Miami, FL – Staying, Getting Around, Dogs & More…
Ah Miami. The city of color, dance and pristine white-sand beaches, the town of fast boats, high-class shopping and tropical heat.
When most folks think of Miami they picture a party town, probably because that’s what you hear about on the news and in music. I mean who hasn’t heard about South Beach and who doesn’t automatically rap Will Smith “Miami” when they think about the “Magic City”?
Party in the city where the heat is on. / All night on the beach til the break of dawn / Welcome to Miami (bienvenido a Miami)……OH YEAH!
All of that is true and for those that love the nightlife you’ll definitely find it here, but Miami is also SO much more than that. It’s a melting pot of cultures with deep Cuban & Latin American roots, a superbly vibrant art scene, sophisticated food, amazing nearby nature (the Everglades) and lots of historical interest. If you take the time to look below the surface you’ll find plenty of interesting depth.
Miami Can Be Daunting & Traffic is Bad
With all that said, it can be daunting to plan a trip here. Miami has grown so big so fast that it is literally a huge SPRAWL, and the traffic has grown to match. It’s earned its place as one of the top 10 worst traffic cities in the US, and it won’t take you more than a day of staying here to experience that. So unless you’re exactly in the neighborhood where you want to be, you’ve got to be super vigilant of traffic times. During the week there’s no way I would be caught dead driving into Miami before 10AM and I would drop everything to leave downtown before 3PM. Missing those times can mean hours of extra commute, and even staying in-town it’ll affect your travel in a massive way. Seriously, traffic is bad. Don’t underestimate it.
So It Pays to Plan Ahead….
If you’re coming to Miami it pays to plan ahead on where exactly you’re going to stay and how you’re going to get around. It can make the difference between a relaxing and fun trip or a frustrating trip where you just feel like you’re fighting crowds and traffic all the time. Thankfully you have us guinea-pigs to help guide you, and for once I can speak with a bit of real, practical experience. Paul grew up here and in the 20 years we’ve been together we’ve spent at least some time in Miami every single year. We don’t know everything of course, but we’ve got some history on this one 🙂
Where/How To Stay In An RV
The first thing I’ll cover is where to stay in an RV. Unfortunately Miami is a terrible city for RV parks. Except for a few trailer parks which don’t (to our knowledge) accept traveling RVs there is literally nothing downtown, so your only options are parks at least 30 miles away. This means you’re looking at a commute of 40 minutes to an hour to get downtown (worse with traffic). Also, given the limited options in the area if you want to stay more than a few days during the popular winter season you’re going to have to book WAY ahead to get in…and by way ahead I mean 10-12 months ahead!
If you’re willing to do that however, there are several pretty decent options:
Broward County Parks – Broward County (the county just north of Miami-Dade) operates 4 county parks that offer RV camping which are our absolute top picks for the area. These are nice, green parks and truly pleasant places to stay. In winter 2010/2011 we stayed for several months at Markham Park. It’s a rustic place with lots of green, trails and dog-friendly hiking, and we really liked it. Easterlin, T.Y. and C.B. Smith are also very highly rated, although we haven’t stayed there ourselves. Costs are $40/night for non-residents and reservations are critical. See more HERE.
- Larry & Penny Thompson County Park – The one and only public RV park within the county of Miami-Dade this is a very highly-rated place in a pretty good location ~20 miles south of downtown by the Miami Zoo. Plus the price is right at only ~$34/night (or $550 per month!!!). However we’ve literally never been able to get in here for winter despite calling 13 months ahead and every single month thereafter. For a few days stay you can likely snag a spot, but the monthly spots are all taken by regulars who come back every single year. Still, they’re definitely worth a call. See more HERE.
- Private RV Parks – There are several private parks which are within a 30-mile radius of downtown although none of them rate particularly well. So if you want to stay privately I suggest expanding your search beyond this to the surrounding area. I don’t have many direct recommendations here since we’ve never done this ourselves, but there are lots of options.
There are 2 additional options for those who are willing to be flexible:
- Rented RV Lot – Private lot-owners will often rent out their lots at largely discounted prices to others if they’re not using them themselves. These can be tricky to find, but you can often find them on Craigs List or through forums and word of mouth. If you’re willing to invest the time you can snag a spot for $300-$600/mo this way. You still won’t find anything in downtown Miami, but you can certainly find spots within 30-50 miles. If you’re unable to score a spot at one of the public parks (above) then this would be my #2 recommendation. It’s the route we took this year.
- FREE Casino Parking – Yes, I said FREE…in Miami!! Well it’s ~25 miles West of Miami and you won’t be able to stay more than a few days but in a pinch this is a superb deal. Click the link for more -> Miccosukee Resort & Gaming.
