15 Best Things to Do in South Miami (FL)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Bordering the wealthy cities of Pinecrest and Coral Gables, South Miami was incorporated in 1927. Around this time, the University of Miami (UM) campus was just taking shape next door.

South Miami is blessed with a vital downtown area, served by a Metrorail station and hosting a big arts festival every February. On Biscayne Bay, the surrounding area abounds with lush parks and botanical gardens.

In fact, there are two nationally renowned gardens within five minutes of South Miami, both demanding a visit. Meanwhile, with its feast of sports, culture, and entertainment, UM will appear a few times in my article.

1. The University of Miami

Many aspects of South Miami’s history are entwined with the University of Miami, abutting the city to the east. 

Founded in 1925, the campus is well worth visiting, and I’ve saved extra space for key attractions like the Lowe Art Museum and the Watsco Center.

For live performing arts you’ve got the Ring Theater, where actors like Sly Stallone and Ray Liotta cut their teeth. Serious movie lovers will make a bee-line for the Bill Gosford Cinema, a non-profit arthouse theater with a 70-square-foot screen.

You can spend a hushed few minutes wandering in the Gifford Arboretum, or set a course for the iconic U-Statue on Foote University Green.

I’d also keep the Kislak Center in mind. Home to UM’s special collections and archives, the center puts on enthralling exhibitions. You might see a letter written by Christopher Columbus, or a millennia-old Olmec cup.

2. Dadeland Mall

Dadeland MallSource: Kristi Blokhin / shutterstock
Dadeland Mall

A minute or two down US 1 and you’ll come to this cavernous mall, dating back more than 60 years. Naturally the Dadeland Mall has witnessed a variety of expansions and refits since then.

Today there are upwards of 160 tenants, and a recent addition when I was in town was the AC Hotel Miami Dadeland.

For an idea of the shopping scene, you’ve got high-end brands like Guess, Apple, Tesla, Armani Exchange, L’Occitane, Boss, and Michael Kors. Although there’s an upscale air, there’s no lack of mid-market options, like Gap, Macy’s, JCPenney, and American Eagle, to name a handful. 

Food-wise, Dadeland Mall runs the gamut from fast food to fine dining. Think Shake Shack, The Cheesecake Factory, Aoki Teppanyaki, Popeyes and many more.

3. Downtown SoMi

Occupying a triangle bounded to the west by US 1 and crossed by Sunrise Drive, South Miami has an historic downtown that warrants some exploration.

What appeals to me most about Downtown SoMi is the dining scene. In the space of just a couple of blocks there’s an enticing buffet of international cuisines. 

All are locally owned businesses, on a spectrum that includes salad bowls, Portuguese, Japanese, tapas, Cuban, Peruvian, breakfast food, pasta, bubble tea, Persian and more.

There’s shopping to be done here, with a mix of mom and pop stores and snazzy boutiques and home design shops. Try to be here in February for the awesome Rotary Arts Festival, going back to the early 80s.

4. The Shops at Sunset Place

In the 1990s this large lifestyle center opened next to South Miami’s historic downtown. At a time when outdoor malls are booming, I have no trouble seeing the potential The Shops at Sunset Place.

All the same, there were a few vacant storefronts when I took a look around, and the complex had just been sold at a massive loss for Simon Property Group. 

There’s a collection of eateries, and a small assortment of stores, including a branch of Barnes & Noble. The center is also home to South Miami’s movie theater. This is an enormous 24-screen AMC multiplex, with a premium IMAX auditorium.

5. Lowe Art Museum

Lowe Art MuseumSource: 8ABL / Wikimedia
Lowe Art Museum

One of the great university art museums can be found on the UM campus. Founded in 1950, the Lowe Art Museum has a sensational collection, with selections spread across 14 rooms.  

You’ll see a bit of everything including ancient antiquities, Asian Art, Renaissance and Baroque painting, Indigenous American pottery, and contemporary glass and ceramics. 

The museum also has an important inventory of contemporary sculpture, dispersed throughout the campus.

When I was here, there was also a captivating exhibition for Cuban contemporary artist, Sandra Ramos. Entropydoscopes consisted of lightboxes with kaleidoscopic videos, evoking memories.

6. The Watsco Center

UM’s men’s and women’s basketball teams play their home games at this 7,972-seat arena, which opened in 2004.

Both programs are formidable, making regular NCAA tournament appearances, and with numerous men making it to the NBA. The year I wrote this article the women had made the Elite Eight, while the men went all the way to the Final Four. 

The arena doubles as a major concert venue, welcoming the likes of DaBaby, Drake, Green Day and Coldplay. Also on the agenda are family shows, lectures, conventions, and a slew of university events. 

Finally, political history has been made here, with presidential and Republican presidential primary debates in 2004, and 2016.

7. South Miami Rotary Arts Festival

For two days in February, South Miami’s premier annual event is an arts extravaganza in the heart of the historic downtown. When I wrote this article, the South Miami Rotary Arts Festival was coming up for its 40th edition.

With free admission, this is a multifaceted celebration of the arts, with the work of 120+ artists on show along Sunset Drive. There are around a dozen different categories, from ceramics to digital art, so you’re sure to find something unique.

The booths are complemented by an international food court with something for all palates, while a live jazz stage adds a sophisticated ambience.

8. Tropical Park

With many feathers in its cap, this treasured public park is just past South Miami’s western boundary. In Miami’s Westchester neighborhood, Tropical Park was actually a racetrack from 1931 up to the 1970s.

