Miami was one of those places I wanted to go for so long, mostly because of the hype, I worried that it would actually flop in expectations. I loved Miami. It felt I was in this little weird planet, it definitely didn’t feel I was in the US. I loved the vibe, I loved the weather, I loved the people. I loved it mostly for its unpretentious style – yes I know this may comes as a surprise to some. But it is always down to the ‘experience’ and in Miami I found a place with the right attitude, friendliness and spotless service.
If you are a major culture buff – in the traditional sense – then probably this is not the place for you. Miami offers a distinct culture, dominated by the latin vibe which is evident everywhere from small live music holes to Little Havana and the annual festivals and food.
Distances like anywhere in the US are big so a car is crucial or be prepared to spend quite a lot on taxis (like I did).
Two words. South Beach. Miami has stretches of beautiful beach from South to North and Sunny Isles and all the way to Surfside. But South Beach is in the heart of everything. Offers proximity to designer hotel bars and clubs, designer boutique and of course it offers the most interesting architecture and culture thanks to the Art Deco District.
Walking along South Beach Art Deco district promenade
There is actually an organised ‘walking tour’ that has as a starting point Miami’s art deco museum. With the tour you will discover more behind the history of the gorgeous art deco buildings but this doesn’t stop you from enjoying independent walks across the promenade.
Photo op: South Beach is a 24hrs photo inspiration heaven. It comes alive in the evening but sunset is the best time of the day; the colours of the Art Deco buildings are really exactuated under the warm sun light.
Discovering Little Havana
I loved little Havana. Full of character, music, cigar shops and great people. Getting there via taxi from South Beach can be expensive, but there are buses taking you there so would recommend doing so.
El Exquisito was a recommendation from a local. A very authentic Cuban restaurant, not touristy, just locals. Good food and great friendly service.
Photo op: head to Domino Park for some local colour and vibe. Beautiful murals decorate the pavements and locals are spending hours playing, well Domino!
Cocktails at Miami’s design hotel bars
Anything by the Morgans Hotel Group is guaranteed to be trendy, chic and with a fairy tale touch. Add Starck minimalism to the equation combined with surreal furniture, gigantic blowing curtains – all creating an alice in wonderland feeling and you have an amazing evening destination. Whether you head to one of the two bars or stay at one of the semi private lobby areas this spot is highly recommended.
Another Morgans Hotel. Sky bar is an open air bar located in the midst of tropical gardens and it offers a juxtaposition of Morrocan chic with some modern elements under candle light. On a warm night it is just magical.
Enjoy dinner at ‘The Bazaar’ followed by cocktails at ‘Hyde Beach’. Amazing food, service and ambience. Hyde Beach is located at the Mediterranean gardens of the hotel. The Hotel is co-designed by Philippe Starck and Lenny Kravitz (!) and it is as surreal as design as you would expect. A must-do.
A rooftop bar and restaurant off Miami’s shopping district, Lincoln Rd, Juvia offers great views whether you are sitting at its terrace or inside space. I opted for the outside area, living in London you got to make the most of beautiful summer nights when you find them. Great strong cocktails, Daiquiris were excellent, and very good food (a fusion of Japanese, Peruvian and French). As it is not ‘obviously’ located Juvia avoids been touristy and attracts mostly local Miami scene. It is not cheap but the experience is well worth it.
Recently opened and located at Island Gardens resort, ‘The Deck’ is an exquisite marina outdoor lounge offering beautiful views of Downtown Miami over the bay. I found the service impeccable (and friendly as per Miami’s scene), the food delicious (and unpretentious) and the ambience relaxed and beautiful. Again, away from the mainstream cocktail scene, this makes for very special evenings. I was there in late evening but I can only imagine sunset hour would be magical.
Breakfast by the beach
Start the day with a hearty breakfast on Ocean Drive. It offers plenty of choice but I spent every single morning at News Cafe. For several hours. Opt for an early morning where the scene is serene.
Espanola Way at night
A small, bohemian ‘barrio’ tacked away from the main streets. Head there in the evening for a romantic meal. Cobbled streets, decorated with fairy lights offer a variety of restaurants (all latin of course). Would recommend Havana 1957. Cuban food is quite blunt but this place offers the traditional dishes with a ‘twist’.
Sunday at South Beach
Make sure your Miami stay includes a full Sunday. Sunday is a celebration. I was in Miami for 5 days and haven’t seen the beach like this. Kicks off from Saturday where the beach is transformed to an endless party and Sunday the mood is everywhere. Make the most of the atmosphere and the beach. Sunday is not a day to be confined in any bar or restaurant, you need to be out and about Ocean Drive and the beach. Honestly, don’t waste your time (or money) at a beach club. Just head to the open beach. Stop at ‘Wet Willies’. Not the ‘classiest’ of options – the place offers alcohol infused sorbet in obscene flavours that come under more obscene names. But it works. Just limit yourself to one cup. Take away, find a good spot by the beach and enjoy the sunset!
Places along Ocean Dr may offer great views and people watch but unfortunately, with a few rare exceptions (see News Cafe) are tourist traps. If you want to wrap up your Sunday with a good, hearty meal head to Puerto Sagua for Cuban (Miami does this very well after all). This is, as Zagat puts it, a ‘no frills’ diner but after a long, active day you just want good (quickly delivered) food. And Puerto Sagua does both.
Another option, in South Beach, is Rosa Mexicano. It is part of a US chain but it doesn’t give the impression of one and it is good Mexican food (big portions again so be aware!). Don’t try Mexican food at South Beach; you will regret it dearly.
Downtown for great dining
My last trip to Miami was a business one so I spent quite a lot of time in Downtown Miami. It may not be exactly the night party scene but it offers great places for lunch and dinning . Even if spending most of the time at South Beach (which lets face it restaurant quality is poor), the options below worth the taxi ride to the business district.
CVI.CHE – Peruvian for great ceviche
Cantina la 20 – Mexican. For great food and the most beautiful Mexican ambience I have ever experienced.
Area 31 – Kimpton EPIC Hotel. This is a drinks recommendation – I cannot comment on the food as we only visited for drinks. The 360 views at this rooftop restaurant are breathtaking and sunset is magical. One of the best places Downtown for after work drinks.
Spend an afternoon at Wynwood
Wynwood is a Miami neighbourhood. But it is more than that. It has evolved to an arts centre with blocks after blocks full of impressive graffiti – at times political (when I was there it was just before the U.S general elections) – converted into restaurant/bars/studios and galleries warehouses, and a general feeling of abundant creativity.
I was there only for an afternoon and after hours exploring galleries and graffiti had time to check out two venues only both I would recommend. El Patio for that quirky feeling and Alter for dinner and drinks at its patio – full of character and overlooking some more great graffiti art!