Every year, millions of people from all over the world visit the South Florida Metropolitan Area. Unfortunately, many will leave with significantly lighter wallets.
This is because the majority of the people that visit South Florida come in search of excitement. And why not? South Florida is a great place to party. There are plenty of bars, clubs, lounges, strip clubs, casinos, expensive restaurants and other places to enjoy a night out in the Tri-County area. However, as is true anywhere, it is very easy to be taken advantage of if you don't know what you're doing. This being said, it's fairly easy to avoid the immense amount of bullshit if you just use your head a little bit.
What follows are one person's observations.
The most important thing to consider when planning a night out is who you're going with. This can make or break a night. Even shitty lounges can be loads of fun if you go with the right people. Conversely, you can be in the most expensive, nicest, cleanest, most well-known club around and have an awful night because the people you're with suck. Attitude is everything. I can't stress this enough.
All about the benjamins
South Florida is known for it's illusion of wealth and glamor. What most people don't know is that even poor folk can have a great time if they know where to go. You don't have to spend hundreds of dollars to enjoy a night out. Good planning and careful manipulation can save you a lot of dough. For one, don't buy too many drinks! Have a good pre game session and pick someone who's a neat drunk to drive (or, if you insist, appoint a DD). Drinks in Miami (particularly South Beach) can be really pricey, the highest I've seen was $16 a shot. Also, bring beautiful women! Clubs and lounges are sometimes willing to give free bottles if the girl/guy ratio is positive enough.
Though you should try to be as cheap as you can with the number of drinks you buy whilst out and about, remember to always tip well and often. If you're just sitting at a bar chatting up the bartender, throw her a tenner and see what happens. More often than not, you'll be rewarded for your generosity. Tipping well is also important when dealing with bouncers. Yes, yes, I know in a perfect world we would never have to worry about bouncers, but this is the real world. True story: I was at Side Bar in Fort Lauderdale one night when some douche bag decided to bump into me. I spilled a bit of my drink on his shirt, he got pissed, I was drunk, and we had a little fight. The bouncers were there in seconds. I was on the floor with my arms pinned down before I knew it. I should have been arrested. Luckily, I managed to whisper, "There's a $100 bill in my back pocket; take it." loud enough for the guy pinning me down to hear. He pocketed the bill and showed me out the back door. We've been buddies ever since.
Lesson to be learned: money makes the world go round. Spend it on tips and not on drinks.
Lastly, plan for parking. In downtown Miami, parking can cost you up to $20 for the night. Arrive early if you want to find a good, cheap spot or find an empty parking lot and walk a few blocks.
"Hook-ups" aka "let-downs"
If you've ever walked around South Beach on a Saturday night, you'll know about the millions of "promoters" handing out flyers on the sidewalk. Do not make the mistake of believing everything you read on these flyers. In fact, don't even accept them. They're bullshit. Any moron can print out some flyers and start handing them out on a street corner, don't be an idiot and think this guy can actually do anything for you. Likewise, there are thousands of people that call themselves "promoters" for clubs and lounges and such. The majority of the time, these people are also bullshit. If you're going out with a friend who thinks he has some kind of "hook-up", and he's telling you you're going to get in for free, get into the VIP, or get free drinks, be careful what you believe. Unless you're some kind of celebrity, you're pretty much guaranteed to get NOTHING for free, especially in the MIA.
Don't get me wrong, there are definitely people out there who have connections and can get discounted drinks or waived cover charges, they're just very hard to find, and more often than not, these people are in the service industry, and NOT "promoters". Again, be nice to these people, and you will be rewarded.
Recommendations from yours truly
In my opinion, most of Miami is overrated, especially the South Beach area. Personally, I head down there maybe once every two months, if that. Downtown Miami is a little bit better, but not really. The Coconut Grove area is better still. Speaking generally though, if you want to have a guaranteed nice night out, avoid Miami.
Instead, head to downtown Fort Lauderdale. I find the crowd to be a bit more mature around this area, and things are slightly more reasonable. You can still blow money and feel like a baller if you want to, but you don't absolutely HAVE to, like you do in Miami. A nice night out can be arranged in Fort Lauderdale for 20-30 dollars.
The downtown Hollywood area can also be fun, though it is a bit more "hood", so to speak. The city of Hollywood is sinking major amounts of money into renovations, so it is getting better every day, but it's still pretty sketchy. There's a decent crowd in this area and a lot of Hispanic people, so if you want to get your salsa on, hit up downtown Hollywood.
The Hard Rock is another popular spot around this area. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the Hard Rock because the crowd is a bit touristy, but I like to check it out once a month or so. There's a whole bunch of clubs on premise and a number of restaurants. There is also "Hard Rock: Live!" which is known to host various popular musicians/bands as well as a nightly "Improv" show which usually features some pretty well known comedians. Decent stuff, more or less.
Lastly, South Florida is littered with thousands of other local spots to drink and hang out. Ask around for what's good close to you. One of my favorite places is called the Kingshead pub in Sunrise, which is a small British spot that only serves beer. Did I say only beer? I meant "every single type of beer imaginable". They also charge very reasonable rates, so you can get nice and plastered off a few pints of Newcastle and not have to worry about breaking the bank. They also sometimes have local musicians come in and do a pro bono show. All in all, an excellent place to spend a night out or watch the game, in my opinion.
Oh yeah, and don't forget my crib. My doors are always open to you noders!
As a final note: plan ahead for holidays. Halloween, Saint Patrick's day, New Years Eve and the 4th of July are usually really big days for "scene-sters". Traffic can be really bad in the downtown areas and Fort Lauderdale and Coconut Grove even go as far as to close off the streets to cars entirely. Street vendors come out and all the bars set up kegs outside accessible at very reasonable rates. Holidays can be great nights to go out, if you plan ahead.
That's pretty much it. I've lived in South Florida for a few years now, and I can tell you from experience that it can be a lot of fun. Just remember to come with the right attitude, spend your money wisely, and try to avoid the bullshit. With a little bit of luck, you should have a great time.