Where: Miami Beach, across Biscayne Bay from Miami City.
When: Year round sunshine but busy in winter. The White Party in November and Winter Party in February/March both raise money for AIDS charities and are notoriously outrageously fun events.
Happenings: Beach volleyball, clubbing, rollerblading on Ocean Drive, a thriving gay scene, and picturesque Art Deco architecture.
Where It’s At
Miami Beach, a separate municipality to Miami City, is situated on a thin barrier island about 6-kilometers (4-miles) to the east of Miami across Biscayne Bay. It’s connected to Miami by several causeways. South Beach is the most exciting part of Miami Beach. It’s a hip, vibrant beach front community populated by a colorful larger-than-life crowd. Whether you’re straight, gay, fat, slim, old, young – or you’re into roller-bladding, crazy about volley ball, want the perfect body, or like to let it all hang out – you’ll fit in on South Beach. By night the clubbing scene offers an array of places to go with a mixed clientele. Beware that the more fashionista clubs’ door policies can be hard to fathom even for some locals. As a rule, it’s best to know someone or get your name on the list.
History of Miami Beach
Miami Beach was once a coconut plantation. John S. Collins, the ‘father of Miami Beach,’ bought out the plantation in 1909 and turned it into the beach front town that it is now. Much of the Art Deco architecture that characterizes Espanola Way was designed and built in the late 1930s and 40s to raise America’s spirits after the Great Depression.
It has seen a number of reinventions: between the 1920s to 50s, Miami Beach became known as a gambling center and during World War II the city became something of a military base. Parts of the district later became a veritable retirement village in the 1970s, especially among America’s Jewish community. By the early 80s, some districts, including the Art Deco District, turned into slums, as Miami Beach became a main port for drug smuggling (cocaine, heroin, marijuana and ecstasy). Regeneration has improved things and this is now one of the world’s most glamorous, though still affordable, vacation destinations.
When to Go
Florida is known as the sunshine state and Miami Beach, known as the American Riviera, offers fun and sunshine all year round. Winter is peak season and August to November offers an array of fabulous festivals. On South Beach, the Winter Party (held in March) and the South Beach Wine and Food Festival (held in February) make for a lively early spring visit. Be aware, however, that June to September is oppressively hot and its also the hurricane season in Florida, so whilst sunshine is still likely there’s always the possibility of being literally blown away.
South Beach Highlights
– Miami’s own brand of Art Deco makes it one of the most distinctive and photographed places in the world. The Art Deco Historic District is located in the heart of funky South Beach, the south-western section of Miami Beach. Most of the Art Deco buildings are hotels so you can stroll along Collins Avenue or Washington Avenue and take in the distinctive and individual facades and nosy around the lobbies.
– On South Beach’s famous Ocean Drive, you can’t miss Casa Casuarina, the former home of fashion icon and designer Gianni Versace. The steps where he was shot dead in 1997 are a favourite spot for tourists to get a gruesome holiday snap.
– Most people wouldn’t associate South Beach with museums, but whatever you go to Miami to do, don’t miss the world-famous Holocaust Memorial. The memorial is located on the edge of the Art Deco district, a stunning piece of sculpture whose bright Jerusalem stone, black granite corridor, and serene reflecting pool literally take your breath away. The central sculpture, together with a number of moving installations and informative displays, pay tribute to the six million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. It’s an incredibly peaceful place, and in massive contrast to the frivolity of life outside.
– Along South Beach’s Espanola Way, check out the collection of bright pink, lavender and turquoise buildings. They are examples of pre-war modernism with characteristic rounded corners and geometric ornamentation.
– The Clay Hotel is a Spanish-style building where Al Capone once ran a gambling den. Now a charming network of pink buildings with sand courtyards, it’s a great option for those on a budget who want to stay somewhere central.
– For nightlife, South Beach’s latest places to be seen include Amika, Mansion, Mynt andCrobar. Expect a beautiful crowd, a sprinkling of drag queens, and a pumping dance floor. For less attitude, why not get a cocktail poured down your throat at Automatic Slims, “The place where beautiful people go to get ugly,” on which the film Coyote Ugly was based.
– Miles and miles of clean, white sands draped with beautiful bodies and dotted with assorted ice cream-colored lifeguard huts make this a truly picturesque beach front in all senses.
Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau
701 Brickell Avenue Suite 2700
Miami, FL 33131, USA
Telephone: 001 305/539 3000
Fax: 001 800/933 8448
The Clay Hotel
1438 Washington Avenue,South Beach
Phone: 001 (305) 534 2988
Fax: 001 (305) 673 0346
You can’t miss the distinctive pink façade of The Clay, a funky two-in-one hotel and hostel in a fabulous location. The rambling Spanish colonial-style building with its pretty balconies and internal courtyards spread over two blocks on the corner of Española Way, where a colorful arts and crafts market sets up its stalls on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and bustling Washington Avenue in the heart of the Art Deco District of Miami Beach. You couldn’t ask for a more exciting and central location than this. Staff are very friendly and helpful and this is a great place meet other travelers. Prices vary from $20 to $22 for a bed in a dorm to $45 to 50 for a private double.
The Beach Plaza Hotel
1401 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, Florida 33139
Telephone: (305)531 6421
Fax: (305) 534 0341
This stylish three-story boutique hotel is the perfect choice for anybody wanting to sample Art Deco architecture from the inside. The hotel, restored in keeping with the tropical Art Deco style of Miami Beach, provides comfortable and attractive rooms in the heart of the Art Deco District. The hotel also benefits from a pretty tropical garden, which is a haven from the bustle of Collins Avenue – one of South Beach’s busiest arteries. Rates for a double room vary between $99 and $299 per night.
Mangoes Tropical Café
900 Ocean Dr
FL 33139-5013, USA
Telephone: 001 (305) 673 4422
Fax: 001 (305) 674 0311
Colorful cocktails, legendary raunchy floorshows, and Latino jubilance at one of Ocean Drive’s best established bars.
1933-1945 Meridian Avenue
FL 33139, USA
A stunning installation including sculpture and a permanent display dedicated to the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. A moving and sobering experience in the midst of South Beach’s mayhem.
By Faye Welborn