Photo: Woman lays on beach life guard hut

A lifeguard watches over one of the beaches in Miami's South Beach.

Photograph by Paul Colangelo, Corbis

By Lindsay Turner

The sun-drenched setting of South Florida's Miami Beach is ideal for thrifty tourists in search of a tropical paradise. South Beach's sandy shores and turquoise waters offer hours of sunning, splashing, and walking along the beach. Weary of the water? Miami affords diverse activities and attractions for adventurers and laid-back travelers alike. Amble past art deco architecture, relive history and local heritage in area museums, and dance at a nightclub in Miami Beach–all for free.


On Viernes Culturales (Cultural Fridays), Little Havana's Calle Ocho transforms into an open-air gallery with 100 artists, sculptors, and musicians filling the sidewalks with their creations and concerts. The event, held the last Friday of every month from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., is free of charge and includes walking tours of Little Havana.

The Miami Art Museum offers free admission the second Saturday of the month from 1-4 p.m. to view its collection of contemporary art.

Go for a Gables Art Walk along Ponce de Leon Boulevard on Coral Gables Gallery Night. On the first Friday of every month galleries keep their doors open from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and give gratis art advice, provide transportation between galleries, and offer wine and cheese.

The internationally known Wolfsonian-FIU art museum , located in a 1926 Mediterranean revival-style warehouse, features paintings, ceramics, posters, books, furniture, and architectural creations from the modern era. Peruse the exhibitions free on Fridays after 6 p.m.

There's no fee to wander the Centre Gallery (+1 305 237 7186), at Miami Dade College's downtown campus, for exhibitions of contemporary art by international and local artists and performers.

Feed off the energy of Miami's up-and-coming art scene during the second Saturday of each month, when galleries stay open until 10 p.m. in the Wynwood Art District, home to edgy and experimental artists, and the neighboring Design District, a stylish 18-block hub of posh showrooms and vanguard designers.


The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables offers free tours of its historic grounds on Sunday afternoons at 1:30, 2:20, and 3:30 p.m. Professional storytellers regale audiences with tales from the hotel's early years when it hosted celebrities like Judy Garland and Ginger Rogers, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Al Capone.

The famous Biltmore Hotel offers free tours of its historic grounds on Sunday afternoons with storytellers recounting its celebrity-filled past.

Explore the city's historic art deco architecture on a self-guided walking tour through South Beach. Follow 5th Street north to Dade Boulevard, and Alton Road east to the Atlantic Ocean—an area filled with more than 800 buildings exemplifying the pre-war modernism of the 1930s amidst the Deco District.

The Miami Beach Architectural Historic District is rife with more than 800 art deco buildings located within a one-mile radius on South Beach. Meander on your own through art deco, Mediterranean Revival, and Miami Modern styles, or hop aboard the South Beach local bus shuttle for just 25 cents. Each January, the Miami Design Preservation League hosts the three-day Art Deco Weekend with free lectures and films. Ocean Drive transforms into a street market of vendors selling vintage goods.

Pause at the opulent Versace Mansion, Casa Casuarina, located at 1116 Ocean Drive, to see where Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace once hosted lavish galas for glamorous guests like Madonna, Elton John, and Princess Diana. Versace was tragically shot to death on the steps of the mansion in 1997. The JFK Torch of Friendship, which is accompanied by statues of Simon Bolivar and Ponce de Leon, affirms the United States' relationship with the nations of the Caribbean and South and Central America, and honors President Kennedy. Visit this free memorial on Biscayne Boulevard.

Little Havana is home to Hispanic culture, and honors its Cuban roots along Memorial Boulevard, located on 13th Avenue off Calle Ocho. Wander the handful of monuments, including the Calle Ocho Walk of Fame, the Hispanic equivalent of Hollywood's star-covered sidewalk; the eternal flame at the Brigade 2506 Memorial remembering the heroes of the Bay of Pigs; and more—all free.


Admission is always free at Miami's Holocaust Memorial, open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The memorial site features a photographic mural and a Memorial Wall with the names of concentration camp victims.

Located on the 50-acre Vizcaya estate, the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens invites visitors to participate in programs that include performing arts, lectures, demonstrations, and tours of the National Historic Landmark on Free Sundays (the last Sundays of July, August, and September).

