Miami is a combination of grit and glamour. Here, on the southern tip of Florida’s Atlantic Coast, Scarface and Miami Vice gave birth to the Kardashians. Incorporated in 1896, after Henry Flagler brought his railway to the end of the peninsula, the city, which today has a population of around 420,000, made a name for itself in the 1930s with Art Deco architecture and a melting pot of cultures and cuisines from the influx of Cuban and Latin American immigrants.
Today, the jet-set crowd flocks to Miami each December for the annual Art Basel festivities. The recognition has provided the art and gallery scene a world-class jolt. Similarly, restaurateurs are putting Miami on the map for dining thanks to the mix of locally and nationally known names from James Beard Award-winning Chef Michael Schwartz to Michelin-starred Chef Daniel Boulud.
Miami received its nickname as the “Magic City” during the real estate boom in the 1920s, and the city is again growing at a rapid pace. In the past 15 years, neighborhoods that were once on the sketchier side (where you wouldn’t think of unlocking you car doors) have received a much-needed makeover and are now teeming with street art, new museums, artisan boutiques and local eateries.
Start the day in the Wynwood Arts District, an up-and-coming neighborhood filled with boutiques, galleries, restaurants, cafes and the largest open-air street installation in the world. Most of the graffiti art is on warehouses and buildings lining Northwest Second Avenue, so grab a cup of coffee and empanada at local indie roaster Panther Coffee and walk down to the Wynwood Walls. The street-art museum covers 80,000 square feet of wall space with murals constantly getting reshaped by artists from around the world. Pose for the perfect Instagram wall pic and then stop in JugoFresh for an organic, locally made juice like the “el green-go”: a sweet green blend of apple, celery, spinach, parsley and lemon. While strolling along Second Avenue you’ll come across most of the neighborhood’s galleries, as well as quirky boutiques and design shops, like the terrarium-selling Plant the Future.
Mural by Miss Van at the Wynwood Walls
For more upscale shopping, head over to the nearby Design District and window shop at Cartier, Christian Louboutin and Hermès while walking down Northeast Second Avenue. In between the galleries and showrooms, there’s a few top-notch restaurants scattered throughout that are a perfect stop for lunch, like Michael Schwartz’s Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, an American bistro with clever spins on Florida fare, such as Florida tangerines served in ceviche and duck confit. Stop by the recently opened Institute of Contemporary Art Miami in the Moore Building (entry is free) and admire the installations on display, as well as the space in which they are housed: originally a 1920s four-floor furniture showroom with an atrium and installation piece designed by award-winning architect Zaha Hadid. Before making your way back to the beach, finish your art tour at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, a contemporary and modern art museum set in a Herzog & de Meuron-designed glass structure overlooking Biscayne Bay.
Craft cocktails at a hostel bar aren’t de rigueur—especially in Miami—unless that hostel happens to be the fabulously hipster chic Freehand, and that bar is The Broken Shaker, a James Beard Award semi-finalist. Cozy up with a cocktail like the salted-caramel old fashioned on one of the stools in the intimate Old Florida-inspired bar, or take your drink al fresco and snag a seat in one of the lounge chairs by the pool. The cocktail menu changes constantly but you can’t go wrong with most choices, all of which incorporate fresh-pressed juices and herbs grown on-site.
The Broken ShakerPhoto by Adrian Gaut
For dinner, make your way to the new restaurant Seagrape at Thompson Miami Beach. Miami darling Chef Michelle Bernstein’s latest venture takes its inspiration from South Florida and the Caribbean, serving up a menu that ranges from raw-bar fare to steak and snapper. The speakeasy-style Regent Cocktail Club is a great place for a nightcap and live jazz, but for those don’t want the night to end, head to The Corner, a candlelit craft cocktail bar in Downtown Miami with a wide selection of foreign and domestic brews that stays open until 8 a.m. on the weekend.
South Beach is prime for exploring by bike when the weather is nice. Rent one by the hour or for the day at one of the bike-sharing DECOBIKE stands on South Beach (starting at $6 per hour or $24 for the day). Cruise along A1A (Collins Avenue) and explore the 1930s Art Deco District’s architecture, which runs from Washington to Lenox between 16th and 17th Streets and is comprised of over 800 buildings—including the Delano Hotel, National Hotel and Lincoln Road Mall. Park your bike at a stand near Lincoln Road and get ready to indulge in a hearty Southern brunch at Yardbird.
