This article is part of a Guide to Miami by FT Globetrotter
I’ve lived in Miami for almost 15 years – and I would never move anywhere else. I live with my wife and three daughters in the southern part of town, which is quieter and more peaceful than the fast-paced areas around central Miami and the beach. Most people associate Miami with the glitz and glamor of South Beach, but there’s so much more to see and do here. There is a lot of natural beauty, from beaches to parks, and if you don’t live here you might not know these places. I have shared some of my favorite places here.
Table of Contents
I live right on the water and go spearfishing a lot. Miami is a fishing capital, and I’m terrible at it, so I figured I’d improve my chances by getting in the water. I love the ocean and have been an avid surfer all my life so I was hooked when I first jumped in.
One of the great things about spearfishing is that you don’t have to be a certified diver – it doesn’t require a tank. All you need is a mask, a harpoon and some decent lungs. I started a course at Austin’s Diving Center, a spearfishing and diving specialty shop in south Miami that introduces people to spearfishing first through snorkeling. A tour with a specialist is the best way to try; They will also show you where to fish and take you to beautiful 20′ to 30′ reefs.
My favorite spot is called RJ’s Ledge – a 30 foot reef off Miami Beach where there is a wide variety of large local fish including parrotfish which are stunning underwater and you will usually see snapper and tarpon down there too. Not catching anything is also quite rare.
Another must-see area and hidden gem lesser known to visitors, Matheson Hammock Park covers 630 acres on the Miami coast south of Coral Gables and stretches out into Biscayne Bay. The park was designed to showcase typical Florida landscapes, from swamps and dense mangrove forests to open bays and white sandy beaches. Lots of couples take engagement or wedding photos there (my wife and I had ours done here) because it’s so pretty and a lot less crowded than other beaches.
It also offers something for everyone. You can hike or barbecue – there are many picnic areas with grills and benches. I usually take my family there to go boating on the weekends. You can launch a boat from the park—there’s a full-service marina and dock where you can also sign up for boating lessons, fish from the pier, or rent kiteboards, paddleboards, canoes, and kayaks to take to the bay bring.
Once you’re in the water, there’s a place called No Name Harbor with a small, relatively unknown restaurant called Boater’s Grill – it’s nothing fancy, but a great place to catch a cold after several hours on the water, beer and fresh fried fish. It hits the spot and grounds you again so you can walk on solid ground again.
Many people don’t realize how easy it is to get to Palm Beach from Miami. For those who don’t want to drive, there is a Brightline train service that departs from MiamiCentral Station and takes about an hour; Otherwise there is a good bus connection. It’s a nice place to relax. The pace is slower than Miami and everyone is polite, friendly, and more relaxed.
Palm Beach offers a great opportunity for golf lovers – there are more than 160 golf courses to choose from. I’ve just started getting into it. I have a restaurant that is located at a PGA National Golf Resort and as I walked around the grounds I realized that it’s just too beautiful not to be a part of.
One of my good friends (and avid golfers), Pushkar Marathe, owns an Indian-inspired restaurant in Palm Beach Gardens that I can’t recommend highly enough. He’s an incredible cook. He worked for me over a decade ago – I still remember him as this young lad from Nagpur with the best palate I’ve ever seen. In the culinary world, when someone goes to an interview for a kitchen job, it’s called a “stage” (pronounced in French), and their restaurant is named after it. Stage has become a meeting place where young chefs learn and hone their craft under the guidance of a great chef. The food is delicious; Cooking is done over an open fire so guests can watch the chefs at work behind the line. The charred meat and vegetables are sensational.
closer to home
Another favorite is a small Sicilian-style restaurant in Sunset Harbor called Casa Isola by chef José Mendín. Everything he touches turns to gold, so it’s no surprise that this restaurant is excellent. (My wife is 120 percent Sicilian, and she particularly loves eating there.) Their bread service is insane — they make a pane al prosciutto that comes with caponata and is served with parmesan and honey butter. It is a must. We also always order the rigatoni alla vodka – it’s one of those dishes that you absolutely have to have when you’re there. My advice is to make reservations right after sunset and arrive about 30-45 minutes early so you can sit by the water and watch the sunset – and then head out to dinner and enjoy some delicious Italian food.
For something quick and healthy, there’s a popular spot near my Stubborn Seed restaurant in the South of Fifth called Pura Vida, where my kitchen team and I probably eat three or four days a week. They make superfood smoothies, acai bowls, wraps — essentially whatever you want to eat to stay fueled if you’re working a 12-hour day or planning to spend hours exploring the city. I feel like you add another decade to your life if you eat there.
As far as pubs go, I don’t go out often because of my work, but when I do I go to Sweet Liberty. They make killer cocktails and it’s been voted one of America’s best bars. It’s all very smart, but not ostentatious. You can tell the bartenders what flavors you like and they will whip up something amazing for you.
Jeremy Ford is Executive Chef Partner of Tenacious Seed in Miami Beach, which recently received one of Florida’s first Michelin stars, and The Butchers Club at Palm Beach Gardens
Share your Miami highlights in the comments
Follow FT Globetrotter on Instagram at @FTGlobetrotter
Cities with the FT
FT Globetrotter, our insider guides to some of the world’s great cities, offers expert advice on food and drink, exercise, art and culture – and much more
You can find us in Miami, New York, London, Paris, Rome, Frankfurt, Singapore, Tokyo and Hong Kong