Surfside Is a Chill Beach Town in Hot, Hot, Hot Miami
Families and those looking for a mellow-meets-luxurious vibe will love this charming beach town.
Think Miami is just the South Beach see-and-be-seen culture of muscles, clubs and supermodels? You might be surprised to discover a sophisticated, under-the-radar beach town sandwiched between ritzy Bal Harbour and party central South Beach that is the perfect family or mellow beach getaway.
Billing itself as Miami’s Uptown beach town, Surfside, Florida is an 8-block strip of businesses, many of them owned by former or current Northeastern refugees escaping the cold in this balmy slice of paradise. But Surfside also has the international feel of the rest of Miami, filled with Brits and Venezuelans, Portuguese and other expats who have made their escape to a neighborhood with beautifully maintained, sugar sand beaches and the kind of laid-back vibe you’d expect from a place where “too cold” (!) 70 degree days send locals scurrying indoors, surrendering the beaches to delighted tourists.
Surfside Community Center
Visitors to Surfside have endless options to choose from including stunning beaches and restaurants and family-friendly options like the Surfside Community Center, open free of charge to any hotel guest in Surfside and featuring fitness classes, green space, a children's activity pool, lap pool and direct beach access.
Depending on your mood, you can go completely upscale in Surfside, or beachy and mellow, sometimes both in the course of a day, which is part of this funky town’s mash-up zeitgeist.
What Surfside feels like more than anything, is a sitcom that you kind of want to live in, filled with colorful characters like mayor, Daniel Dietch, who rides a skateboard around Surfside, and has managed to get drinking straws banned from the city to protect the pristine beach for the loggerhead turtles and tourists who nest there.
Serendipity Creamery and Yogurt Shop
Who can you expect to meet in Surfside? There’s the vivacious cool mom Serendipity Creamery and Yogurt Shop owner, Jessica Levison, who parks her slightly curmudgeonly dad behind the counter. “What topping goes well with the cereal milk?” I ask him about Levison's homemade toppings for one of her ice cream flavors. “That’s like putting ketchup on steak,” he quips back.
Levison is working on a clever line of Peekaboo ice cream that hides veggies in delicious ice cream and like most of the Surfside business people I meet, has a very relaxed sensibility with the heart of a Ben and Jerry style ice cream mogul beating inside.
Then there’s the Josh’s Deli hipster in tattoos and a porkpie hat, chef-owner Josh Marcus, a former art student with an inventive fusion approach to food. Marcus has fun playing with the culture clash of a large Cuban and Jewish population and his food offerings at this tiny, cozy breakfast and lunch spot play that cheeky approach out. The Jewban is a winking riff on the Cuban sandwich, with pork and pastrami and the Jewchachos are what you would want to have when you come home from a drunken night of revelry: a pile of tortilla chips and smoked sausage and cheese. Marcus hangs out behind the bar, holding court while he cooks and his lanky British server brings out the goods at this "Jewish deli done wrong."
26 Sushi and Tapas
Another example of Surfside’s funky fusion is 26 Sushi and Tapas, a stylish spot in a mod white space that feels like a diner crossed with a high-end boutique. Centered on kosher sushi and tapas with South American influences, 26 Sushi and Tapas has an engagingly omnivorous menu of fish tacos and ceviche, Chilean sea bass dumplings, lettuce wraps and tequenos, with tamarindo sauce the Venezuelan answer to the mozzarella stick explains partner Joel Lindenfeld.
Super family-friendly, another great local stop Araxi Burger boasts themed burgers and an endless array of milk shakes including PBJ. Super comfortable and packed with locals, Araxi is staffed by a number of friendly Venezuelan servers and everyone from the local cops, couples on dates to enormous families treating their teenagers and their friends to a classic burgers and fries night out.
Her Royal Household
Everyone in Surfside is from somewhere else. Beach towns seem to attract people retooling their lives, stepping off the Habitrail of bad weather or unsatisfying careers. Down the road, a clip on Surfside’s main drag Harding Avenue is the effervescent owner of the super eclectic Her Royal Household, Bera Kalhan. The fun-loving Miss B fled to Surfside to escape a miserable job as a lawyer and has parlayed a collection of china, kitsch, Bakelite bracelets, fascinators, and Anglophilia into a charmingly cluttered gift shop where you can pick up a pug pillow or a delicate Wedgewood tea set and sip pink champagne with the glam owner, who has definitely found her groove in Surfside.
Bal Harbour Shops
Retail in Surfside is limited, compared to the luxe Bal Harbour Shops up the road where there’s a Laduree kiosk in place of the usual sunglasses or Proactiv stand. Pith-helmeted parking lot attendants and lush landscaping featuring orchids and palms lend a Disney-meets-Rodeo Drive-attitude.
Books and Books
Even if you don’t have a sugar daddy or mama to bankroll your Prada or Rolex spree at Bal Harbour Shops, there are more accessible options. You’d be remiss if you didn’t stop in at the Bal Harbour location of Miami chain Books and Books, which features a well-curated selection of Assouline art books and other glossy tomes in addition to the usual smart reads.
WHERE TO STAY
Four Seasons Hotel at the Surf Club
There are numerous places to stay at various price points in the Surfside area, but one of the best is the recently opened Four Seasons Hotel at the Surf Club. A revitalization of the gorgeously retro 1930 Surf Club where statesman and stars once came to frolic, this Prohibition-era private membership club once welcomed shipments of illicit booze from Cuba and Bimini transported to the shore in small boats. Winston Churchill relaxed at the Surf Club by painting in one of the Surf Club cabanas and literary icons and stars like Tennessee Williams, Frank Sinatra, Gary Cooper and Elizabeth Taylor all drank and dined and sunbathed at this stunning Mediterranean Revival-style resort.
