South Beach, Florida
The American Riviera, Hollywood of the East, Sobe, or the Art Deco District - whatever you call it, Miami's South Beach is hot year-round. The embodiment of excess, South Beach is an international playground offering non-stop nightlife, sandy shores, unique architecture and plenty of eye candy.
When imagining the South Beach scene, think "Baywatch" with an architectural twist ... even the lifeguard stands are art deco masterpieces. The long, man-made beach stretches up the Atlantic for miles and is perfect for early morning runs. The beach is also about the best spot to view the city lights at night. Tourists, however, are drawn to South Beach for the culture. The city is a melting pot of nationalities. The Latin-American population has profoundly affected the area, and the diversity of the community is apparent in the various ethnic neighborhoods, food and music.
What a tough task this was, testing the best martinis, hanging with beautiful people, staying at boutique hotels and lazing on the sand, but all had to be done to bring you the best of "The Best." So slip on your shades, pack your party pants and get ready for some fun in the sun.
Food & Drink
Where to Eat
Rose Bar at Delano
Web site: www.delano-hotel.com
This hotel is so over-the-top cool that it deserves at least two "Best of" mentions. The epitome of style, the Delano not only caters to beautiful people, it also employs them. Here you'll find the hottest bartenders and scores of international hipsters. My advice? Wear black, act posh and don't forget your wallet. Few places warrant spending more than $10 on a cocktail; the chic Rose Bar at Delano is one place where the ambiance makes the expense worthwhile. If the weather is nice - and it usually is in South Beach - stroll out to the beach bar and sit in one of the numerous cabanas. But, be careful, you may never want to leave this hedonistic haven.
Best Waterfront Atmosphere
Web site: www.wetwillies.com
WARNING! This is not your mother's margarita. A popular beachfront watering hole, Wet Willies serves some of the wildest (and most potent) drinks in town. Tourists and natives alike lounge on the upstairs deck and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. Belly up to the bar and order the famous Attitude Improvement or Call a Cab(tm), but beware - many of these tasty drinks are made with 153-grain alcohol and deceptively strong. But hey, if you're on vacation and in need of an attitude improvement, Wet Willies is the perfect place to get the party started.
Best Family Restaurant
South Beach's glittery scene is not customized for families. But the warm Cuban hospitality and downright friendly prices at Puerto Sagua (one block from the beach) make this colorful place popular with visiting and local families alike. Since 1962, this landmark restaurant has been dishing up authentic Cuban cuisine like ham croquettes, paella-style chicken and rice, or the media noche, a traditional sandwich of pulled pork, ham and cheese. Call your mama and abuela - this place will provide enough fuel to fire up several generations for a day out on the beach.
Best Gay Dance Club
Web site: www.twistsobe.com
"Never a cover - Always a groove." That's the motto at Twist, South Beach's hottest gay dance club and the "see-and-be-seen" epicenter for gay locals and tourists. DJs spin tunes seven nights a week, and the club features seven sexy bars, each with a different theme. Whether you prefer the island-themed Bungalow Bar, tranquil Garden area or antic-filled Frolic Room, nary a dull moment lurks at Twist. Some of the club's more popular draws are the "Gaiety" erotic male dancers, Wednesday night DRAGBOY! show and the Thursday night special: two-for-one well drinks.
Best Gay Bar
Web site: www.scorebar.net
As South Beach's hottest gay bar, there's little wonder how Score got its name. Set on South Beach's hotbed of night life, Lincoln Road, a trip here guarantees, ahem, scores of hot guys, three crowded bars, dance floors, lounges, an outdoor sidewalk cafe and a number of tempting parties, like the Monday night cabaret show, Wednesday night striptease and the now infamous Sunday afternoon "Tea Parties."
Web site: www.penguinhotel.com
No shirt, no shoes ... no problem. Primarily a local hangout advertised by word of mouth, the Front Porch serves the best breakfast on the beach. Below the Penguin Hotel, this cozy art deco eatery bustles with business in the morning. The line that forms outside moves more quickly than the service, but the tasty and reasonably priced "beach breakfast bonanza" is worth the wait. Request a table outside and enjoy some people watching while dining.
Where to Stay
Best Bed & Breakfast
Web site: www.hotelshelley.com
Situated on bustling Collins Avenue, smack in the heart of South Beach, Hotel Shelley isn't exactly a quiet bed-and-breakfast retreat. However, visitors cannot help but warm up to it's charming Art Deco decor, convenient location and fresh continental breakfast. Rooms are decorated in crisp whites, and furniture and lamps all exhibit classic Deco lines. Marble baths, concierge service and free continental breakfast help endear guests to the lovely hotel. The hotel bar is the perfect gathering spot to meet other guests and enjoy a cocktail on the outdoor patio.
Ocean Surf Hotel
Web site: www.theoceansurfhotel.com
Located on a relatively secluded stretch of sand, the Ocean Surf Hotel is an intimate escape from hectic South Beach. Recently renovated, the hotel has been owned and operated by the same friendly family for 3 generations. Porthole windows in oceanfront rooms may lead some awakening guests to believe they are aboard a luxury ocean liner, but with the Ocean Surf's low rates, it will only take them a second to remember where they are.
Best Luxurious Hotel
Web site: www.delanohotelmiamibeach.com
The lobby of the Delano transports visitors to a magical, mystical world. Conceived by entrepreneur Ian Schrager of Studio 54 fame, the indoor/outdoor lobby merges fantasy with reality and simplicity with style. Billowing white curtains cascade from the ceiling and usher ultra-hip guests from one decadent room to another. A large back porch overlooks a long expanse of grass and a glowing pool, which is surrounded by cabanas, palm trees and hibiscus. Guestrooms are simple, private sanctuaries decorated in pure white and evoke a feeling of relaxation and serenity. Special amenities include stereos, CDs and long white candles, all which make an overnight stay quite a treat. All this - and the hotel is right on the beach.
