By Susan & Simon Veness
You would think it would be an easy question to answer, wouldn’t you? You know, the one that goes, ‘When is the best time to visit [insert place here] in Florida?’ It’s the Sunshine State for goodness sake; when is there ever a BAD time to visit?
In simplistic terms, that is the correct response. After all, getting away from the UK at any time of year for the guarantee of sunshine, beaches, great food and exciting places to experience is hardly something to shy away from.
But, while you certainly can’t go far wrong by ignoring the calendar and just heading to Florida regardless, you can go far right by considering your options and plumping for the optimum time. Take Miami, for example.
In fact, South Florida’s glittering beach-strewn metropolis is the ideal candidate for an exercise of this kind. So let’s ask the question again, with more relevance – is December a good time to go to Miami?
Miami the Party Town
First of all, let’s consider what type of place Miami is. It wasn’t until 1896 that local landowner Julia Tuttle persuaded railroad baron Henry Flagler to extend his East Coast Railway all the way south from Palm Beach, but the prospect of a year-round resort that was frost-free was an attractive one and, as it proved, a winning one (hence the lady in question is honoured to this day with the naming of the Julia Tuttle Causeway, which connects the city to the beaches across Biscayne Bay).
The first link to the beaches – that unbroken 35-mile stretch of golden sands fringing the Atlantic Ocean – was built in 1913, and the boom was on, in part thanks to the authorities turning a largely blind eye to things like gambling and, from 1919, Prohibition. So, Miami was pretty much the Party Town almost from the beginning!
The legend of Miami as that swinging, happening city was further burnished in the 1950s and 60s by regular visits from Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, putting the iconic Fountainebleau Hotel on the map as an international resort of extravagant style and indulgence.
The fabulous Art Deco district of Miami Beach – which had helped to add even more lustre in the 1930s – enjoyed a renaissance in the 1980s to help drag the city out of a two-decade slump, and the modern story has been one of continued growth and success ever since. Therefore, this isn’t the place to come for a rest cure.
Miami’s Latin Flavour
The TV show Miami Vice highlighted the city’s glitz and glamour (as well as its drug-related crime) and that image of high-rollers in fabulous sports cars and fabulous girls in bikinis was there for a reason. This IS where the beautiful people hang out, and the nightlife is a big part of what makes Miami tick.
It stands to reason, therefore, that a party town will draw a party crowd for peak US occasions like Spring Break (the big school holiday period from late February to the end of March), Fourth of July, Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November) and, especially Christmas and New Year.
It is definitely true to say that the Magic City can throw a party at the drop of a hat – in fact, Ocean Drive is an absolute year-round magnet for high-energy nightlife – but it definitely cranks the fun all the way up to 11 for those periods when Americans come out to play in their highest numbers.
That means the revelry is at its peak for those holiday periods, and you should either avoid them – or dive right in – according to your preferences!
Seeing as how the city is also known as the Capital of Latin America, thanks to a huge influx of Cuban migrants in the 1950s and its close ties to Central and Southern America, you should also be aware that the Latin influence is all-encompassing, and that adds even more style and panache to Miami’s heady combination, a bit like Rio meets America with a strong dash of Havana mixed in.
Miami’s Heat & Humidity
So if that gives you an idea of what you’re getting into with any visit to Miami, let’s look in more detail at that ideal time to pay it a call.
Oh, wait, here’s some more important background. June to the end of November is Hurricane Season in this part of the world and, while major storms are rare in the final month of that period, it is still a potential concern. Hence, if you’re considering a winter holiday, it is definitely best to wait until the calendar clicks past November 30.
By the same token, a summer holiday here – while still packed with excitement and plenty of after-dark opportunities – can also be stretching Florida’s idyllic nature somewhat. In short, it is hot, like 35°C hot, and humid, as in 84 per cent (or higher).
That means the Heat Index – the combination of air temperature and humidity – can make it feel like 38°C-plus. Great if you’re soaking in the sea or by the pool; not so much if you want to tour the Art Deco district or stroll along the outdoor shopping arcade of the Lincoln Road Mall without feeling like a wet dish rag.
Yes, that does mean June-August are NOT the ideal months to visit, but let’s get back to the original focus and look at when IS the best time.
Is December A Good Time To Visit?
On December 15 last year, the high temperature in Miami was a balmy 27°C. Meanwhile, in London, it was a distinctly-not-balmy 4°. The average number of hours of daily sunshine in the 12th month of the year for the South Florida city is 7.5. In London? Well, if you see the sun, it’s probably a mirage. There are barely seven hours of daylight, let alone sun!
OK, all that tells us is it’s (much) better to be in Miami than London in December, but we are edging towards the full, well-rounded answer here. Provided sunshine is your thing (and, if it isn’t, why are you trolling a Florida website?!), this should be a very clear indication that it’s a winter destination par excellence.
The humidity has largely gone from the atmosphere, the UV Index is down to a manageable 5, and rain is rarely a factor in south Florida. There might be the odd shower, but the average monthly precipitation is barely two inches. When you consider the summer storms can dump that much in a couple of hours, your chances of getting caught out here in December are minimal, to say the least.
What that all adds up to is a climate not far short of Perfect and a state of well-being in the region of Nirvana. Without exaggeration, this is why people move to Florida. It’s not for the summer but the winter months.
The Bonus of Miami in December
But it gets better. If you have never enjoyed Christmas in the sub-tropics, this is another reason you should make this your next holiday ambition. Being able to dine al fresco on Christmas Day and remain in shirt-sleeves for the entire festive season is a rare pleasure, but one that Miami can pretty much guarantee.
The full array of Yule finery is also on display throughout the month, and there are some fabulous special seasonal events you will definitely want to put in your diary. Santa’s Enchanted Forest takes over Tropical Park each year with a family bonanza of festive fun and games (plus a bazillion lights!). There is also the Winter Wonderland at North Shore Open Space Park, and a nightly Magical Snowfall at Dolphin Mall throughout the month.
And then there is one of the great seasonal Florida highlights in neighbouring Fort Lauderdale in December. The Winterfest Boat Parade is a truly dazzling cavalcade of just about anything that floats, decked out in festive finery for a 10-mile jaunt north to Pompano Beach in high style. Previous years have seen the likes of a full-size bus, Santa’s reindeer and even Minnie and Mickey, all in amphibious form.
And you know that whole party style we talked about earlier? Well, when it comes to New Year’s Eve, South Beach is undoubtedly one of THE great venues for a truly memorable year’s end celebration, where you can salsa, merengue and samba your way into the New Year.
So, where does that leave our question about ‘Is December a good time to visit Miami?’ We think you may already have made up your mind…!
Susan & Simon Veness are the UK’s leading experts on Florida, having written about it for more than 25 years and sold more than half a million copies of their books about Orlando, Disney and the Sunshine State.