A few minutes from downtown Miami and Miami Beach, North Miami is a well-located suburb with a lot of things to do close by.
The local cultural heavyweight is the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), putting on thought-provoking exhibitions, and engaging the community with programs like a monthly jazz concert.
I have spent a lot of time enjoying North Miami’s nature, kayaking among the mangroves at the Oleta River State Park, or strolling through subtropical forest along Arch Creek, which has exciting Native American history.
In this article I’ll look at things you can do in North Miami, and will then branch out to some of Miami’s more famous touchstones.
1. The Ancient Spanish Monastery
Described as the largest and most expensive jigsaw puzzle in the world, this landmark in North Miami Beach has an amazing history, spanning the Atlantic and reaching nearly 1,000 years into the past.
Originally constructed in the early 12th century, for much of their life these Romanesque and Gothic cloisters were used for their originally intended purpose, as part of a monastery.
Fast forward to the 1920s and the building was bought by American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, disassembled, shipped to its current site in Florida, and reassembled.
There’s a whole lot more to the story, so consider stopping at this rare Florida gem for a few hours to unwrap the mystery.
The exquisite gardens might be the best part of the Ancient Spanish Monastery for me. I found out that the staff use only natural pesticides, and nothing that will run off into the canal, and cause harm to the environment.
2. Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami (MOCA)
Putting North Miami on the cultural radar is this award-winning art museum, founded in 1981. The museum complex dates from the mid-1990s, and the palm-dotted plaza in front is a canvas for outdoor sculpture exhibits.
MOCA has staged solo and survey exhibitions for some luminaries of the contemporary art world, among them Tracey Emin, Bill Viola, and Edouard Duval-Carrié.
When I was here last, there was an exhibition for the groundbreaking Polish artist Maryan, whose sculpture, painting, and drawing depicted his firsthand experiences of the Holocaust.
Something to mark on your calendar is the Jazz at MOCA series, with a fantastic series of shows taking place on the last Friday of the month at 8:00 pm.
3. Oleta River State Park
The Oleta River is one of the area’s hotspots for outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers, and amateur photographers.
Oleta River State Park can really draw the crowds, especially during peak times. Unlike many parks, once they’ve reached their maximum capacity, they stop admitting guests.
No doubt, it’s the fantastic wilderness and variety of activities like swimming, kayaking, biking, and paddle-boarding that make it so popular.
Personally, I can’t think of a better way to spend a day than paddling among the mangroves at this park. You can get all the gear you need from the Oleta River Center, which also has bikes for the many miles of wilderness trails.
Check the center’s website for details of upcoming guided experiences, like paddleboard yoga.
4. Enchanted Forest Elaine Gordon Park
Arch Creek passes through North Miami near the end of its lazy route from the Everglades to Biscayne Bay.
One of the parks on its banks is this 22-acre slice of subtropical paradise. With its dense vegetation and beautiful little glades, I almost forgot I was still in the city at Enchanted Forest Elaine Gordon Park.
Along the paved trails you’ll happen upon an uplifting monument to South Florida’s LGBTQ+ community, installed in 2017.
Last but not least is MM Equestrian Farm, a private enterprise within the park’s boundaries. There’a a horse stables, petting farm, and a pony ride service here, and my little guy had a great time meeting the barnyard animals.
5. Haulover Park
If you want to feel the sand between your toes and the wind in your hair, I’d point you in the direction of Haulover Park, a few minutes east of North Miami.
What you’ll find is 1.5 miles of soft white sand with rolling Atlantic waves and aquamarine waters.
Head a little further north and there’s a clothing optional beach, half a mile long and claimed to be the largest in the United States.
The park is also packed with amenities, including picnic areas, a big green space for kite-flying, a kite shop, a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts and a dog park.
For me, Haulover Park is at its best on Tuesdays when there’s a whole fleet of food trucks, as part of a weekly event taking place all year round.
6. Arch Creek Park
Native American history and natural history are the focus at this small park on the bank of the eponymous creek.
In fact, Arch Creek was named for a natural limestone bridge that spanned the watercourse up to 1973 when it collapsed.
You can see a replica at the park, and find out more about a landscape that was important to the Tequestra tribe, which resided here until the 1500s.
Arch Creek Park is great for a little escape to nature, hiking through a parcel of live oaks and gumbo limbo trees, and maybe catching sight of an egret or kingfisher.
What I liked most about the park is the nature center, in a charming cabin and displaying interesting finds relating to the Tequesta and the early European pioneers.
7. Explore Miami Beach’s Art Deco Scene
Perfect weather, jet-setting clientele, and exclusive clubs, restaurants, and shopping are all part of the blend in Miami Beach. And these are all complemented by one of America’s most beautiful cityscapes.
