What are the five best free things to do in Miami?

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Calle Ocho©iStock/juanmonino

Miami is known for Cuban culture, Art Deco buildings and glamorous South Beach. Lucky for you, it won’t set you back to immerse yourself in some of the city’s hottest destinations. Little Havana, the Art Deco District and South Beach are all worth perusing, whether you eat lunch, buy souvenirs or just window-shop. The beaches in Miami are gorgeous and free, and ArtCenter South Florida will expose you to some of Miami’s experimental art.

1. South Beach was spared from demolition through the efforts of citizens and local designers, who began repainting and restoring Art Deco buildings from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s using bright pastel colors. Subsequent redevelopment of the area transformed the structures into eclectic boutiques, galleries, hotels, nightclubs and restaurants specializing in alfresco dining overlooking the ocean. Perhaps the most talked about destination, perusing South Beach is a uniquely Miami experience.

2. Just south of downtown, Southwest Eighth Street, also known as “Calle Ocho,” is the epicenter of Cuban exile culture in Miami. A flood of islanders seeking refuge from ruler Fidel Castro in the 1960s settled in what’s known as Little Havana, painting it in tropical colors and opening cafes and nightclubs. Although many of the original inhabitants have moved out of the neighborhood to be replaced by later waves of Latin immigrants, Little Havana is a lively nightlife destination for authentic Cuban food, music, hand-rolled cigars and intense games of dominoes.

3. A designated national historic district, Miami’s Art Deco Distrct, streamlining moderne and Spanish Mediterranean Revival architecture, is the most unique in the nation. Former Art Deco apartment buildings, ballrooms and warehouses have been restored to pastel-and-neon luminosity and sometimes serve as canvases for murals, trompe l’oeil images and elaborate graffiti created by local artists.

4. You simply can’t visit Miami without spending time at one of its famed sandy beaches. Depending on your Miami agenda, you can set up your towel anywhere, from the quintessential South Beach to the “clothing optional” Haulover Beach. Boating, swimming and exercising are only some of the activities you can enjoy while at the beach. But be sure to wear sunscreen, as the Miami sun can be scorching hot.

5. Despite being on the corner of Lincoln Road and Eighth Street wedged between clothing boutiques, trendy restaurants and high-fashion modeling agencies, ArtCenter South Florida is as low-key as art gets. This non-profit is free and open to the public, and is always experimenting with new works by lesser-known artists such as painter Jenny Brillhart and mixed media artist Luis Garcia-Nerey so don’t be deterred by outward appearances. Inside, you’ll get a taste of the rawness the ArtCenter goes for — high ceilings with exposed rods and air ducts, and rooms partitioned by white walls that don’t reach the top.

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