MIAMI -- With its sizzling beaches and steamy nightlife, it's no wonder Miami is a top vacation spot for snowbirds, spring breakers, international tourists and passengers heading out on cruises from Florida ports. More than 13 million people visited the city in 2011, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Getting past sticker shock, though, can be difficult for anyone on a budget. Expect to pay $20 for a burger at trendy restaurants, the same for cocktails. Just getting past the velvet ropes of a popular nightclub can run $300.
To avoid draining your pocketbook, do as the locals do and enjoy Miami's free attractions. In addition to beaches and people-watching, take in spectacular water views while biking over a causeway. Become an art enthusiast -- or critic -- while browsing neighborhoods lined with galleries and graffiti murals. Or catch a movie outdoors on a nighttime picnic.
THE BEACHES: Even if you can't afford to stay in luxury hotels with ocean views or you're not trendy enough to get into the beachfront clubs, the sand and turquoise waters of South Beach are free, accessible and popular with visitors along Ocean Drive from about Fifth Street up to Collins Park. You'll share the sand with locals, day-trippers and tourists staying in nearby hotels.
Other activities in the South Beach area include a free New World Symphony concert projected onto a 7,000-square-foot wall of a building designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry at 500 17th St., during Wallcasts (www.nws.edu/wallcasts.aspx). Bring a blanket or picnic to enjoy the experience. Or watch a movie under the stars at the free SoundScape Cinema Series on the corner of 17th Street and Washington Avenue. Movies begin at 8 p.m., www.mbculture.com/Scroll.aspx?id=232.
If you're coming by car, parking can be a challenge. Street parking is easier in North Miami Beach. Information about other beaches in the area can be found at www.miamiandbeaches.com.
ART DECO BUILDINGS AND LINCOLN ROAD: Miami Beach is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places for having the largest concentration of 1920s and 1930s resort architecture in the U.S. The 800 buildings are known for their Mediterranean and Art Deco styles, with pastel colors, porthole windows, curved walls and distinctive lettering on historic hotel signs. Walking tours cost $20 to $30 but many of the buildings are easily recognized. National Geographic offers detailed notes for a self-guided tour, mostly along Ocean Drive between Fifth and 17th streets, http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/city-guides/miami-walking-tour-1/.