Miami has a reputation for being a sultry and expensive vacation destination, but it doesn’t have to drain your wallet to have a great time in this chic city. The key to a low cost vacation in Miami is embodying the lifestyle of the locals and embracing the culture by hitting up all the free stuff.
Keeping your dollars in your pocket can be pretty easy—and it doesn’t mean you have to spend all your time on the beach either. The only time you’ll have to shell out money is for food and drinks and if you play your cards right you can spend only a few bucks on each meal as well.
Take Advantage of Free Stuff
Let’s face it; the beach is an essential stop in Miami. Take in a few hours of people watching at the beach. Let your skin soak in the rays as you watch those tanned and oiled buff bodies saunter by. When you’ve had enough head indoors to cool off. There are a lot of choices depending on your taste, but a few of my favorites are The Biltmore Hotel and the Cape Florida Lighthouse.
The Biltmore Hotel has been around since the 1920’s and you can get in on a free tour on Sunday. Ask your guide about some of the rich history and prompt them to share some of the ghost stories about the hotel. I won’t spoil them for you, but the hotel was converted into a military hospital in World War Two and the gangster Thomas “Fatty” Walsh was reportedly murdered there on the 13th floor.
The Cape Florida Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in Miami and you can get a free ranger-led tour. The original lighthouse was built in the 1820’s but the contractor actually built it with hollow walls and it had to be rebuilt in the 1840’s. The keeper’s quarter has been replicated and there’s a museum housed inside which is really interesting for history buffs like me.
Finally, for me, Little Havana embodies all the best traits of Miami. Even though you’re still in Florida you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to another time, or perhaps a scene from the movies. Men play dominoes in the street (I strongly encourage you play a game or two) and cigar smoke swirls through the thick, moist air surrounding you with the scent of what I image liken to my impression of the roaring 20’s.
Even if you aren’t much of a smoker, make time to visit the Little Havana Cigar Factory. The lounge is filled with leather couches, plenty of ashtrays and a couple televisions. They serve port for free and for a beginner you can buy a low priced cigar and spend an hour or more puffing contentedly, not to mention it’s a great way to escape the heat.
Since you’re already in Little Havana at the Cigar Factory, you have to try one of my all-time favorite places to grab a quick and cheap lunch. Viva Mexico it is quite literally a hole in the wall kind of place—there isn’t even a sign outside and seating is incredibly limited—but if that doesn’t bother you, try the tacos, they are absolutely out of this world.
If you’re feeling adventurous, go with the pork. They have leg, ear, skin, tongue, stomach and what is simple referred to as ‘mixed’ or Surtida. The texture of the mixed tacos can be a little chewy and oddly mushy which threw me off the first time, but now those and the pork skin, which looks a little like fried onions but is deliciously crispy and super flavorful are all I order.
The tacos are only $2 each and aren’t greasy like a lot of other places tend to be. They will come to you in warm tortillas with only meat and at your table a caddy will be dropped off with four different salsas, fresh cilantro, onion and limes so you can dress them how you like.
Just make sure you bring cash—they don’t take cards.
One other great food stop for those craving authentic Cuban is Tinta y Café. Make sure you get there well before five though or you’ll probably miss out on the homemade empanadas and the croquettes. The cod croquettes are imported from Spain and topped with a special sauce. At only $.85 each, they’re worth far more than every penny.
Additional options for free or mostly free fun in Miami include:
The Miami Art Museum—they offer free entry every second Saturday of the month.
The Jewish Museum of Florida is free every Saturday.
The Barnacle Historic Site offers free ranger-led tours although they do encourage a $1 donation. It is the oldest house in Miami
Crandon Park Gardens is a full 200 acres and is brimming with exotic birds. There is a $5 parking fee, but it’s free to get into the garden.
Tobacco Road is Miami’s oldest bar and has been around for 97 years. It’s a definite dive, but if you like cold, cheap beer the $2 PBR’s will be right up your alley.
About The Author: Derek Holaday is a freelance travel and transportation writer and is currently working with Miles Car Rental Miami and enjoys living in the area. Derek works mainly to support his travel addiction and thrives off deals and sharing stories of his (mostly) free adventures.