The Surf Club
Vintage splendor defines the welcoming hallway that greets guests of the Four Seasons Hotel at the Surf Club. Infused with warmth and glamor, the hallway features vintage black and white photos of the Surf Club in its heyday, including lavish parties created by a Hollywood set designer.
Four Seasons Hotel at the Surf Club
In 2017 architect Richard Meier created an impressive reconceptualization of the property, adding three new gleaming white and glass towers with residences and 77 guest rooms that bring a modern touch to all of the historic gravitas. Doing its part to blend a gilded and stylish 20th century and Miami’s 21st modern art presence, an impressive collection of contemporary art from the likes of Paola Pivi, Ed Ruscha and George Condo is hung in the hotel and residences. The on-site spa with its light-filled treatment rooms features clever details like a black and white tile floor, a selection of post-treatment treats like jasmine marshmallows and a selection of teas and boasts the only cult brand Biologique Recherche dedicated spa in the United States. Ask for Elisabete Nelson for a facial that will leave you glowy and relaxed instead of red and irritated. (Just don’t forget to have her apply sunscreen to protect your newly nourished complexion before you head out into the brilliant Miami sun).
Luxurious and high-design the singular French cult-brand Biologique Recherche spa which offers facials, massage and a line of products within a restful, beautifully appointed space.
Also worth sampling is the stunningly old school on-site Le Sirenuse Restaurant whose gorgeous carved wood ceiling and meticulous old world service will transport you back in time. The sister restaurant of the storied Amalfi coast Le Sirenuse hotel, the restaurant benefits from probably the most attentive maitre d’ I’ve ever witnessed, who stopped in at every table at least twice during our meal and servers who know the menu and the wines backward and forward. A tuna tartare starter and delicate, tangy warm buffalo mozzarella with grape tomatoes are must-orders, as well as something from the extensive selection of Italian wines. It's all in the details at Le Sirenuse, including their specially imported olive oil Magaria Limited Edition Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Sicily accompanied by a variety of homemade breads served from a rustic basket offered tableside. Coming in summer 2018 to the Surf Club is a concept restaurant celebrating its golden age history and glamor from French Laundry’s Thomas Keller.
St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort
St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort
Designed by Toronto-based high-end hospitality and retail design firm Yabu Pushelberg, the St. Regis Bal Harbour is a paean to Sixties-era luxury.
While the Four Seasons boasts an understated Thirties-style, perfect for fans of the classics with a dose of the new, just up Collins Avenue a click, The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort is Sixties-style glam to the nth degree. The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort is defined by a Versailles-meets-disco lobby hallway of endless faceted mirrors and rock crystal chandeliers, with interiors courtesy of high-end retail and hospitality Toronto-based design firm Yabu Pushelberg. Drama is a consistent feature of this jaw-dropping space including a swooping raised valet entrance where Rolls Royces and several million in Swiss and Italian supercars await their owners. The valet tells me they have been instructed not to touch them, but leave them to their owners to park.
Located directly across from the luxe Bal Harbour Shops, the St. Regis is a relatively new resort built in 2012 and composed of three 27-story towers with a beachside setting and a surprisingly kid-friendly approach for a high-end resort. A dedicated pool for children is one of two on the sprawling, lush grounds, and the staff is remarkably accommodating to its tiny visitors. Families will not feel out of place in the unpretentious but lovely surroundings. One of the most enjoyable amenities is an army of bikes with towels and water bottles in each basket to take on the beach trail directly outside the resort.
Worth a visit for a sophisticated take on Greek fare, Atlantikos is not your usual grade of hotel restaurant, with 75 percent of its products sourced directly from Greece. Thursday “Opa” nights the restaurant features a reasonable prix fixe menu, Greek music and climactic plate smashing in the grand Hellenic tradition. Furnished with an Aegean aesthetic of gleaming white and sea blues, the sunny, open space plays host to chef and Greek native Anastasios Chasekioglou’s imaginative interpretation of fresh vegetables and seafood-centric Greek fare including fresh-from-the-sea starter platters of oysters, clams, crab, lobster and shrimp. An appetizer of Greek spreads served with homemade pita is an ideal precursor to the meal, whose standout is the branzino and olives laced with lemony greens; the kind of flavorful, perfectly prepared dish that inspires weeks of post-meal cravings and flashbacks to my high school years in Athens.
Typifying the St. Regis approach to service, when Chasekioglou discovered a lunch guest mistook a chicken soup for a Greek avgolemono soup, he came out to explain the difference and 15 minutes later returned with a remarkably authentic (and unbelievably delicious) avgolemono he had whipped up on the fly.
St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort
The subdued designs of Toronto's high-end Yabu Pushelberg offer quiet luxury and don't compete with the stunning views of the Atlantic visible from the resort.
Suites at the St. Regis face a breathtaking Atlantic view and an equally stunning vantage of the clipped boxwoods and Last Year at Marienbad, maze-like grounds of the property. Service, like that offered to sleepy tourists lured from their luxe suites to the ritual Atlantikos brunch of Greek specialties and American classics like omelets and waffles, is unmatched. You will grow used to the words “my pleasure” spoken in every accent imaginable, in yet another assertion of the glamorous, international feel of Miami where everyone from the tanned Aristotle Onassis type at breakfast to the immaculate, cheerful valet, is from somewhere else.