Many people moving from other big cities are used to living in places that are very walkable, even living car-less, and might be looking for something similar in Miami. It’s important to note that Miami is definitely designed for driving, however I think there are several places to live where you can minimize, perhaps greatly, your driving. In some of these places not having a car is possible, depending on your work, it just won’t be as convenient as cities like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco, where things are walkable but also supported by a strong public transportation network. One thing to note with all these neighborhoods is that there are certain times of the year (summer) where you might just want to drive to places even if they’re very close due to the heat.
How I chose the places below were that they all have a grocery store and restaurants inside or within walking distance of the neighborhood. Other factors like shopping, public transportation, and proximity to downtown/businesses were factored in my opinion of which ones are more walkable than others. I’m going to go in order starting with most-walkable. I think that an argument can be made to change the order of a few and my goal is more to describe each area’s walking positives and negatives for you to make your own decision, rather than to “rank” them. All these places are in central-ish Miami-Dade County. I think that there are places outside of this area where someone could live with little use of a car, since a lot of cities and towns have a central area where restaurants and shops are near each other. However the farther out you go the areas tend to be designed more for the use of a car (multi-lane roads, strip malls, large parking lots, less shade), so walking is possible but not ideal. Feel free to comment on additional places people should look- I welcome the additional information!
Many describe Brickell as the “Manhattan of the South.” That certainly is true if you’re talking about banking- Brickell is the largest concentration of international banks south of New York. When it comes to atmosphere and living there are some similarities (a higher density, larger concentration of restaurants and shops, pretty busy in term of traffic and people), but Brickell still has quite a ways to go to be close to Manhattan in terms of the amenities, public transportation, and walkability. I do believe Brickell is the best place to live in terms of walkability and people could definitely make living without a car here a possibility. Brickell has the most important requirements- restaurants, bars, shopping, and grocery stores- in about a 20 x 10 block area. It’s also great that Brickell has many office buildings and companies, so that people who work in Brickell can easily get their walking.
The reason I put Brickell #1 is that it also has the best access to public transportation. From Brickell you can jump on either the Metromover (with Brickell, Downtown, and Omni loops) or the Metrorail (south to the Grove, UM, and Dadeland or north to Hialeah and very soon the airport). The Metrorail is really key because it can take you to larger malls like Sunset Place and Dadeland Mall, because currently Brickell is more boutiques and small shops than malls or larger stores.
Some other highlights of Brickell is Mary Brickell Village, which is a lot of restaurants and a good number of bars within it or close by, but also many boutiques. I also really enjoy Brickell Key, which is a small island of Brickell that is a nice urban escape (check out an earlier blog about urban escapes in Miami- https://portlandermiamian.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/best-miami-urban-outdoor-escapes/
A thing that I think will greatly improve the walkability and desirability of Brickell is the building of Brickell Citicentre, which will add 550,000 square feet of retail space and add to Brickell’s shopping options (http://www.miamitodaynews.com/news/110901/story4.shtml).
South Beach is a large area, with many different neighborhoods making it up. However no matter where you live in South Beach you’ll be within walking distance of restaurants and bars. Where I would suggest living in South Beach based on walkability would be on the west side of the island close to Alton Road, specifically along West Ave or up in Sunset Harbor around Purdy Ave. These areas have easy access to grocery stores (Publix and Whole Foods), as well as numerous restaurants and bars (especially ones that are more for residents and less touristy). Sunset Harbor and the northern part of West Ave are very close to Lincoln Road and the many shops that it has (including Miami’s major Apple store). I personally love the SoFi (South of Fifth area) for its architecture and for the restaurants and for many the more touristy areas on the east side of the island around Ocean, Collins, and Washington Aves can be an exciting place to live, however they lack easy walking access to grocery stores (doable just not as convenient).
The positive of South Beach over Brickell is that I feel like it is more pedestrian-friendly in many places. There tends to be a lot of nice wide sidewalks, a lot of shade, and less busy roads (with the exception of Alton Rd, Washington Ave, and 5th St). What it is lacking compared to Brickell is the public transportation. There are many bus lines throughout the island, but since South Beach is more isolated relative to other places taking public transportation off the island can take quite a bit of time. In addition traffic can get pretty heavy on South Beach. For those who will be driving part of the time Alton Road is a nice way to get north and south somewhat quickly compared to the more touristy and traffic-heavy streets of Washington, Collins, and Ocean. However for getting off the island (important also for those who want to take buses) the traffic on the bridges from Miami to Miami Beach can get really bad and frustrating, especially during the tourist season.
I’m going to include Midtown and Omni together, since they are kind of considered the same area, but will talk about them separately because they are kind of two distinct areas if you’re talking about walking.
