The VICE Guide to Miami: Art, Culture, and the Great Outdoors

Welcome to the city that's blossomed from a backyard garden to an all-out jungle.

by VICE Travel Staff
18 February 2016, 12:00am

Photos by Ian Patrick O'Connor except where noted

Putting your vapid Miami Vice fantasies of the Magic City to rest has been the mission of a generation of millennials and settled-down Gen-Xers who chose to stay in this sunny town instead of fleeing to New York or Los Angeles. They met their goal of creating strong, supportive art, music, fashion, and foodie scenes in a town mostly known for the quality of its cocaine.

And since Art Basel sat its fat art ass on Miami Beach over a decade back, culturally, the city has blossomed from a backyard garden to an all-out jungle. There's always been something completely other to do in Miami, and those weird roadside attractions withstood the test of time, but nowadays, the city has plenty of legit cool galleries, contemporary art collections and world-class museums that mentally and visually transport you to tropical Caribbean islands.

Yes, go to Miami Beach; that shit is amazing. The water is piss warm in November. It's heavenly. But don't miss all of the other feats of cultural genius that have sprouted from the minds and hands of Miami's weirdest and most ambitious creators.

The Everglades
South Florida has one of the most unique water systems on the planet, the Everglades. Now, you can take your chances with the sawgrass, mosquitoes, and gators by canoeing there, or you can just hit up the Miccosukee Indian Village for a very loud but intimate airboat ride. The boats are driven by redneck Seminoles who are so familiar with the landscape that they see an overlay of a roadmap on what looks like an endless River of Grass. The Village also has a bit of alligator wrestling for the kiddies. You usually get to pet a baby gator yourself, so it's worth a trip.

The HM69 Nike Missile Base
Built in Everglades National Park right after the Cuban Missile Crisis, this decommissioned missile base once had nukes aimed at Havana. It's one of the few places where you can enjoy one of the most unique ecosystems in the world while also contemplating the prospect of total annihilation. Guided tours of this creepy Cold War relic are given December through April.

The Everglades is being overrun by pythons because a bunch of former owners realized that having a giant snake is a stupid idea. These snakes are destroying the Everglades ecosystem, and driving down gator and bird populations—which is why there's a contest to destroy them. Though you need a permit to hunt these exotic serpents, feel free to still take a Snap of 'em. Be sure to then report these fuckers to the National Park Service.

Ocean Drive
You would be a fool not to take in all the ridiculousness of the beachside strip of Ocean Drive. South Beach may be like that tacky old stereotypical aunt you're not sure your friends will like, but her tasteless jokes and faux pas are what make her so special. There's an actual gay beach at 12 Street. And you can enjoy a drag brunch with insane acrobatics by experienced drag queens and unlimited mimosas at Palace Bar across the street. And, because fuck it, go to Mango's Tropical Café for a drink but not food. This will be where you realize you're no better than anyone else in the world, and that salsa dancing kind of makes you horny.

Vizcaya, photo by Christina Arza

Charles Deering Estate
Vizcaya may be the fanciest castle-like villa in town—it took James Deering nine years to build—but his less pretentious brother Charles made a more humble but equally charming real estate investment. Down Old Cutler Road, you'll find the succulent Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens, the former Parrot Jungle grounds where some Macaws remain, and even a mangrove you can bike through to a man-made beach at Matheson Hammock Park. But driving further leads you to the Charles Deering Estate. The three-story wooden house built in 1900 overlooks a tropical hammock, untouched by man. Fairchild may be more lush, but this place will blast your ass back to living in Florida in the '20s—and it feels the good kind of spooky. It's simple, it has breathtaking sunsets, and if you're rich and patient, you can get married there.

O Cinema
You would never think that a town where Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach was filmed would be a hot-spot for watching and making indie films. There have always been small theaters showing obscure films in Miami, but since 2011, indie and cutting-edge movies have been proudly shown (and watched) at Wynwood's O Cinema. Since then, the nonprofit has expanded to Miami Shores and North Miami. There's also a nice little filmmaker scene in SoFla, at the center of which is the Borscht Film Festival. For this semi annual blowout event, locals create shorts, many of which have made their way to film fests worldwide and rocked Sundance more than once.

