Ah, south beach. Visions of sun, sand, swaying palms and the inevitable thong run through my mind. Good parties, loud music, frantic energy; south beach has always intrigued me but never lured me.
While I harboured no innate dislike for South Beach or Miami, I just never really felt a pull to go there. I am more West Coast and the Desert; could I do South Beach? Would it be my vibe? And was I really giving it a fair shake of things? Maybe, just maybe I was being a little too harsh to that good old SoBe. Turns out, I was! And while it did live up to the pictures and thoughts that ran through my head, it was so much more than I thought.
First and foremost, there really is something for everyone when it comes to accommodations in South Beach and Miami for that matter. You can go really high end resort or budget friendly kitch; be immersed in the party vibe or just a bit out of it’s range; strut to be seen or lay back and observe. Whatever your motivation for going into the sunshine, you can find a place to suit your needs.
Most of the hotels that line Collins Ave from 15th street to about 23rd street are where you’ll find the cool pools, bars and beach scene. There are plenty to choose from and you’ll be right in the thick of it. On Ocean Drive, you’ll find the original heart of South Beach with deco-inspired buildings, restaurants and a good mix between higher-end boutique style hotels and a little more budget friendly. Again, you can be right in the mix of the vibe or just a little bit outside of it. If you travel just up Collins Ave a bit you’ll still find some larger hotels with excellent facilities, but you’ll have to take a cab if you want to hit the action.
Whatever you want to do, you’ll find that place that best suits you. Want to party and been seen, you’ve got numerous options like W South Beach, SLS or the Delano (just to name a few). Want relaxing and luxurious, there’s Canyon Ranch in the North Beach or the St. Regis and One Bal Harbour in Bal Harbour area. Looking for a boutique style experience close to everything, you’ve got The Betsy (where I stayed!) or the new Victor. Once you figure out how you want to vacation, you’ll have no trouble finding a place that’s perfect for you.
There are lots of restaurants and way too many options to list here. Just know that whatever you are craving, you can find. This is a major city, with many, many hotels, restaurants and bars. What surprised me the most was how many Italian inspired places there were (good for me, I love Italian!). This is also the place for seafood. Big, beautiful seafood is found everywhere and if that’s what you love, you truly won’t be disappointed.
A good place to check out is the Lincoln Road Mall, running on Lincoln Ave between Washington and Alton. It’s a pedestrian outdoor mall with tons of restaurants and shops. We popped down on a Saturday night and found an outside table at one of the many, many restaurants there. Super fun vibe and excellent people watching! I happened to eat at Il Bolognese, good food, great service, but you could choose any number of places from Italian, Cuban, American; all with outdoor patios and pretty decent menus. I particularly like Il Bolognese and Nexxt for the variety, service and quality.
Every hotel has some good restaurants too and you’ll need to research if there is a specific cuisine you’d like to have and possibly make a reservation. BLT at The Betsy where I stayed was always busy for dinner and the food looked great. I didn’t eat dinner there, but breakfast was pretty good.
If you want to venture further, try a restaurant that isn’t at a hotel or on Lincoln. Prime One Twenty is “the” place to celebrity watch and have good steak. I didn’t make a reservation in enough time so my next visit will include a night here. There’s also Joe’s Stone Crab in the southern part of South Beach. Great food, casual vibe but they don’t take reservations so be prepared to wait a bit on busy nights. For a high-end Italian meal, try Casa Tua. We had a wonderful (although expensive) meal here. Fantastic, private patio, interesting menu and wonderful service. For the best view in South Beach, try Juvia, an awesome rooftop restaurant and bar at the top of 1111 Lincoln Road. You will definitely need reservations for a table and the bar area is small but the crowd is uber-cool and the view is out of this world
The one thing, Miami isn’t, is cheap. There are some fantastic happy hour offerings at many restaurants along Ocean Drive and in Lincoln Road Mall, but most meals ranged between $50-$100 for two people. Generally we had appetizers, a main, no dessert and a couple of drinks. As with anywhere, there are diners and chain restaurants if you want, but in my opinion, you’ll want to check out some of the better places for the experience and feel.
