There’s a certain electrifying energy in South Beach that you won’t find anywhere else. Connected to Mainland Miami by two bridges, Miami Beach is an island city offering the sunny climes and beautiful beaches that you would find on Caribbean islands, but much closer to home. Miami Beach has its own distinct neighbourhoods, and South Beach is where all the action happens. On weekends, the Ocean Drive strip transforms into a sensory explosion of bright neon lights, live music and raucous parties that pour out onto the street.
Throngs of scantily clad people sport outrageous, eye-grabbing outfits — the likes of which I’ve never seen outside of music videos and Instagram thirst traps. Brightly coloured luxury sports cars and shiny chrome motorcycles cruise up and down the street. (They come from specialty car rental places just off the strip.) I see the same car, with the same driver, wheel past about half a dozen times. Everyone is clamouring to see and be seen here. But it’s all in the name of good fun.
We’re all here to escape the day-to-day and bask in the luxury of this glamorous tropical setting, even if it’s just for pretend. Like Las Vegas, South Beach is a playground for adults. In this top-notch U.S. food city, restaurants and bars serve delicious food and cocktails with a side of dazzling entertainment; mega-clubs entice visitors with world-renowned DJs and enthralling spectacles. Everywhere you look, people are dancing, laughing or posing for pictures. Bachelorette parties and girls’ trips swarm the strip.
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Then, on Monday morning the sordid scene dissolves into thin air like Cinderella’s carriage. The crowds with their hoopla vanish, and Ocean Drive changes into a picturesque strip with a long stretch of greenery that opens out onto a beach. The pastel hues of the art deco buildings shine in the daylight. Couples stroll through the park. Restaurant patios are lined with lovers soaking in the romance of this tropical paradise.
Weekends see South Beach turn into a party city, but during the week, it’s a beach town. With two very different but equally glamorous vibes, a South Beach vacation is what you make of it.
South Beach, Miami, Florida: Where to eat and drink
Red South Beach
A true special occasion spot, Red South Beach pairs their delicious cuts of Certified Angus Beef and succulent seafood with exceptional service and a beautiful view. Plan your visit to this spot at the south end of the island around sunset to gaze out floor-to-ceiling windows at a crowd of swaying palm trees against a pink-streaked sky. This isn’t your grandfather’s steakhouse — modern, alluring design and upbeat music draw a youthful crowd. The bar area offers a more casual vibe with TVs showing the game, while the glamorous dining room is primed for date night and fancy affairs.
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Walk the Ocean Drive strip day or night and Palace’s over-the-top drag performances are sure to catch your eye. The queens go all out, lip-syncing for their lives and dancing on the open patio that faces the street. You can stand on the sidewalk and watch — as many people do — but it’s more fun to be right in the action. Slurp on giant fishbowl cocktails and throw dollar bills as you get in on the excitement. Friday through Sunday, they offer two brunch seating times with an additional one on Mondays, too.
A sushi nightclub might sound odd, but at Bâoli it works. Grab a couch on the enclosed garden patio surrounded by lush greenery. Underneath a canopy of tree branches and wicker chandeliers, snack on their fine-dining menu of maki rolls, crudos and satay. Ball out with mains like Japanese A5 wagyu beef and lobster. When it gets late, head inside to the dance floor for a full party with DJ beats, colourful light displays and fog blasters.
South Beach, Miami, Florida: Where to stay
Loews Miami Beach Hotel
Every inch of Loews Miami Beach Hotel is stunning. Multiple dining options, poolside cabanas, palm trees swaying overhead and direct access to the sands of South Beach, make this luxury hotel feel like its own resort. Sip local roasts at Miami Joe Coffee Co., brunch-out at Preston’s Market, dine poolside at Nautilus or grab a casual bite and a cocktail at Bar Collins — all without leaving the grounds. If you do manage to make it offsite to explore the rest of Miami, Loews is perfectly situated just a five-minute walk from Ocean Drive.
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Step into the days of old-school Hollywood glamour at Uma House, a boutique hotel within walking distance of the main strip. The Art Deco hotel is outfitted in slick black and white marble with portraits of late great celebrities adorning the walls. A beautiful pool invites you onto the sun-soaked rooftop terrace — the perfect place to enjoy complimentary coffee or wine during set hours. A few blocks away, Uma House has a dedicated beach area with loungers that’s also included in your stay.