South Beach neighborhood guide

Get to know South Beach with our guide to the neighborhood's best local restaurants and bars, arts, entertainment and things to do

Lummus Beach, on the east side of South Beach

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

Bazaar by José Andrés

Critics' pick

Everything about the SLS is painfully hip, including the Bazaar, its house restaurant. Opened in 2012 by culinary giant José Andrés, the Bazaar has already risen to the top of local foodies’ must-visit list, earning it the distinction of being the second most-booked restaurant in the city, according to online reservation site OpenTable.com. Perhaps that’s because the food and overall vibe of the place are an experiment in decadence, bringing a playful spirit to the old-world glamor that defined the city’s art deco era. The menu is lively, combining elements of Spain and Latin America to wind up with dishes like Papas a la Huancaína (Peruvian potatoes with sea urchin) and Cuban coffee-rubbed churrasco with passionfruit. If you can snag a reservation, strap on your seatbelt and get ready for a wild ride.

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Barton G the Restaurant

Critics' pick

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.

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Yardbird

Critics' pick

Flashy though it may be, Miami is still a part of the American South: the region that spawned fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, pretty much fried anything. One need only venture a few steps off Lincoln Road to try these comfort food staples, all of them made from scratch and most of it sourced locally. The buzz surrounding Yardbird has been deafening since its birth in 2011 (plans to expand the concept to New York City and Las Vegas are currently in the works). At the center of this publicity maelstrom? Yardbird’s now-famous fried chicken—a recipe that takes 27 hours to prepare and can be ordered up as a slider (Mama’s Chicken Biscuits) or on a plate (Llewellyn’s Fine Fried Chicken). Wash it down with a whiskey-based house cocktail (Blackberry Lemonade—made with lemon juice, organic blackberries, cardamom and sparkling wine—is a customer favorite).

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Things to do in South Beach

Art Deco District Welcome Center

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.

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South Beach Free

World Erotic Art Museum

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.

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Shake-A-Leg Miami Water Sports

Critics' pick

This is one of the city’s most welcoming venues. Programs run the gamut from recreational sailing, kayaking and canoeing to power boating. 

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Cultural highlights in South Beach

World Erotic Art Museum

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.

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Wolfsonian-FIU

Housed in a finely restored 1927 storage facility, this museum and research center explores how design shapes and reflects the human experience. If that sounds a bit stuffy, it’s not. The artifacts include some real treats—a deco postbox from New York’s Central Station, a stained-glass window by fey Irish illustrator Harry Clarke, and Cuban cinema posters, as well as lots of attractively displayed furniture, ceramics, metalwork, paintings and architectural drawings. The permanent exhibits are supplemented by touring exhibitions, lectures and films.

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Hotels in South Beach

Pelican

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.

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Townhouse

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.

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Dream South Beach

Critics' pick

Art deco glamor meets French Moroccan style, courtesy of designer Michael Czysz, with a result that somehow looks a bit space age. Opened in 2011, Dream lives up to its name by creating the kind of guest room that makes you reluctant to get out of bed. Quarters boast flatscreen TVs, free WiFi and generously stocked minibars. Upstairs is Highbar, a 1970s-inspired rooftop pool and lounge, with comfy white seating and a couple of private cabanas (for those who require yet another flat-screen TV to go with their lounge chairs). On weekends, DJs spin throughout the day and after dark, when the pool turns into a popular nightspot. Downstairs, an outpost of popular New York City Italian restaurant Serafina occupies much of the ground floor (try the white pizza). And all this just one block from the beach.

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Music and nightlife in South Beach

Nikki Beach Club

Critics' pick

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.

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SL Miami (CLOSED)

Opened in early 2013, SL Miami—an outpost of the NYC hotspot—is one of the latest "intimate lounge" spots that are showing up all around South Beach. Located within the James Royal Palm hotel, this is the place to go if you’re looking to avoid sticky door policies and the sort of thumping bassline that makes it impossible to carry on a conversation. Set over two levels, the club’s horseshoe shape gives everyone a clear view of all the action happening around them.

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Jazid

Critics' pick

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. 

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Shopping in South Beach

Base USA

Critics' pick

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.

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Epicure Gourmet Market & Café

Critics' pick

This gourmet market is pricey, but worth it, especially the kosher deli. There’s also a fine butcher and an excellent bakery.

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The Fresh Market

All the organic produce you could possibly desire, including fresh fish and seafood, plus a café.

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