SOUTH BEACH SITS EAST OF MIAMI, between the calm waters of Biscayne Bay and a stretch of the Atlantic that’s actually warm enough to swim in comfortably. As summer hits, spring-breakers are long gone and the intense heat means fewer tourists, better prices, and more sandy real estate to yourself.
What I’d do again
DecoBike is an affordable ($4/30min, $24/day) and fun way to get around South Beach. You pick them up from little kiosk stations simply by swiping a credit card.
The bikes are also ideal for bar hopping on Collins Avenue after dark, with extra precautions and common sense, of course.
What I’d skip
The Lincoln Road pedestrian mall is a highlight for a lot of foreign visitors who can’t buy Madewell jeans or eat at Sushi Rock in Europe. If you live in the States and don’t particularly enjoy walking through several blocks of hot cement to shop at retail outlets, skip Lincoln Road.
That is, unless you’re coming after midnight to party at SCORE, one of Miami’s most popular LGBT nightclubs.
Where I slept
The Palms is an oceanfront hotel styled with custom-built wood furniture and floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows facing the ocean. The staff is friendly, and the beach chairs are free.
If you’re feeling especially Diddy-esque, you can rent a Tiki hut for the day with wifi and a flatscreen next to the pool. The Palms doesn’t try too hard to be a party scene, but it’s not stodgy either.
A solid budget option is Circa 39, a boutique hotel that’s not on the ocean but has fast access to the beach right across the street. You still get a pool and a nice room. I’d use the money saved to splurge on dinner.
What I ate / drank
Escopazzo Organic Italian Restaurant: Italian food isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I think about cuisine in Miami, but Escopazzo has some of the best vegetarian / vegan / raw food on the scene. They do fantastic seafood, too.
I had herb-encrusted sole on top of mashed potatoes that I’m still thinking about. My dinner companion got the ravioli, which was above and well beyond the typical stuff you find under the vegetarian section of the menu.
Cuban sandwiches: Hot pork, thinly sliced ham, melted swiss, and salty pickles on homemade Cuban bread. If you’re paying more than $5, you’re at the wrong place. Puerto Sagua Restaurant on Collins Avenue doesn’t overcharge for big portions of ropa vieja and oxtail stew, either.
Espresso: Cuban coffee tends to be strong, sweet, and served fast. Look for walk-up window service where locals shoot cafecitos while standing and chatting.
The Delano, an over-the-top art-deco hotel. I was looking for a scene with pretty people and strong drinks, and this was it.
Non-guests are welcome to lounge by the pool, but I drank my mojito inside so I could admire the luxuriously weird decor — once I found the partially hidden Rose Bar.
What I’ll tell my friends
My vacation criteria: warm water, diverse and affordable restaurants, poolside bars, and a nightlife scene that doesn’t shut down until dawn. South Beach fit the bill.
What kind of sucked
I figured I’d be exploring other areas in or near Miami: Little Havana, the Contemporary Art Museum, the Everglades. But South Beach isn’t ideally located. Rental cars and parking spots are expensive, and taxi fares add up driving back and forth across the causeway. Public buses are available, but expect long ride times (at least an hour to the art museum).
In the end, I only left South Beach for a quick trip to Little Havana.
What I wish I knew before I came
As a paddleboarder, I was hoping to spend some time on a rented board. My hotel was on the Atlantic side of South Beach, but after asking around I found out paddleboard and wave runner rentals are more manageable on the bay side because of the calmer waters.
Next time I’ll look for the rental shack behind the Standard Hotel to complete my South Beach experience.