But drinking is where it got to us. And just drinking in general; we had tea for $6. The booze is expensive there with a bottle of beer ranging up to $7 each and my beloved Lemon Drop Martinis setting me back about $17 each (not that that stopped me). Stock up on water, pop and juice at a CVS or Walgreens and keep in your room to take with you when you’re out and about but just accept that if you want to have some liquor, you’ll be paying for it (but hopefully just with your wallet!)
What isn’t there to do in South Beach?! My (very) uneducated idea of South Beach was just Beach and pools but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes, the beaches are the focus but with such aqua-hued waters how could you not been drawn to it? And yes, there are pools and some are so fun and cool that you absolutely could spend an afternoon there. But there’s shopping too along some parts of Washington, Collins and Lincoln Road Mall. If you have a car, you can drive the 25 minutes up Collins Ave and check out the Aventura Mall, one of the largest and most visited malls in the South.
Just grabbing a great walking shoe will set you on fun adventures, whether you walk or jog up and down the boardwalk along the ocean, rent a segway or take a ride on a deco bike that you can find everywhere. Next time I go I will remember to bring some great shoes to walk or jog along the boardwalk. It is long, spanning much of the ocean from the southern part all the way up (I stopped at 23rd but it still carried on), and very well maintained. As I walked I got a glimpse of every hotel’s pool and beach scene and watched all the kite surfers doing their thing. I could have gone further but my sparkle sandals, while really rather cute, weren’t exactly the most appropriate distance walking shoes.
I did the deco bike thing and I’m glad I did. You simply insert your credit card and decide how much time you need (1 or 2 hours, or more) and go. For $10 I got the bike for two hours, and while it was a bit clunky to get going, I was able to bike all the way down to the southern part of South Beach and all the way back up. You can deposit your bike back to any depot, anywhere, so it really is very convenient. I saw parts that I wouldn’t have seen simply walking, nor would I have spent money to go in a cab. If you feel confident, you can bike along the main roads but there are side streets too that have less traffic.
If you like to spa, there are many choices for you too. And you don’t have to stay in a hotel to use the spa. You may have to pay an additional, nominal fee to use the spa facilities, but you can definitely make a day out of going. Bliss Spa at the W South Beach is consistent with the brand and if you feel adventurous about going into downtown Miami, the spa at the Viceroy has some fantastic views. One word of caution; really research the spa before going and, in my opinion, stay away from the spa at The Standard. If you want spa luxury, you will not find it here! But, that was my mistake, I went on a whim and was very disappointed. With a little planning, you can have a fantastic experience.
Now, for children there is a lot to do too. However, you will have to have a car as many things are not within walking distance. There is a great Children’s Museum at 980 MacArthur Causeway that has lots of interesting, interactive exhibits. The Miami Zoo at 1 Zoo Boulevard is another great family location. There are fantastic public beaches and the Crandon Park in Key Biscayne is a whole day adventure. A great beach, amusement centre, trails and kayak rentals are all available for the whole family.
And, not to mention that South Beach is really part of Miami, a huge city with with so much to offer. You can check out a baseball, basketball or football game, visit Brikell Ave for good shopping, check out the vibrant arts scene or take in a concert. There really is so much that you probably will have to come back again, and again in order to really see and do everything.
Who should go
South Beach and the Miami area is really a place for everyone. What I originally thought to be just a party place for wanna-be uber cools, is really a spot that welcomes everyone. It’s a great destination to get away with your kids or spouse. And it is good for a party. Having a major airport hub and so many things within walking distance of hotels, it’s a great spot for a girl’s weekend, a bachelor party, golf weekend or destination event. As with anything, careful planning will turn up some real gems to make any event, magical.
Initial Thought (albeit, completely uneducated and totally self concocted) – 5
Thought after Visiting – 8.5
So, while the West Coast will always have my heart, South Beach holds a little something over me. The easy, accessible, warm, fun vibe sort of wraps itself around me reminding me that it’s there, waiting, having fun even without me, until I’m ready to come back and join in.