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.
4 Morning reading
Begin the day with an international newspaper and an outdoor table at the News Cafe, a restaurant, bar and newsstand open 24 hours. Its halcyon days are gone, but the tables still fill up with tourists and a smattering of locals thanks to the reasonably affordable prices, full breakfast menu and prime people-watching location near the beach. The breakfast special (two eggs with fries; bacon, ham, sausage or turkey sausage; juice, coffee or tea; and bread) is €7.70. French toast, pancakes or Belgian waffles are €5.70.
For a more sophisticated brunch (beginning at 11.30am), head a few blocks north to BLT Steak at the Betsy Hotel, a renovated structure that captures an old-fashioned charm. Dine indoors or out on the porch from a menu that goes beyond the basics: almond brioche French toast with cinnamon-caramelized bananas (€10.30), buttermilk pancakes with blueberries and orange blossom water syrup (€8.80), and the BLT Popover, an interpretation of eggs Benedict with béchamel and Gruyère (€10).
5 Sun and surf
The afternoon is for relaxing amid miles of white sand. Do so at a free public beach. A complete list of beaches is at Miamiandbeaches.com; the South Beach area is generally considered to be from Ocean Drive and Fifth Street to 21st Street and Collins Avenue. Can’t lie still? Lummus Park (Ocean Drive between Fifth and 15th streets) has beach volleyball and a playground, while South Pointe Park (1 Washington Ave) has interactive water features, a “tot lot” playground and an observation deck. Both parks have public toilets. There’s no need to leave the beach for lunch, though there are plenty of waterfront restaurants. Simply pick up food at a nearby deli or grocery store, such as Art Deco supermarket, before you unfurl your beach blanket. Those who want a scene (music, money, pretty young things) can dip into one of the nascent hotels, try SLS Hotel South Beach, where you can eat at Hyde Beach, a nightclub that during lunchtime offers a menu created by the chef José Andrés (burgers, €14.50; tuna ceviche, €12) beside the pool. Just don’t forget your wallet; calories aren’t the only things that add up.
6 Art and architecture
Miami’s sizable Art Deco district has hundreds of historic buildings from the 1920s to the 1940s, many of them prime examples of the period’s favourite architectural style. Think pastel hues and architecture evocative of ships.
Ninety-minute walking tours of the district depart from the Art Deco Welcome Center each day at 10.30am (there’s an additional tour on Thursdays at 6.30pm) and stop at hotels and restaurants, and other commercial buildings (€14.50). If you want to go at your own pace, self-guided audio-tours are available (€11). The Welcome Center offers other, less frequent tours of the area, including a gay and lesbian walking tour (€14.50) about the contributions of gays and lesbians to Miami Beach history, and a Jewish Miami Beach tour (€14.50) about the area’s Jewish population.
Rainy day? South Beach is home to the Bass Museum of Art (€6) where there are paintings and sculpture by Rubens, Botticelli and Ghirlandaio. Also in the area is the Wolfsonian-Florida International University Museum (€5), which houses objects from the Industrial Revolution to the end of the second World War, as well as the Jewish Museum of Florida-Florida International University, itself a piece of history consisting of a restored Art Deco building and a 1929 synagogue.
Art lovers with time to venture beyond South Beach should explore the galleries, bars and antiques stores in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District, a short cab ride away.
7 Panoramic vistas
Venture away from kitschy Ocean Drive for a different view of the city from the penthouse of Juvia, a vast indoor-outdoor restaurant and bar. The restaurant serves Japanese, French and Peruvian food as varied as salmon nashi and roasted chicken vadouvan, but the view is the real showstopper.
Juvia won a 2013 James Beard Foundation award for outstanding restaurant design (over 75 seats), and from its roof, the moon over Miami can seem almost close enough to touch.
8 A Little night music
South Beach has many soundtracks, but few musical institutions here are as beloved as the New World Symphony, an orchestral academy founded by the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.
You won’t find it hard to locate the symphony’s home, New World Center, which was designed by Frank Gehry. Some concerts are even free to the public and shown via “live Wallcast” on a 7,000-square-foot projection wall adjacent to the centre. For other sorts of music and theatrical productions, there’s also the Art Deco-style Colony Theater.
9 Oceanfront workout
Ditch the gym. There are few places in South Beach better designed for an outdoor workout than the path several miles long that stretches alongside the ocean (look for signs that say 17th Street Beachwalk) where runners and people on a variety of wheels including rollerblades, bicycles and Segways swish by (seriously, be careful). Should you wish to join the them, you’ll have no problem spotting beachside rental companies. For a quieter, more leisurely workout, take a walk through the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, near the convention centre. Admission is free.
10 A taste of Spain
Don’t leave South Beach without wandering over to Española Way, a stretch of shops and restaurants with Spanish-colonial architecture as reinterpreted in 1925. Swing by for a casual meal, a savoury snack (margaritas and chips at Oh! Mexico hit the spot) or ice cream. Inspired by Mediterranean villages in Spain and France and once a destination for gamblers such as Al Capone, the area is a cleaner, sleepier, more international version of New York’s Little Italy – minus the karaoke and cannoli.
– New York Times Service