South Beach, Miami
South Beach in Miami is one of the most culturally distinct regions of America, famous for beach parties, nightclubs, celebrities and a renowned collection of Art Deco architecture. The action is nonstop throughout the year in 23 of the liveliest blocks a tourist could hope for. Hotels, cafes and bars are congregated along popular walking promenades near the beachfront, making it easy to engage in the full “SoBe” experience.
Unknown to many first-time visitors, Miami Beach actually is a separate island connected to the metropolitan city of Miami by several causeways extending over Biscayne Bay. The island lies about 15 minutes from downtown Miami and 10 miles east of Miami International Airport. Sandy beaches stretch for miles along the length of the island, with South Beach defined loosely as the area east of Indian Creek covering the blocks numbered from One to 23.
Though the island originally was used for coconut farming in the late 1800s, the Art Deco period of the 1930s and 1940s is what largely defines South Beach today, with a strong emphasis on retaining the architectural buildings from that era. Brightly colored neon with columns and curves dominates the skyline at night and classic automobiles park along Ocean Drive, with many throwbacks to the period integrated into the themes and decor of the area. South Beach is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The South Beach Visitors Center is on the beach at Ocean Drive, with a wealth of information about the area, as well as an opportunity to purchase art prints, postcards and T-shirts.
Three areas of South Beach claim the majority of nightlife venues on the island. The strip of bars, clubs and restaurants along Ocean Drive across from the beach are by far the most renowned. Restaurants and bars extend onto the sidewalk, with throngs of diners at candlelit tables, live music and dancing in an unbroken line of revelry. One block over lies Collins Avenue, where the action continues, though on a more subtle level. Clubs here tend to be upscale, elegant and full of celebrities known to inhabit the grand hotels on this street. Lounge-hopping is common and encouraged, providing an accessible way to experience exclusive South Beach hotels without actually checking in. Lincoln Road and Washington Avenue are both major shopping districts in South Beach, deluged with big spenders during the daylight hours but also populated with some favorite spots for night owls, including huge nightclubs like the Crobar.
Hotels in South Beach are destinations in themselves, with thriving nightlife, charming architecture and elaborate swimming pools. The Raleigh is home to the famous tiled pool featured in the aqua-musicals of Esther Williams of the 1940s. Art Deco treasures on Ocean Drive include the Colony, the Beacon, Victor Hotel and the Tides. The former Versace Mansion now operates as a hotel called the Casa Casuarina. The Pelican Hotel is a small designer boutique property in the heart of the action whose rooms often are used for fashion shoots, with themes like “Me Tarzan, You Vain” and the “Psychedelic(ate) Girl.” Upscale luxury properties like the Setai, the Fountainbleau and the Delano draw celebrities, politicians, princes and paparazzi.