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Miami – home to beautiful beaches, beautiful people and one of the more expensive cities in the US to vacation (though probably not the worst – here’s lookin’ at you NYC!)
We first visited Miami over the January winter break, and could not have found a more wonderful city to visit in the midst of our first Boston winter.
What made our trip to Miami a little challenging was the fact that we were on a budget.
Shock horror – I just used the words “Miami” and “Budget” in the same sentence.
I know, these two terms could not be more worlds apart, but the truth is, visiting Miami on a budget can be done. It takes lots of planning and research 😉
But it can be done, and you can most definitely enjoy yourself too!
How to travel to Miami on a budget
If you live in a nearby state and can drive, then you probably have this covered.
But if you’re flying into Florida, flights can be expensive.
Lucky for you, you have two airport choices (I know, pretty amazing right?!)
- Miami International Aiport; or
- Fort Lauderdale Airport
Technically Fort Lauderdale is not actually in Miami. But as a 40 min drive away, it’s close enough to save you $$ when visiting Miami. This is especially the case if you need to rent a car from the airport anyway – you won’t need to pay transfer fees. Just gas and your own sweet time!
Make sure you take into account transport costs if you’re not renting a car – depending on the time of day, an Uber trip between Miami and Fort Lauderdale could cost up to $40 USD.
If you are planning your vacation well in advance, look out for sale fares. My favorite tool for this is Scott’s Cheap Flights subscription service. They have both free and paid options (tip: the paid option sends around wayyy better fares!)
All you need to do is nominate your closest airport, and you’ll receive sale fares straight to your inbox.
I unfortunately only subscribed to Scott’s Cheap Flights after my Miami trip, and kept on seeing sale fares from Boston to Miami when we’d already been! (You know when you buy a car, and suddenly you see it everywhere? Yeah – that was me, but with flights!)
Getting around Miami on a budget
If you’re planning on staying within Miami, you might be able to travel without a car rental. Unfortunately, the public transport network in Miami is not very extensive. If you’re unable to drive, your best option is using the car ride service, Uber. For budget travelers, Uber Pool is available in Miami and is a great option (especially if you’re not in a rush to be anywhere!)
Note: Uber Pool is just like Uber, only you ride gets paired up with other people using Uber heading in a similar direction. You may end up sharing your trip with others!
If you’re traveling as a family or would like to explore surrounding Miami and the Everglades, I’d highly recommend you to rent a car. An added bonus with the car is that you can also save on transfer costs to/from the airport!
If you’re after a reliable car-hire company, I’d recommend Hertz (I’ve used them throughout the US and internationally and have not had any issues).
Otherwise, Turo is an excellent budget-friendly option (it’s like Airbnb but for car rental!)
If you’re from a country where you drive on the left side of the road, driving in the US can pose its challenges. I have a guide where a share tips for driving on the “other” side of the road to what you’re used to – check it out here!
Finding Budget Accommodation in Miami
Accommodation can be one of the most if not the most expensive part of your visit to Miami.
And how expensive you go, depends on your priorities and whether you’re planning on having a car with you during your time in Miami.
Firstly, you should avoid hotels in South Beach unless you want to spend big.
These are where the most expensive hotels in Miami are. If you’re not careful, you will also end up spending more on parking (this can be between $20 – 30 per day), and daily resort fees in addition to your hotel rate.
So… where should you stay?
Most visitors opt for staying in South Beach. You’ll closeby Ocean Drive, the beautiful Art Deco buildings and the famous South Beach. While the area isn’t super budget-friendly, there are so many options whether you’re a backpacker, family or couple trying to travel on a budget!
I’ve put together some budget-friendly options on South Beach for you:
For backpackers: Ocean Blue Hostel
While South Beach is not the most backpacker friendly of places, you can still get your accommodation at backpacker prices. The Ocean Blue Hostel is the only hostel on Miami Beach (yes, only!!) and they even offer free breakfast!
Couples on a budget: Hotel La Flora
This boutique hotel is a short walk from Ocean Drive and is perfect for couples who are traveling to Miami on a budget. They even have complimentary continental breakfast and have a cocktail hour from their craft cocktail bar (yum!)
Families on a budget: I’d recommend an apartment rental/ Airbnb
Most of the hotels in south beach are along Ocean Drive and there aren’t too many options for families. I’d highly recommend renting an apartment. You’ll have the benefit of being close to South Beach without paying for the price tag of extra rooms!
You might even be able to stay in one of the adorable Art Deco buildings in the area (just make sure you check if parking is available!)
If you’re on a super tight budget, then you’ll probably want to stay outside of South Beach. If you do this, be prepared to shell out for a Uber or drive and pay for parking if you’d like to visit South Beach.
