There are few dining experiences more delightful than a breezy Miami Beach sidewalk cafe where people watching adds a little extra spice to your midday meal. South Florida’s balmy temperatures make dining alfresco possible all year long so the number of outdoor options seems endless. To help you find the cafe that suits your mood, we’ve divided our guide into sections that include the quiet SoFi (South of Fifth Street) area, the busy South Beach strip by the ocean, and the heart of fashionable Lincoln Road Mall, Miami Beach’s Main Street. We’ve also included the key ingredient that makes each one special … Smith & Wollensky has the best view, the News Cafe never closes and so on.
The variety of cuisine at our favorite restaurants includes fresh Florida seafood at Monty’s, perfectly crisp pizza at Fratelli la Bufala or tapas and cocktails at the Terrace at the Tides. Some of the top spots on Lincoln Road open early so guests can start the day in quiet contemplation with a pot of coffee and the newspaper. Others don’t hit their stride until late night when a prime table at Segafredo Espresso provides a front row seat to the best dressed action on the Mall. Some cafes like Balans offer great happy hour deals and Maxine’s will serve you breakfast no matter how late you roll out of bed.
Perhaps the best part of finding your favorite sidewalk cafe is the great latitude in dress code. While there are rules about attire at fancy restaurants and nightclubs all over town, the cafe crowd wears everything from sequins and sandals to gym clothes and sneakers. Having a chance to be as unfussy as you choose is all part of the South Beach experience. Meet new friends, get lost in your laptop or watch the world drift by your own little oasis on the sunny pink sidewalks of Miami Beach…
In the “South of Fifth” area …
Vibe: Best View in Town
If the notion of sidewalk dining conjures up images of honking cars and hurried pedestrians, upgrade your outlook with a single South Beach stop at Smith & Wollensky. Tucked away inside a neatly manicured public park, set alongside a glamorous waterfront walkway where massive cruise ships slowly pass by on their way out to sea, the setting for this popular steakhouse is picture perfect. Burgers, salads, flatbreads and sandwiches start at around $10, but the million dollar view is the best thing on the menu. A busy waterside bar offers the ideal spot for a sunset sip and table service at dinnertime is definitely worth reserving if you are planning a romantic rendezvous. The southern tip of the city has a unique charm, a quiet quality that makes everyone feel like they’re on vacation.
Vibe: Tiki Bar Happy Hour
Glamorous South Beach may not have the kind of atmosphere made famous in countless Jimmy Buffet songs, but if you’re looking for a tiki bar that captures that “Margaritaville” vibe, look no further than Monty’s where flip flops and tank tops are always in style!
Outdoor tables face the pleasure boats moored at the Miami Beach Marina and in the afternoon, the restaurant’s live band plays by the swimming pool so guests can sip and dip. Lunch service starts at 11:30am every day with salads, chowders and fine fish tacos. Located on the west side of town, Monty’s bar faces the setting sun and the Miami skyline making this one of the optimal outdoor spots to spend a half-price happy hour. Stop in from 4-8pm Monday through Friday to sample raw bar treats from the fresh seafood cart.
Vibe: Late Night Diner Chic
American diner food has dedicated fans across the globe which explains why the sunny sidewalk tables at this popular SoFi restaurant are always in demand.
Serving large portions of all the classics, a unique variety of house baked desserts like decadent red velvet layer cake and offering a full liquor bar, fresh fruit smoothies and ice cream fountain drinks, Big Pink hits every note for early risers and the late night club crowd. Cooking “Real Food for Real People,” until midnight weeknights, 2am Thursday and 5am Friday and Saturday, the sidewalk tables facing busy Collins Avenue provide a perfect vantage point to watch the surfers, volleyball players and yoga students making their way to the nearby beach. If you’re looking for a burger, a salad, or breakfast around the clock, Big Pink is the go-to spot for a hearty South Beach sidewalk snack.
Vibe: Authentic Italian Cafe
Fifth Street and Washington Avenue is the gateway to South Beach. Nearly everyone heading in for a night of fun or out to explore the city of Miami must pass this busy intersection where the most authentic Italian fare is served seven days a week until late night. Casual and spare, the dining room is not nearly as popular as the sidewalk tables where the brick oven baked pizzas are tops in town. After a quick mention by star Italian Chef Scott Conant on the FoodTV network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” telecast, the Ripienone Calzone stuffed with bufala mozzarella, ricotta cheese, sweet salami and black pepper became the most requested dish on the menu. The cafe specializes in the meat and milk of the Italian buffalo and imports cured speck, prosciutto, and bresaola plus asiago, ravello, mozzarella and ricotta bufala cheeses. A popular hang out for ex-pat Italians living in Miami, expect to hear a variety of romance languages as you sip your wine and watch the world whiz by your busy sidewalk spot.
In South Beach …
Vibe: A 24 Hour Party & Recovery Spot
Back in the 1980s, South Beach was little more than a dream to a few clever investors who took a downtrodden retirement community and transformed it into the hip trip it is today.
While it is hard to imagine a time before the glamorous nightclubs and celebrity photo shoots that fill the pages of gossip magazines, when the News Cafe first opened its doors over 20 years ago, there were few people around to help justify funding an all night diner on desolate Ocean Drive. Starting out as little more than an international news kiosk with a few wooden tables by the sea, this popular sidewalk cafe now boasts a separate liquor bar, a full-service kitchen and a thriving international clientele who line up for tables around the clock. Serving salads, sandwiches, desserts and cocktails, “The News” is a busy Sunday brunch hangout where a variety of eggs benedict (with ham, salmon or spinach), steak and eggs or quiche lorraine make a perfect weekend meal. If you have but a single day on South Beach, spend some time at 8th Street and Ocean Drive and enjoy the view!
