Some people may not think of Miami, Florida as a birthday destination. But when it came time to celebrate my 40th birthday and our eighth anniversary last week, all I wanted was a beach chair and the sound of waves. You can get that in a thousand places. We chose Miami for its perfect October climate (not too hot not too cool), white-sand beaches, blue water, and the fact that it houses the largest inventory of historic Art Deco architecture in the world.
Miami is also one of the most uninhibited places you’ll ever have the pleasure of discovering, in large part due to its international roots and cosmopolitan flavor. South Beach in particular is the perfect place to bust out your Brazilian bikini, throw back a Cuba Libre, and indulge in food, music, architecture and design from around the world without a passport.
Don’t even try to bang it all out in a weekend. You could spend a month and still be discovering new side streets, Art Deco bars, and off-the-radar historic sites. We saw enough to know we’ll be parking our Airstream here soon. In the meantime here’s a quick don’t-miss list of classic South Beach experiences to get you started on your next trip.
It should be against the law to stay in South Beach at a hotel that’s not Art Deco. The part-club, part-Palm Springs meets the beach ambience is a visceral element of the South Beach experience. All of the hotels also have legendary bars and restaurants so you can spread yourself out by dining, drinking, and staying at three different locations in one night.
Tucked in between The National and the Ritz-Carlton, the Sagamore Hotel is known locally as The Art Hotel since the lobbies, hallways, restaurant, bar and gardens all feature a rotation of some of the most prominent contemporary artists in various mediums including photography, sculpture, video and paintings. It doesn’t have its neighbors’ name-brand pedigree but that’s its secret. Clean, white Art Deco architectural lines inside and out provide a soothing template for the artwork and the manicured gardens and quiet walk-in pool are an oasis amid the 24-hour nightlife happening all around you.
If you’re celebrating anything look no further than BLT Steak, a modern American steakhouse with a South Beach twist located inside The Betsy Hotel, a historic hotel located on Ocean Drive. Executive chef Laurent Tourondel and his culinary team create a feast for the senses with their menu centering around the freshest seasonal and locally-sourced ingredients, and the best quality beef available. The staff is set-the-standards attentive and any place that starts off dinner with fresh bread (that was cross between a coissant and a biscuit) and chicken pate instead of butter gets an extra star in our review for just sheer boldness.
For some reason most people don’t think top-of-the-line steak experience when they think Miami. This restaurant proves them wrong. Minus the linen pants and silk shirts BLT Steak is on par with the best steakhouses in the country. But don’t forget you’re in South Florida. The Grilled Local Snapper with sweet pea guacamole and cilantro vinaigrette is just one decadent example of why no one will wag their finger at you here for ordering fish at a steakhouse.
The Betsy Hotel is currently being marketed on our site, and is next on our historic South Beach Hotel hit list. With its prime location, classic “colonial chic” facade, elegant and luxurious interior design, amazing food, and white-glove service it epitomizes the authentic Miami Beach experience.
The infamous Delano Hotel, named after former president, Franklin D. Roosevelt pretty much invented the South Beach after-dinner drink experience. Built in 1947 and designed by famed architect, Robert Swartburg with renovations designed by Philippe Starck in 1994, this structure is majestic in an over-sized Roman kind of way. Soaring lobby ceilings funnel into cavernous hallways with columns that remind you of Redwood trees—and that’s just getting to the bar.
The hotel’s Rose Bar is glamorously designed with a mid-century Hollywood feel, funky seating, bold artwork, and a worldly cocktail menu that could keep you trying new drinks until 5:00 am. One of my personal traditions whenever I travel is to experience the house’s classic cocktail whether it’s a dive bar on the beach or a five-star hotel. One of The Delano’s signatures is the Melon Mule which is a twist on the classic Moscow Mule including Grey Goose le Melon, Ginger Beer and lime served in the traditional ice-cold copper mug. Combined with The Delano’s iconic architecture and some of the best people-watching you’ll ever experience, the Rose Bar cannot be missed.
Yes you can indulge your senses in South Beach while still maintaining a semblance of culture and respectability. In a recent blog we wrote about Vizcaya Museum and Gardens which has a direct connection to my husband’s family heritage. This massive, Italian-esque mansion on Biscayne Bay was built by industrialist James Deering who also happens to be Peter’s great, great uncle. Deering built Vizcaya as his personal home after his company International Harvester had become one of the largest corporations in America. His attention to detail was unsparing, his tastes immaculate, and he burned a small fortune at the time to create one of the most iconic mansions in the United States when it was built between 1914-1922. It is now one of South Florida’s most visited museums.
No matter where you are from (geographically or economically) there is one emotion that everyone who visits Vizcaya shares—awe. From the beautifully designed gardens and intricate stonework to the interior design it’s the type of place that just makes people stand quietly and stare, like a church. The ironic thing personally is that even after fifteen years with my husband I had no idea that he had never been to Vizcaya before. Who would have thought we’d find a piece of our own family history in South Beach.