Other areas worth staying include: Downtown Miami, Key Biscayne (which is a beachy area and a lot more quiet than South Beach) or Coconut Grove.
For up-to-date deals, check out the deals finder from Booking.com:
Eating in Miami on a budget
Food can get pretty expensive here.
Lucky for you, Miami is a melting pot of cultures and can make for some pretty exciting food experiences.
What does this mean?
If you’re planning on visiting Miami on a budget, you don’t have to spend big on food to enjoy yourself. Granted, there are some mouth-watering food options if you have the $$. But you won’t miss out if you’re on a budget either!
So, whatever you do, don’t eat on Ocean Drive
You will be tempted.
It’ll be hot. You probably spent your morning on the beach. The people out the front of the restaurants will be waving at you, and they look so friendly!
You will pay an arm and a leg for a meal on Ocean Drive.
And you will regret it. Just don’t do it.
So where should you eat?
As I mentioned before, Miami is a melting pot of cultures. This not only makes for great food but also cheaper food options. From mouth watering tacos to Cuban sandwiches, opting for ethnic food options will not only satisfy your inner foodie but also be kind to your wallet.
Make sure you stay away from the food hell that is South Beach. If you need to eat in the area, opt for restaurants that are well away from Ocean Drive.
Budget friendly activities in Miami
The thing I loved the most about visiting Miami was that you don’t need to pay entry for every single activity you do. The best things to do in Miami are free. Or super cheap.
Perfect for those of us who are planning on visiting Miami on a budget, right?!
So here are my recommendations for activities in Miami for budget travelers:
1. Relax on South Beach
I know, kind of cliche. But for good reason.
South Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the world and a stone’s throw away from the famous Ocean Drive.
It’s worth spending a morning or afternoon here. Lucky for us budget travelers, you can do this all with zero impact to your wallet. If you get bored, you can even go for a wander and check out the Art Deco life guard stands.
2. Check out Art Deco buildings on Ocean Drive
Firstly, are you standing on the pavement closest to all the restaurants on Ocean Drive?
Cross the road.
You want to be on the side of Ocean Drive that is closest to the beach.
It’s hard to enjoy the architecture of this street if you’re busy fending off the overly friendly people who want you to eat at their restaurant. Plus, you get a better view of the architecture.
3. Street Art at Wynwood Walls
If you haven’t heard of Wynwood Walls, you need to put them at the TOP of your list.
The area has cute boutique stores, hip cafes and the coolest street art. If you follow Google Maps, you’ll find yourself at the “official” Wynwood Walls, but in reality, the surrounding streets and area have just as cool, if not better street art.
And the cost of visiting?
The most you’ll pay is for car parking (if you end up driving here). Surrounding streets have paid parking (free parking spots are essentially non-existent), but for only $1.50 per hour, it’s a small price to pay to spend a few hours here! Make sure to check out my Miami Travel Guide for more info about how parking works in Miami.
4. Visit Little Havana
I’m going to be super upfront about this (because if we can’t be honest about Little Havana, what can we be honest about??)
Little Havana is worth a visit, but if you’re expecting a “little” version of the real Havana, you are going to be super disappointed.
The area still has remnants of its Cuban immigrant heritage but has a gloss of tourism about it.
Even though Little Havana is more touristy these days, a visit is still worth the effort. The area has some great food options and will help visitors understand Miami’s immigrant history.
5. Visit a Museum
You heard that right. Beautiful, beachy, sunny Miami has museums.
I know – you’re probably like “what is this girl on about?”
“I came to Miami for the beaches!”
Sure, if you’re not a museum person, you’ll probably want to give these a pass, but if you like art – Miami is almost like heaven.
If you’re in South Beach, it’s worth checking out the Wolfsonian Museum. Entry for adults is $10 and only $5 for students who have an ID. If you plan your visit in advance, you can even get free admission on a Friday evening (6 PM – 9 PM).
Another museum worth checking out is Miami’s Perez Art Museum. A bit more popular (and slightly more expensive!) this museum has a wide range of contemporary art exhibits. There’s also a restaurant (delicious but pricey $$) and an outdoor hanging garden, perfect for those Instagram Lovers out there. Entry is $16 for adults and $12 for students who have an ID. If you visit on the 2nd Saturday of the month or Thursdays (10 AM – 9 PM), you can even get free admission!
Despite its reputation as a glossy, expensive city, visiting Miami on a budget can be done.
When you visit, don’t let the barricade of costs stop you from exploring this vibrant and colorful city. And most importantly, have fun while you’re there!
Psst! Are you planning your Miami vacation now? Check out the links below: