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South Beach, Miami, neighborhood guide

Get to know vibrant South Beach, from its beautiful beaches to its less touristy spots and historic Art Deco buildings.

Ashley Brozic
Written by
Ashley Brozic

There’s more to South Beach than glamorous beaches, tropical resorts and wild clubs. Of course, there’s plenty of that, too. Here’s our guide to the best restaurants, bars, attractions and things to do in Miami’s most iconic neighborhood. 

What’s the deal with South Beach?

When people come to Miami, they’ve got South Beach on their minds. And who could blame them? The neon-trimmed Art Deco buildings, the endless palm trees, the iconic pools and resorts, the parties! It’s exactly as pictured, and there's so much to do right now. Shows and movies really have done us justice in building up the island’s glamor, but once you’ve had your fix of two-for-one “deals,” shady promoters and cacophonous pop bangers at the club, you may be left wondering, “What else?” 

South Beach is so much deeper and more interesting than its shallow shores. There are 107 years of history to indulge in, starting with the largest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the world (thanks to the hard work and effort of the Miami Design Preservation League). The best part? You can freely scope the interiors, as many of the city’s best restaurants, boutique hotels and resorts are housed within them.

There are, of course, the beaches. And then there are the things you do when your skin needs a little break: shopping at the best South Beach stores, museum hopping, and if you’re game, dancing the night away. Really, there’s no shortage of ways to entertain yourself in South Beach, and our guide will help you get turnt, without getting too sunburnt. 

Ok, so what’s the history of South Beach? 

Our story starts with a coconut farm—or the attempt to open one, at least. In 1870, the Lum family bought up a slim sandbar with wild mangroves for 25 cents and plans to grow palm trees. They weren’t very successful, so their plantation ended up in the hands of John Collins. He eventually amassed five miles of land along where his namesake street now runs and was able to make a good living off of his coconuts and exotic fruits.  

If it were up to Collins, South Beach would still be farmland, but his children had dreams of turning it into a tourist destination. They convinced their dad to let them build a bridge to the mainland (what’s now the scenic Venetian Causeway), only they ran out of money halfway through. Enter Carl Fischer, inventor of the modern car headlight. He took a gamble and financed the completion of the bridge in exchange for 200 acres of land. By 1913, the same year Joe of the famed Joe’s Stone Crab kicked off his career, people like the Lummus brothers were buying up plots of land. Then, on March 26, 1915, the mentioned parties got together and incorporated the Town of Miami Beach. 

In the 1920s, the millionaires started moving in, then came the architects who gave the island its Art Deco facade and, by the 1950s, South Beach was the most glamorous beach town in America. You had the Rat Pack performing at the Fontainebleau and well-to-do snowbirds diving into the Raleigh’s pool and shopping up and down Lincoln Road, the Fifth Avenue of the South. In 1964, Jackie Gleason moved his studios down here and the Beatles filmed one of their first American TV performances for the Ed Sullivan Show at the now-torn-down Deauville. 

From the ’60s through the ’80s, Miami Beach traded in its golden years for Jewish retirees celebrating their golden years (Many of them were Holocaust survivors, and there’s a beautiful memorial to honor them just blocks away from Lincoln Road). But as they enjoyed leisurely pursuits, the island became a geographic victim of the Miami drug crime wars. South Beach became a ghost town lined with unfavorable shells. 

Then, in the ’90s, everything changed. Here came the artists, the models, the musicians, the fashion set. Nobody had a cell phone camera and South Beach was still recovering from its bad reputation, so there was a sense of freedom and liberation for the rich, the famous and the gay. This was the era of Gianni Versace and Twist, of rollerblading models and good house music, of Will Smith’s “Welcome to Miami.” In the ’00s, they tried to box up that ’90s vibe for the masses. South Beach was still fun, sure, but it was also cheesy. Every hip hop star rented a yacht for a music video, clubs charged too much for too little value (wait, they still do) and LMFAO was in Miami, Bitch. Honestly, it was a lot. 

But throughout the 2010s and today, South Beach has once again had a renaissance, thanks in no small part to the influence of Art Basel and the wealthy international set who love to winter here. And that’s where our history lesson ends and the present begins, because South Beach has never been better than it is today.

Where exactly is South Beach?

Miami Beach is divided into three sections: North Beach, Mid Beach and South Beach. South Beach starts at South Pointe Park at the tip of the island and extends all the way up to 23rd Street, right before you get to the One Hotel. At the southernmost tip, you’ve got Government Cut, which divides SoBe from Fisher Island.

