For a winter pick me up, Miami is hard to beat: blue skies warmed by the Florida sun, the azure ocean, a manageable eight-hour flight from the UK and a beach-led cool city lifestyle make it a winner for a long weekend or a jumping off point for the Caribbean (if only).
For beach boys and girls
Sun starved Brits (like me) keen to get some sand and surf should head for straight for Ocean Drive on the world-famous Miami Beach (actually a barrier island separated from the rest of the city by Biscayne Bay). Lined with pastel Art Deco hotels and facing white sands dotted with ice cream-coloured lifeguard stations, it provides some of Miami’s most iconic images.
By day, the vibe is chilled: breakfast or (very generous) brunch in one of the many terrace cafes (we loved the News Café) before heading to the water’s edge where you can lounge on a sunbed dotted about the white sand while those who want to add Zen to sunrays can catch daily yoga sessions at 7am and sunset.
Walk off your maple syrup pancakes along the palm-tree fringed boardwalk which extends 40 blocks (four miles in old money) to Collins Avenue, affording a glimpse into some of the Beach’s ritziest hotels and examples of Miami Modern postwar architecture such as the celebrated Fontainebleau Hilton. If the walk is too much or too slow, Citi Bikes are dotted along the boardwalk, accessed with a credit card for as little as $4.50 for 30 minutes. Or rent a classic cruiser from Bike and Roll, which also offers guided bike or Segway tours around the city.
For four-wheeler fun, head back to the cafés to watch the parade of exotica, from blinged-up Bentleys to Lamborghinis, and an endless of procession of Ford Mustangs that emerges late afternoon to cruise up and down Ocean Drive – or join in by hiring your own supercar.
For culture vultures
You don’t need to stray far from the Beach to find culture. South Beach (SoBe) is a mecca for architecture lovers, home to more than 800 Art Deco houses and hotels, many in the local tropical deco style. The Art Deco Welcome Centre on Ocean Drive offers exhibitions and a guided 90-minute walking tour every day.
Away from Miami Beach, the former warehouse district of Wynwood is now the city’s official arts hub and the hippest quarter. It’s Wynwood Walls showcase murals and graffiti and the area is also home to over 70 galleries and of those twin hipster passions: pop-ups and breweries. While, for a more highbrow experience, the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) on the downtown waterfront has a celebrated collection of modern and contemporary American art.
Cuban and Haitian attractions
As the ‘Capital of Latin America’, a uniquely Miami experience is the opportunity to dip into the Cuban and Caribbean culture, most notably in Little Havana, established by Cuban expats after Castro’s revolution. Calle Ocho is a must visit for its authentic (if nowadays more tourist-centric) cigar shops where the tobacco is rolled by hand, coffee shops and Cuban cafes.
Al Fresco Fashion
If your culture is more of the retail variety, the open air mall of Lincoln Road offers high end high street shopping, with plenty of cafes to provide retail respite. The creations of international and local designers can be found in the Design District, dubbed the Rodeo Drive of the subtropics.
Like any city, Miami comes alive at night, when locals and visitors follow the urge to eat, drink and be merry! Though South Beach is not quite the hot property of the 90s when the supermodels all hung out at the Delano, it still has more than enough to keep gourmets and party animals happy.
Where to eat…
Joe’s Stone Crab Shack – a Miami institution, serving the local speciality of stone crab for over 100 years. The wood-paneling and the jokes have an old-fashioned charm….and the key lime pie is a must-try!
Gianni’s – in the Casa Casuarina hotel, the former Versace mansion, this Italian fine dining restaurant is the place for a special ‘instagrammable’ meal. As one would expect, it is the epitome of opulence, from the murals in the dining room to the 24-carat gold-tiles in the swimming pool providing a backdrop for candlelit dining en plein air. The food is Italian/Mediterranean with the odd bling dish such as black truffle risotto or caviar.
The cafes of Ocean Drive take on a slightly ‘Spring Break’ atmosphere by dusk, offering extensive happy hours and serving the ubiquitous mojitos in goldfish-bowl glasses.
By contrast, the small and intimate Onyx bar (yes, at the former Versace mansion again) provides a sophisticated nighttime oasis on Ocean Drive, serving luxury libations such as the infamous 24-carat golden margarita festooned with real gold flakes.
Just a few doors along is the legendary Mango’s where you can watch a live dance show and even strut your salsa stuff with the staff ‘til the early hours. Well we did…
For a more authentic Latin experience, head to The Ball and Chain in Little Havana – a recreation of the 1930s nightclub where Count Basie and Nat King Cole played. The venue serves up jazz and salsa alongside classic Cuban cocktails.
Bus tours are usually dismissed as tacky and touristy, but they are a great way of seeing the town. We covered the city in half a day, taking in the sights of Wynwood, Little Havana, downtown and the Mediterranean-inspired Coral Gables suburb from the upper deck of an open topped bus.
It’s definitely worth taking the option boat trip on the ‘Island Queen Cruises’ for the downtown skyline views and a cruise past ‘Millionaire’s Row’ of mansions on Fisher Island and Star Island, owned by Matt Damon, J-Lo and the like. With the onboard bar offering yet more margaritas, it’s a very pleasant way to spend a few hours.
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