Vibe: Seaside Swank
One of the most glamorous destinations on busy Ocean Drive, the Tides Hotel is a fully restored Art Deco landmark where trendy interior designer Kelly Wearstler worked her quirky magic updating the public and private guest areas.
The majestic dining terrace overlooks busy Ocean Drive and the Atlantic coastline providing a chic respite from the South Beach scene with pale canvas market umbrellas and artfully tailored landscaping. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, perhaps the ideal time to visit is in early afternoon when the sun slips behind the building shrouding the patio in a cool shady breeze. A small bites menu from 5pm-midnight offers guests the perfect cocktail repast with Chef Gonzalo Rivera’s short rib empanadas, waygu beef sliders and grilled fish tacos pairing nicely with signature sips like lychee martinis, pineapple margaritas and minty white sangria. Sports fans will want to sample the “LeBlon James,” a unique mix of cachaca, watermelon, citrus and the subtle HEAT of chipotle-infused agave nectar. One sip will make you glad you brought your talents to South Beach!
Vibe: Rustic French Oasis
After the successful launch of this tiny French creperie on a quiet South Beach side street, a second A la Folie location recently opened on Purdy Avenue so west side residents could share in the authentic tastes of “galette de bretagne,” the buckwheat crepes made in the manner of a small fishing village in Brittany. Wrapping up a tidy sweet or savory main dish, the fresh strawberry, nutella and cream filling makes a heavenly breakfast and the brie, pear and walnut crepe can be a lovely light lunch. The Espanola Way location captures an essential bohemian laissez-faire – the “live and let live” ethos that may drive hurried diners over the edge! Locals arrive early to stake out their favorite sidewalk table, pop open the news and enjoy an oversized bowl of cafe au lait. Often they return at sunset to sip a glass of wine with friends. While many restaurants on South Beach can feel like you are trespassing on someone else’s vacation, the quiet calm at this laid back eatery definitely has its charm. If you find yourself with no particular place to go – go here.
Vibe: All Night Bites
Popular with budget conscious young travelers, the Catalina Beach Club offers a truly remarkable location in the heart of the South Beach scene for less money than you might imagine.
Busy and often noisy, this giddy party spot offers guests a free nightly cocktail hour, free airport shuttle service and a front row seat to the fashion parade along busy Collins Avenue 24 hours a day. Maxine’s Cafe serves an all day breakfast menu that suits the late risers, the post-cocktail crowd and families with fussy kids as well. Fortify yourself with pancakes and French toast, overstuffed omelets and frittatas. Later in the day, a full drinks menu can be paired with tapas-style small plates like coconut shrimp, jalapeno poppers and baked brie. Organic salads, wraps and burgers starting at around $10 are some of most affordable options in this upscale stretch of the city. Attracting a fun mix of travelers and locals, the Catalina’s buzzy vibe often diverts wealthy guests from the Delano, Raleigh and Ritz across the street who prefer a walk on the wild side to their stuffy beachfront resorts.
On Lincoln Road …
Vibe: Supreme People-Watching Perch
Lincoln Road Mall is a unique, pedestrian-friendly paradise that is closed to cars and open for fun 24 hours a day. With popular stores, quirky bars and dozens of sidewalk cafes, the options for alfresco dining are best sorted out by cuisine.
If you’re looking for a family-friendly cafe with large portions of classic American comfort food, visit Nexxt Cafe where the inspiration for many of the menu items seems to come straight out of the Cheesecake Factory playbook. Located at Euclid Circle, the very heart of the Mall, Nexxt presses their tables closely together and shades them all with massive market umbrellas. The atmosphere can be crazy busy weekends and during brunch service when locals and travelers line up to enjoy some prime people watching along with their meal. Tuck into huge burgers, giant salads, crispy fried chicken or a dazzling variety of desserts or wait until early evening when a cocktail and an appetizer can be far more serene than the crush at midday.
Vibe: An English Charmer
Underscoring South Beach’s reputation as an international city, the UKs popular Balans Cafe fairly stormed the sidewalks of Lincoln Road Mall back in 1997.
With thriving locations in Soho, Earl’s Court, Kensington, Chiswick and Westfield, the South Beach location was perhaps the first restaurant to offer a full “English Fry” breakfast. Serving a stunning eggs benedict starting at 8am and crowded well past midnight, the sidewalk tables are packed at the 3-7pm daily happy hour when $3 beer, $5 wine and $7 cocktails are some of the best drink specials on the mall. Signature pours like pimms cup, raspberry cosmos and electric lemonade paired with appetizer plates of spicy pot stickers, crabcakes and fried calamari make a perfect sunset snack. For a quick burger, a juicy steak or a satisfying late night bite, Balans feels like a party every night of the week.
Vibe: La Dolce Vita
Exploring Lincoln Road Mall by day (or after dark) is an essential part of a South Beach vacation. The recent addition of the dynamic 1111 Building at the far western edge of the mall has shifted the shopping focus to the upscale cafes, trendy restaurants and pricey boutiques like Juicy Couture, MAC and Taschen Books near busy Alton Road.
After 10 successful years, if Segafredo Espresso wasn’t already the most popular sidewalk hang out in the area, it is now! Spanning the center of the intersection at Lenox Avenue, the overstuffed sofas, antique setees and spindly tables surrounding the mosaic fountain are prime real estate for shoppers who like to see and be seen. Close to the Regal movie theater, the cafe is a meeting place for drinks before dinner, a nightclub crawl or a film. Serving pizza, bruschetta, and Italian finger foods to pair with strong drinks or coffee, the spirit of “la dolce vita” fills the air no matter the hour. Grab a seat, kick off your stilettos and see where the night takes you!