Welcome to Miami Beach, FL
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Welcome to Miami Beach, FL
Occupying an island that nearly abuts Miami on Florida's southeastern coast, Miami Beach is a city within a city, and it's got more than enough style, culture and clout to hold its own. This sultry strip of sand and palms melds a history in and out of the American spotlight with a diverse, energetic population--and melts the hearts of visitors from all around the world.
The hub of Miami Beach is the area known as South Beach (SoBe), where celebrities and models roam, tourists gawk, and hipsters flock. Geographically, it encompasses everything on the island's eastern shore between Southern Pointe and 24th Street, but the spiritual heart of South Beach is the Art Deco District, the one square mile of vintage buildings that typify the ambitious architectural movements that dominated the area's building boom of the 1920s. In the early 1980s, Miami Beach was all but lost to a swelling tide of retirees and economic crime. However, thanks to efforts of a handful visionaries and entrepreneurs, this district became the first 20th century city district to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places and underwent an almost miraculous rejuvenation. Before long, the renewed pulse of South Beach enlivened all of Miami Beach; the hotels that once hosted presidents and dignitaries, that were once frequented by musicians and mafiosos and known worldwide, returned to their former glory.
The main drag of South Beach is Ocean Drive, most notably the strip between 5th Street and 15th Street. It's an oceanfront smorgasbord of food and lodging, where curbside cafés provide front-row seats to SoBe's most popular spectator sport: people watching, where the goal is to see and be seen. It's easy to rack up an impressive score with an afternoon of beachfront sun-bathing and café kibitzing, but the points really pile up in the countless nightclubs that operate well into the morning.
South Beach abounds with movie stars, flashy fashionistas, astronomically expensive boutique hotels and chic cafés, but it offers more than the superficial flicker of frivolous spending and famous people: Museums house art collections of astounding depth or explore local architecture; cultural fairs celebrate personal liberty, ethnic identity and diversity.
Just as there is more to South Beach than meets the eye, there is more to Miami Beach than South Beach's 24 glitzy blocks. To the north, things get a little quieter as the string of all-night clubs comes to an end, but the beach keeps on going. North of 24th Street, condos begin to replace hotels, and high-rises attempt to reach the impossible heights of the cost of their oceanfront properties. The beach is quieter, too, but the views are of the same vast Atlantic. At the very top of Collins Drive, the village of Bal Harbour, with its collection of elite boutiques with plush price tags and a few posh hotels, typically attracts luxury travelers with expensive tastes.
The high season for Miami Beach runs from early Fall to late Spring. This is when the days are the coolest and the nightclubs hottest. Rooms are significantly cheaper throughout the remaining seasons, when the photo-shoots and celebrity sightings may be fewer and further between, but there is no shortage of the mirthful or metropolitan attractions that make Miami Beach stand out among the many cities under the sun.
Beaches in Miami Beach, FL
The eastern shore of this barrier island is almost 10 miles of uninterrupted, public beachfront. This means that from almost any point on the island, traveling due east will take you to a swimmable, accessible and generally enjoyable strip of sand and surf. Still, some beaches have more children, or less clothing, or more action, or fewer prying eyes.
Lummus Park Beach spans the majority of Ocean Drive, and so is ideally located near many hotels, restaurants, and the like. It is known by most simply as South Beach, and it is here that visitors find the greatest concentration of buff and beautiful bodies on proud display. A day spent catching rays here and glimpses of the rich and famous on Ocean Drive is a good remedy for long night of club-hopping.
The beaches north of Lummus Park are not always clearly defined from one another but are nonetheless frequented by distinctive groups, and can generally be assumed to be quieter as they climb northward. The following are the safest ones (listed from north to south by blocks on Collins Avenue or Ocean Drive), where lifeguards keep watch throughout the day:
- 12th Street - This section is most popular with gay beachgoers and known as the setting for some of South Beach's all-time best parties.
