THE WILD LIFESTYLE of South Beach can get awfully expensive for travelers: pricey accommodation, costly meals, and, for the drinkers, overpriced cocktails.
Read on to learn how to save your hard-earned cash.
You can avoid overpaying by staying in areas that cater to locals. The South Beach experience is the same, but without the $200+ daily expenses.
As a general rule, stay away from places on Lincoln Road or Ocean Drive as this is prime real estate and is reflected in the prices. Instead, aim for Washington Avenue, Alton Road, and small side streets that offer reasonable alternatives mere blocks from the glitz and glamour.
Here are a few cheap options for around $30/night:
South Beach Hostel – Features like a free breakfast, movie theater, full kitchen, laundry, Internet, and airport shuttle provide a hotel-like experience without the expense.
Perhaps most important is the fully equipped bar complete with pool table, TVs, an ATM, and outdoor seating. The bar opens from either 8 AM or 4 PM (depending on activities in the South Beach area), to 5 AM every day and has 2-for-1 drinks and $1.50 happy hour beers.
Jazz Hostel – Only two blocks from the beach, this lively hostel radiates a party vibe.
Surrounding the hostel entrance is an outdoor area with tables for socializing and cookouts. Wi-fi Internet, breakfast, luggage storage, and air conditioning are all included.
Clay Hotel – This centrally located building at the beginning of Española Way is a great base for exploring South Beach.
Only two blocks from Lincoln Road, Ocean Drive, and the beaches, there are two options for budget travelers: a hotel from $70-160/room (two to four people) or the hostel at around $25/person.
Restaurants are only feet away and are much less expensive than their Lincoln Road counterparts. Check out the hotel’s excellent budget traveler guide.
Restaurants in South Beach are generally divided into two types: those for locals and those for tourists. Most of the latter include a 15-18% gratuity on the final bill, while the former generally do not. Be careful not to double tip!
$4 breakfasts are common along Ocean Drive. While a great bargain, verify the cost of extras like coffee and juice before being seated. These may have inflated prices, resulting in a $4 breakfast costing $15-$20.
The locations below offer great food and drink at reasonable prices:
Big Pink – With pink delivery VW bugs and a pink corner building, you cannot miss this upscale diner for locals. The prices may not scream budget, but the portions are huge.
Most of the dishes can be shared, making the pricing more than reasonable. And the economical breakfast menu is available all day.
8oz Burger Bar – This sports bar and burger joint, open from 11:30 AM to 5 AM daily, has an authentic local atmosphere. So local that the owner’s cell phone number is on the menu.
The drink menu is extensive, ranging from the $20 all-you-can-drink Bloody Mary Bar on Sunday, to $1 beers after midnight all week. The Suds and Sliders meal is a filling bargain with 4 burger sliders (beef, turkey, lamb, and short rib) and four 5oz (150ml) beers for $20.
Guru – The Lunch Express option at this northern Indian restaurant provides a hearty gourmet meal at a low price.
Based on the thali-style of buffet eating, diners choose two or more dishes (all under $5) and get free basmati rice, salad, papadam, and raita.
Clarke’s – This place may be a splurge for extreme budget travelers but I think the food and atmosphere are well worth it.
Their $25 lobster dinner on Wednesdays includes a 1 1/2 lb. (750g) lobster, potato salad, corn on the cob, and cole slaw. Other food options include typical pub fare like fish and chips or chicken pot pie.
Meridian Food Market and Cafe
Where: 812 6th St, Miami Beach, (305) 673-8509
When: 7 AM to 11 PM, daily.
This Latin supermarket, located on a quiet corner at 6th street and Meridian (close to major South Beach roads), is the mother lode of food and beverage bargains.
The takeout area serves main dishes like pork ribs, flank steak, and baked chicken for $8 or less, with specials reaching $5 dollars. Ready-made Cubano sandwiches are $2.99, and the Medianoche only $1.99.
One pound of fresh-cut pineapple or papaya is $2 while breakfast pastries are $1.75 or less. Latin fried foods are also a great option with ham croquettes and beef or ham-and-cheese turnovers ranging from 50 cents to $1.59. Beverage options are extensive with 32oz malt liquor and beer at $2, or decent wines at $7 dollars a bottle.
For inexpensive nightlife, look for happy hour bargains. Ask around a bit. Many happy hours are, in fact, over several hours, lasting well into your night.
I recommend two main modes of transportation in South Beach for the budget traveler: walking or local buses.
Everything from the World Erotic Art Museum to people watching on Ocean Drive are always a few blocks away. For slightly longer trips, the South Beach Local bus reaches SOBE from end to end. The bus is a bargain at 25 cents and runs from 8 AM to 1 AM daily.
If you’re wondering how cheaping out might affect the locals, check out When Does Budget Travel Become Exploitation?