Gay Florida Travel Miami Road Trip Guide

Miami Road Trip

If you’ve been thinking of a Miami road trip, but aren’t sure that the timing is right, relax. There are plenty of ways to enjoy a socially-distanced Maimi experience.

Miami is a hustling, bustling city on Florida’s East Coast and the sixth most densely populated major city in the United States. It is known as a leader in finance, commerce, culture, arts, and international trade, not only in Florida, but on a global scale.

But people don’t just travel to Miami for business. The city is also a top tourist destination for domestic and international travelers. In fact, Maimi ranks second, after New York, as a major tourism hub for international visitors. It is also nicknamed the “Cruise Capital of World” and the “Capital of Latin America” given it’s large Cuban-American population.

Miami is also a popular party town. For the gay community, this is no exception. While parties are on hold right now, there are plenty of things to see and do on a gay Miami road trip.

How Gay is Miami?

That’s like asking how gay is Jack McFarland. Duh – GAY! While all of Miami is LGBTQ-welcoming, South Beach is known as the gay hub of the community. More specifically, the 12th Street Beach area.

With that being said, Miami has seen a shift in LGBTQ nightlife and tourism. Like many cities, as Miami’s LGBTQ community becomes more accepted into mainstream society, the need for gay bars and clubs seems to diminish.

Still, there is a strong LGBTQ community in Miami. Miami is also home to the most diverse LGBTQ community in Florida. If you want to hang with gay white boys or middle-aged women, head to Fort Lauderdale or St Petersburg. But if you’re looking for a little flavor and a lot of sizzle, then plan that Miami road trip now!

12th Street Beach

Ocean Drive at 12th Street

Take a walk along Miami Beach’s shore or boardwalk to see why the Travel Channel has named this The Sexiest Beach! Beautiful architecture, people, and scenery make this a hot and happening destination.

As you approach 12th Street at Ocean Drive, you’ll spot the rainbow flags among the colorful lifeguard stations. You’ll know you’ve reached 12th Street’s Gay Beach. This long-time hangout for LGBT visitors from around the world, there is always something happening at this bustling spot.

March brings the annual Winter Party, one of the biggest gay beach parties in the world. However, on any given weekend, tea dances and parties have been known to spontaneously start-up. Find out more here

Gay Festivals and Events

There are always events and festivals taking place in the Miami area. Obviously, with COVID, they have all been cancelled. But if you’re planning a post-pandemic Miami road trip, make sure to keep up-to-date on these annual LGBTQ festivals and events.

Miami Beach Pride

Lummus Park, Ocean Drive

Since 2009 each spring Miami Beach brings together the LGBTQ community, friends, allies, and supporters to celebrate all things pride!

All are welcome to the multi-day festival and events in Miami Beach’s Lummus Park. There are activities and exhibits to appeal to everyone. Join in the fun including socials, dances, educational sessions, and more. The festivities wrap-up with a grand parade and reception.

Learn more about this annual event, including how you can volunteer or join the parade!

Winter Party Festival

Celebrate music, dance, and community at this annual festival. Since the first single-day Winter Party in 1994 the festival has grown to a week-long celebration. Thousands of LGBTQ and allied partiers from around the globe descend upon the sun and sand of Miami Beach. The festival includes dozens of over-the-top events, parties, and shows.

Despite the party atmosphere, this big gay bash is not all fun and games. The festival serves as a fundraiser for a worthy cause. Proceeds support the National LGBTQ Task Force which empowers and elevates the LGBTQ community. Get all the details here.

Gay8 Festival

The Gay8 Festival is a Hispanic focused LGBTQ street festival that highlights the art, music, dance, food and culture of the region. The festival takes place over President’s Day Weekend in Miami’s Hispanic hub, Calle Ocho (8th Street). To learn more, click here.

Aqua Girl

Get ready girls! This is your event. South Beach is home to the country’s largest women’s event. The festival is a five day celebration of women! Each year thousands of women from all over the world travel to south beach to celebrate their lives—laughing, swimming, sharing, dancing and playing together. Money raised supports the Aqua Girl Foundation for Women. Learn more here.

OUTshine LGBTQ+ Film Festival

The Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival started in 1998; the Fort Lauderdale Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in 2008. Both were brought together under one brand:  OUTshine LGBTQ+ Film Festival – underscoring the broad appeal and dynamic multi-cultural location. Critically and internationally acclaimed, it serves as a platform for numerous premiers and is the largest LGBT cultural arts event in South Florida.

This year, the film festival has gone virtual and kicks off with a “Drive-Out” event on August 20th. Learn more about their upcoming festival.

