Miami: Need to Know

City Basics

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Arriving. Miami International Airport (MIA) is located about five miles north of Downtown and 13 miles west of Miami Beach. A taxi to Downtown costs about $22; to South Beach, $32. Also convenient, especially for domestic U.S. travelers, is the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), located about 25 miles to the north. From here, a taxi to Downtown Miami will cost about $62.

Getting Around. Unless you can afford a private driver, or better yet, a helicopter, rent a car at the airport — this is the only real way to get around the Miami.

Traffic. Now that you've got that car, expect to never get out of it. Between the clogged causeways, drawbridges, never-ending road "improvement" projects and ill-planned residential developments, Miami is often one big traffic jam. There are three general rules you can follow, however, for a better driving experience.

1. Within the city of Miami, never, for any reason, get on Biscayne Boulevard during rush hour, which I've discovered means "parking lot" in the local language.

2. The same goes for Collins Avenue or Ocean Drive in South Beach — unless, of course, you don't have to be anywhere. Ever.

3. No matter what Google Maps says about driving time, always give yourself at least an extra 20 to 30 minutes to get there. Because even if you arrive on time, you'll still have to hustle for parking. Which brings me to...

Parking. Boy, does it suck. Especially in South Beach — most of which was built in the 1920s when cars were a novelty. So, plan on giving all of your available $1 bills to parking structure attendants and valets. Nota bene: If you valet park in South Beach, expect significant waits when retrieving your vehicle. All of the major hotels and restaurants store their cars in remote lots, requiring the valet to make his way through all kinds of gnarly traffic to get back to you.

Tipping. In restaurants, the standard tip is 15% to 20%. At upscale bars and restaurants, $2 per drink is customary, and $2 for the car valets is standard. But if you're at some high-falutin' spot in South Beach on a Saturday night, slipping the valet a fiver (at least) is recommended — especially if you'd like to see your car in less than 40 minutes.

Beaches. The entire Miami Beach coastline is divine as far as beaches go: the sand is white, and the water, clear and tepid. If you're looking for something a little more out-of-the-way, however, head north to Haulover Park. Only a 20-minute drive from South Beach, Haulover has acre upon acre of undulating dunes — and, if you're ready to get nekkid, a nude beach tucked far on its northern end.

What to Wear. Miami is generally a casual city, but if you are going to be hitting SoBe's trendy night spots plan on getting decked out to the max (think of-the-moment designer duds and cleavage-enhancing animal prints) or you won't get in.

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