- 21st Street - A 1.5-mile boardwalk begins here and ends at 46th Street. Beach bums often come here rather than try to park near Ocean Drive.
- 35th Street - At the mid-way point of the boardwalk, this beach is popular with retired locals.
- 46th Street - Adjacent to the Fontainebleau Hilton, this beach is often populated by an assortment of family vacationers and business travelers.
- 53rd Street - This quiet stretch of sand is ideal for reading or embracing meditative moods.
- 64th Street - Far north of the clamor of South Beach, this is where to go if even the 53rd Street is too loud.
- 72nd Street - Southern Florida was once commonly referred to as "God's Waiting Room". Come to this beach to see the waiting room lounge chairs.
Dining in Miami Beach, FL
With more than 150 restaurants to choose from and, of those, many of the best in all of Greater Miami, Miami Beach has all the elements of a true foodie's paradise. Variety, quality, and genuine creativity earn the city's dining establishments both credibility and notoriety.
Another feature, often overlooked by amateur surveyors of the culinary landscape, is the development of a new cuisine that binds the food with the culture, style and attitude of a place until they belong symbiotically to one another. The restaurants of Miami have achieved this feat only in the past decade. The result of palatal curiosity and cultural diversity, Southern Florida's distinctive Floribbean cuisine blends elements as diverse and eclectic as Miami's population.
It's no wonder that so many acclaimed chefs call this area home, but it is remarkable that many come here after they have earned their stripes (or stars) and never want to leave.
Nightlife in Miami Beach, FL
South Beach is the indisputable nightlife Mecca of the South and, if it continues to gain popularity unchecked, it may threaten to topple even Ibiza. Don't let the velvet ropes phase you, though; there are enough clubs in South Beach to keep all of its Bacchanalians busy.
Given the tolerant atmosphere that has made the area so successful, it is no surprise that its lively nightlife culture is overwhelmingly gay-friendly. Most clubs host at least one gay night per week, but men dominate the scene, so lesbians will be welcome but almost definitely outnumbered.
Groups of single men should team up with groups of women (and perhaps promise a round of atrociously expensive drinks) to improve their chances of being admitted. Visitors should prepare for a long night lest they be caught unaware; the music is electronic, and the party doesn't even start until after 11pm. So take a nap, don your party getup, sip an energy drink while you walk or ride in the cab, and get ready to get down.
If clubbing doesn't fit the bill--or if dancing until dawn for the fifth night in a row just isn't possible--but a night cap seems in order, there are plenty of bars in South Beach for a more mellow experience. From genuine local dives to genuinely haughty service at the most ritzy watering holes, South Beach has something for everyone.
Shopping in Miami Beach, FL
Miami Beach does shopping, like everything else, with gusto. The usual suspects (think: cutesy jeans commercials and oversized paper bags featuring underdressed models) are as omnipresent as ever, but keen shoppers focus on the independent retailers that range in size and scope from boutiques to emporiums. Mom and pop shops they may not be, but neither are they lacking creativity or spunk. Miami Beach, South Beach especially, is peppered with these shops, but a few shopping districts offer clusters of many of the best and most interesting options:
Lincoln Road Mall is an outdoor shopping extravaganza. More than 150 shops line this street, and a spattering of cafés and galleries provide stimulation with culture and caffeine. The businesses are indoors, but shoppers must brave the sun for the walk between.
Just around the corner from Lincoln Road, two blocks of Collins Avenue feature storefronts for some of the biggest names in fashion. Cafés and health and beauty spas are interspersed among them to lure those who are wary of body but not of wallet.
If the prices on Collins are steep, in the elite arcade known as Bal Harbour Shops they're soaring. Fashion designers from all around the world open up shop here, and their price tags are dizzying (sometimes six digits--before the decimal). As with Lincoln Road and Collins Avenue, refreshments here are plentiful and encouraged after an exhausting spending spree.