Miami is a behemoth of a city with dozens of neighborhoods that each might as well be a different city. Planning a trip to Miami can be stressful if you don’t know where to stay. You could put yourself at a logistical disadvantage if you stay in the wrong place, and waste a ton of time and money getting around. There may actually be no best area of Miami to stay in, only one more convenient for your particular vacation.
Understanding Miami’s neighborhoods
Miami’s neighborhood boundaries aren’t completely clear cut. So when people ask about what area of Miami to stay in, it’s hard to simply say “stay in South Beach” or “stay in Wynwood.” Sure, part of Wynwood is trendy and hip and bustling with nightlife and street art, but if you’re one or two streets over on the wrong side of Wynwood you’re definitely going to be like where the fuck am I and can a police officer escort me home.
Obviously, the beach is a great choice – maybe the best choice – if you’re visiting and want to get the most of out of Miami’s beautiful sandy shores. This will certainly be one of the most expensive ways to visit Miami, because a hotel on the beach doesn’t come cheap. The other problem with the beach is that getting in and out of it becomes costly and time-consuming. That being said, Miami Beach has so much culture, nightlife, dining, art deco, and of course, the beach itself that perhaps you don’t need to leave that often.
Neighborhoods outside Miami Beach
If you’re looking for more affordable alternatives, there are still plenty of other good areas in Miami to stay in. After all, only a very small part of Miami is out on South Beach.
As a general rule, the closer you are to water, the safer the neighborhood will probably be. It will also be more expensive. This means if you’re getting an Airbnb or hotel, chances are, you’ll be better off staying in Edgewater, on Biscayne Bay, rather than Wynwood though you’ll be close enough to it to walk if you want to. (But you won’t. Miami is really hot.)
Unlike most cities, downtown Miami is a not an ideal place to stay. Unless you’re staying at the InterContinental, you’ll probably end up in a place that is also kind of desolate and bordering on unsavory after the 5 ‘o clock rush hour home. That’s not to say there aren’t some great places to visit in downtown Miami. This is where you’ll find Bayfront Park, the AmericanAirlines Arena, and some of the city’s biggest and newest museums. But staying downtown can be dodgy.
As an alternative to Miami’s poor man’s downtown, you can stay south of the Miami River in Brickell. This area is more commonly inhabited by people who live and work in the high rises there. The Shops at Mary Brickell Village and the surrounding area attract people from all over the city for its dining and drinking, but the crowd will still heavily lean toward young professional Miami douchebag. Getting into Brickell in the morning or out of it in the afternoon is probably the most nightmarish traffic you can experience in Miami, so take that into account before you book there.
Going too far west of Brickell or Downtown becomes a serious gamble because then you’ll find yourself in some of the worst parts of town, like Little Havana and Overtown. Again I’ll clarify, that’s not to say that there isn’t anything of value in those areas. Little Havana is a great little slice of Cuba in Miami; you’ll find incredible authentic restaurants and bars there. But you also run a higher than average chance of landing in an Airbnb across from a bodega where someone got shot last weekend.
Coral Gables and Coconut Grove are good areas to stay if you’re looking for accommodations further west. They put you in a centralish location where you can easily get downtown or to the beach but also to the airport. Coconut Grove is a toss up: half cutesy pedestrian streets and half neighborhoods where your car will end up on bricks. If you’re not really familiar with the area and you didn’t take a very good look at the accommodation reviews about the location, this wouldn’t be my first choice.
Coral Gables is safe because it’s the rich part of town – perfect historic homes, well-maintained greenery and nine-to-fivers. The crowd here is a lot like Brickell’s but older and with shittier taste. It’s where people with money go to have an overcooked steak at Morton’s and think it’s awesome. They’ll all be in bed by 11, so the area is not ideal if you’re coming to party.
Further west than that, your options become even more limited because Miami turns into the suburbs. These areas aren’t bad, but unless you have a car, you definitely don’t want to stay in West Miami or Doral.
Thinking about renting a car in Miami? Here are my thoughts on that.
Honestly, even with a car, you don’t want to stay there either unless you came to Miami to eat at Hooters and shop at Dolphin Mall (Brazilians, I’m looking atchu!). Staying around the airport might seem like a good idea for the sake of convenience, but unless you want to stay at a by-the-hour motel where scummy dudes bring Craigslist hookers, you should rethink that.
Stay where you’ll spend the most time
If you’re renting a car, and especially if you’re not, you should minimize the amount of travel you have to do from one place to another. Miami is very beautiful, enjoyable, and fun. But paying $35 for an Uber and spending an hour in bumper to bumper traffic quickly kills the magic of Magic City.
So I suggest you take stock of what you want to do on your vacation in Miami and let it dictate where you look for accommodations. For instance, if you’re in Miami for Ultra, you’ll probably want to stay close enough to the venue to either go there on foot or take whatever pittance of a public transportation system we have. If not, you’re going to spend a lot of your Miami vacation trying to get in and out of the concert. And you definitely don’t want to find out how bad Uber surge fees can get in Miami.
On the other hand, if you’re in town to get a tan and pop bottles at the club, then you should stay on the beach. It’ll seem like a major expense up front, but it’ll potentially save you more money (not to mention, hassle) on transportation later. The beach is a good area to stay put after you’ve been out drinking all night. The Miami highways can be treacherous on a Saturday night. But you’re on vacation. You don’t need that stress.