Gay Nightlife

As mentioned above, there aren’t many gay bars and clubs in Miami, as one might expect. And currently, these establishments are shut down to patrons. However, there are still a few spots that are open and catering to the community. Please check websites and call ahead to confirm.

Score

This hot spot used to be the only gay club in Miami Beach, but they switched gears last year and began hosting pop-up events, primarily in the Wynwood Factory. Both virtual and in-person socially-distanced events are being hosted at this time. Check them out here.

Palace Bar

Not only does the Palace Bar have drag shows and a rooftop pool bar packed with gays, but it’s also a restaurant! See our food review below and check out their event schedule.

Twist

The infamous South Beach gay club, TWIST is known throughout the world for its great music, friendly staff, and always being packed with hot tourists and locals alike. TWIST is actually seven bars in one – each having its own unique atmosphere and décor. You can literally “bar hop” without ever leaving this two story club. Its reputation as a “must do” when in Miami is well deserved. TWIST has, most likely put their events on hold, however, some of the performers go virtual from time to time, so check their website here.

More Nightlife

For more info on Miami’s highlight, read our Florida LGBTQ nightlife recap here.

Where to Stay in Miami

Whether it’s luxury, fun or comfort you’re seeking, you can find it in Miami. If you’re looking for a gaycation experience, you can find that here as well!

AxelBeach Miami

1500 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach

A sign on the entrance wall at the AxelMiami emphasizes that “Everyone is welcome!”

AxelBeach Miami brings the quality of this world-wide gay hotel group to the shores of Miami. The Axel is hetero-friendly (a little tongue-in-cheek) updated tropical oasis with modern amenities. Yet, the property retains the classic Art Deco charm of the original 1940s Haddon Hall Hotel.

Lounge in one of 160 stylish renovated rooms. Enjoy the swaying palms surrounding the terrace pool and Sky Bar. Dig into Barcelona-inspired tapas from the poolside restaurant. Work off the calories at state-of-the-art gym, or hit the dancefloor at the tropical outdoor Ground Bar.  All of this and more is just walking distance from the heart of South Beach.

The AxelMiami Hotel has a larger-than-life pool! And yes, as you can see from the photo it’s “hetero-friendly.”

My Experience: I spent two nights at AxelBeach Miami over July 4th weekend. The hotel has since closed due to COVID-19 and will announce their re-opening as soon as they feel it is safe to do so. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t share some of the things the property did to make guests feel safe during our stay. These photos speak for themselves.

To book a future stay at AxelBeach Miami, click here.

Other Places to Stay in Miami

For our list of recommend South Florida hotels, click here.

Book your Miami Road Trip accommodations through Booking.com:

Booking.com

Where to Eat & Drink in Miami

I hope you like cuban food, because that’s a must-have in Miami Beach. Ocean Drive is lined with Cuban restaurants as far as the eye can see. You’ll also find several top chef-run restaurants in the region, like Scarpetta by James Beard Award recipient Chef Scott Conan recipient.

Whether you are aiming for budget-friendly fare or high-end indulgences, you’re in luck. Miami has something for every palate and budget. These are a few of the places I ate while in town. Scroll below for a list of other recommended restaurants. And make sure to check the website of each restaurant to make sure you’re aware of any COVID restrictions.

The Alley

1433 Collins avenue, Miami Beach

The Alley is a popular Italian restaurant in South Miami Beach. Photo by Rachel Covello

After a day of fun in the sun stroll north on Ocean Drive to the charming Betsy Hotel (1440 Ocean Drive). This landmark hotel is home to The Alley trattoria (on the Collins Avenue side).

Don’t be fooled by the name. This lovely spot has an elegent Euro atmosphere. The menu features homemade pasta, charcuterie, seafood, and refreshing beverages from their full bar. Don’t miss their signature pizzas. The dough is hand-stretched for each order and baked to perfection in their stone oven.

My Recommendations: Try one of everything!! I don’t have a favorite. It was all so delicious. Ok…I realize this might not be possible, so let me narrow it down for you. Get the Truffle Pizza, Wagyu beef or meatballs. And don’t forget the beer and wine. You’re welcome!

Explore the deliciousness here.

Palace Bar

1052 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach

Whether you’re taking a break from the beach, or seeking an evening of entertainment, the Palace has it all. This South Beach landmark for over 30 years offers food, drink, music, dancing, and plenty of drag queens!

While the Palace’s slogan is “Every Queen Needs a Palace” everyone is welcome to join in the fun and majesty of this dynamic venue. The menu is just as welcoming, with something for everyone including vegetarians and gluten-free diners.

When it comes to entertainment every day is a drag with high-energy shows at 7:00 p.m. daily. Weekend days, Friday – Sunday, bring unlimited fun and mimosas during drag brunch! Make your reservations here.

