Historic Cemeteries
* Jewish Miami
* Many Faces of Miami: From Little Havana to Little Haiti
* Miami City Tour
* Mystery & Mayhem: Crime Tour
* Real Estate History Tour
* Sacred Spaces: Churches and Synagogues
* Secrets of Coconut Grove
* South Beach Art Deco
Eco Coach Tours
* Everglades – Chokoloskee
* Everglades – Flamingo
* Redland – South Dade
* South Beach and Fisher Island
* Miami River
* New River Intracoastal (Fort Lauderdale)
* Stiltsville and Key Biscayne
* Art Deco South Beach
* Brickell Avenue
* Coconut Grove
* Coral Gables
* Downtown River Walk
* Design District
* Heart of Miami: Biscayne Blvd.
* Hollywood Beach
* Lincoln Road
* Little Havana
* Miami Beach
* Miami City Cemetery
* Roaming the “Roads”
* Riverwalk & Stranahan House (Ft. Lauderdale)
* Bayfront Park
* Matheson Hammock
* Miami Beach