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It’s been called the American Riviera: a perpetually sun-splashed landscape of beautiful people, pristine beaches, and pastel-colored, streamlined hotels. In the 1930s, when its signature art deco hotels were new, South Beach was one of the country’s premier vacation destinations. Following World War II, though, the tourists flocked north, to the “new” Miami Beach and large, lavish hotels like the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc. South Beach slipped into decline. Still, the charm of the little moderne hotels by the water endured, and, when Miami Vice came to town in the mid-1980s, it found the perfect backdrop for its sexy plot lines and quick-cutting visuals. Preservationists’ efforts to save the art deco buildings began to receive support from civic leaders and entrepreneurs looking to cash in on South Beach’s distinct appeal. Within a few short years, fashion photographers, artists, and celebrities were flocking to the area, turning South Beach into an all-day, all-night party. No one’s gone home yet.

While it may possess glamour akin to that of the Riviera and other exotic locales, South Beach also possesses the intimate feel of an honest-to-goodness neighborhood, a vital, pedestrian-friendly area of cafés, shops, and parks. Some say it’s the best of both worlds.

DAY ONE / Wake up at 1  The Tides, the 10-story deco palace on famed Ocean Drive, directly across from the beach. Open your eyes in one of the hotel’s 45 spacious rooms, surrounded by sleek, white furnishings and large windows overlooking the Atlantic. Take a good look through your telescope (which, along with the water view, is standard issue with every room) at the picture-perfect scene that awaits you.

Slip into a T-shirt, shorts, and comfortable shoes and head out, hanging a right as you walk out onto Ocean Drive. Four blocks down, pull up a couple of chairs at 2 News Cafe. This sprawling sidewalk eatery and newsstand, a pioneer of the South Beach revival, is still the ideal place to grab a morning paper and a bite, people-watch, and generally while away the time.

After a leisurely breakfast, it’s on to the 3 Miami Design Preservation League’s Art Deco Welcome Center for a formal introduction to the neighborhood and its architecture. Depending on the day of the week, you can choose either a self-guided audio tour or sign up for a guided tour by a local historian (on Saturdays). Either approach is a perfect way to get acquainted with the area as a whole, including Española Way—the blocklong Spanish village built in the 1920s—and the less familiar, tree-lined residential streets that lie beyond the bustle of Ocean Drive.

Now that you’ve got your bearings, it’s time to go to the 4 Collins Avenue shopping district for some South Beach–style duds. When the sun sets and you hit the clubs, you’ll want to look like an A-lister. Three places near the intersection of 8th Street and Collins will help you look fabulous without making it seem like you really tried—Versace Jeans Couture, Armani Exchange, and Kenneth Cole.

If you weren’t hungry after your walk, you surely are now; squeezing into and out of club gear is hard work. Luckily, you’re close to 5 Puerto Sagua, a local institution that’s served up the tastiest Cuban food in Miami for 40 years. Order ropa vieja (“old clothes” to go with your new ones); the dish is shredded flank steak cooked in a spicy-sweet tomato, garlic, and onion sauce. For dessert-to-go, try one of the creamy, tropical fruit milkshakes. It’ll keep you cool on your jaunt back to The Tides, where you’ll drop your shopping bags and put on your bathing suits so you can head across the street to the beach. As Tides guests, you’ll have access to the big lounge chairs that line the shore, so lean back and take in the late afternoon sun.

Happy hour is the time to show off your newfound glow and your new clothes. After a quick change at The Tides, sidle up to 6 Rose Bar at the Delano. The Philippe Starck–designed hotel lobby features the most famous interior in South Beach, a minimalist arrangement of white walls, impossibly high ceilings, and flowing white curtains. The lobby’s Rose Bar features—what else?—a rose-colored margarita.

From the Delano, it’s just a short hop to 7 Lincoln Road Mall. Once known as the Fifth Avenue of the South for its ultra high-end stores, Lincoln Road is now an eclectic mix of cafés, specialty shops, and fine restaurants, including 8 Pacific Time, where chef Jonathan Eismann’s Asian fusion cuisine has been packing them in for a decade. Create your own surf and turf by sharing the Nova Scotia sea scallops in green curry and the dry aged Colorado beef with Indonesian flavors.

Dinner’s over, but your night is just getting started. Head across the street to the 9 Van Dyke Café. On the second floor, you’ll find a dimly lighted den featuring the best players of American, Latin, and Brazilian jazz in town. Have an after-dinner drink and catch a set or two before moving on to 10 crobar, an industrial-chic dance factory housed in a converted art deco movie theater—appropriate, since film stars like George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, and Matt Damon are regularly spotted shaking their bon-bons on the dance floor.