Where/How To Stay In A House
If you want the “true” downtown experience my advice is actually to ditch/store the RV for a little while and try out a stix & brix. If you’re on a budget you can couchsurf (FREE!) and of course there’s no end of hotel choices too ($75 and up). But if you need multiple rooms (say, you’re traveling with a big family) and/or you want a more intimate experience there are thousands of places to rent on Airbnb or VRBO ranging anywhere from $75/night and up. Plus many allow pets** and you can chose to stay in the exact location you want, thus avoiding traffic and all other “big city issues”.
But where exactly should you target to stay?
When looking at location, it’s worth getting a feel of how Miami is laid out. There are lots of little “downtown” neighborhoods each with their own appeal. I’m not going to cover them all, but here are some of the most popular areas and our take on them:
South Beach – This is the classic party area renowned for its Art Deco buildings, 24-hour bars and huge white-sand beaches. It’s a top tourist destination and the place most visitors chose to stay, but it can get crazy busy too. Plus those with dogs need to be aware that you cannot take doggie anywhere on the beach here. South Beach is cool, but we wanted to stay somewhere quieter & more paw-friendly.
- Little Havana – This is the old Cuban district of Miami and has LOTS of charm, but there’s not really much around here if you want to explore on foot outside the district. We love to visit, but we didn’t want to stay here.
- Overtown & Wynwood – When Paul was a kid this was a super bad part of town, but parts of it have seen a big renewal, especially the artsy area of Wynwood. The surrounding area is still a tad dicey, so again we were happy visiting (Wynwood specially), but didn’t want to stay here.
- Brickell & Downtown – This is the up and coming area of Miami. Lots going on here, but it’s mostly shiny high-rise buildings and fancy shopping. Not really our style.
- Coconut Grove – This is by FAR our preferred area to stay. It’s one of the oldest neighborhoods in Miami with lots of interesting history and is located right by the water on Biscayne Bay. There’s a neat little downtown, a great waterfront area with lovely walking trails, and several nice public parks. A big bonus for us -> lots of dog-friendly spots here (restaurants, dog parks etc.)
What About Staying In The Keys? I deliberately didn’t mention the Keys here. Lots of people associate Miami with the long string of Islands south of the city called “The Florida Keys“. However they’re not as close as they might seem and are really (in my mind) a completely different place to visit. There are a few small Keys (Virginia Key & Key Biscayne) which are right by town, but the main chain of the Keys are miles away. It’s 165 miles (!!) from downtown Miami to Key West, and even a trip to Marathon Key is a good 115 miles one-way. So yeah they’re worth visiting, but if you want to see Miami itself that’s not where you want to stay. I won’t be covering them in my posts.
Since my family was visiting me this year from Europe, Coconut Grove is where we chose to stay. We rented a cottage on a historic estate built by Valentino in 1910 through Airbnb. It was a small place and we were not alone (there were 3 other rentals on the grounds), but it was a pretty spot with beautiful architecture and a really nice pool. Plus the location was perfect. It was walking distance from David T Kennedy Park (an AWESOME dog-friendly park) and downtown Coconut Grove, a block from the waterfront and within 15 mins drive of practically every neighborhood in downtown Miami. Plus we had no end of easy public transport options right from our house. It worked out beautifully.
**AN IMPORTANT NOTE ON PETS/ The one and only negative about renting our place in Coconut Grove was that it wouldn’t accept cats. Dogs were no problem (anywhere really), but despite trying for months we could not find a SINGLE spot in Miami on VRBO/AirBnB that would accept our cats. Thankfully Paul’s dad helped to take care of our kitties while we were gone from the RV. Without that we would have had to hire a pet-sitter or drive back/forth daily to the RV.
Getting Around Town
Being a big city, Miami has lots of options to get around. There’s no underground system, but there’s tons of options above ground. You can take your car everywhere, of course, and parking is really not too bad. Most places have paid parking meters (central meters where you put in your license plate and pay for a set number of hours) or parking garages. So, you can certainly explore that way and if you’re coming from out of town (say, you’re staying in an RV park 30 miles away) this is really the best option.
But if you’re staying in town and want the maximum flexibility I actually recommend ditching the car entirely. It’s easy, fast, efficient and if you go out you’ll all be able to have a drink, should you so desire (don’t drink and drive, folks). Apart from a few outings this is the route we took most of the time:
Uber & Lyft – Oh Uber, how I LOVE thee! We’ve never used the service as much as we did in Miami and it was such a pleasure every time. Just load up the app, click on a nearby car and book it. Within minutes (we literally never waited more than 5 minutes) you’ll have a private driver pick you up and take you where you need to go. Pricing is very reasonable (our short drives were $5 with longer ones $15-$20), the cars are clean, the drivers are nice and we never needed cash, haggling or anything else. Everything just went thro’ the app. Not every town in the US has a great Uber/Lyft system (it depends how many drivers are in the area), but in Miami the service ROCKS!! Don’t hesitate to use it.