Rooftop view at the Strand on Ocean hotel behind the Palace Bar. Photo by Rachel Covello

Palace Bar also offers the best views in town. After dinner, head upstairs to the rooftop pool of the Strand on Ocean hotel for the breathtaking ocean view. Relax and enjoy!

My Recommendation: The Palace Bar is more than just a gay hot spot, it also has delicious, fresh food and drinks! I recommend the Branzino entree and Watermelon cocktail. And smile for a photo – a souvenir of the venue.

Start planning your palatial experience here.

R House Wynwood

2727 NW 2nd Ave, Miami

Enjoy casual fine dining, art, and music all at once! Rocco’s House (R House) is a fun and funky destination featuring global-fusion dishes and hand-crafted cocktails that are works of art themselves.

Saturday and Sunday feature a family friendly drag brunch with a variety of meal and drink package options from which to choose. There’s even a special menu for the kiddos. Check out the brunch menu and reserve your spot here.

My Recommendations: Visit R House for their drag brunch and order the Bottomless Mimosa Package or Bottomless Sides Package! Just plan on skipping the rest of your meals for the day – portions are huge! I had a blast and the hosts and servers took great measures to keep everyone safe and healthy.

Other Places to Eat

Scarpetta at the Fontaineblue – Housemade pasta & water views lure foodies to celebrity chef Scott Conant’s Fontainebleau eatery.

Gianni’s at the former Versace Mansion – Upscale Mediterranean seafood restaurant decked out in frescoes, mosaics & a gold-lined pool.

La Carreta – Local chain known for Cuban classics like ropa vieja & picadillo served in a hacienda-style setting.

Things to Do in Miami

While Miami is a crowded city and you might worry about socially-isolated activities to enjoy, you can stop fretting. There’s a ton of things to do in the region as a solo travelers, or with friends.

Shopping

Shopping in Miami is not your typical day at the mall. Each shopping center offers a unique environment and interesting merchandise.

Miami Beach is home to two open-air malls. Lincoln Road’s historic eight block pedestrian mall offers something for every style and budget. Browse the shops housed in historic art deco buildings. Head north on Collins Avenue to the Bal Harbour Shops. This is the place to go for an upscale, luxurious shopping and dining experience.

As the name implies Miami’s Design District is all about style. From unique architecture to chic clothing and housewares you’ll be surrounded by upscale elegance.

However you go about your retail therapy in Miami, you’re sure to collect some great memories along with your purchases.

Airboat Ride with Love the Everglades Movement

Miccosukee Indian Home in the Florida Everglades. Photo by Rachel Covello

For a true taste of the tropics, visit the Everglades. At 1.5 million-acres it is the largest subtropical wetland in the U.S. This slow moving river of grass is actually made-up of diverse habitats that are home to hundreds of animal species. Development and pollution are threats to this fragile ecosystem and the creatures that depend on it.

Love the Everglades Movement is a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to raising awareness about threats to the Everglades. They organize positive community-building educational events and programs. They also offer guided excursions into this vast and majestic ecosystem.

My Experience: I had the pleasure of taking a private tour with Houston Cypress and his colleagues, all descendents of the Miccosukee Indian Tribe. This experience was the highlight of my Florida Road Trip! Houston identifies as gay and two-spirited, and is the co-founder of the Love the Everglades Movement. He not only gifted me a handmade wooden tomahawk, but he also took me to his family’s land. Look for a future article on this amazing human being and the Love the Everglades Movement.

Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

3251 South Miami Avenue, Miami

Viscaya Museum & Gardens

Step back in time to a bygone era. This Gilded Age waterfront estate offers spectacular views of Biscayne Bay from its ten acres of award-winning formal gardens and Italian-style villa. Constructed in 1916 as a private residence the 32 room mansion is now a National Historic Landmark.

Delight your senses with a visit to this unique cultural gem that has been welcoming visitors since it opened as a museum in the 1950s. Plan your visit to this Miami treasure here.

My Tip: Visit Vizcaya during the morning hours of the summer, because it’s very hot with little shade. During the rest of the year, enjoy at any time. And schedule at least two hours for your visit to enjoy all the property has to offer.

Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science

1101 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami

Get up close and personal with science! This museum makes science fun and accessible through interactive exhibits about weather, technology, and wildlife. It’s one of the only museums in the world that has both a state-of-the-art planetarium and aquarium. Star and sea gazers of all ages will be inspired.

The museum sits on a beautiful park overlooking downtown and the bay. The views from the rooftop observation deck are worth the visit alone! Start planning your discovery here.