A few hours of dancing and you’ll be ready for bed. Since your hotel’s only three blocks away, you won’t need a cab, but you may want to grab a late-night snack to fuel your trip. Score a fish taco around the corner at 11 San Loco, a storefront cantina where the classic rock and the hot sauce are kept at maximum volume.

DAY TWO / Start your morning at the 1 11th Street Diner, a sleek, 1948 vintage eating car transplanted from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Omelets and waffles are the way to go at this popular local hangout, where early risers mix with club hoppers who never quite made it home the previous night.

Pay your check and walk down the street to 2 The Wolfsonian-Florida International University Museum. Housed in a landmark 1920s Mediterranean-revival building, this museum features an impressive array of late 19th– and early 20th–century art and design, everything from travel posters and New Deal murals to appliances, furniture, and world’s fair paraphernalia.

After taking in the Wolfsonian’s cultural offerings, it’s time to hit the street. Make your way to Lincoln Road and 3 Fritz’s Skate, Bike & Surf, the leading supplier of what passes for transportation in this walk-everywhere community: in-line skates. C’mon; strap ’em on. If you’re a little shaky on your skates, don’t worry—you can get a helmet and pads with your rental. (If you’d prefer a bike to skates, the store rents those, as well.) Once you’re suited up, go to Lummus Park, a stretch of green with a wide, winding path fronting the beach. Skate the length of the park, from 15th to 5th streets, switching over to the asphalt when you get to 5th. (The area south of 5th is mostly residential, with relatively little traffic compared to the rest of South Beach.)

A block before Ocean Drive ends, take a right and skate over to Washington Avenue to collect your reward for going the extra mile: Joe’s Stone Crab. Nobody anywhere does stone crabs better than this 90-year-old institution. Nobody. Which is why, in season (Joe’s is open mid-October through mid-May), pilgrims to this most sacred of seafood sites may wait as long as two hours for a table. But not you. You’re going next door to 4 Joe’s Stone Crab Take-away to get a stone crab picnic for two. Transport your catch across the street to South Pointe Park and grab a waterfront boulder for a view of the big cruise ships chugging in and out of the Port of Miami.

Get back to Lincoln Road in time to drop off your skates and keep your appointment at Brownes & Co., a one-stop spa for all that ails the body. (Because Brownes’ professional pamperers are perpetually booked, you made the appointment a few days before arriving.) Indulge in a “his and hers” afternoon. For him: a deluxe shave that includes a pre-shave massage, a rose hydrating mask, and an after-shave balm. For her: a Costa Rican river mud treatment. Each takes about 40 minutes. When you’re done, reunite for a full-body Shiatsu massage. Re-energized, walk over to 6 Tropical Cigars, a classic cigar bar specializing in savory smokes and mojito cocktails. Sit under an umbrella at one of the outdoor tables.

Then it’s back to the hotel to get ready for another night on the town. For the first time since you arrived, you’re going to need a cab. Take it to 7 Joe Allen, a gem of a bistro and bar on the western edge of South Beach. A favorite meeting place of movers and shakers more interested in being fed than being seen, Joe Allen serves up equal proportions of top-notch American cuisine and understated charm. Choose whatever strikes your fancy, but remember to leave room for the warm date pudding.

Afterward, cab it to 8 Opium, a Holly- wood movie set disguised as a nightclub (think Chinatown meets The Last Emperor). This Asian-themed temple to nocturnal pleasures is as addictive as its namesake. When you’re done rubbing shoulders downstairs on the dance floor, make your way upstairs to 9 Privé, the club’s appropriately named VIP room that’s harder to get into than Harvard Medical. Of course, your concierge at The Tides has gotten your name on the guest list. Before you call it a night, stop off at 10 Pizza Rustica for a slice of early morning life on always-hopping Washington Avenue.

DAY THREE / After a couple of late nights, go ahead and sleep in. Brunch is waiting for you at 1 Big Pink. This cafeteria-style diner on Collins Avenue is popular with everyone from families to club kids for its casual atmosphere and huge portions. Order the breakfast burrito, or split the “TV dinner,” served in the same type of tray as its frozen brethren (albeit three times larger) with such prime-time fare as pot roast, steak quesadillas, and eggplant parmigiana.

Following brunch, walk one block east to relax at the beach. Later, sample some Caribbean delights at 2 Tap Tap, a Haitian restaurant known for its folk art murals and delectable dishes. Go light; the conch salad and grilled goat appetizers should hold you until dinner.

