There are some places you just hate to see in your rear view mirror. For us, Miami Beach is one of them.
This was not our first visit to Miami Beach, but it was our longest to date. Even so, we didn’t get to do or see as much as we hoped, in part because we were there with a purpose: Three days of conventioneering at AARP’s Life@50+. We had a great time at the convention (post to come), but it seriously ate away at the amount of time we could spend exploring and enjoying the Art Deco capital of the world. Plus, we absolutely had to devote a day to the beach itself! (And now, we have peeling sunburns to show for it.) We managed to get in a few fantastic meals, experience the vibrant South Beach scene (with a cameo by Ricky Martin!), and sneak in plenty of exercise in the guise of walking: the beach, the boardwalk, and the city streets. Miami Beach is a supremely walkable city and, with the advent of CitiBikes, easily and affordably bike-able, as well.
We enjoyed meeting the locals, who were all so friendly and eager to point us towards their favorite hot spots and hidden gems. Their hometown pride was evident, and we got so many great recommendations that we have a list of places to visit the next time we’re in town! Miami is well known for its Cuban heritage, but we were surprised by the number of international visitors we encountered. I don’t think we went anyplace where we didn’t overhear conversations in a myriad of languages, which let us practice a bit of French, Italian and, of course, Spanish.
And then there’s the food. It’s practically the law that you must have some Cuban food while in Miami, and we were eager to oblige! From empanadas at the airport, to Media Noche sandwiches at the corner grocer, to classic Cuban at Lario’s on the Beach, and delicious Nuevo Latino at yuca on Lincoln Road…let’s just say watching our diets before this trip was a good idea. Perhaps the biggest foodie surprise on our trip came on a side street we ventured down while exploring the neighborhood around our hotel, with the idea of finding someplace to grab a bite. The last thing we expected to find was an Indonesian restaurant, but that’s exactly what we did. It was fabulous, and now we have our own hidden gem to recommend. (Indomania on 26th Street, between Collins Avenue and Miami Beach Drive.)
We stayed in the North Beach neighborhood, at Marriott’s Courtyard Cadillac Hotel Oceanside, which is literally right on the beach. We enjoy North Beach because it is quieter and less busy than South Beach, though not necessarily less expensive. The beach is groomed daily, and many of the hotels and condominiums lining the beach set out lounges, umbrellas, and cabanas which you can rent, even if you’re not staying there. It’s a very family-friendly area, with beach access from the hotels and several side streets. When you crave a little more action, whether it’s shopping, dining, culture or nightlife, the rest of Miami Beach is just $5 to $10 Uber ride away. Or you can take a stroll on the Miami Beach Boardwalk, which goes from Indian Beach Park to South Pointe Park, about four miles down the Atlantic shore of Miami Beach, with some of the best views on the island.
Two of our favorite South Beach excursions are Lincoln Road and Ocean Drive. If you enjoy people watching, you’ll love both of these areas but there is more to both of them. Ocean Drive runs parallel to the beach (hence the name), and is famous for the park and parties. Lummus Park runs for several blocks between Ocean Drive and the beach, with restrooms, play areas, volleyball courts, and exercise areas. Once the sun goes down, the night life peaks at places like Mango’s, The Clevelander, Nikki Beach and others. Adding to the excitement during our visit, Ricky Martin and Simon Cowell’s talent search show La Banda was taping in Lummus Park.
Ocean Drive is also the epicenter of the Art Deco District, anchored by the Art Deco District Welcome Center in Lummus Park, and the Versace Mansion, Casa Casuarina. The district was the first 20th century neighborhood to be recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. There is a total of 800 buildings of “historic significance” built in Miami Beach between 1923 and 1943 which are recognized. Many of them can be seen on Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue in an easy walk. It’s interesting to see them both during the day and night, when they shine in neon and pastel. (National Geographic’s Art Deco District Walking Tour is a great guide.)
A few blocks away is the pedestrian Lincoln Road shopping district, with many more excellent restaurants, coffee shops, and stores including locally owned boutiques and chain giants like H&M. There are several performance areas, play areas, fountains, and outdoor restaurants. Our favorite spot is at the west end of the seven-block district, anchored by the Art Deco Regal Cinemas South Beach, the award-winning Juvia restaurant, and the historic Colony Theatre. Not only did we love people-watching from the posh Nespresso Café and Boutique, but the architecture of that block captures the very essence of Miami Beach.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable trip that ended much too quickly. While we did shop for souvenirs, perhaps the best thing we brought home is a desire to return as soon as possible. After all, we still have a (fairly long) list of Miami Beach Must See’s from locals that we need to get to!
Have you been (or dreamt of going) to Miami Beach? What would you recommend? What were your favorite places to eat, play and see, or what are you most looking forward to? Join the conversation and let us know!
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