Photo by Christina Arza

Russian and Turkish Baths
People usually get to Miami and decide they "need to relax" after drinking for three days straight. They think it'll cure their alcohol-induced acne and lurching stomach. These people usually hit the spa at the Standard or the Delano, which are, granted, very nice. But if you want a side of borscht with your back rub, head a little further north up Collins Avenue to the Russian and Turkish Baths in the basement of the Castle Beach Club hotel. Not only does it have the regular spa stuff, but also an infrared sauna and a very odd coed hammam with a heavy duty salt waterfall. There's a full kitchen serving up Russian cuisine right next to the gym down there too. This is the strangest spa you may ever enjoy.

Venetian Pool
The Venetian Pool is situated in the heart of Coral Gables (See: Neighborhoods We Love) and is made entirely out of coral. Years ago, they would empty out the massive pool daily because they only used freezing cold, fresh water. Someone must have informed them that they were sucking the Everglades dry or something because they use normal pool water now. There's a dark grotto for fucking (j/k) or smooching and a waterfall that you're really not supposed to jump off.

Haulover Beach
It's hot in Miami, so your unmentionables will occasionally want some air. Don't bring them out in public unless you're on Haulover Beach. This naturist enclave is at the northernmost tip of the county with a gay and straight side, so sun accordingly.

Miami has museums. You may not know that, but it does. The largest is the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), which is an eco-friendly Herzog de Meuron structure with huge hanging gardens, situated on Biscayne Bay where dolphins leap. You can sit on the grand, but austere outdoor staircase to watch cruise ships float by or head inside for exhibitions featuring some of the bigger names in contemporary art like Doris Salcedo. The much newer Institute for Contemporary Art Miami is currently occupying the beautiful Moore space in the Design District while its new structure is being built. Kim Gordon played at its first ever gala and ICA's star curator Alex Gartenfeld is pulling in legit shows that have all eyes on Miami.

Art Galleries and Collections
Ever since Art Basel Miami Beach crashed down on South Florida, the local art scene has become overwhelming. Locust Projects has been showcasing the area's best artists since 1998. The Little Haiti area is booming with worthwhile galleries like Spinello Projects, Dorsch Gallery, and Diet Gallery. But little do many know, Miami has three of the largest private, contemporary art collections in the U.S. on display. They are all within a mile of each other and function almost like museums. The De la Cruz Collection built out a huge structure in what has become the very high-end, posh shopping hood, the Design District. Two Wynwood originals and strongholds are the Rubell Family Collection and the Margulies Collection--all which demonstrate why it'd be cool to make a ton of money and buy all of your favorite art.

Formerly Guccivuitton, VersaceVersaceVersace is unquestionably the hottest artist-led gallery in Miami right now. A space that focuses on future-bent contemporary art and regional folk vernacular, the gallery is the perfect blend of smart, cheekily self-aware, and local af. Run by Loriel Beltran, Aramis Gutierrez, and Domingo Castillo, you can expect high concepts and deep meditations on the role of luxury in Miami.

Coral Castle/Monkey Jungle/Stiltsville National Park
The only really good reason to travel by car in the U.S. are the roadside attractions. Miami has its share, but the most spectacular oddities have to be Monkey Jungle, where you're the one caged and the monkeys run free. There's Coral Castle, an outdoor structure with a throne, half moons, and a Saturn made of coral rock by a tiny Latvian man in the twenties. It has one of the most bizarre, romantic, and possibly supernatural backstories of any attraction. There's also Stiltsville National Park, which you have to boat to and get a permit to visit. We've never been there, but chilling and staring at those houses out on stilts looks like a nice way to pass a Sunday.

The Skunk Ape Headquarters
The Skunk Ape is Florida's filthy version of Bigfoot. The Skunk Ape Headquarters is a kitschy "research" facility in Big Cypress National Preserve, dedicated to the hunt for the elusive hominid. Unlike its fresher, pinier-smelling Pacific cousin, the Skunk Ape reportedly smells like shit. Go to the headquarters for Skunk Ape swag and tours.

Miami Jai Alai
Besides the name of a local poetry magazine, Jai Alai is a sport originally from the Basque region. Dudes with xisteras (curved bat things) swing a ball at crazy speeds against a wall, (usually) barely avoiding injury. Though we're not exactly sure how teams win, it's great to watch and bet on, especially when drinking cheap beer and yelling.

Super Wheels
Formerly Hot Wheels, Super Wheels is a classic skating rink where many of us natives grew up booty dancing to Miami bass. Go if you're into cheesy neon, skating in a circle for hours, and Uncle Luke blasting at high volumes. Watch out for the 10-year-old pros whizzing past you while skating backwards and teaching you how to dougie.