The exhibits at the Jewish Museum of Florida trace Jewish life in Florida since 1763. The museum waives admission fees on Saturdays.

Visit the Bacardi Museum to discover the corporate and family history of this world-famous brand of rum, which began in 1862 and continues today. Tours are free but an appointment is required.

See a small collection of memorabilia relaying the history of Brigade 2506's failed 1961 invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs Museum, in Little Havana on S.W. 9th Street. Admission is free year-round.


Miami Art Museum's Second Saturdays (second Saturday of every month) are free for families, 1-4 p.m. Kids and their parents can enjoy live music, storytelling, guided tours, gallery games, and dance performances.

Children will marvel at the Milky Way and gaze at far-off galaxies at the Miami Science Museum's free Weintraub Observatory Star Show, held on the first Friday of each month from 8 to 10 p.m. (the planetarium show starts at 8 p.m., and the observatory session is open from 8:30 to 10 p.m.—call ahead, as starting time varies based on the season).

More than 65 artists create and display their work at Miami's Bakehouse Art Complex. Visitors can browse free of charge.

Each month Target Free Third Friday at the Miami Children's Museum allows youngsters to explore hundreds of hands-on exhibits that teach art, culture, and communication at no cost to their parents. For this free interactive experience, come on the third Friday of the month from 3 to 9 p.m.

The family-oriented stretch of Miami Beach from 53rd to 63rd Street offers a playground and piles of sand for castle building, picnics, and searching for buried treasure.

Biscayne National Park's Family Fun Fest is held on the second Sunday of every month from January to May. This free public program promotes interaction with nature and hands-on activities for children and their parents.


Get centered as you stretch along the shore with Yoga in the Park. The serene and scenic Bayfront Park offers free yoga classes every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday for advanced yoga enthusiasts or curious novices.

Snorkel or scuba dive among the colorful coral reef at Biscayne National Park. Or stay on the shore and look for manatees and dolphins.

Adventure seekers come to Biscayne National Park for snorkeling and scuba diving among the colorful coral reef. Others boat, fish, watch wildlife, and meander in a canoe through one of Florida's longest stretches of mangrove forest. Rangers offer advice for spotting the manatees and dolphins that swim along the shore. Family Fun Fest is a free program held on the second Sunday of each month, January through May that highlights the park's diverse resources.

Ichimura Miami-Japan Garden offers a quiet place to stroll with its carefully manicured landscape, peaceful rock garden, and stone pagoda.

Miles of free-access beaches dot the southern coast of Florida. Miami Beach has South Pointe Park (with a pier), South Beach, Surfside, and Haulover Park (a clothing-optional beach). South Miami boasts Matheson Hammock Park Beach, while Key Biscayne and Virginia Key have three beaches offering family-friendly activities and adventures for thrill-seekers (sailboarding, windsurfing, and jet-skiing).


Bring the family to Losner Park in Homestead, Florida (45 minutes from Miami), for themed street festivals the second Saturday of each month. Vendors sell savory Mexican and Cajun food, but there's no cost to enjoy the live music and browse the booths displaying collectibles. Listen to the University of Miami's orchestra and a variety of guest instrumentalists at a Gusman Concert Hall performance. Admission is free for most concerts (call ahead to check).

Little Havana's historic Tower Theater, located at S.W. 8th Street and 15th Avenue, teams with Miami-Dade College to present some free Cuban and Latin American films (in Spanish). Performances and programs are presented almost daily.


Flamenco-dancing fiestas at Casa Panza in Little Havana are legendary. Follow your partner to the dance floor nightly (except Monday) for free music and flamenco-dancing performances. Jazid, the longest-running nightclub in Miami Beach, offers live music nightly—jazz, funk, cumbia, reggae, rock, and more. Guests get in free before 11 p.m. (must be 21 or over to enter).

If you can get past the haughty bouncer, Skybar is the place to be in SoBe. The "beautiful people" love to play here at the ritzy Shore Club on Collins Avenue. People-watching from a poolside bed or dancing to hip-hop beats in the Red Room are free for club clientele, but beware of lofty drink prices.

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