Hotels literally put Miami on the map a century ago, when Henry Flagler built the opulent Royal Palm in 1897 and transformed the sleepy backwater. And, 100 years later, hotels put Miami back on the tourist map after years in the wilderness.
In 1995, when Ian Schrager and Philippe Starck revamped the Delano, it marked Miami's return to glory. Out went the dowdy apartments and drug dealers, in came a slew of designer hotels.
The superstar openings keep on coming. Leading the pack is the Gansevoort South, the glamorous offspring of the hotel that revitalised New York's Meatpacking District. Other fashionable names are set to make their debut. The W (www.starwoodhotels.com), another New York import, is bringing its urban boutique style to the beach and the Mondrian (www.mondriansouthbeach.com), LA's uber-style hotel is adding glamour to the bay.
London's Soho House (www.sohohouse.com), the starry private members club, will open a Floridian outpost in Mid Beach in 2009; Cipriani (www.ciprianimiami.com), the chichi Venice landmark, will inject some Euro flair; and the Betsy (www.thebetsyhotel.com), a classical colonial-style building that echoes architecture of 'Gone with the Wind', will become the belle of South Beach when it opens in spring 2009. Meanwhile, Miami's legendary hotel, the Fontainebleau (www.fontainebleau.com), has just reopened after a $1-billion makeover.
But the coolest hotels these days aren't on the beach at all: the Standard, a stylish and unpretentious hangout by celebrity hotelier André Balazs, is on the bay side; and the Angler's, a low-key European-style boutique hotel is on dowdy Washington Avenue, a few blocks from the ocean. South Beach, it seems, is now a bit passé in some circles. But let's face it, Miami would die without it. If you want a modicum of style, but can't afford the Delano, there are party hotels like the Catalina; small hidden gems such as the Cadet; and characterful 1930s apartments like the Villa Paradiso. Hipsters have rediscovered the joy of old American motels; there is even a so-called boutique motel.
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Rates for rooms in Miami hotels vary wildly. During peak season, from November to the end of April, they are most expensive. Prices are often hiked up for events like Art Basel Miami Beach, the Winter Music Conference or the Boat Show. You can pay considerably less in the summer.
With its art deco architecture and trendy hotels, South Beach is the beating heart of Miami. Ocean Drive or Collins Avenue are the main drags, between 5th and 20th Streets. If you go north of 20th, particularly up in Mid Beach or North Beach, you'll need a car. If you are here for Art Basel Miami Beach, business or don't care about the beach, consider staying on the mainland in Downtown, Coral Gables or Coconut Grove.
The big drawback of South Beach is the dearth of parking. If valet parking is available at your hotel, use it and swallow the obscene cost. Rates are for the day, so you can come and go as you please. If you can't afford it, ask your concierge if they sell Miami Beach Parking Cards (rechargeable cards available in $25 increments: for a list of current vendors, call 305 673 7505). But it might be easier to do away with the car altogether. A cab ride from Miami International Airport to South Beach costs about $30, and once you get there, a pair of comfy flipflops should get you around.
Hotel prices are for a double room. The rates we quote were correct at the time of publication, but hotels can change them at any time. The rates do not include sales tax, which adds another 13 per cent to the bill.
While every effort and care has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this guide, the publisher cannot accept responsibility for any errors it may contain. Before you go out of your way, we strongly advise you to phone ahead and check the particulars.
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