Horses still have a place at the park, with a premier equestrian center, which hosts dozens of shows each year. 

Elsewhere there’s a multitude of amenities, with everything from nature trails and fitness zones to basketball courts, playgrounds, racquetball courts, and tennis courts.

For my part, the best time to be here is on Friday evenings for the weekly food truck festival. Accompanied by kids’ activities there’s something for everyone, whether you’re in the mood for shawarma, tacos, toasted corn, burgers, pizza, or sweet treats.

9. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Fairchild Tropical Botanical GardenSource: S.Borisov / shutterstock
Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden

I had never heard of him before I came to South Florida, but the botanist and plant explorer, David Fairchild (1869-1954) made an enduring impact on American life.

He is credited with introducing some 200,000 exotic plants to these soils, among them bamboos, soybeans, mangos, and nectarines.

In 1938 some wealthy friends established this splendid botanical garden in Fairchild’s honor. Partly devoted to research and conservation, the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden is a treat.

Specialties include orchids, palms, cycads, and bromeliads. There are numerous ginger cultivars, as well as the world’s largest collection of tropical bamboo in the world (125 species). 

For extra insight and comfort, take the tram tour, while kids will have a blast at the butterfly house.

10. The Kampong National Tropical Botanical Garden

I could spend a whole vacation touring the many botanical gardens around South Miami. There’s another great one, by the bayfront, just east of the city.

A great partner for the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, this was Fairchild’s private estate from 1916 until his death. One of the things that makes this place so compelling is that he planted many of the cultivars that he gathered on his expeditions here.

In the collections today are bamboo, palms, and flowering trees prized by the perfume industry. Growing here are 60+ mango cultivars, and more than 20 avocado varieties. 

The main building is the Fairchild-Sweeney House (1928), which received Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, among other notable guests.

11. The Barnacle Historic State Park

The Barnacle Historic State ParkSource: William Silver / shutterstock
The Barnacle Historic State Park

Ten minutes from South Miami you can visit the oldest residence in situ in South Florida. Built in 1891, this was the home of one of neighboring Coconut Grove’s founders, Ralph Munroe (1851-1933).

What I discovered at The Barnacle Historic State Park is a piece of bayfront from a very different time. That goes for the landscape around the house, as Munroe took pains to preserve the lush hardwood hammock on his property.

So as well as a beautiful old house, there are fine, old-growth trees, lining Munroe’s original buggy trail. He was a esteemed yacht designer, so to complete the scene there are two full-size replicas of his boats, Egret and the Flying Proa.

12. Dante Fascell Park

Dante Fascell ParkSource: Victor Manuel Labrada / Facebook
Dante Fascell Park

At the corner of SW 57th Avenue and SW 88th Street in the very south of the city, is one of South Miami’s largest parks.

Dante Fascell Park has a wide variety of active recreation options, with basketball, volleyball, tennis courts, and a gated playground for kids.

But, for me, the most unique thing about this space is its passive area. Here you’ll find an intriguing sculpture garden, donated to South Miami by its sister city, Medellín, Colombia.

This sits next to a beautiful open space, scattered with beautiful mature trees and picnic tables.

13. Matheson Hammock Park

Partially enclosing the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is a one-of-a-king public bayfront park. The west side, across the Old Cutler Road, is a spectacular stand of live oaks, while it’s the waterfront on the east side that gets the most attention.

Here there’s a man-made atoll pool, wreathed with palms and replenished by the ocean. Free of currents, these shallow waters are ideal for kids. The neighboring coral rock architecture was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Lastly, this corner of Biscayne Bay has wonderful conditions for sports like kayaking (rentals are available), and kite-boarding. First-timers or experienced boarders can inquire at Adventure Sports Kiteboarding School & Kayak Rental.

14. Old Cutler Trail

A mile or so east of South Miami, at Ingraham Park you can get onto a remarkable trail serving a series of elegant bayfront neighborhoods.

The paved Old Cutler Trail traces the roads of the same name, which breaks from the area’s grid system. This route is much older, following a coral ridge used as a wagon trail by early farmers.

One of many things I appreciate about the trail is vegetation. For much of the way the path passes under grand live oaks, banyans, and ficuses, on its way past some truly opulent residences.

You can use the trail to access a lot of great bayfront attractions, from the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden near South Miami to the Deering Estate in Palmetto Bay.

15. Doug Barnes Park

Close by in Miami proper, this public park is in a busy part of the city, but I doubt you would know it. That’s because Doug Barnes Park is a serene oasis, with 65 acres of nature and recreation facilities.

The biggest attraction is a 25-meter pool, which had just reopened after a long-term renovation when I was in town. 

There’s an attractive lake at the south end, bordered by paved trails. In the north meanwhile is 15 acres of nature. Here Miami EcoAdventures offers a range of nature-oriented programs, from guided walks to camps for kids.

15 Best Things to Do in South Miami (FL):

  • The University of Miami
  • Dadeland Mall
  • Downtown SoMi
  • The Shops at Sunset Place
  • Lowe Art Museum
  • The Watsco Center
  • South Miami Rotary Arts Festival
  • Tropical Park
  • Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
  • The Kampong National Tropical Botanical Garden
  • The Barnacle Historic State Park
  • Dante Fascell Park
  • Matheson Hammock Park
  • Old Cutler Trail
  • Doug Barnes Park