Miami Beach likely brings to mind images of glamorous beaches and sophisticated nightclubs, but there’s more to this charismatic city than partying (although there is plenty of that, too!). There are wonderful galleries and museums to explore, Art Deco buildings to admire, and a bevy of excellent restaurants to try, many of which take a cue from the city’s large Latin American population for their creative cuisine.
To get you oriented, Miami Beach is set on a barrier island on the Atlantic coast that’s separated from the city of Miami by Biscayne Bay. South Beach is Miami Beach’s epicentre of nightlife, while Mid-Beach and North Beach offer slightly more low-key experiences.
What to do
Most locals will argue that a must-do in Miami Beach is taking in the city from the water. While there are plenty of operators offering tours, we recommend finding a private boat through a local owner. Miami Sailing Adventures is a great option with boats ranging from $800 for a small 6 person vessel up to $1,250 for a 12 person mini-yacht. You’ll get access to a private captain, a personalized itinerary and you can BYO food and drink. It’s the perfect way to admire the city and nearby Biscayne Bay, Star Island and Millionaire's Row.
Architecture lovers can't miss a walk through the Art Deco District. Miami Beach is home to over 800 striking and colourful buildings but you can take in the highest concentration of them along Ocean Drive. Top tip: stop by the Art Deco District Welcome Centre first and grab a self-guided audio tour.
For a day off the strip, head inland to Little Havana. A 20-minute taxi ride will take you to Calle Ocho, an area bursting with bright houses, a constant buzz of Latin music and some of the most authentic (and tasty) food and drink in the city. There’s no better place to get a feel for the city’s Cuban culture.
What to eat and drink
If you’re staying at Fontainebleau (more on that below) you certainly won’t be stuck for food options. However, it’s also worth paying a visit even if you aren’t a guest. The property is home to a pair of internationally-known restaurants: Scarpetta by Scott Conant and Hakkasan. There are also 10 other eateries unique to the hotel, which range from a luxe steakhouse to the Chex Bon Bon, a casual café serving fresh-baked goods and custom cakes (the hotel has a large dedicated pastry team so their offerings are top notch). All the restaurants benefit from BleauFish, the hotel’s ocean-to-table seafood program which sees fresh seafood regularly caught and delivered on the hotel's own vessel.
For a truly amusing and slightly nostalgic experience, head to Wet Willies. It’s undeniably touristy and we don’t recommend staying beyond 10PM, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Set right on the Ocean Drive strip, the bar specializes in alcoholic slushies. The bartenders are more than happy to let you sample the dozens of slushies lining the bar so you can decide on a favourite. It’s a bit like a 7-Eleven on steroids. Just be careful of the brain freeze.
Food trucks are turning out some of the most creative food offerings in the city. There are a few monthly festivals where you can experience a handful of trucks at once along with some local live music, or Roaming Hunger offers a frequently-updated list of where to find popular trucks. The Purple People Eatery serving "fresh, freaky street food’ is a local institution and a must-try.
Where to stay
It doesn’t get more quintessential Miami Beach than the five-star Fontainebleau hotel. Opened in 1954, the 20-acre oceanfront property was synonymous with glamour and sophistication in the '50s and '60s due to its (at the time) futuristic curved design, sprawling oceanfront grounds and unparalleled views. After a $1 billion renovation, the hotel reopened in 2008 with a new look that maintained much of the original design, including the iconic bow-tie motifs that make appearances throughout the grounds, but also introduced two new guest-room towers.
The hotel is located on Collins Avenue, putting it within easy walking distance to the main strip of Miami Beach – although with 12 restaurants, the famous LIV nightclub and a 40,000 sq foot spa on the property, you might not want to leave anyway.
Feature Image: hiimlynx via Flickr