South Beach City Guide, Florida.
Although it may seem hard to believe looking at the tourist mecca of South Beach, in the late 19th century, this island was once just (unsuccessful) farmland.
After years of attempting to bring money to the island via agriculture, two brothers (John and James Lummus) thought that the ticket to capitalizing on the unused land was to create an island that would be used almost solely as a vacation destination, so they bought the island in 1912 and named it South Beach. With the help of a man named Carl Fisher, the trio set to making South Beach a high-end tourist attraction.
Featuring five luxurious hotels and countless mega-mansions (J.C. Penny himself had a vacation home on the island), South Beach was considered the New York City of the south by the 1920s. Soon thereafter, in the 1930s came the Art Deco boom, where some of the city’s most famous buildings were built. While WWII did lead to a lull in tourism, military personnel that trained on the island loved it so much they decided to take permanent residence, leading to a growth in South Beach’s permanent population that lasted decades thereafter.
In the late 1960s, South Beach became popular among retirees since there were tons of inexpensive retirement homes. The old Art Deco buildings that were once thought to have been outdated and unfashionable became cool once again in the mid-to-late 1980s, leading to more tourists visiting the area.
Since the ‘80s, South Beach has been viewed by the general public as being a party island, featuring the best nightclubs and bars that the USA had to offer. Only recently has there been a cultural resurgence in the area, which has led to a plethora of local artists, top-notch restaurants, and an increase in architectural interest, meaning a visit to South Beach is definitely warranted.
WHAT TO SEE
Crammed with restaurants and boutiques predominantly owned by European expats, Espanola Way is comparable to a smaller, bohemian version of Lincoln Road. The block-off street is full of Spanish-inspired architecture and lush vegetation. If it’s possible, definitely aim to visit during a major European soccer game, as whole restaurants get behind their country’s teams and oftentimes trash-talk rival restaurants.
Ocean Drive is home to some of the most famous Art Deco era buildings in all of South Beach, making it the perfect place to take a late afternoon stroll. Although the buildings themselves are beautiful, what really makes them cool is the rich history behind the reason for their construction, meaning it’s worth splurging a little and taking a guided walking tour.
Although Miami’s design district isn’t technically in South Beach, it’s definitely worth a visit. Wynwood is most famous for its walls, which feature murals by prominent local artists. No local’s Instagram is devoid of a picture in front of these beautiful paintings, meaning any visiting tourists can’t complete their vacation without their own Instagrammed momento.
Many may describe Lincoln Road as being an outdoor shopping mall, but it’s so much more than that. Occupied almost entirely by locals, Lincoln Road is the place to spend your day if you don’t want to go to the beach. On Sundays, the pedestrian-only street becomes an outdoor market, featuring everything from fresh fruit and smoothies to antique collectibles and hand-made clothing. Whether you decide to shop, eat, or simply people watch, it’s impossible to have a bad day on Lincoln Road.
South Beach is known across the country for its fabulous beach, and with good reason; crystal clear water and perfect sand almost always make for a good beach day. Snap a picture in front of the famous lifeguard stands (no two are alike), parasail, or even rent a jet ski.
WHERE TO EAT
Just a few blocks from the sand, Puerto Sagua is the place locals visit for their Cuban food fix, especially after spending a long day at the beach. The restaurant’s dated look and friendly “Spanglish” speaking staff only adds to the overall experience. Make sure to order a medianoche, a Cuban sandwich staple.
Frequented by the younger members of the community, Le Sandwicherie is an unassuming sandwich bar that serves some of the best French-inspired fare in all of South Beach. Although there is almost always a wrap-around line to get a sandwich, it’s totally worth it; service is fast and the food is as good as it is cheap.
Yardbird Southern Table and Bar
Although Miami is one of the most southern points in the continental United States, good southern comfort food is almost impossible to find, which is why Yardbird is such a favorite with locals. Located just off of Lincoln Road, Yardbird’s Chicken n’ Watermelon n’ Waffles is the stuff of legends in SoBe, meaning it’s an absolute can’t miss dish for tourists. Stop by for dinner or brunch to enjoy a mix of small plates and full-sized entrees served by a fabulous wait staff.
Known for their hand-made blue corn tortillas, Taquiza offers a unique food experience for taco lovers everywhere. Using corn sourced from Mexico, this taco joint aims for authenticity with all its food items. Beyond their taco selection, a few fan favorites include the Elote (corn on the cob) and Totopos (hand torn tortilla chips). Taquiza is located at the HI Miami Beach hostel on Collins Avenue and 15th street.
Located in an unassuming parking garage on Lincoln Road in South Beach, Juvia feels as though it’s part of a Gossip Girl set. Although the bar and restaurant does boast multiple architectural and interior design awards, it’s all outshined by what is arguably one of the best views in Miami. Since the restaurant is a little pricey, the bar serves as the perfect place to visit during sunset for a drink to start the night off with friends.
Located in the ritzy Mondrian Hotel, Sunset Lounge offers visitors a stunning view of Miami’s downtown skyline. The best part? Drinks are usually relatively inexpensive, and the bar never charges a cover, meaning it’s possible to party like royalty without breaking the bank.
Located at the Edition Hotel, Basement offers a different nightclub vibe than other local venues. It’s retro disco ambiance was inspired by the famous Studio 54 concept. The club even has an ice skating rink and bowling alley inside of it (yes, you read that correctly). Entry is free for women and there’s a $20 cover charge for men
WHAT TO DO
Yoga on the Beach
For nature lovers on a tight budget, 3rd Street Beach Yoga offers free yoga lessons by certified instructors every sunrise and sunset to anybody who shows up. Be sure to check their website (3rdstreetbeachyoga.com) for times, instructors, and locations.
Art Basel is a world-famous art exhibition that comes to South Beach every December. Although it’s only there for a weekend, it’s almost worth planning your vacation around its arrival, since the event not only features amazing art but draws in celebrity crowds as well.
Miami Brew Bus
Craft beer fans rejoice! The Miami Brew Bus takes you around South Florida’s local breweries. Get to taste beers from places like Funky Buddha Brewery, Wynwood Brewing Co., M.I.A. Brewing Co. and more. Tours are available every Saturday with prices starting at $60 per person.
New World Symphony
If you love orchestral music and visual arts, New World Symphony is a spot to check out. The Symphony has some of the most talented young instrumentalists in the nation. Whether you go watch a show or happen to catch one of their free WALLCAST concerts, it’s a memorable experience all around.
You can find Deco Bike rental stations throughout Miami Beach as well as local bike shops, like Miami Beach Bicycle Center. Grab one and explore the island at your own pace. Tough to beat a breezy ride through Miami Beach with beautiful scenery at almost every turn.