Contemporary yet historical, tiny but diverse, South Beach—Miami Beach’s long southern stretch down to its tip at South Pointe Park—commands hyperbole. It is the Miami stereotype come alive. The action centres on Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue between 5th Street to the south and Lincoln Road to the north. Every Miami scene ever filmed in any movie seems to have been shot here. Hyper-tanned rollerbladers glide along the beach down Ocean Drive past whimsical, pastel-hued art deco buildings. Seven-foot, eight-stone models saunter past four-foot, ten-stone geriatrics. Eurotrash and celebs rub oiled shoulders with artists, hipsters and a sprinkling of local stock in the sidewalk cafés, designer boutiques, lounge bars and dusk-to-dawn clubs.
Then there's the turquoise ocean, the waving palm trees and the delicious blue skies. The whole place would be almost beyond perfect were it not for South Beach's pervasive seediness. The m'as-tu-vu scenes at the likes of Nikki Beach Club and Mansion are brought back down to earth with a bump by the scattering of beach bums with their possessions piled high in supermarket trolleys, and the prostitutes prowling Washington Avenue after dark. Add in the stubbornly egalitarian nature of good ol' redneck Florida, and you end up with the startling juxtaposition of world-class hotels next door to grungy tattoo parlours and sex shops. It's little wonder that the place lends itself so perfectly to lurid TV and cinema.
South of 5th Street
The lower swathe of South Beach below 5th Street (known as South of Fifth Street or, more cutely, SoFi) is quietly hip, tucked off the tawdry main drag. You'll find one of the Beach's best restaurants here in Joe's Stone Crab, known worldwide for its succulent crab claws and creamy key lime pie. For a cheaper bill and a dress code that leans towards sandy feet and beach wraps, head to Big Pink for enormous portions of diner food, including excellent cakes and pies (it's open late too).
A wonderful respite from the urban madness is South Pointe Park, a verdant spot on the very tip of Miami Beach. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and Government Cut channel, the aquatic highway for cruise ships, it provides wondeful views.
Or, for a little culture, duck into the Jewish Museum of Florida, which tells the story of Miami's large Hebrew community. A popular 'only in South Beach' stop is the World Erotic Art Museum, which houses a huge collection of erotic art, including a sizeable collection of antique penises.
Restaurants and bars in South Beach
Nobu Matsuhisa is regarded as the world’s greatest sushi chef, but that’s not why this place is booked up weeks in advance. No, this outpost of the global raw fish superpower is lodged at the Shore Club and it’s the combination of hotelier-with-the-Midas-touch Ian Schrager and Nobu backer Robert De Niro that makes it celeb central. The likes of Madonna and J-Lo might only drop by once in a blue moon, but it’s the people hoping to spot them who pack Nobu every night.Read more
Owned by Barton G Weiss, an A-list caterer, this unique restaurant manages to be both plush and cozy. Fabulous American cuisine is funked up with presentations that include popcorn shrimp in a popcorn box and grilled sea bass in a brown paper bag with laundry clips to keep the steam in. A phenomenal Caesar salad comes complete with mini cheese-grater and, for the grand finale, a plume of cotton candy reminiscent of Dame Edna’s wig. This is one menu that has to be seen and tasted to be believed.Read more
The lobby bar at W South Beach probably doesn’t look anything like your living room. Unless your living room happens to be decked out with the sleekest velvet and faux fur furniture, and looks out on to one of the most beautiful pool areas in South Beach. It’s oceanfront, too, though you wouldn’t know it from the ground floor—a wall of perfectly landscaped hedges blocks your view of the beach, but also keeps the boardwalk gawkers at bay. In late 2012, the venue had a major mixology makeover, enlisting the assistance of famed cocktail connoisseur Scott Beattie (who literally wrote the book on Artisanal Cocktails) to devise drinks that look and taste like art in a glass.Read more
Things to do in South Beach
More than 800 buildings from the 1930s and early '40s survive in the city's historic Deco District, between 5th Street to the south and Dade Boulevard to the north. The Art Deco District Welcome Center is run by the MPDL, which first sprang into action when it tried to save two blocks of Ocean Drive, from 12th to 14th Streets.Read more
The world’s capital of hedonism now has its own museum dedicated to erotic pleasures. At 12,000 square feet, the collection of sex toys, paintings and artifacts is the second largest of its kind in the world, spanning all periods (ancient Rome, Victorian, art deco) and geographical regions (from China to Africa). The penis collection is the highlight—a mind-boggling array of phalluses in all shapes, colors and sizes. If you’re not overwhelmed by the giant penis (over 6ft) then you’ll be blown away (pun intended) by the wooden four-poster bed, where the four posts are, you guessed it, shaped like giant penises. Unsurprisingly, under-18s are not admitted. What is surprising is that the museum’s owner/curator, Naomi Wilzig, is a near-octogenarian grandmother.Read more