Of the two areas I am going to put Midtown first because of its proximity to the Design District and that the Shops at Midtown provide a lot of shopping options. Midtown centers around the Shops at Midtown shopping center with Target (with a large and expanded grocery section), Loehmann’s, Ross, and Sports Authority to name a few of the anchor stores. They also have a variety of restaurants, including some of the better restaurants in Miami, plus has a number of nightlife options (Riccochet, Bardot, Electric Pickle). In addition right across 36th St is the Design District, with more of Miami’s top restaurants, and many designer shops (with more to come in the near future). The neighborhood borders the Wynwood Arts District, with more restaurants and many art galleries to walk to. The actual Midtown complex of stores, restaurants, and condos was designed to be very pedestrian-friendly and welcoming and the Design and Art Districts are pretty welcoming as well. Getting to work would depend on where you work, but Biscayne Blvd is a few blocks away with several buses that take you downtown if you’re trying to go car-less. Otherwise Midtown is a great option for living in a walkable neighborhood and minimizing your car usage.
Omni and Midtown are about 10 blocks from each other, which is walkable. The bigger thing though is that walking up 2nd Ave is fine and not pedestrian “unfriendly,” but it is a busy street that I don’t think is pedestrian “welcoming” (there aren’t a lot of street friendly businesses or much going on between Omni and Midtown). Living in Omni Midtown is only a couple minute drive so it’s very convenient to Midtown. Omni however definitely has a lot of its own to offer that’s walkable. Check out my neighborhood guide (https://portlandermiamian.wordpress.com/2012/02/04/omni-neighborhood-spotlight/) for more general details about the neighborhood.
Omni has a variety of restaurants along Biscayne Blvd and Bayshore Dr. to walk to including inside the Marriott, Doubletree, and Hilton hotels. A positive of Omni over Midtown is that the Metromover has a stop, which makes it convenient to take to work downtown and to Brickell (although you do have to transfer to the Brickell loop). With the new Publix opening along Biscayne you have a lot of what you need with-in walking distance- grocery store, restaurants, and a few bars and shops. The number of bars and shopping is where Omni needs improvement the most, but I could definitely see this coming in the next few years. The Genting group has also proposed to build it’s casino at the southern part of Omni, which would bring numerous restaurants, bars, and shops to the area if legislation is passed. I personally love living in Omni for the park and Venetian Causeway, but I do drive a medium amount, although I see this decreasing once the Publix opens.
Miracle Mile (Coral Gables)
Coral Gables is a large city south of Miami and many areas are quite suburban and residential. One area where one could minimize their use of a car would be the Miracle Mile area of Coral Gables (around Ponce de Leon Blvd and Coral Way). Initially I was going to include Miracle Mile in a “Other Places To Consider” category that you’ll see below, but decided not to because there are quite a number of office buildings and companies in Coral Gables, in or close to Miracle Mile. If you happen to work there this could be a great place to live and you would hardly need a car. A block off Miracle Mile is a Publix grocery store, there are countless restaurants, and a variety of stores and boutiques (including Books and Books, which is on my list of places to check out in Miami). I also think Miracle Mile gives off a great walking vibe- it reminds me somewhat of a European (especially Spanish or Italian) city with its architecture and buildings, wide sidewalks, foliage, and plazas. I would say only South Beach could compete with being as pedestrian-welcoming from my own experience.
The one downside to Miracle Mile is that in terms of walking and public transportation it is somewhat isolated. There are buses that can take you into Miami and elsewhere, but to not have a car would limit you quite a bit, even to get to some of the nearby malls. If you work in the Gables and certainly on Miracle Mile it can be a great place to live with using your car just a small amount of the time.
Other Places To Consider:
Both North Beach/Surfside and Coconut Grove meet the requirements of having a grocery store and restaurants within walking distance, however I feel of all the neighborhoods profiled they are more “isolated” and take longer to commute and get to necessary places with or without a car. They still are worth mentioning as great places to live with minimal car usage, besides commuting.
Coconut Grove gets the nod over North Beach/Surfside because its restaurants and shops are very centralized around Grand Ave and Main Highway, plus it has CocoWalk mall so it’s shopping is really great. I really enjoy the Grove- they have some great restaurants and it has a lot of beautiful foliage and old trees. I also really enjoy the bars there- more laidback and chill than the clubby bars of Brickell. CocoWalk has a movie theatre and many national stores and there are many boutiques nearby. Coconut Grove is not far from Brickell (closer than Miracle Mile), but I am not sure how great the public transportation is from the Grove. There might be buses that go from the Grove up S Bayshore Dr, but otherwise it’s about a mile from the center of the Grove to US 1 and a mile and half to the Metrorail station. The downside is that if you walk there it is through the West Grove, which is not the nicest part of Miami, especially at night.
North Beach/Surfside (Collins Ave from the 60s-90s) is a great area to live, especially being so close to the beach. This is a wide stretch of Collins and the neighborhood can be wide going east-west so different parts vary in their walkability. However there are Publixs at both the south and north ends of this area and restaurants all up and down Collins, plus a number of shops (though mostly beach related shopping) and large pharmacies like Walgreens. Living here you can certainly walk to a lot of amenities, but you will have to drive or ride the bus the farthest of all the neighborhoods to get to places where a lot of people work, plus a lot of shopping. It can be a great tradeoff to be right on the beach (especially in a less touristy area) and if you happen to work somewhere in Miami Beach would not be a bad commute at all.