Upon arriving in South Florida, the main dilemma of the mindful traveler is transportation. Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and everything in between is automobile territory. Both cities have little public transportation, and while I do know a few brave cyclists willing to swerve between the insane drivers (think elderly people plus New Yorkers plus a host of others who see no reason to use their blinkers or to stop for red lights), it’s not something I would recommend to visitors. So, hop onto your moped, into your hybrid, or pile as many people as possible into a carpooling vehicle and drive to one neighborhood, then get out and walk around for the rest of the day (Coconut Grove, Coral Gables and South Beach are the most pedestrian-friendly).
Listed below are a handful of my favorite mindful spots in So. Flo, along with the neighborhoods where you can find them. Use them as starting points to explore the surrounding streets, and comment below with your own finds and favorites.
The Last Carrot (Coconut Grove, Miami)
Food so local that they don’t serve avocado when it’s out of season. Neighborhood residents supply the café with vegan cakes and cookies that disappear from the counter before they have a chance to cool. The Carrot’s menu lists a wide range of pita sandwiches bursting with veggies and delicious smoothies, though my favorite items on the menu are the spinach pies: a whole wheat crust and melted cheese with cooked spinach and your choice of filling.
Sublime (Ft. Lauderdale)
Sublime is 100% vegetarian, and mostly vegan, with 100% of profits going to support animal welfare (it’s owned by a wealthy heiress, who I suppose is more in the business to make a point—that you don’t need to use animal products for a delicious, elegant meal—than to make money.) Pictured above is one of the best desserts I have ever eaten—Sublime’s vegan coconut cake.
Juice and Java (South Beach, Miami)
Offering more than juice and java, this joint’s six-page menu also offers smoothies, salads, wraps, juices, pizzas, paninis and rice/quinoia dishes. Not all organic, but all healthy and delicious. Great for a quick stop and not too pricey.
Julio’s (North Miami)
A casual atmosphere similar to Juice and Java, but with better smoothies (the best smoothie I had in South Florida actually, and that’s saying something, given the plethora of fresh tropical fruit)—though Juice and Java has better sandwiches.
Coconut Grove Farmer’s Market (Coconut Grove)
The Coconut Grove Farmer’s Market runs each Saturday from 8am to 4pm. It’s mostly dominated by the certified organic Glaser Farms, but with a few other independent food, clothing and arts (think hemp) vendors included in the mix. The main attraction, though, isn’t the market (despite the locally grown, organic mangoes—heaven!), but their raw-food cafe, especially the raw pies—huge servings of cashew cream, coconut, strawberries and other decadent, yet decidedly healthy treats.
Josh’s Organic Market (Hollywood)
Josh’s Organic Market is dominated by Josh. He’s a middle man, which means that there’s no competition and you’re not buying directly from farms, but his produce is the plumpest and freshest in the area. Most is local and picked the night before, while some things are shipped in from South and Central America (which is closer to Miami than California). The market is open on Sundays from 9am to 5:30pm, along with a killer and very friendly organic juice bar—which is also open on weeknights from 6pm to 9pm. The best part? Josh’s Market is located right on the beach, so you can swim post produce-shopping and then fuel up with a local, organic smoothie.
Synergy Yoga on the Beach (South Beach)
Synergy Yoga offers yoga on the beach, literally, as in, sand between your fingers and waves crashing a few feet away. To me, there is nothing on earth more relaxing than the sound of the ocean. Add yoga, and I’m like one of those blue jellyfish that sometimes wash up on shore. Beach classes are scheduled daily at 7am and 5pm, early/late enough that you won’t have to risk a sunburn and there won’t be any weird tourists gawking at your plow pose. Classes meet at 3rd Street in South Beach, for a $5 suggested donation.
Hoy Como Ayer (Little Havana, Miami)
Dark and sweaty, with some of the best music and dancing in the city of Miami. Thursday nights, the club is home to the Spam All-Stars, local Afro-Cuban funk hip-hop fusion. Doors open at 10pm, with a cover charge of $8. On Thursdays, drinks are also 2 for 1 and ladies get in free before 11pm.
Vizcaya (Coconut Grove)
Ok, so you have to pay to get in, which is lame, but this park offers great views of the ocean, sweet-smelling manicured tropical gardens, and some peace and quiet. It’s worth it if you go early and plan to spend most of the day. Bring a picnic (possibly one from the nearby Coconut Grove Farmer’s Market, on Saturday).
David Fairchild Tropical Gardens (Coconut Grove)
Easy to loose yourself there for an entire day, and a great way to learn about the local ecosystems of the area. Take a guided tour, our just bring a book, a blanket, some sandwiches and get lost in the greenery. Admission is $10 for kids under 18, $15 for seniors and $25 for adults (Thursday nights are $15 for adults and $8 for kids). Check the art exhibit schedule for traveling exhibits and festivities, and be sure to wander through the sculpture garden.
Crandon Park at Key Biscayne (Miami)
One of the few beaches where dogs are allowed, and its out-of-the-way location means that crowds are usually smaller than at the other beaches in town, especially during the week. During the day, parking is $5, but at night the price drops to $1.50. No glass bottles on the beach, but feel free to pack a box of wine and some snacks and take in one of the best views of the Miami skyline.
South Beach (Miami)
Here, the beach is free but you’ll likely have to pay for parking. South Beach is the best location for people watching, and shops and restaurants are all within walking distance. Skateboards, roller blades and bikes are also allowed on the boardwalk.
Miami Twice (South Miami)
Vintage clothing, jewelry, shoes and accessories, plus trendy and good-quality used duds. Reasonable prices, huge selection, and a nice combination of eclectic and mainstream styles.
Uncle Sam’s Music (South Beach, Miami)
Remember when people used to buy albums, take them home and listen to the entire thing all of the way through? Even if you’re devoted to iTunes, Uncle Sam’s is a great place to find the schedules for local DJs and bands around the city.
Books and Books (Coral Gables and South Beach, Miami)
Mitch, the owner of triumphantly indie Books and Books, is a graduate of the University of Colorado and a former employee of The Boulder Bookstore, where he must have learned something about keeping an indie bookstore thriving in the era of Amazon, and even after a Borders moved in just down the street. Books and Books has two Miami locations—in Coral Gables and South Beach. Both are immaculately designed, with soaring dark-wood bookshelves, an entire room devoted to art and photography (pictured above), and elegant (somewhat pricey) cafés (great coffee, but the chai is way too sweet). The Coral Gables store is wrapped around a lush courtyard, which houses café tables and the periodical section. In addition to being the most elegant and inviting bookstore I have ever entered, Books and Books is a major supporter of the local arts community, with book signings and events planned several times each week.
Special thanks to Leandro Velez, Miami native, for the tips and tourguiding.