Free Trolleys – I honestly didn’t know about this until we stayed in Coconut Grove, but there’s a network of FREE Trolley’s that operate in the various neighborhoods of Miami. They’re nice, clean, easy to catch and run frequently. Routes are limited, but we were able to catch one just outside our house which took us right into downtown Coconut Grove without a glitch. LOVED this system. Plus did I mention it’s FREE??! Click HERE for more info.
- Buses – The public bus system is extensive in Miami and will literally get you anywhere. We didn’t use it while we were in town (Uber plus the Free Trolley’s were enough for us), but if you want to go this route Google Public Transport is your friend. Just load up you destination on Google Maps, click the Public Transport icon and you’ll get a detailed itinerary (which buses, where, how long) to get you there.
Citibike – We first discovered CitiBike last year in New York City, so I was initially very excited to find that Miami offers a similar network. Unlike NYC however, Miami has NOT done the work to make its city truly bike friendly. Sure, there are assigned “bike routes” but practically zero dedicated bike lanes and most of the “trails” are simply regular roads that are shared with crazy Miami drivers. Being the wimpy biker I am, there is NO WAY I would ride any of those. There are short rides which are do-able (along the Coconut Grove water-front, for example), but it’s just not an option I would recommend for regular transport around the city. Did I mention Miami drivers are nuts?
WHAT ABOUT DOGS?? Public transport in Miami allows small dogs in enclosed carriers, but does not allow larger dogs (except service animals). However Uber/Lyft drivers will sometimes allow dogs at their own discretion. So, if you’re traveling with doggie you’ll either need to depend on your car or just be a bit patient contacting Uber/Lyft drivers to find one that’ll take you. It’s all do-able.
Dog Friendliness & Finding Places To Take Pooch
I already talked a bit about transport with dogs above, but I wanted to go into a little more detail here. Miami is an interesting city in that it is both one of the MOST dog-friendly places we’ve been, and one of the most non-dog-friendly, primarily due to one single caveat.
First the positive stuff….
Restaurants Are SUPER Dog Friendly – It’s rare for any restaurant to accept dogs inside their establishment (anywhere in the US, really), but in Miami every restaurant that had an outdoor patio (even covered/enclosed patios) accepted Polly without hesitation. Every…single….one! During our time in Miami we literally didn’t find a single spot that wouldn’t take us in their outdoor area, and since most places in Miami have some kind of outdoor area it was a total breeze to bring Polly pretty much everywhere. Most places even offered her a water bowl too. I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule, but with our experience there can’t be many. What a dog-friendly eating town!!
Breweries/Bars Are Too – As with restaurants, all the breweries/bars we went to in Miami accepted dogs in their patio area, but as an adeed bonus we also found some that would accept Polly inside too. The key seemed to be whether or not the place served food. If they served food then only the patio was allowed, but if they didn’t serve food you could ask to sit inside too. We did this in the Wynwood district when we visited a brewery with Polly.
Public Parks Are Dog-Friendly – Pretty much every public park in Miami allows dogs on their trails and there are even several really nice off-leash dog parks too (the one by our house was awesome). Some of the Historical Estates allow dogs on their grounds too, although this is more hit and miss.
Now the negative stuff…
Beaches Are NOT Dog Friendly – The one and only bummer in Miami (and most of Florida for that matter) is that most of the public beaches do NOT accept dogs. There is so much lovely white sand all around here, but barely anywhere you can go for a sandy dip with pooch, even on-leash. None of the State Parks in FL allow dogs on beaches and most of the city parks don’t either (trails yes, beaches no). Argh!! In Miami proper we only found one spot that could take Polly which was Hobie Beach by the bridge to Key Biscayne. If you want to go on the sand with doggie, this is where I recommend.
Weather & Heat
One last thing to mention. If you look at a map of the USA you’ll see Miami is pretty far south, and the weather reflects that. We are approaching the tropics here so you’re talking hot, humid & buggy summers followed by mild (but still very humid) winters. Our first winter here (2010) temps were pleasant and mostly in the 70’s, but this winter was the hottest on record and pretty much every day was in the 80’s. We didn’t encounter mosquitoes, but it was hot enough that we were sweating up a storm every time we went out and we couldn’t really take Polly out past mid-day. Plus without air conditioning in the house I don’t my Danish family would have survived.
Staying close to the water really helps to manage the temps (there’s often a soft breeze by the bay/ocean whereas it can be stifling hot inland), plus targeting your outings early in the day. For those not used to it make sure you bring water, hat and sunscreen everywhere, and be super mindful of the heat/humidity both for you and your pets. It can get you before you know it.
Phew! Another monster post, but there was just so much I had to share. Hopefully it’ll be helpful for those of you who chose to visit here.
Coming up next -> Our top tourist visits in Miami. There’s a lighthouse, historical estates, art and more….