Futurama 1637 Art Building

1637 SW 8th Street, Miami

Experience the arts in the heart of Miami’s vibrant Little Havana neighborhood The Futurama studios and galleries feature the work of twelve local emerging and established artists. This creative hub for contemporary artwork makes the arts accessible to the community through public events.

Join in the creative atmosphere at monthly art exhibits, public programming, art education sessions, and music performances. Learn more about these creative Miamians and the event schedule here.

Enjoy the Beaches

Miami Beach was closed during July 4th weekend but has since reopened to local and visitors. Photo by Rachel Covello

South Florida’s barrier islands make-up a chain of oceanfront hot spots, each with their own unique vibe. The beaches of this region, known as the Gold Coast, offers everything you need to create memories that you’ll always treasure.

Miami’s beaches are among the most diverse and interesting in the state. Here the pink sands give way to the beautiful Atlantic. Whichever Miami-Dade County’s beach you wind up at you’ll have options for relaxation and activity.

Take in the scenery from your beach chair or even rent a cabana for the day. Hit the surf by swimming, surfing, paddle boarding, or kayaking. For more action on, or above, the waves, try a sailboard or parasailing adventure! Beach equipment rental is available at many concessions.

If you don’t want tan lines there’s Haulover Beach’s clothing-optional section. This well-established and managed beach has been welcoming all visitors for generations.

For more about south Florida’s beaches click here.  

Kayaking at Virginia Key Outdoor Center

3801 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami

Virginia Key Outdoor Center looking toward downtown Miami. Photo by Rachel Covello

Head off the beaten path, or in this case the causeway to Virginia Beach. This beautiful 15-acre restored natural hammock offers a laid back beach experience. Enjoy a quiet walk, a bike ride along the paths, or strolling the shoreline to collect sea glass.

Explore the natural beauty of the mangrove ecosystem with a kayak or paddleboard rental from the Virginia Key Outdoor Center. For an unforgettable experience join one of their sunset, full moon, or yoga tours. Get all the details here.

Enjoying myself at the Virginia Key Outdoor Center. Photo obviously NOT taken by Rachel Covello

My Experience: The juxtaposition of the city with the outdoor center greenery was breathtaking. This should be a must-do activity for any Miami road trip. And make sure you have plenty of water!! I had to flag down a boater for a bottle of water because I got a bit dehydrated.

Wynwood Walls 

For a one-of-a-kind artistic experience, head to the Wynwood warehouse district. Here, you’ll get lost among a giant collection of street art by artists from around the globe. Since its inception, the Wynwood Walls program has seen over 50 artists representing 16 countries and have covered over 80,000 square feet of walls. Learn more here.

My Tip: While in Wynwood, catch a drag show at the R House.

ARTECHOUSE – Miami

736 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139

ARTECHOUSE showcases experiential and technology-driven, museum-quality works by artists who are forerunners of the new age in the arts and technology. The exhibit is, by far, Miami’s most unique art experience. 

Wander through several rooms and enjoy a technology digital and interactive light show that will keep you mesmerized for hours.

The exhibit is now open to the public and the staff is doing their best to keep people socially distant and safe.

Here are a few photos from my experience:

To learn more about ARTECHOUSE, click here.

COVID Safety

As Miami-Dade County and surrounding areas of south Florida reopen information is frequently being updated to best meet the needs of the community and ensure safety for residents and visitors.

During this unusual time please travel safe. Check with your hosts, restaurants, and other venues in advance to learn their current plans and regulations.

Find current Covid19 related safety guidelines here.

Plan Your Miami Road Trip

Miami is among the world’s most vibrant and diverse destinations. The glitz, glamour, and nightlife are as dazzling as the natural features of the area’s unique landscape. Whether you enjoy taking in the scenery or being seen, Miami-Dade County has something for you.

Nature lovers will enjoy exploring the Everglades or the miles of the sun-kissed Atlantic shoreline. Art and culture enthusiasts can immerse themselves in a variety of creative experiences. Foodies will love indulging in diverse options from around the globe. Families and solo travelers alike can create new memories with exciting activities and unique attractions.   

There’s never a dull moment in the Magic City and it’s surrounding communities. Start planning your Miami memories today.

Written by Rachel Covello

Rachel Covello is an award-winning speaker, writer, diversity consultant, and LGBT advocate. She is the Founder of LGBT Equality Alliance, a Chester County, PA nonprofit organization, and CEO of OUTCOAST, an online marketing and concierge platform marketing the Gulf Coast as an LGBTQ-inclusive place to VISIT, CELEBRATE, and LIVE.

Rachel is also an avid event photographer and has captured photos for LGBT organizations around the world, including the IGLTA, NGLCC, NLGJA, and Out & Equal.


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