Weekend in ... South Beach
At Southe Point Park public beach in South Beach even the lifeguard station shows Miami style. Photographs: Cindy Karp for the New York Times
Rooftop dining at Juvia restaurant and bar
South Beach is famous for its hotels like the newly renovated Gale, a canvas for Florida-meets-Mona Lisa artwork
A weekend in Miami’s South Beach ought not to begin with “What to pack?” but rather, “What to do?”. Do you long for the South Beach of painted-on dresses, frozen margaritas and electric neon? The South Beach of stylish new (or renovated) hotels (Gale, Lord Balfour, SLS South Beach) and restaurants (Yardbird, Southern Table & Bar, Khong River House, Tongue & Cheek)? Or the South Beach of yesteryear, of pastel Art Deco buildings, museums and monuments? Perhaps you simply crave the beach. Miami can be whatever you want it to be – laid back, decked out, gay, straight, a family recess, a single’s playground – which is precisely what makes it such an effortless getaway. In this dreamland at the southern tip of Miami Beach, you can choose your own adventure.
1 Shop and stroll
South Beach is a breeze to tour by foot or bicycle (you can rent a DecoBike for €4.50 for an hour or €17.60 a day; Decobike.com/pricing), and an easy place to begin is Lincoln Road Mall. Retailers high and low line this wide outdoor pedestrian shopping and eating zone between Alton Road and Washington Avenue, where you can pick up South Beach essentials such as crystal embellished Havaianas flip-flops and sarongs in tropical hues. You’ll also find coffee shops, ice cream parlours, art galleries, bars, clubs and retail chains including Anthropologie, Madewell and Kiehl’s. Designer names dot the surrounding streets. In other words: Pack light.
2 Dinner al fresco
For some, nothing beats the absurdity of drinking a frozen margarita the size of a noodle bowl stuffed with two upside-down bottles of Corona beer (yes, people do this) at one of the tables lining the sidewalk on Ocean Drive. This touristy beachside stretch of restaurants doesn’t offer the finest cuisine, though what the area lacks in culinary flavour it makes up for with flavour of a different sort – an endless parade of creatively dressed (or underdressed) revellers enjoying the breeze off the ocean. More refined restaurants, such as Altamare and YUCA, are on Lincoln Road. For some of the best outdoor gawking, seafood lovers can head over to SushiSamba and take in the unofficial fashion show with an irresistible plate of rock shrimp tempura (€12.50) and speciality rolls like the ezo (salmon, asparagus, onion, chives, sesame, tempura flakes and wasabi mayonnaise; €9.50).
3 Hotel crawl
After dark, when the sun-kissed passersby are but shadows, it’s time for another walk, this time to check out Ocean Drive’s Art Deco hotels such as Colony, Boulevard and Starlite illuminated in neon blue, pink and red. You can head to a club (Cameo, Mansion, Nikki Beach) afterwards, or for a more casual night, stop by Hotel Victor, just past the mansion once owned by the designer Gianni Versace. Here you can sit at an outdoor table with a glass of wine and enjoy live music on the hotel’s porch. If you’re not in the mood for drinks, do as others do, watch (dance, even) from the street. Speaking of which, walk farther north on Ocean to the Palace, a gay restaurant and bar, and you might be lucky enough to catch a drag show. Those in search of a little glamour should continue their stroll to Collins Avenue to tour the lobbies and bars of classic Miami hotels such as the Delano with its dark, intimate corners and, if you desire a more boisterous scene, the vast, blue-hued Fontainebleau.