Head back to The Tides to get ready for one last big night. You’ll be dressed with plenty of time to spare for cocktails at 3 Café Cardozo, the just-off-the-lobby bar of the Cardozo Hotel. Owned by Latin music power couple Emilio and Gloria Estefan, the art deco jewel has been lovingly restored to its prewar glamour. The hotel has long been famous for its affiliation with another musical icon. In A Hole in the Head (1959), Frank Sinatra played the owner of a small hotel in then down-and-out South Beach. The hotel was the Cardozo, renamed The Garden of Eden for the film. That would explain why the café now tempts patrons with two-for-one apple martinis.

After drinks, it’s only a short walk to 4 Escopazzo, Pino Bodoni’s cozy 70-seat trattoria. For a taste of Northern Italy in South Beach, order one of the hand-rolled pasta specialties. Porcini flour taglioni with sambuca braised fennel, dried orange, sea scallops, and shrimp is as decadent as it sounds.

Your final foray into the local nightlife will take you to the ever-advancing northern boundary of South Beach. 5 SkyBar is the super-exclusive Shore Club’s super-exclusive poolside bar, where DJs spin everything from hip-hop to the Rolling Stones while patrons move to the beat or lounge on mattress-size cushions and chaises. SkyBar is not the limit tonight, though. 6 Mynt Lounge is. Since opening in 2001, this club has been the hottest velvet rope to jump in town, with crowds typically lining up around the block to gain access to the everlasting cool of Mynt’s dreamy interiors, plush couches, and thumping music. The party will go on all night and into the morning, but, whatever you do, don’t look at your watch. That’s one thing that isn’t in vogue in South Beach.


Gaspar González is associate editor of Street, an arts and culture weekly in Miami.

Photography by William Meppem

January 2004

All information is current at publication. But changes do occur. Please verify information before your trip.




on the web
The appropriately named provides a plethora of information on local restaurants, stores, activities, and cultural events, with direct links to hundreds of South Beach businesses and organizations. Two local arts and culture weeklies—Street ( and Miami New Times (—also have reliable online club and music listings, as well as restaurant reviews. For information on The Tides, go to

South Beach boasts many things, but an airport isn’t one of them. Fly into Miami International Airport, only a short 20-minute drive away. Rest assured, it’ll be your last look at the mainland until you’re ready to return home.

South Beach, as its name implies, is the city of Miami Beach’s southernmost point and is bounded by water on three sides: by the Atlantic Ocean to the east, Biscayne Bay (the body of water that separates Miami Beach from the Florida mainland) to the west, and Government Cut to the south. South Beach’s northern boundary, on the other hand, is largely a matter of opinion.
Regardless, the heart of the historic art deco district—where most of the hotels, shops, and restaurants are located—covers a much smaller area; extending, roughly, from 5th to 15th streets (south to north) and from Ocean Drive to Washington Avenue (east to west), with only Collins Avenue sandwiched in between. Lincoln Road Mall is located between 16th and 17th streets and runs west from Washington Avenue to Alton Road.

This is one trip where you can forget about a rental car. Parking spaces in South Beach fall into two categories: scarce and nonexistent. Besides, for the most part, you won’t need transportation: Nothing is ever very far away. On those rare instances when you will need to hop a cab, you’re in luck: South Beach is one of the few neighborhoods in Greater Miami where taxis are readily available.


“Snowbirds” longing to escape the wintry reality of January need look no further than Miami Beach. South Florida’s southern latitude and proximity to the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico temper cold air invasions. Make no mistake; Miami’s mild, dry winter is one of the world’s great seasons.

Preconceived notions of January vanish once you arrive. High temperatures top out in the middle 70s. You may even get a taste of summerlike 80s during your visit. Nighttime lows settle into the 60s, thanks to a prevailing east wind blowing in off the warm ocean. Only a few times each winter does a frigid Continental air mass surge through South Florida. Miami Beach’s coldest January low is a mere 32 degrees. You also will enjoy the heart of Florida’s dry season. Rain is measured only one out of every three days, and you’ll see more sunshine in January than in any other month. South Florida’s tropical humidity goes into hibernation during the winter.

Rainfall remains fleeting through April, squeezed out along strong frontal systems originating in the Gulf of Mexico. These bullish spring cold fronts can spawn severe thunderstorms across much of the Florida peninsula as they swing through. Once the calendar turns to May, the region’s trademark humidity and nearly daily dose of afternoon thunderstorms kick in. The sea breeze or stalled frontal boundaries act as triggers for these thundershowers most days. Another class of instigators for South Florida’s rainy warm season is tropical cyclones. While a hurricane may only make landfall in South Florida every 4–6 years, weaker tropical systems are capable of dumping torrential rainfall in a short period of time. Transition to the dry season occurs swiftly in October, as the first autumn cool front sweeps through Florida.

Weather information is provided by The Weather Channel. For more climatological details, visit The Weather Channel

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