Itinerant Fan

Miami city guide

Miami and the South Florida region are tourist favorites for many reasons — warm weather, beaches, good food, a unique culture. And sports, for sure, with teams in all four major sports and events ranging from college football bowl games to major golf tournaments to tennis to NASCAR. There’s a lot to do, and no matter what time of year you choose to visit, something will be happening to pique your sports interest.

If sports is the reason you’re planning a trip to Miami, you’ll have plenty on your plate. But don’t miss out on everything else Miami has to offer while you’re there. Read on for some tips and advice for making the most of your South Florida visit.

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The landscape

Much like everything else in South Florida, its sports venues are spread out in a wide area. AmericanAirlines Arena is located downtown, but Marlins Park is a few miles to the west. Sun Life Stadium is in the neighboring community of Miami Gardens, and BB&T Center is located in the suburb of Sunrise, closer to Fort Lauderdale than Miami.

The most prominent college team in town, the University of Miami football team, also plays its games at Sun Life Stadium after having moved there from the Orange Bowl. Sun Life Stadium (once known as Joe Robbie Stadium, Dolphins Stadium and Pro Player Stadium, among other names) is currently undergoing an extensive renovation that will include, among other things, a canopy to shade fans in the stadium’s upper deck.

The venerable old Orange Bowl stadium, which once was home to the Dolphins and hosted five Super Bowls, was demolished in 2008 to make way for Marlins Park.

The venues
• AmericanAirlines Arena: Home of the Heat. Located at 601 Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami.
• BB&T Center: Home of the Panthers. Located at 1 Panther Parkway in Sunrise.
• Marlins Park: Home of the Marlins. Located at 501 Marlins Way in the Little Havana neighborhood.
• Sun Life Stadium: Home of the Dolphins and University of Miami football. Located at 347 Don Shula Drive in Miami Gardens.

Marlins Park

Marlins Park

The strategies

Getting in
Given its location, Miami is a 90-minute flight or longer from most other major U.S. cities. The good news is you have your choice of airports at which to arrive. Miami International Airport (MIA) is the closest one to downtown Miami and the largest in terms of capacity of flights. It is a major hub for American Airlines. The two alternative options to the north are Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) and Palm Beach International Airport (PBI), which offer more options from discount carriers.

Amtrak operates service to Miami on routes that run down the Atlantic coast from as far away as New York City. Miami’s station is located at 8303 NW 37th Avenue.

If you’re driving in from anywhere besides the Florida Keys, you’re likely arriving via Interstate 95, which travels up and down the Atlantic coast, or I-75, which comes from the Gulf Coast via “Alligator Alley” and the Everglades. I-95 runs through West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami before ending just south of downtown.

Where to stay
There are many tourist-friendly hotel spots in the area, but where you ultimately choose to stay might depend on what you most want to be close to. Downtown Miami is a good choice for AmericanAirlines Arena (within walking distance of most downtown hotels) and Marlins Park, but if your plans involve a game at Sun Life Stadium or BB&T Center, the Fort Lauderdale area might be more convenient (not to mention a bit cheaper).

Most tourists eye Miami Beach for lodging, but allow yourself at least 30-45 minutes just to get out of the beach and back into Miami proper because of the traffic that typically snarls the area. If you’re on a budget, just scour the major streets that cross with I-95 — nearly every one from West Palm to Miami has a hotel or two just off the freeway.

Getting around
You’ll likely find a car is needed for your trip unless you plan to confine yourself to a small area of town. But there are alternatives. Downtown Miami has a Metromover system (a system of driverless trains that travel in loops around the area, much like Detroit’s People Mover) and also Metrorail, a more traditional train system that is useful for traveling between downtown and other destinations such as Miami Airport and the University of Miami campus.

If you’d like to travel between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach without a car, your best bet is the Tri-Rail, a commuter train service that connects the three cities. It offers connections to each of the three major airports and also connects with Metrorail via the Metrorail Transfer Station.

For drivers, note that some highways in the area require tolls, including Florida’s Turnpike which leads southward to Sun Life Stadium. Transponders are used but many toll stations will allow drivers to simply drive through, and tolls are collected after the system logs your car’s license plate. For more information, click here.

Sun Life Stadium and BB&T Center are surrounded by massive parking lots. Marlins Park has four garages surrounding it and a number of small surface lots around the neighborhood. AmericanAirlines Arena patrons are directed to park at one of a number of private lots in the downtown area, the closest of which is at the neighboring Bayside Marketplace shopping center.

Wynwood Art District

Wynwood Art District

The extras

Go to the beach
This seems like an obvious thing to do in South Florida. The Atlantic is so close by, might as well dip a toe in it or at least take a look, and of course there’s plenty of activities, food/drink and people-watching. Miami/South Beach and Fort Lauderdale Beach tend to the the most popular among tourists and thus the most crowded, but lesser-known beaches all along the Atlantic coast offer most of the same perks.

Chocolate-dipped churro from La Palma Cafeteria

Chocolate-dipped churro from La Palma Cafeteria

Experience local flavor
Cuban culture is an integral part of Miami, and thus Cuban food can be found everywhere — most prevalently in the Little Havana neighborhood and its famed “Calle Ocho” (Eighth Street). Eateries worth trying include Versailles (3555 SW Eighth Street), Exquisito (1510 SW Eighth Street) and La Palma (6091 SW Eighth Street).

Don’t miss the local seafood either. Joe’s Stone Crab (11 Washington Avenue in Miami Beach) is a longtime (albeit expensive) local institution, though it now has locations in Chicago and Las Vegas. And among nightlife spots on Miami Beach, few are more popular than the Clevelander (1020 Ocean Drive), which also operates a bar inside Marlins Park.

Stray off the beaten path
Miami’s Art Deco architecture is one of its most well-known traits. Walking tours are offered for anyone who wants to explore these styles of buildings, starting at Miami Beach. For a more up-and-coming taste of Miami culture, head to the Wynwood Art District north of downtown, home to a number of old buildings rehabilitated into art galleries, museums, restaurants and shops.

More sports
The University of Miami is the most well-known school in town when it comes to collegiate athletics, but not the only one. Florida International (in West Miami) and Florida Atlantic (in Boca Raton) both have relatively young Division I football programs and on-campus stadiums. Come bowl season, the region currently hosts three games, the Orange Bowl (at Sun Life Stadium), the Miami Beach Bowl (at Marlins Park) and the Boca Raton Bowl (at FAU Stadium).

NASCAR holds two race weekends per season, including the final race for its top series, at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead. And the ATP and WTA tennis tours hold the Miami Open tournament every March-April at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park.