If you only do one thing

The best way to see a place is by foot or, in the case of Miami Beach, by inline skate or bike! This is one of Miami’s most pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and over the past few years, they’ve been paving the Miami Beach boardwalk to be bike-friendly, too. Start at South Point Park and make your way north, then take Collins Avenue back, leaving plenty of time to take in all the architecture, explore side roads and duck into any hotel that catches your eye.

How to get to South Beach

The only way to get to South Beach is by bridge—or boat, if you can swing it. The three causeways are the MacArthur, which takes you to Ocean Drive/South of Fifth; the Venetian, which is a more residential toll road; and the Julia Tuttle, which is a direct shot from the airport. If you’re traveling by bus, you’re going to take the 120. And when you’re on the island, take advantage of the free trolley, which operates from 8am to 11pm daily.

What’s the perfect day in South Beach?

If you’re not kicking back at the beach or enjoying your hotel’s pool, here’s what we’d do. Start your morning like most South Miamians do, with a cafecito. Bebito’s is a modern Cuban café on a quiet residential street. Then, make your way down Lincoln Road, but don’t linger. The stores are sterile, so what you’re coming here to do is admire the Morris Lapidus-designed thoroughfare. While you’re there, grab lunch at Time Out Market, where you’ll find some of Miami’s most buzzed-about and up-and-coming eateries. 

Then, get cultured. Art enthusiasts can head a few blocks north for The Bass and round out the visit with oyster happy hour at Sweet Liberty, the 14th-best bar in America. But if you want to stay in the fray, explore design at the Wolfsonian-FIU. From here, many might opt for an afternoon getting weird at Wet Willie’s, Mango’s or enjoying a drag show at Palace (7–11:30pm daily). But if you’re looking for the hottest pool party in town, take a dip at the Goodtime Hotel, the millennial-pink hospitality venture by Pharrel Williams and Dave Grutman. As the day starts to melt away, head to the South of Fifth neighborhood to experience a more “local” part of town. Pick up some world-famous stone crabs from Joe’s Takeaway and enjoy them at South Point Park as you watch the sunset amidst acro-yogis, musicians, families and down-to-earth folks.

What's the perfect night in South Beach?

There are so many great bars in South Beach, so start off the night with rum cocktails at Swizzle Rum Bar & Drinkery. Then, soak it all in with dinner at one of South Beach’s 16 best restaurants, like Juvia for views, Byblos for meats, Stubborn Seed for seasonal fare by Top Chef winner Jeremy Ford and Planta for supremely flavorful vegan food. 

After this, you’re gonna want to start moving, maybe at the club. Miami Beach has more dance floors to explore than the ones at Story or LIV. Do Not Sit On The Furniture is great for underground music, Bodega is popular with the masses and in Mid Beach, Eagle Room is known by locals for its up-and-coming sets. Grab a cocktail at Broken Shaker while you’re there. Speaking of Mid Beach, Saxony Bar at Faena is a late-night lounge that oozes with glamor. 

And just when you think you’ll turn in for the night, don’t. Because there’s a seat at Mac’s Club Deuce waiting for you. The ghost of Anthony Bourdain smiles every time someone orders a cold beer here. 

Get cultured

Look around! The neighborhood is brimming with Art Deco architecture and historical buildings. Check out the Art Deco Welcome Center for information on tours and ways to learn more about the area on your own.

On a sunny day

Enjoy the water, obv. If you’re not staying oceanside, there are two public beaches: Lummus Park, the one you imagine when you think of South Beach, and South of Fifth, where the locals tend to go. Miami is also known for its iconic pools which host some of the best pool parties. You can snag a chair or cabana through Resort Pass.

On a rainy day

You came to South Beach to relax, so take advantage of the lack of sunshine and pamper yourself at one of Miami’s best spas.

Get off the beaten path

Española Way used to be a street that locals avoided. Now, we can’t stop talking about it. With the opening of the Esmé Hotel, the street got its Bohemian edge back, and you can easily spend a whole night here. Start off at Tropezón, a Spanish tapas bar by Miami hospitality group Lost Boy Co., or the Drexel for clean Mediterranean fare by the team behind Mandolin. Round out your night with cocktails at El Salón, a unique, intimate bar that makes its own house spirits and damn good drinks, before heading to the Esmé rooftop for dancing.  

What else is nearby?

There’s hardly any distinction between South Beach and Mid Beach, except the boutique hotels turn into resorts and it’s a lot calmer. Or is it? Behind closed doors, you’ll find some of Miami’s best restaurants, bars and clubs. This neighborhood is home to Broken Shaker and Eagle Room; the Edition Hotel and its underground bowling ally/skating ring/nightclub, Basement; the Faena and its glamorous restaurants, lounge, spa, shops and forums; and, of course, the Fontainebleau, Miami’s most iconic resort.  

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