Miami Beach’s four historic districts are blessed with breathtaking architecture in the Mediterranean Revival, Art Deco and Miami Modern (MiMo) styles.
Art Deco is the most iconic of all, especially along the famous facades fronting South Beach, mostly from the movement’s heyday in the ’20s and ’30s.
I needed some extra background, so I joined one of the walking tours given by the Miami Design Preservation League. The tour took 90 minutes, and I got to see inside several Art Deco lobbies.
8. The Miami Children’s Museum
During the summer months, the double-whammies of high heat and humidity can make being outside in south Florida a brutal experience.
If you’re traveling with little ones, I’d suggest you have a few indoor activity options in your back pocket.
Located on a small island between Miami and South Beach, the Miami Children’s Museum brims with hands-on exhibits and activities that touch on science, art, culture and the natural world.
My kids had a blast dressing up and roleplaying jobs, becoming police officers, firefighters, construction workers, and veterinarians.
Between admission and parking, it’s not exactly the cheapest destination in the area, but considering all there is to see and do, most families consider it money well-spent.
9. Miami Botanical Garden
Small but sensational, the Miami Beach Botanical Garden sits on two and a half acres in the heart of Miami Beach
This oasis was officially founded in 1962, when forward-thinking city planners saw a gap in the city’s cultural attractions.
Before that, the area around what is now the garden was mostly agricultural, known for avocado and mango farms.
A recent turning point came back in 2011, when the site was given a complete renovation. Today the garden is flush with native Florida plants, from palms to orchids.
What shook me was just how much animal life there was here, with koi, turtles and lizards making the most of this tropical environment.
To go with its stunning grounds, distinct gardens, and variety of species, the facility offers an array of yoga and wellness programs.
10. Wynwood Walls
One of the area’s most unique and appreciated art attractions, Wynwood Walls is a former industrial district that has been transformed into an outdoor gallery since 2009.
The regeneration project has gained a reputation worldwide for its huge, eye-popping murals, produced by local, regional, and international artists.
Take as much time as you need, and you’ll see cutting-edge work by more than 100 artists from over 20 different countries.
I love how these pieces just leap off the wall, and, with prints, fashion, figures, and more, you can visit the shop and take a piece of the street home with you.
You could easily make a day of it, as there are a number of trendy but welcoming galleries, eateries, and shops in the bohemian Wynwood neighborhood.
11. Yellow Green Farmers Market
Close by in Hollywood, you can visit one of the best farmers’ markets for miles. The Yellow Green Farmers Market is among the largest in South Florida, with 600 vendor booths in an enormous former industrial complex.
The choice is immense, running the gamut from seasonal fruits and vegetables to fish, meats, flowers, arts & crafts, and wellness products.
On a normal day there are more than 200 vendors selling prepared food and beverages, and on my last visit I treated myself to ceviche, delicious oysters, and coconut milk.
The market is open year-round on Saturdays and Sundays from the morning until the late afternoon, and visiting is a great way to support farmers and entrepreneurs.
12. Hollywood Hot Glass
If you want to try something new and creative, a trip to Hollywood Hot Glass Studio in Hollywood, Florida is the perfect way to do just that.
For those who’ve never seen hot glass blown and formed into amazing items like vases, bowls, and lamps, it’s quite a sight.
It requires immense heat, lungs of steel, and plenty of imagination. The studio has a gallery full of fantastic items created by craftsmen and women on site.
For me, the best thing about Hollywood Hot Glass is the opportunity to get involved in the process.
The Hot Glass Class is the name for the studio’s workshop program. Just visit their website and select the project that catches your eye.
13. Dezerland Action Park
When I put this list together, this cavernous indoor entertainment center, established by the flamboyant real estate developer Michael Dezer, had recently been given an overhaul
Dezerland Action Park has a wide choice of attractions in a 250,000-square-foot complex. You’ve got an arcade with 200+ games, a ropes course, a climbing wall, bumper cars, roller skating, a karting track, a virtual reality park, and a trampoline park.
If you’re on the lookout for something to do on a rainy day, this is a good option. Highlights for me were the large arcade, which has 80+ machines, and the karting track.
14. Greynolds Park Golf Course
On West Dixie Highway in North Miami Beach, Greynolds Golf Course probably won’t host the PGA Tour or Masters anytime soon, but that is part of its allure.
Consisting of just nine holes totaling slightly more than 3,000 yards, the par-36 course is often overlooked by the most serious golfers.
What appeals to me though is the reasonable price-point and the absence of crowds, considering its location.
Greynolds Golf Course has been around since the mid-’60s, and offers all the amenities you’d expect, like electric carts, a pro shop, and even club rentals for those who don’t have their own.
There are even single-rider handicapped golf carts available if they’re requested prior to arrival.