Miami’s Great Outdoors

Miami’s Great Outdoors
(EB Adventure Photography/Shutterstock)

Miami is where you go to soak up the sun, enjoy a cultural experience or a neon-lit night on the town, and maybe even catch a Miami Heat game—but for a less-touristy take on the Magic City, visitors can opt outside to explore Miami’s version of the Great Outdoors.

And we’re not just talking about South Beach (though Miami’s beaches are plenty beautiful) and Wynwood Walls (though its acres of colorful murals are entirely Instagram-worthy); there are lots of ways to have fun in the Florida sun, even beyond the beach and other oft-visited spots.

The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau even has a name for Miami’s many outdoor offerings: MiamiLand. Below, we explore a variety of outdoor adventures and alfresco arts-and-culture options in Miami and its surrounding areas. At these outdoor activities in Miami, do double-duty by securing your daily dose of vitamin D while enjoying some of the city’s best off-the-beaten-path adventures.
Many visitors may not even realize these places exist, but exploring another side of Miami—from untamed wilderness to colorful underwater reefs—is part of the fun: the city has many unique outdoor offerings.

Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

Formerly known as Villa Vizcaya, the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens was once home to industrial baron James Deering (of the Deering Harvester Co./International Harvester fortune). Located on beautiful Biscayne Bay in the ritzy neighborhood of Coconut Grove, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens features gorgeous Mediterranean Revival architecture with Baroque elements, construction of which began in 1912.

While there’s a lot of history to explore within the villa’s museum, its gardens are an equally impressive attraction—they’re some of the most elaborate in America, in fact. Inspired by the gardens of 17th- and 18th-century Italy and France, Vizcaya’s landscape architecture was designed to feel like exploring a series of outdoor “rooms” with hedges and plants arranged geometrically. There are gardens, fountains, historic oak trees, native and rare species of plants, thousands of colorful and endangered orchids, and even dense subtropical forest. Strolling the property is a true “hidden gem” of Miami.

Currently, online tickets are required and visitors must wear a mask.

Deering Estate

Want more Deering history? Head to the 1920s-era Deering Estate, formerly the Florida home of Charles Deering (half-brother of James, mentioned above) and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also located on Biscayne Bay, but about a half-hour drive away, the Deering Estate has both a museum and beautiful gardens to explore, plus historic nature walks and even kayak rentals if you’d like to paddle out onto the bay. Visitors rave about exploring the hiking trails and other natural resources on the property.
Interestingly, the Deering Estate is also part of the Biscayne Bay IBA (Important Bird Area) and is located along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, a 2,000-mile, self-guided trail that connects 500 bird-happy sites across Florida. In other words, the estate is not only architecturally intriguing but also provides great opportunities for bird-watching and possibly even spotting other forms of wildlife. Guided bird walks are offered monthly.

National Parks, Preserves, and Gardens

A heron takes flight at sunrise in Everglades National Park. (Brian Lasenby/Shutterstock)
A heron takes flight at sunrise in Everglades National Park. (Brian Lasenby/Shutterstock)
Did you know Miami is the only U.S. city that has two different national parks on its borders? Visitors can head to nearby Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park for unforgettable adventures in the wilderness. The city is also home to more walking and hiking trails than you’d expect.

Everglades National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its one-of-a-kind ecosystem, filled with marshes, swamps, wetlands, and lots of wildlife, especially alligators; Biscayne National Park is almost entirely underwater and that’s a big part of what makes it so appealing (snorkeling and boating are the name of the game at this national park).

For even more adventure, head west to Big Cypress National Preserve, which happens to be America’s first national preserve. Visitors can explore this wild swampland on elevated boardwalks running throughout the preserve or enjoy an even more up-close encounter via kayak, swamp buggy, or airboat. Plan to stay for nightfall, too—Big Cypress National Preserve is an International Dark Sky-designated location, one of Florida’s best spots for stargazing.

Another local favorite is Matheson Hammock Park, near the 83-acre Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden; visitors can wander swampland, mangrove forests, and a cove of Biscayne Bay. For even more ways to explore, head to Oleta River State Park, where you can rent kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards; go mountain biking; or simply enjoy a picnic.

Get Out on the Water

A major part of the draw of Miami is its tropical, coastal location, so visitors would be remiss to leave an on-the-water (or in-the-water) activity off the itinerary. You can swim and snorkel at Miami’s various parks and beaches, and kayak or canoe in a variety of locations as well, but boating and sailing are also worth adding to the agenda. Water sports such as windsurfing (which you can take lessons for in Miami) are also worth considering, depending on your desired level of adventure.

Booking a dive or fishing charter is another solid option if your thirst for thrill is calling you to head deeper out into the sea. Miami is connected to the Florida Straits—the third-largest barrier reef in the world—so visitors will find ample opportunities to explore both natural and artificial reefs. There are various tour companies and outfitters who offer dive and snorkel charters, and if you have enough time, you can even get scuba-certified during your visit.

As far as fishing Miami’s teeming waters, visitors can hook a catch either on land—head to South Pointe Park Pier, the Haulover Inlet Jetty, or Newport Fishing Pier in Sunny Isles Beach—or on a deep-sea fishing charter heading out to the Atlantic Gulf Stream. For the greatest chances of catching a big one, secure an expert fishing guide who knows the waters.

Other fun boating options include the Island Queen Cruise, which gives passengers a tour of both million-dollar Star Island homes and the downtown skyline, and the super-fast Thriller Miami Speedboat, which passes highlights such as PortMiami, Star Island, Monument Island, Fisher Island, and South Beach. Heading out to historic Stiltsville with Ocean Force Adventures is another only-in-Miami adventure worth checking off your list.

Skye Sherman is a freelance travel writer based in West Palm Beach, Fla. She covers news, transit, and international destinations for a variety of outlets. You can follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter @skyesherman
Skye Sherman is a freelance travel writer based in West Palm Beach, Fla. She covers news, transit, and international destinations for a variety of outlets. You can follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter @skyesherman
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