Best Family Hotel
Loews Miami Beach Hotel
Web site: www.loewshotels.com
South Beach isn't exactly the place for kids. Frankly, there is plenty more for them to do farther north in Orlando. But if you want to bring the whole clan, the Loews Miami Beach Hotel offers spacious rooms, comfortable facilities and a special Kids Camp program for children ages 4 to 12. Activities include games, arts and crafts, and exploring the beach. If you want to hit the town without the kids, Loews offers activities to keep the little ones entertained, such as pizza parties and movie nights. Families can also take advantage of the Loews Loves Kids program, which features lending game libraries, special menus, tours, welcome gifts for children under 10 and supervised recreational programs.
Best Budget Accommodation
Web site: www.villaparadisohotel.com
Villa Paradiso exists as an affordable and stylish oasis in the midst of South Beach's Art Deco District and sits just blocks away from the heart of Lincoln Road's night life. Accommodations at the Villa are more reminiscent of an apartment complex than a standard hotel, with rooms featuring full kitchens, dining area, king or queen beds, hardwood floors, wrought-iron furniture, marble baths and views of the tranquil garden courtyard. Visitors seeking an escape from South Beach's frenetic atmosphere can seek it here, while those looking to take advantage of the area's montage of clubs and discos will appreciate the concierge's ability to secure VIP access for guests to some of the area's hottest nightspots.
Best Art Deco Hotel
Web site: www.thetideshotel.com
Situated in the heart of Ocean Drive, the Tides hotel towers over the beach. The tallest art deco hotel on the strip, the Tides was built during the Depression and recently expanded its original 115 rooms into 45 spacious suites, all with a spectacular ocean view. Each room comes complete with mini-bar, CD player and a telescope for stargazing ... both those in the sky and those strolling the streets. Thanks to hotel owner Chris Blackwell of Island Records fame, the rooms are all stocked with an excellent selection of music. Natural coral surrounds the port windows and a freshwater pool is located on the mezzanine level. The Tides could easily be the second runner-up for "Best Luxury Hotel."
What to Do
Best Kid Stuff
Even though Seaquarium is not in South Beach proper, it is close by and great fun for the family. Covering 38 acres, Seaquarium boasts Lolita the Killer Whale and the Flipper, plus every kind of sea animal performance imaginable. In addition to all the shows, see scores of tropical fish, sea creatures and scary sharks.
Best Day Trip
Web site: www.vizcayamuseum.org
Bellissima! Just a few miles south of downtown Miami on Biscayne Bay lies Villa Viscaya, an Italian Renaissance-style villa built for industrialist James Deering in the early 1900s. Capitalizing on the International Harvester fortune, Deering hired almost 10% of Miami's population to construct his mansion. The home and sprawling gardens are designated a National Historic Landmark and are now open to the public. Visitors can tour the historic house museum and view much of the original 16th- through 19th-century furnishings, tapestries and artwork Deering purchased while traveling through Europe. The villa is surrounded by more than 10 acres of formal gardens and a historic European landscape adapted to Miami's sub-tropic climate. Elaborate fountains, pools and cascades are scattered around the grounds.
No matter how exotic the locale, travelers seem to always seek the familiar when shopping. Perhaps they find comfort in this, but in South Beach, there's no reason to stick to the norm. It's all here - from the unique Armani Exchange boutique to your basic Banana Republic and The Gap. The best shopping is clustered into three main areas: Washington Avenue, Lincoln Road Mall and Espanola Way. Washington Avenue is one of the main boulevards on South Beach, along with Collins Avenue and Alton Road. The area between Sixth Avenue and the Lincoln Road Mall bursts with stores of every description. Try the Lincoln Road Mall, a 10-block, pedestrian thoroughfare, or Espanola Way, an original Spanish-style street, to shop or people watch. The once run-down Lincoln Road Mall has been transformed into a shopping and dining Mecca. Revitalized over the past few years, the long promenade is a mix of outdoor cafes, funky boutiques and galleries.
Art Deco Tours
Web site: www.mdpl.org
Led by local historians and architects, these 90-minute tours by the Miami Design Preservation League offer interesting tidbits about the art deco district. Tours begin at the Art Deco Welcome Center - a good place to buy a book on the deco district or souvenirs for the kids. January is Art Deco Month in Miami, so be sure to check out special architectural events and tours.
New World Symphony at Lincoln Theatre
Web site: www.nws.org
Since 1987, the New World Symphony has rocked Miami Beach from its gilded perch in the Lincoln Theatre. The best young musicians in the country hotly contest the symphony's 85 positions in national auditions. Here's a wonderful opportunity to catch future concert maestros early in their careers.
Wolfsonian/Florida International University
Web site: www.wolfsonian.org
Housed in a freshly renovated, Mediterranean-revival building, the Wolfsonian is home to a fantastic collection of decorative arts and artifacts of political propaganda from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Amassed by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr., these works were turned over to Florida International University in 1997. A tour of the galleries reveals examples of industrial design from North America and Europe as well as rotating special exhibitions featured alongside the permanent collection. Perhaps the coolest part of this museum is the haunting assortment of Fascist-era propaganda materials. Posters, porcelains and other objects demonstrate the horrifying beauty to be found in fascist and totalitarian political campaigns of the 1930s and 1940s. As Mr. Wolfson once commented, the value of his objects is not always in how beautiful they are, but in what they tell us about the cultures that produced them.