Miami isn’t considered the South, but this is one spot you can’t miss. Order mama’s chicken biscuits served with pepper jelly and house pickles or the signature chicken n’ waffles, a cheddar cheese waffle with honey hot sauce, spiced watermelon, and bourbon maple syrup—the perfect blend of sweet and spicy.
After brunch, walk off your meal on pedestrian-friendly Lincoln Road, a boulevard lined with shops, restaurants and terraces. While most places here are run-of-the-mill, the 1111 Lincoln Road parking garage is worth a visit and offers up some of the best views over Lincoln Road. Designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the garage has a penthouse on the top floor, rooftop bar Juvia, and glass-encased designer boutique Alchemist.
Miami is brimming with beaches, but finding the right one makes all the difference. Hotels take over a vast amount of the shore on South Beach, meaning private umbrellas and towel service, as well as a crowd. Cross over the Rickenbacker Causeway and head to the island of Key Biscayne, still technically Miami but with a mindset more like the Keys. One of the best-kept beach secrets is Crandon Park. Once home to Indian tribes and pirates, the two-mile stretch of beach has calmer water thanks to the offshore sandbar and is perfect for picnics, nature trails and kiteboarding. If you’ve regained an appetite by this point, swing by Sunset Harbour and have a low-key late lunch of salmon tartare taquitos and fried clam sushi rolls at Pubbelly Sushi or indulge in a sweet treat like the multilayered Chocolate Delight cake—reportedly Oprah’s favoriteIcebox Café.
Finish the weekend where you started, dining amongst the Wynwood Walls. The neighborhood really comes to life at night with spotlights on the art, neon signs hanging over restaurants and DJs spinning at the bars. Joey’s is right in the heart of everything and serves some of the best thin-crust Italian pizza in town. A bit more secluded, The Butcher Shop is Miami’s version of a German beer garden with communal wooden tables al fresco, burgers and bratwursts. Across from the Wynwood Walls, Wood Tavern is a favorite for locals and travelers thanks to its laid-back vibe, and on Sundays it hosts its weekly Backyard Boogie party on the patio with tunes and drink specials. After the party, if you’re still jonesing for something to nosh, gigi in nearby Midtown is the place and serves reasonably priced Korean BBQ that has rightly earned a cult following for its cornbread with honey-bacon butter. If you’re lucky, there may even be a show going on next door at the living room-style lounge Bardot.
Gale South Beach & Regent Hotel
Big-name carriers like American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines fly into Miami International Airport, while budget-friendly carriers like Frontier, Spirit and JetBlue fly into the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, 40 miles north of Miami. It’s easy to navigate South Beach by bike or walking, but you’ll need a car, taxi or Uber if you’re planning on digging deeper into the city, since neighborhoods are quite spread out.
Housed in a 1930s Art Deco building, the aforementioned The Freehand Miami started as a trendy take on upscale hostels created by the masterminds behind The NoMad in NYC. The summer camp-inspired hideaway appears more beach house than hostel with 63 shared and private rooms, ping pong tables and a pool, all just one block from the beach. Rates start at $30 per bed or $140 for a private room.
Restored to its 1940s form, the 87-room Gale South Beach & Regent Hotel rocks a retro chic look from its vintage-like furniture to the black-and-white photos paying homage to Miami in its heyday. While this South Beach spot may lack the pool-party scene of its counterparts across the street, it more than makes up for it with its late-night, 1970s-themed basement nightclub, Rec Room. Rooms start at $245 in high season.
Ian Schrager, the man behind the iconic Miami Beach hotels like Shore Club and Delano, is back with his latest project on the beach, the 294-room Miami Beach EDITION. In classic Schrager style, the hotel has top-notch cuisine by Michelin-starred Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and a modern-day Studio 54 in the form of Basement, a club complete with an ice skating rink and bowling alley. Rooms start at $849 per night.
Lane Nieset is a freelance writer covering all things travel from her home base in Nice, France.