Chef Cesar Zapata on balcony overlooking beach

Chef Cesar Zapata shares the best of Miami — and what to pack if you visit. (Photo: Sonya Revell)


How to Pack for a Miami Trip Filled with Fun, Sun and Amazing Food

Since moving to the Magic City some 20 years ago, Miami chef Cesar Zapata has watched the city undergo dramatic changes — especially when it comes to its food scene.

“Ten years ago, Miami was a lot of steakhouses and not a lot of chef-driven restaurants,” says Zapata, co-founder of the Viet-Cajun hot spot, Phuc Yea. “Now it’s super diverse — we can consider ourselves a true foodie destination.”

Indeed, Miami’s current culinary landscape is vast — and Zapata’s restaurant may have played a titular role in broadening it.

In 2011, Phuc Yea opened as Miami’s first ever pop-up restaurant. “We just decided to make food that we enjoy and the kind of restaurant we like going to when we travel to bigger metropolitan cities like L.A. or New York,” says Zapata, who was born in Colombia and raised in New Jersey.

Phuc Yea is now an established brick-and-mortar restaurant in Miami’s MiMo neighborhood, and Zapata has also opened two other concepts at TimeOut Market Miami — Pho Mo and Arepitas Bar.

We asked Zapata how to pack for the ultimate Miami experience and where to enjoy all the best fun, sun and food this exciting city has to offer.

Miami’s Great Outdoors

Plan an outdoor escape to Bill Baggs. (Photo: Getty Images)

Zapata is a runner and thinks one of the best ways to see the city is to go for a jog. “It’s a great way to reconnect with nature, and it can also get your energy going if you’re tired from traveling.”

If you’re staying in South Beach, Zapata recommends running the length of the Miami Beach Boardwalk along the ocean — you won’t be short on scenery. The Venetian Causeway, which connects South Beach to the mainland, is another beautiful run, he says.

Biking is also great for sightseeing around Miami. “Take a ride over the Rickenbacker Causeway to Key Biscayne’s Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, one of my favorite places to ride,” says Zapata. “There are unparalleled water views on both sides of the road and luscious greenery throughout the entire ride. Make sure to visit the Cape Florida Lighthouse and check out all the hiking trails around the park.”

Kayaking or paddleboarding at Sunset Harbour, a small waterfront neighborhood in Miami Beach, is also essential. “You can see all the beautiful mansions and visit a few of the little islands around the bay. Take a cooler with beer, snacks, and have a picnic by the water. Just make sure to bring lots of water and sunscreen.”

What to Pack for a Miami Vacation

person packing suitcase
In Miami, you’ll want to look good. (Photo: Sonya Revell)

Stick to cottons and linen fabrics, says Zapata — nothing too heavy. “Shorts; T-shirts; definitely sunglasses; a bathing suit, of course; and sandals — which here we call chancletas. I like Havaianas, personally.”

Fortunately, a runner’s wardrobe is perfect to pack for Miami heat, says Zapata, who is usually decked out in Lululemon. “I love their clothes. They’re just so comfortable and light — their joggers are the best, and I love their hoodies.”

suitcase with items and man packing suitcase
Pack for a mix of beach time and nightlife. (Photo: Sonya Revell)

Of course, if you’re going to be out in the Miami sun, you’re going to need sunscreen. Luckily, Miami Beach has a sunscreen namesake, the locally owned Miami Beach Suncare brand, which you can find at local drugstores or convenience stores along South Beach.

But the weather can be unpredictable, says Zapata. “Miami’s a subtropical climate, and there’s often daily rains here and there — it could be totally sunny, clear skies, and then 30 minutes later it rains for 15 or 20 minutes. But then the sun is out again.”

Zapata doesn’t think this should cramp your style, though. “This is why light clothes are important — something that will dry up quickly so you can stick it out and just enjoy it.”

An Insider’s Guide to Miami Nightlife

south beach at night
Miami’s architecture shines after dark. (Photo: Getty Images)

You should, of course, plan to dress up if you want to go out at night in Miami. “We have amazing nightlife here,” says Zapata, who encourages bringing the brightest colors in your wardrobe and any tropical patterns if possible.

Zapata loves South Beach but says if you want to really see Miami, you should definitely check out other neighborhoods, like Wynwood, Coconut Grove, Brickell and South Miami.

“One of my favorite spots is 1-800-Lucky in Wynwood. Most clubs charge a $50 to $100 cover just to go inside, but not here — and they have amazing DJs. It’s a little more down to earth.”

Zapata also loves Jaguar Sun in Downtown Miami. “It’s kinda retro ’80s, and the drinks are amazing,” he says. But the real — and most surprising — kicker is their food. “Italian food in a bar setting, and the pasta is handmade!”

Food, Food and More Food

Zapata has a definite opinion when it comes to the best Key lime pie in Miami. “Fireman Derek’s, hands down.” Fortunately, the locally owned restaurant has multiple locations across the city.

Though his own restaurant is a must-visit, one of Zapata’s favorite spots is Itamae in the Miami Design District. “It’s a Peruvian Nikkei-style restaurant, family owned and operated; everything on the menu is delicious. My favorite dish is the Octopus Bañadito.”

Casa Isola is another favorite, located in Sunset Harbour. “All of their pastas are freshly made in-house — the rigatoni a la vodka and veal chop parmigiana are a must. It’s a casual vibe and unpretentious — you feel as if you’re in grandma’s house in Sicily.”

Uniquely Miami

If you’re looking to bring something home for your loved ones, Zapata loves Martha of Miami in Westchester. “It’s quintessential Miami. She sells T-shirts with quintessential Miami sayings like ‘Cuban-bred’ or ‘Raised on Croquetas.’”

And then there’s Calle Ocho, Miami’s famed Little Havana. “There’s all these little mom and pop shops that have been there forever. You can buy hand-rolled cigars. Get a guayabera, a kind of typical Cuban-Miami linen shirt. You can also find cooking equipment like tostoneras, a plantain press. Those are the things that you don’t find everywhere, but you can get them here.”

And of course, any Miami sports gear makes a great gift. “Go to a game if you can while you’re here … it’s classic Miami. The University of Miami, too. People love UM, and they have great merch.”

Read Cesar Zapata’s Miami travel guide on Here Magazine.