The Miami City Ballet is one of the largest classical ballet companies in the US, with 40 dancers and an estimated annual budget of around $13.5 million. Former New York City Ballet principal Edward Villella founded the company almost three decades ago, in 1985; in more recent times he has moved beyond Balanchine classics to show off his own choreographic skills, with superb results. Productions take place at the Adrienne Arsht Center.Read more
Hotels in South Beach
What do you get when you mix the Diesel fashion label with an art deco hotel? The most whimsical place to stay in Miami. Swedish designer Magnus Erhland was given total freedom to design the rooms here—and he went wild. Rooms include the "Viva Las Vegas" (complete with bikini-babe bed headboard), "Best Whorehouse" (red walls, heart-backed love chairs) and "Me Tarzan, You Vain" (African sculptures, jungle fittings). The staff select rooms to fit a guest’s profile, or you can make requests—rooms are visible on the website.Read more
This small boutique hotel is a first-rate knock-off. It was opened in 2000 by Jonathan Morr, and the Starck-Schrager influence is obvious. Stylish, minimalist decor (from designer India Mahdavi)? Check. Eye-candy staff? Check. A trendsetting bar serving sushi? Check. DJs spinning slick tunes on the rooftop? Check. The difference is in the price. A room at the Townhouse costs a fraction of what you’d drop at the neighboring Shore Club or Delano. Space doesn’t allow for a pool, but the rooftop terrace does offer relaxing loungers, playful waterbeds and shade umbrellas to keep guests cool. Although, if they’re staying here, their coolness is not in doubt.Read more
The scene at the pool of the Shore Club sometimes resembles a rap video: scantily clad women; chiseled guys with lots of bling; and a hip-hop soundtrack to facilitate the booty shaking. Hell, there was even a shooting here, way back in 2005, when rap mogul Suge Knight took a bullet in the leg at a party for Kanye West. The incident didn’t scare guests away; on the contrary, the Shore Club now has more street cred. But it’s not all about gangsta glam. The rooms have been given a fashionably minimalist but colorful makeover by Brit architect David Chipperfield. The filthy rich hole up in the Beach House, a private oceanside bungalow with pool. Added swoon factor comes courtesy of the restaurants—which include Robert De Niro’s Nobu—and the Skybar, a sprawling Moroccan-chic affair that is packed out with everyone from demi-celebs to cigarette girls selling lollies.Read more
Music and nightlife in South Beach
The quintessential beach club, Nikki is an outdoor fantasyland sprawling over a stretch of sand with tiki bars, lounge chairs and torches. Decorated with beautiful people, it’s like the Playboy mansion meets Survivor, where the fittest (as in toned, firm breasts and butts) don’t merely survive, they flourish. Buxom beauties attract well-oiled, deep-pocketed sugar daddies, and the studs also get rewarded for their packaging. In addition to the restaurant and beach club, there’s a club and lounge where the party gets started during daylight hours during Amazing Sundays: thongs and bikinis are de rigueur.Read more
Smoky and sultry, illuminated by flickering candelabra, Jazid is a small club with a cool vibe. It’s the kind of place where you might hear Sade’s Smooth Operator on constant rotation. Downstairs, local musicians perform modern jazz, soul and Latin, with tables close to the stage. Upstairs, there’s a DJ spinning soul and funk. A simple formula of good music and no attitude has ensured Jazid has outlasted many a South Beach failure. Other clubs, please take note.Read more
Twist is South Beach’s most well-established gay club. Two levels and seven bars make this a must-visit for every gay tourist, as you can bar-hop without ever having to step outside the premises (the two-for-one drink specials from 11pm to 3am on Thursday nights don’t hurt either). Don’t forget to stop at the back Bungalow Bar to check out the nightly dancers who boogie for dollars. "Never a cover, always a groove!"Read more
Shopping in South Beach
In addition to fancy, monochromatic threads, BASE is also known for its funky soundtrack (its CD collection is for sale, of course), coffee table books, candles and even Japanese anime. Just how cool is the stuff? Consider this: the store has a small location at the Delano hotel plus a 24/7 vending machine of goodies at the Mondrian South Beach.Read more
Fashion legend Ralph Lauren’s daughter Dylan is like a modern-day Willy Wonka, offering more than 5,000 kinds of candy from around the world—not to mention ice-cream, macaroons and a sidewalk café serving up candy-inspired cocktails such as the Pop Rock Explosion—at this fun-for-all-ages emporium.Read more
Do you need a drop-waist dress from the 1920s? Can’t manage without a Pucci print skirt from the ’70s? You’ll find both here, along with high-necked linen and lace dresses, funky neckties, costume jewels, shoes, furs and postcards. Brands include Gucci, Balenciaga, Chanel, Vuitton and even hard-to-find Zandra Rhodes.Read more