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
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
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.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
Founded in 2005, this 12,000-square-foot homage to erotic expression houses the collection of late WEAM director Naomi Wilzig. More than 4,000 pieces include everything from works by Rembrandt and Picasso to sex toys and artifacts across time periods and geographical regions. The penis collection is the highlight—a mind-boggling array of phalluses in all shapes, colors and sizes (including a six-foot-tall member and a massive wooden four-poster bed, with posts shaped like…you guessed it).Read more
There’s something very theatrical about art deco architecture, and the Colony Theatre is a gem of a 1934 building, which has been faithfully refurbished in recent years. The Miami Lyric Opera stages productions here, but there is also comedy, dance and contemporary theater, such as Angels in America, or one-off movies like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s at the western end of the Lincoln Road Mall, so you’re surrounded by restaurants and bars for a little post-performance fun.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
Small, intimate and quirky, the Freehand has more character than many of its South Beach competitors. The interior is a whimsical pueblo-deco blend, dotted with vintage pieces from flea markets. Pleasant rooms—choose from shared rooms for four or eight or private rooms for two—offer tasteful touches such as writing desks; indeed, the whole place has a homely feel. Not so retro is the Broken Shaker, the hotel’s bar—which is as popular with locals as it is with guests—where handcrafted cocktails are the drinks du jour. The House, a new restaurant, bar and common area, was about to open at the time of writing—keep your eyes peeled.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
Consider WD 555 the ideal wine trifecta: the place to try, buy and pair your new selection. The three-in-one concept features a wine store, bar and restaurant with a breezy terrace. Beginners will want to stop by on Tuesdays for free wine tastings and live music, while those in the mood for a food pairing can opt to pick up a bottle from the shop and bring it to the restaurant for a nominal corkage fee.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
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