The ingredients for a perfect Miami Beach weekend

From the high rises of Brickell to Wynwood's galleries and murals and the luxury boutiques of the Design District, there's always a lot happening in Miami.

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Rebecca Wallwork (CNN)
MIAMI (CNN) — From the high rises of Brickell to Wynwood's galleries and murals and the luxury boutiques of the Design District, there's always a lot happening in Miami.

But if it's that glorious stretch of Atlantic Ocean and white sand you came for, South Beach is ready to greet you with a bien venido -- and plenty of action to keep you busy all weekend long.

Before you travel here, about that beach: the best time to visit is in the morning. Few people, locals or visitors, are out and about before 11 a.m. in South Beach, and early birds catch the best beach chairs, not to mention a peaceful oceanfront scene for a swim, yoga session or run along the sand.

The beach path is also popular for jogging, power-walking, biking, blading or strolling -- it runs from South Pointe Park, at the southern tip of the barrier island, north along the coastline, turning into a wooden boardwalk at 23rd Street, where it continues through Mid-Beach to 46th Street.

On the go

Uber and Lyft have made getting around Miami Beach easy, but there's also Citi Bike for when you want to feel the ocean breeze in your hair. Stations are located all over South Beach, with 30-minute, one-hour, two-hour, four-hour and one-day passes available (from $4.50).

There's also a free trolley that makes loops around Miami Beach in both directions, connecting to a Mid-Beach trolley for accessing spots in the 30s and 40s, such as the entertainment-centric hotels Faena Miami and the Fontainebleau.

Brunch and lunch

Brunch is a power sport here, with elaborate spreads on offer at most high-end hotels, including Delano and Soho Beach House.

There are outdoor restaurants along retail pedestrian hub Lincoln Mall, but these tend to be more touristy. If you want to mingle with the locals, the best bets can be found in "SoFi" (South of Fifth Street) and Sunset Harbour, a pocket on the northwestern side of South Beach that's home to a number of great restaurants, including Stiltsville Fish Bar, a Florida-themed spot (from the former chef of another top brunch spot, Yardbird).

Sunset Harbour has also flourished as a health-conscious enclave home to spinning and yoga studios and green juice shops.

The main drags, Collins and Washington Avenues, are full of cheap pizza joints, but more satisfying grab-and-go options include tacos at Taquiza or Bodega, loaded French baguette sandwiches and croissants at La Sandwicherie and empanadas from a ventanita (Cuban coffee window).

David's Café Cafecito serves cheap, cheerful Cuban food and coffee all day, and its location on the western side of South Beach puts you in the heart of the residential areas -- and close to Flamingo Park, a pretty spot where locals gather to play sports or kick back on the grass and relax.

Culture and nightlife

Wynwood may be Miami's art hub, but South Beach is home to a number of galleries and two fantastic museums, The Wolfsonian and The Bass.

Many of the hotels in the neighborhood, including W South Beach, also have impressive modern art collections worth a peek.

Hotel lobbies are often prime spots for music, too.

The Betsy hotel hosts opera and a capella musical festivals throughout the year, and there's live jazz in the lobby most nights of the week. The Fillmore Miami Beach is where rock, pop and comedy acts perform on tour, and across the street is the Frank Gehry-designed home of the New World Symphony, which simulcasts its performances on a large screen in the park outside.

Visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to dinner and drinks on South Beach, and there are constantly new players in the mix.

A solid standby is 27 Restaurant, at the Freehand Hotel, a refreshing change from the dominance of sushi, Cuban, Italian and steakhouses. Its seasonal menu relies on Floridian ingredients and global influences to turn out irresistible dishes such as catch of the day in a coconut-curry broth and Kimchi fried rice.

Its outdoor bar, the Broken Shaker, remains one of the city's best spots for cocktails, despite stiff competition across the beach.

Wine bars, lounges, daytime pool parties and the kinds of nightclubs you think of when you hear the words "South Beach" are all here, as are plenty of tourist-trap bars serving "beergaritas" and colorful, slushy drinks in plastic cups.

What's harder to come by is a no-nonsense, solid locals' bar -- although Mac's Club Deuce comes close, assuming you're OK with enjoying your beverage in a dark, smoky room full of spirited regulars rather than outside watching the sunset.

For that, there's the bay-front Monty's Sunset.

Or the bar at Smith & Wollensky. Perched right at South Pointe, with a front row view of the cruise ships as they sail out of Government Cut into the ocean, it's the best seat in the house for raising a glass to your perfect weekend in Miami Beach.

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